11 Easy Dinner Ideas to Make When You're Burnt Out
When you're struggling with depression, cooking dinner for your family is literally the last thing you want to do. It's hard to focus on much of anything, let alone necessities like eating dinner and personal hygiene. But those pesky humans keep demanding to be fed regardless of your mental health state, so what do you do? I have rounded up a list of 11 easy dinner ideas you can make when you're just too burnt out to think. These are all light weeknight dinners that take very little effort on your part and will feed you and your family in under 30 minutes.
I have tried each one of these personally and found that the satisfaction of making dinner, even something simple and straightforward like these meals, can also help to pull you out of your depressive episode, if only for a few moments. And hey, we'll take the win, right?
So What Easy Light Dinner Ideas Can You Make?
1. Chicken Caesar Salad
Okay, the first one of these might seem a little ambitious but hear me out. Grab a complete salad kit from Walmart with the dressing and everything included. Heat up some chicken nuggets or popcorn chicken in the oven or air fryer. Assemble the salad, and add your chicken on top. It takes less than ten minutes, everything is nearly already prepared, it gives you protein and vegetables and it is filling. I've used this many times when I"m having a particularly hard day and it does wonders for my mental health. The idea that I actually prepared a semi-healthy meal instead of ordering pizza for the fourth time that week is definitely a win. Plus it's fairly inexpensive so that's another point in the win column.
2. Meatballs and Mashed Potatoes
Because we're fancy around here, this next meal also is from Walmart in the "instant" category. The packaged meatballs and instant potatoes make a very quick, very filling comfort food type meal. Add a side of steamed bag vegetables, and you have a complete meal in under 20 minutes. The instant potatoes get a bad rap but are actually quite tasty if you add a little butter and milk to the mix after you cook them. The best thing about this meal is the whole thing can be done in the microwave if you just don't have the mental energy to pull out a pan on the stove.
3. Baked Potatoes with Cheesy Broccoli
I firmly believe that baked potatoes are some of the best things ever to be created on this earth. There has never been, nor will there ever be a baked potato I don't love. That's why this dinner idea is brilliant. I recently figured out you can bake your potatoes in the air fryer in under 30 minutes and they come out perfectly every time. Toss a bag of cheesy broccoli in the microwave to heat up and in under 30 minutes and with minimal effort, you have yourself another easy dinner idea. Dress your potatoes in some sour cream (Plain greek yogurt tastes the same plus has tons of protein!) and a sprinkle of bacon bits if you have some, and you have a loaded baked potato. Plus if you still have some chicken nuggets or popcorn chicken left over from the salad idea, you can throw that in with these and have a low-effort meal. This one is in my regular rotation because I'm all about minimal effort when it comes to dinner ideas. (Honestly, that's why ordering food happens so much around my house. It's so much easier to let Door Dash bring me nutrition than to scrounge up something myself. That's why this idea is gold!)
4. Tuna Salad with Whole Wheat Crackers
This is another idea that takes minimal effort to whip up. Have you seen these little tuna pouches? I know you likely have, but I still think they're a miracle. Grab a pouch and a sleeve of whole wheat crackers, and a viola! Dinner time! If this doesn't tickle your fancy, you can open a couple of cans and go old school. Add the mayo and seasonings to your liking, chop up some lettuce, and stir it all together. Eat it on some whole grain bread or again, use the crackers, and you have a meal that requires zero cooking, minimal effort, and is fairly nutritious. Plus there are next to no dishes used so there is very little cleanup involved. Are you getting hungry?
5. English Muffin Pizza
If you still can't stop craving pizza, how about making it at home? This one requires a tad more effort, so save this for when you're feeling a little more energetic. But I assure you, these little wonders are delightful, and the best part is you can make them (semi) healthy. Use a whole wheat English muffin, and low-fat cheese and load up on veggies, these can be a great source of a well-balanced dinner. Head over to Plated by Erin for the full recipe. These look delicious, and honestly something I want to try, but again I'll save it for a day when there's a tad more energy in my "meal prep" basket.
6. Breakfast for Dinner
This one is always a hit around my house. There's nothing more satisfying than a tall stack of pancakes to spell out comfort food. Throw together some quick mix, add a handful of frozen fruit, or spices like cinnamon, and make a stack of comfort food for dinner. Add a couple of eggs and you have your protein to balance it out. Just don't go crazy with the syrup and toppings, instead opt for some sugar-free applesauce, plain greek yogurt, and fruit, or some peanut butter. Plus the added smell of rebellion in eating breakfast for dinner will help perk you up if only for a couple of minutes. Mmmm....pancakes.
A Few Other Easy Dinner Ideas
If none of the ideas above are hitting the proverbial spot, here are a few other ideas that are rather simple, but nonetheless easy to prep and very tasty.
7. Canned Chili & Cornbread
This one is about as simple as you can get but very tasty. Canned chili is rather inexpensive and feeds a lot of people. The jiffy cornbread mixes are under $1 each and make about 6-8 muffins per box. These only take an egg some milk and about 20 minutes in the oven. That is what I call a quick easy dinner idea!
8. Chicken Quesadillas with salsa
Who doesn't love tortillas and cheese? Just put your tortilla in a warmed-up pan on the stove, add your cheese and other toppings (rotisserie chicken, canned chicken, other protein of choice) place another tortilla on top, and wait for the cheese to melt, flip and cook for another minute or so. Cut up into triangles and serve with some salsa.
9. Egg Sandwiches
If you're not in the mood to make pancakes for dinner, egg sandwiches can scratch that breakfast itch, but take up less time to prep. You can even cook your eggs in the microwave. Use some whole grain toast, a little mayo, and maybe a sliced tomato (if that's your jam), and sprinkle some cheese on top. Protein, cheese, bread, and no prep. Minimal effort easy meal.
10. Ramen Variations
I grew up in a single-parent household, and money was tight. We ate Ramen on the regular and learned very fast how to dress it up and keep it interesting. Chop up some leftover rotisserie chicken and add some peas to the noodles as they're cooking. Spice it up with different flavor profiles, or add an egg to the liquid and make your own egg drop soup variation. Ramen is cheap, easy to make, and has endless possibilities when it comes to keeping it from being boring.
11. Leftover Soup
This might not seem exciting but it actually is. I had a friend a long time ago show me how they used up leftovers. She would take a lot of different things from her fridge and toss them together into a soup. She'd use chicken broth or whatever she had on hand, and then pile in the leftovers. Sometimes it would be chicken and vegetabl-y. Other times it would be more bean and spice flavor. One time when I made it I used leftover alfredo pasta and vegetables and my husband still bemoans the fact that I can't remember the exact recipe to recreate it. The magic of leftover soup is that you use up what you have, but make it new and exciting each time. Serve with some toast or a handful of crackers and boom. Dinner.
Whatever you choose to do when it comes to easy light dinner ideas, just remember that you are doing the best you can. Your mental health comes first and if that means that you can't do any of these options and you have cereal for dinner for the third night in a row then that's okay. The important part is that you are taking care of yourself, and your family and that is definitely a great accomplishment!
What are some of your go-to dinner ideas? Anything in your rotation that you would like to share? Leave me a comment and let's recipe swap, because now I'm officially hungry!