Recipes for dinners that, above all, can be made FAST...
October 1, 2010 7:20 AM   Subscribe

What do you make for dinner on those nights when it comes down to a choice between something that can be made fast, or takeout? I'm the mother of a newborn, so every night is one of those nights.

I need some ideas for very quick meals. I have a big imagination when it comes to making complex dinners and I tend to choose recipes that end up taking an hour or so to make. But this is no longer an option. For whatever reason, I come up blank when trying to think of easy meals. Seriously, all I can think of many nights is beans and wieners. Please offer me your recipes for dinners that:

- Take 20 min or less to put together (can cook for longer, though, unless constant monitoring is required)

- Contain a protein (noodles with sauce = no good)

- CAN make use of pre-prepared items

- Are at least one step up from junk food (beans and wieners = a narrow FAIL, although it has redeeming qualities)

Meals that are actually healthy would be a bonus, but speed is the key here (my husband can make a quick salad to accompany, and we can snack on veggies and fruit throughout the day - so no lectures on poor nutrition please!).
posted by kitcat to Food & Drink (85 answers total) 240 users marked this as a favorite
My go-to fast food choice is a can of garbanzo beans and a can of tomatoes heated up in the microwave. Yummy, super-fast, relatively healthy.
posted by shornco at 7:23 AM on October 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

Have you considered using a crockpot? Throw it all in the pot in the morning and have tasty warm dinner waiting for you. The easiest recipe I know is to dump a jar of pepperoncinis (with their vinegary brine) into the crock with a pork shoulder. Cook on low for 10 hours or so, remove pork, shred and serve on tortillas. It's really much better than you'd expect. You can fancy it up by searing the pork in a pan to brown the exterior before putting it in the crock and/or add a few Mexican-inspired touches (Oregano, Cumin) and maybe an onion but it's really not required.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 7:24 AM on October 1, 2010 [3 favorites]

One thing you may find helpful is making enough for more than one meal at a time and eating leftovers. I live by myself, and I wind up cooking once or twice a week and eating that for days. A single ten-pound ham, for $1.89 a pound, can feed me sandwiches for almost a month. A curry which takes an hour to prepare on a Sunday afternoon can be divided into single-serving Ziploc containers and frozen for use later. And once you start using frozen veggies--which are just as healthy as fresh ones and cheaper, though they don't taste quite as good--all you really need to do is prepare your main course, cause you can nuke veggies in like seven minutes.

So don't give up on the more elaborate meals just yet, especially if they freeze well.
posted by valkyryn at 7:25 AM on October 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

This is why I love my rice cooker. 5 minutes of prep: Inti the pot goes rice (though I usually use barley), lentils, some chopped up veggies, maybe some tomato paste, some chicken (or other protein), spices and perhaps some bouillon or stock for extra flavor and water. 40 minutes later, tasty, nutritious food. Add some more liquid and you have a nice mushy stew. Even more and you have soup!
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 7:27 AM on October 1, 2010 [3 favorites]

We keep Bertolli frozen meals in the freezer for those nights when we're tempted to just order a pizza. They're pretty good, and the skillet ones take about 10 minutes. The baked variety get tossed in a pan in the oven with no supervision required. While many of them are noodles and sauce, most of them also contain some sort of protein, and they're a perfect portion size for 2 people trying not to overeat. The chicken florentine is my favorite.
posted by thejanna at 7:28 AM on October 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Basmati rice is a great base for quick meals. It cooks in ~15 minutes, and you can substitute broth/bouillon for the water and throw in other stuff, like carrots or canned tomatoes or lentils or cream of chicken soup. Meat chopped up small should be able to cook in the broth/water in that time.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 7:31 AM on October 1, 2010

1. Cut up an onion (3 min)
2. Cut up a couple cloves of garlic (3 min)
3. Cut up bell pepper into very small pieces (2 min)
3. Cook onion and garlic on the range in a pan with oil for ~5 min (until onions are starting to get translucent)
4. Add bell pepper, cook another 5 min (5 min)
5. Drain a can of black-eyed peas (1 min)
6. Pour black-eyed peas into the pan
7. Continue to cook for ~2 min (until beans are heated up)
8. Add seasoning to taste (salt, pepper, tiny bit of cayenne pepper)
9. Eat

Total time: ~20 min
posted by Salvor Hardin at 7:31 AM on October 1, 2010 [3 favorites]

Rice or pasta (by all means use quick cook varieties) served with a sauce (flavored however you like) based on tinned tomatoes. Then for protein break eggs into the tomatoes, put lid on, and poach. Serve with a little green salad. Alternatively, poach a fillet of fish or two in the tomatoes.
posted by Ahab at 7:36 AM on October 1, 2010

We have a local Italian place that sells their bags of their own frozen, meat-stuffed pastas. Add some boiled vegetables and you're good to go.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:37 AM on October 1, 2010

Chicken noodle soup (use green curry paste for the very quick version).
Baked potato and tuna, or cheese, or baked beans
Leftover cooked meat (e.g. from a roast) with couscous and spices. Add sultanas and lemon juice.
Rice or pasta, some sour cream and those smoked salmon offcuts the supermarket sells off cheap. Lemon juice and some frozen peas or green beans.
Pasta, pesto and tomatoes. Heat the pesto and tomatoes until they look like mush, stir into pasta. Put some cheese on top for protein: any cheese will do but feta or goats cheese is good.
Roast some squash or sweet potatoes and some tomatoes with spices of your choice. Add some cheese (stilton or brie is good) just before they are done.
Get some sausage meat (out of sausages if necessary). Fry up with onions and whole grain mustard. Add a tub of sour cream and have with pasta.
posted by emilyw at 7:38 AM on October 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

I make a quick stir fry similar to this fairly often. It's basically done in the time it takes to make a pot of rice. A bag of frozen veggies and an envelope of seasonings from the grocery store work too, and they cut down on the prep time.
posted by Balonious Assault at 7:39 AM on October 1, 2010

Can you add some protein to the salads? I hard boil eggs on the weekends and then they are available for salad topping as is good quality deli meat (ham or turkey usually). Maybe throw on some almonds or walnuts or a bit of good cheese? Add a vinaigrette and done!
Another "cheat" thing I do when I am not up to really cooking is pick up a rotisserie chicken from the grocery - add to salads, roll up in tortillas, make bread or English muffin pizzas with sauce, cheese & shredded chicken.
Another quick meal is chop up some scallions & mushrooms & moosh into some hamburger. Add Worcestershire to taste & fry up. Deglaze pan or make gravy if you want. My ex really liked that meal.
Also agree on omelets - you can put anything in them!
posted by pointystick at 7:40 AM on October 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Breakfast for dinner - eggs in their many glorious forms, pancakes, waffles

Lunch for dinner - sandwiches!

I love The Working Parents Cookbook - they are all about the 20 minute meal that has good, simple, varied ingredients.
posted by Sukey Says at 7:41 AM on October 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

(noodles with sauce = no good)

My student favourite, and our go to when no one can be bothered to cook is noodles with mackerel and veg.

Chop veg (broccoli, leeks, toms, etc) and cook in water, add noodles and cook in same water, add tinned mackerel broken into pieces at the end, so you're adding protein, omega 3, vitamins and fibre to the basic carb. Well under 20 mins. We usually add chili flakes to liven it up a bit.
posted by biffa at 7:42 AM on October 1, 2010

You can knock out a great tuna salad in 5 minutes.
Get a couple of 4oz fillets of yellowfin or ahi.
Your husband preps the salad - My standard is lettuce, cherry tomatoes, red pepper and avocado, but I'll chuck whatever else looks good in there too.
Sear the tuna, a minute each side, season each side as the other side cooks. Set aside.
Make a quick dressing (or just grab one at the store to save time) - Whisk 2 tbsp of olive oil, 2 tbsp of lemon juice, 1 tbsp of grainy mustard and a crushed clove of garlic.
Cut the tuna into half inch slices, stick it on top of the salad and dressing.
posted by IanMorr at 7:42 AM on October 1, 2010

TexMex suggestion: Quesadillas! I've been cooking up a pot of beans and vegetables (ex. can of black beans, chopped onion, garlic and sweet potato with cayenne and cumin), and keeping it in the fridge for super quick quesadillas. This kind of filling cooks well in a crock pot or on the stove, and could include a huge variety of foods. Buy whole grain tortillas (mine are from Trader Joes, if you have one near you). Tortilla, filling, some shredded cheese, heat thoroughly, and, voila!, a meal that takes less than 10 minutes to put together, high fiber, high vitamins (depending on your use of vegetables), low sodium, and cheesy. Also, this is an excellent SCDV (sour cream delivery vessel).
posted by sk932 at 7:43 AM on October 1, 2010 [6 favorites]

I often cook twice as much as needed, bag up the excess and freeze it. I have an entire section of my freezer dedicated to these "ready meals" and not only are they cheaper than the shop bought ones, they are healthier, home-made and taste nicer.

My colleagues used to find it amusing that even though I got home late or couldn't be bothered cooking, I still ended up eating something which sounded like I'd spent hours creating it.
posted by mr_silver at 7:43 AM on October 1, 2010

Frittata is fast & fairly healthy and protein dense. Also heats up well for a second meal. To make, stir fry some veg a bit in an oven proof pan -- add eggs that have been beaten with a bit of milk -- allow eggs to set a bit and then pop in oven until done/firm. You can top with cheese as well.

Also pad thai is easy and tasty.

I do second the though of cooking enough quantity to end up with leftovers.

Grocery store rotisserie chicken is an amazing thing. You can buy it hot and eat it immediately or reheat later. Strip the chicken and use in salads, wraps, quesadillas, add to pasta -- it'll go a long way and there is no real cooking time on your part.
posted by countrymod at 7:44 AM on October 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Take 1 tablespoon of Indian curry paste. Fry for one minute with no oil. Add one can cooked lentils, rinsed in cold water. Add 1/3 can water. Stir. Put two salmon fillets, skin side up, on top of the lentils. Cover the pan and simmer gently for 8-10 minutes. If you want greens, remove the salmon when cooked and mix in fresh spinach until wilted.
posted by MuffinMan at 7:45 AM on October 1, 2010 [3 favorites]

Like legumes? Legumes are your NEW BEST FRIEND!

- Canned fat-free refried beans: mix in a packet of Sazon Goya (it's Mexico in powder form!). Microwave tortillas for 30 seconds. Scoop on beans, top with shredded cheese and diced tomatoes. Less than 10 minutes.

- Drain two or three cans of chickpeas. Rise 'em, too (otherwise they smell like cat farts instead of DELICIOUS). Mix with a few healthy dashes lemon juice, some chopped parsley, salt, pepper and a hearty helping of grated Parmesan cheese. MMMMMMN!

- Canned black beans: mush up with some diced onion, canned diced jalapenos, perhaps some more Sazon from those magical little Mexi-packets. Stir in half as much reduced fat sour cream as there is bean-goo. Microwave. Top with diced tomatoes, scoop up with baked tortilla chips.

If you're feeling REALLY ambitious, top any of these with shredded rotissere chicken meat.
posted by julthumbscrew at 7:47 AM on October 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

My go-to meal when I need to fix something quickly is poached eggs and rice with pasta sauce. I throw rice and water into a pot with some hot sauce (it cooks into the rice). Place on burner to cook. Pull out pan, fill with water and poach eggs. Drain eggs, combine with cooked rice, add pasta sauce from a jar. Add cheese and vegetables if so desired. This meal has an added "comfort food" element. I've also made a variation of this meal with homemade bolognese sauce and thought I had died and gone to heaven.
posted by theBigRedKittyPurrs at 7:48 AM on October 1, 2010

mackerel... that reminds me:

Cook up two anchovies per person (ish) with plenty of garlic, chilli and chopped parsley if you have it. Add a lot of lemon juice. Use as pasta sauce and serve with flaked smoked mackerel.

Oh and, make your own burgers. Buy decent mince, squish into burger shapes, fry. Put in buns with condiments of your choice, have with salad.

If you have the time to do baked potatoes you can have them with steak, if you are feeling flush, or similar cuts of meat that can be fried relatively quickly. Keep jars of mustard/horseradish/apple sauce in the fridge. Microwave some frozen peas or green veg or just have salad.
posted by emilyw at 7:48 AM on October 1, 2010

By the way, I shamelessly stole that recipe from this book, which is full of great little quick recipes.
posted by MuffinMan at 7:51 AM on October 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Old family recipe--translated to English, we call this "Lazy Stuffed Cabbage." Total cook time is just over an hour, but it takes no time to put together, and requires no babysitting.

* ½ cups Rice
* 1 whole Onion
* 1 clove Garlic, Minced
* 2 stalks Celery, Sliced
* 1 pound Ground Beef
* 1 pound Ground Pork
* 3 cans (14.5 Oz. Can) Plain Diced Tomatoes
* 2 whole Bay Leaves
* 4 cups Water, Plus Additional To Cook Rice
* ½ heads Cabbage, Shredded
* 1 Tablespoon Tomato Paste

Preparation Instructions

Measure rice into a small mixing bowl; submerge with boiled water. Let sit for 5-8 minutes.

In a heavy pot, saute onions until translucent. Add minced garlic and sliced celery. Cook until fragrant and tender.

Meanwhile, combine ground beef and pork in a large mixing bowl; add drained rice. Using your hands, mix ingredients until combined.

Add meat mixture to the pot, and brown until cooked through. Add diced tomatoes, bay leaves, 4 cups water, shredded cabbage, and tomato paste (can substitute with ketchup). Salt and pepper to taste.

Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer for one hour.
posted by litnerd at 7:55 AM on October 1, 2010 [3 favorites]

I forgot to mention: you can use a bag of cole slaw mix instead of shredding up cabbage to save time.
posted by litnerd at 7:57 AM on October 1, 2010

I second the Fritatta idea as well. Eggs are a good source of protein and easy to cook. They will be especially handy when your newborn turns one and may eat eggs as well.

I also recommed crockpot and/or rice cooker based meals. They require minimal attention once you have everything in place. For recipes for the latter, Mefi Fave Roger Ebert's The Pot and How to Use It: The Mystery and Romance of the Rice Cooker is said to be pretty good.

Also, if you may have a friends or partner help watch the newborn on a weekend day, spending a block of time cooking in advance can be real life saver for the rest of the week. My wife and I have adopted this strategy when possible and it really makes a difference. We can spend more time with our 15 month old and less time on prepwork and cooking.
posted by Verdant at 7:57 AM on October 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Soups and stews and bean dishes of all sorts -- I have cassoulet in the slow cooker right this minute, took about 15 minutes of effort this morning to put together from scratch. Some stock, a bunch of veggies, whatever meat's in the house, some noodles or rice, let it simmer, you've got soup. And it can simmer until you're ready to sit down and eat it, no rush. Pilakhi. Various Mexican rice-and-beans dishes.

Rice pilafs -- saute up half an onion and anything else that needs sauteeing, add rice and chicken stock, cook. We make it with mushrooms, squash, salsa (really!), bell peppers, etc. You'd need protein on the side with that, but it's good. Takes about 5 minutes to put together and 40 to cook if you use brown rice.

Baked chicken parmesan, and variations thereon, don't actually take much work, although you'll probably have to start it (2 minutes), let it cook for 15-30 minutes, then come back and fuss with it for a minute or two, then let it cook another 15.

Roast chickens are very easy -- one of my favorites is to roast a chicken with a can of Newman's Own pineapple salsa dumped over it. Keeps the chicken nice and moist and tastes really good. Takes 2 minutes to put together (put chicken in roasting pan. Dump salsa on top. When I feel fancy, I set the chicken on a "roasting rack" of onion rings so I get tasty cooked onions too!) and cooks for the typical 20 minutes per pound. I usually serve with rice and a salad or something like that. You do have to carve it, but that's not too onerous.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:58 AM on October 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Haluski! Not necessarily the healthiest, but easy and delicious. Plus, it makes a ton, and is delicious for leftovers.

Boil a bag of egg noodles. Drain.
Brown a pound of sausage. Add half a bag of coleslaw mix, or a handful or two of chopped cabbage, and wilt it. I like my cabbage a little crispier, so this is only about a minute.
Add the sausage/cabbage to the noodles. Add a stick of butter or a couple swirls of olive oil. Salt + pepper.
posted by specialagentwebb at 8:05 AM on October 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

I just made this recipe, which was very fast and very good, and uses prepared whole-wheat cheese ravioli.

The same site has a list of 25 Healthy Recipes Ready in 20 Minutes or Less.

You also might want to take a look at their pizza (you can buy prepared dough, or make some and freeze it), salad, soup, and slow-cooker (assuming you have a slow cooker) recipes, which usually come together fairly quickly -- just search their site and a bunch of results should pop up.

Here are some other quick recipes that I can vouch for:
Broccoli, Cannellini Bean, and Cheddar Soup
Sesame-Honey Tempeh with Quinoa (the site says that it takes half an hour, but I didn't think it took that long, especially if you can use food processor to grate the carrots.)
Italian Egg Drop Soup (this says 25 minutes, but I didn't think it took that long -- maybe I'm a fast cook or have a distorted perception of time!)
Curried Squash and Chicken Soup (active time is 15 minutes)
Chili Rubbed Tilapia with Asparagus and Lemon
posted by amarynth at 8:31 AM on October 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

my go to dish:

mix together:

1 envelope onion soup mix
1 can whole cranberries
8 oz catalina dressing

pour on top of:
1 lb. chicken breasts

bake uncovered for 1 hour at 350 degrees.

posted by morganannie at 8:34 AM on October 1, 2010

My favorite can't-be-arsed meal is pasta (linguini or fettucini) with chicken and veggies. While you are boiling the water for the pasta, you sautee some chicken. When the pasta is ready to go in the bot, I also grab my little steamer and add veggies such as broccoli and carrots (because it's what I usually have on hand at all times, but you can use what you want) and let them steam while the pasta cooks. I like my steamed veggies on the crunchy side, but if you like them cooked through more you can always add the steamer basket a little early and take advantage of the first bits of steam from the water. Once it's all done, toss together with butter or olive oil (or both!), mix in some frozen peas if you have them, and sprinkle with parmesan.

If you deglaze the pan that the chicken cooked in, that's even better. But I wouldn't use too much because then it just turns the whole thing brown :) Just enough for a kick of flavor.

Oh, I forgot that a variant of this is basically bento - I cook up some rice in the rice cooker, use the steam basket that comes with the cooker to steam veggies, and sautee some chicken that's been cut into chunks. You can use a variety of pre-bought sauces to add to the chicken while it cooks (I use my wok for this, it's easier), or you can quickly mix your own. Super easy and minimal effort. I add some cabbage at the end for crunch.
posted by DrGirlfriend at 8:35 AM on October 1, 2010

I've been making this chickpea salad in a bunch of variants lately. Add chopped cucumber, subtract olives, add chopped green onions, and so on. In this vein, tuna fish salad works as well.

Your noodles and sauce works if you add some tofu to it.

I also have bought frozen breaded chicken cutlets at Costco - they go in the oven for 30 minutes and then you have a protein component.
posted by sciencegeek at 8:36 AM on October 1, 2010

I had three newborns at once, and I remember making lots of quiches too. Super easy, using a store-bought pie crust, and whatever meat/veg sounded appealing.

Rotisserie chickens from the grocery store have changed my life.

I also make a LOT of turkey chili. Can of beans, can of diced tomatoes, packet of chili seasoning, pound of ground turkey. Voila. Throw it all in the crockpot and a few hours later, it's done.
posted by pyjammy at 8:37 AM on October 1, 2010

Sorry forgot to add the link I meant to include: this is what I mean by the steamer I put the veggies in while cooking pasta. It sits right on top of the pot.
posted by DrGirlfriend at 8:37 AM on October 1, 2010

Chop some veg (onions, peppers, carrots, courgettes, etc) and hallumi cheese (say 5 mins prep), coat with olive oil then stick it in the oven to roast. Once it is done, prepare some couscous (instant stock, lemon, seasoning, maybe some spring onions - another 5 mins) and combine the two.
posted by ninebelow at 8:42 AM on October 1, 2010

One of my go-to emergency dishes is black beans with eggs, which has acquired the name huevos con whatnot. There's a full recipe at the (self-)link, but it's basically canned black beans, a palmful of seasoning, and a good glug of decent salsa all stewing together in a covered shallow pan for twenty minutes while you do something else. Then you top it with eggs, put the lid back on, and when the eggs are set to your liking, you serve it with warm tortillas or toast or quesadillas or salad or... you get the point.

Two of the three recipes I gave in this comment are lickety-split fast to put together and can simmer unattended on the stove's lowest flame while you do something else. Just stir them once in a while. (Ignore the Tuscan bean soup; it's fast, but not I-just-had-a-baby fast.)

The black bean soup in that comment the easiest I've ever made, and by far my favorite version. It's quite similar to the black beans & eggs in process, but the soup gets quite suave and rich tasting, though it's low in fat and high in fiber.

the easiest black bean soup
In a soup pot, drizzle olive oil. Add:
oregano, rosemary, cumin if desired
one large onion, chopped
salt & pepper

Cook until onion is softened but not browned.

two large cans (~28 oz. each) black beans, rinsed and drained
one large can (~28 oz.) tomato puree or chopped tomatoes
one can's worth of water
a good glug of cheap sherry (and if you have it around, an even larger glug of red wine)
minced garlic if you like it (I know some new moms avoid it, and the soup will be fine without)

Cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally. The longer it cooks (adding water as necessary) the richer the flavor will be, as ingredients mingle together. Every time I serve it to guests, someone asks for the recipe, which is a little embarrassingly, since it's so astonishingly easy. You may like to stir in a good squeeze of lemon just before serving to spark up the flavor a bit.

I like this black bean soup even better when I reserve a bowlful of whole beans, run an immersion blender through the pot, then add the reserved beans to the soup... but that's a frill, and if you don't have the time, you'll still have a lovely hearty dinner. This is especially good with a salad of dark greens like spinach, and warm bread.

The corn chowder sounds awful, I know, but it's crazy-delicious, and no one ever believes it's made almost entirely from canned goods. This one may be a little protein-light for you, because all the protein comes from the milk.

lickety-split corn chowder

In a large soup pot, cook a large onion, chopped, and two large potatoes, chunked, in a bit of butter until onion is just starting to soften. Add 2 cans of creamed corn (~15 oz. each), one large can of evaporated milk (~15 oz), and a scant half-can of water. Add ground pepper, let simmer until potatoes are soft, stirring occasionally. Serve with salad.

the easiest pulled pork

My brother introduced me to his two-ingredient version of pulled pork, and I've been making it ever since. His recipe:
Get a big chunk of pork. I used six pounds of pork butt. The recipe claimed that the cut was not important.
Open two bottles of barbecue sauce. Pour it over the pork in a large baking dish. Put the cover on and bake at, oh, like 250-300 Fahrenheit (120-150 centigrade). Go to the beach for the entire afternoon. Eat.

When I make it, I change his recipe:
A) I add a cup of red wine and a sprinkle of cumin.
B) Instead of making it on beach days, I make it on cold rainy days, which means I get to savor the luscious scent of it cooking, and I wander around the house asking "What smells like pork butt?"
posted by Elsa at 8:43 AM on October 1, 2010 [19 favorites]

I do a Swedish-meatballs-like thing that's super-easy.

Get a bunch of frozen meatballs at the supermarket. Get some rice (real or instant, but instant is as much work as real, so why bother). Get a can of Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup.

Cook as much rice as you need for however many people. Heat up the Cream of Mushroom soup (I add half a can of water to the stuff in the can, with is still a lot for one person). Nuke the meatballs, however many each person wants.

Put the cooked rice on each plate. Put the meatballs on the rice. Pour the Cream of Mushroom soup over it as your sauce.

Done and done. Decent enough meal, filling, quick quick quick. The longest part is cooking the rice, which is hardly any time at all.

This came out of a Pillsbury cookbook using just prepared ingredients. Not the best approach, surely, but it all works. I imagine there are similar cookbooks out there now, as this one's pretty ancient.

Good luck!
posted by Capt. Renault at 8:51 AM on October 1, 2010

I recommend my mom's not very traditional black beans and rice recipe.

Start cooking about a cup of brown rice. Put one can of diced tomatoes and one can of drained black beans in a small sauce pan. Add cumin, coriander, and garlic powder. Cover and cook on low until the rice is done. Serve over rice topped with grated cheddar cheese. Total prep time is less than five minutes, cook time about 40. I usually serve this with steamed broccoli on the side.

I also think that white beans like cannellini or great northern are a good way to add protein to pasta. I make what I call pasta e fagioli where I saute some onions and garlic, add a can of diced tomatoes and a can of white beans, cook for a few minutes, and then throw in some fresh herbs like basil, oregano, or parsley. Serve over pasta with good parmesan. Total prep is about ten minutes but you could also just consider adding white beans to pre-made pasta sauce.
posted by horses, of courses at 8:54 AM on October 1, 2010 [3 favorites]

My standard low effort quick meals are:

- Steak and Salad.
- Sausages and Salad (can you get proper Uk-Style sausages in the USA?)
- Supermarket packaged "fresh" Ravioli / Tortellini + olive oil fresh grated parmessan 6-7mins prep.
- Haloumi and Lentil Salad
- 'omlette' - which is usually more like mushrooms / spinach / ham / tomatoes (whatevers in the fridge) panfried a while then dump in an egg. Serve on sourdough toast
- Ham, mustard, salad sandwich.
- Vegetable 'stew' Chop up some random combination of vegetables add some red lentils + can tomoatoes. cover and cook in oven for 1-1.5 hours

- basic Mushroom tomato based pasta sauce + dried pasta. (mushrooms, garlic, basil, canned tomatoes, + pancetta or bacon if you have it.)
posted by mary8nne at 8:55 AM on October 1, 2010

My ideal feeling lazy meal is roasting whatever I have on hand. Oven to 400, dump veggies and meat on a baking dish (last night was brussel sprouts and cauliflower with chicken breast), drizzel with olive oil, salt and pepper and whatever other seasonings you want to use. Cook for 1/2 hour, stir veggies, flip chicken, then another 15 min - 1/2 hour, depending on veggies and thickness of meat. Perfect for using up whatever odds and ends I have hanging around in the fridge.
posted by Clytie at 9:00 AM on October 1, 2010

Oh, I totally forgot a household favorite: ravioli with broccoli. Buy a bag of the frozen cheese raviolis, a head of broccoli, a container of grated Parmesan (you could buy a wedge, but if I had a newborn in the house, I'd take advantage of every possible convenience), and a lemon.

Boil an enormous pot of salted water. Cook the still-frozen ravioli according to directions, and about five minutes before you expect them to be cooked through, toss in the broccoli. At the same time, scoop out a coffeecup of pasta water and set it aside.

When broc and ravioli are ready, drain. In serving bowl (or in the pasta pot), toss hot ravioli and broc with cheese, the juice from a big wedge of lemon, fresh ground pepper, Parmesan, and a splash of pasta water. (You will probably not need the entire cup of pasta water, so add a bit at a time.) If you're eating it, you can add a smidge of minced garlic.

If you want more protein than the cheese provides, it's easy to add cooked chicken to this dish.

For whatever reason, I come up blank when trying to think of easy meals.

I also wanted to address this. The reason you're coming up blank is probably because YOU JUST HAD A BABY WHEEEEEEEE CONGRATULATIONS and you're [busy/tired/blissed out/zonked out] when it comes to the details of daily life.
posted by Elsa at 9:02 AM on October 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

Some nights, I make a rapid version of a posole.

2 lbs cubed pork.
1 large diced onion
2 or more cans of chopped green chile or the equivalent of frozen chile
4 15 oz cans of white hominy corn or 1 giant can (whichever is cheaper)
water to cover all
2 - 4 cloves of diced garlic
chile powder to taste
salt to taste
oregano to taste

Dump all ingredients in stew pot. Cover with water. Bring to boil. Simmer for about 40 minutes.


My Mom used to make a dish she called SOS. It is a version of creamed chipped beef.

1 lb ground beef
1/2 small onion, diced
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 can milk

1/2 c sour cream

Brown the ground beef and onion and then drain. Add soup, milk and parsley to skillet and simmer for a bit. Serve over toast, noodles or rice. Pairs well with a green salad or green beans.


Green Chile Stew
1 lb ground beef or pork
1 large diced onion
2 or more cans of chopped green chile or the equivalent of frozen chile
4 large potatoes, peeled and cubed
Water to cover

Brown the meat and then drain. In a large pot, add the onion, chile, potatoes and water. Bring to a boil and then simmer until the potatoes are fork tender.
posted by onhazier at 9:04 AM on October 1, 2010

I love the cookbook "Desperation Dinners". Not only does it have good recipes, but it gives you all sorts of time-saving tips that my tired mom brain just would NEVER have thought of. And most of the recipes I've tried from it really do take less than 20 minutes from pulling out ingredients to hitting the table, unlike recipes that say they do, and in practice take twice that long. Grrrrrr.
posted by molasses at 9:12 AM on October 1, 2010

Bean salads with canned beans (honestly, as long as you rinse the beans and drain them well enough they're really not bad). There are tons of them online, on AskMefi even...I know I've posted some. One of my faves involves rinsed and drained canned cannellini beans, chopped red onion, canned tuna, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. So good. Another is black beans with a chopped mango and lime juice and oil, maybe some onion or whatever's lying in the fridge. You just chop, open cans, drizzle with oil and acid, and stick in the fridge til you're hungry. Easy. With a piece of bread and some cheese you have a meal.

Lots of soups are surprisingly quick IF you use meat or protein products that don't require much fuss to cook, or are already cooked (sausage, leftover meat, bacon, tofu, cheese) and stock/broth you've already made or comes in those aseptic containers. Bonus when you use precooked or quick cooking meats is that generally they're already spiced too (sausage is the best example) and often fattier so you don't have to add seasoning or additional thickeners/enrichment either. It's just the protein product, veggies of your choice maybe browned a bit in the pot first, enough stock to cover, and simmering about 30 minutes, which doesn't require rapt attention. Top with cheese or herbs and add bread to the table and you're done, and soup is lipsmackingly satisfying, especially this time of year. Bonus, only one pot to clean up, and most soups keep well a few days in the fridge for leftover lunch.

If you have a Foreman grill or a grill pan and something you can use to press on top of things in the pan, you can make a sandwich feel like a proper dinner in no time, or easier still make quesadillas with whatever's in the fridge--leftover cheese, canned beans, cold cuts, leftover meat or tofu, any veggies (spinach is yummy in quesadillas), etc.
posted by ifjuly at 9:16 AM on October 1, 2010

I am a dad of a newborn so I'm in the same boat as you. Dinner has to be on the table a half hour after I get home from work.

Thought 1: This is what Trader Joe's is for. Non-parents, did you ever wonder why people pay extra for pre-chopped vegetables in a bag? Because you can rip open a bag of chopped butternut squash, or brussels sprouts, or cauliflower, dump it on a baking sheet, pour olive oil over it, and bake it at 350 for, I dunno, a half hour, an hour, whatever you have time for and feel like. Or did you wonder why people would buy those packages of chicken that are already grilled and sliced? Because it's insta-protein, not requiring the same level of cleanup as raw meat. Out of the bag, into your salad.

Thought 2: Canned fish is another good mega-easy protein source which some people find healthier than meat. If you're worried about the mercury from tuna, you can get Alaskan salmon in a can too.

Thought 3: I think one key is to always have good-tasting stuff in your fridge and pantry that can be added to anything, with no preparation. We are basically never without capers, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, anchovies, walnuts, sliced almonds, pine nuts, parmesan cheese; using these ingredients you can take a pretty depressing insta-meal and dress it up nicely.

Still, if you're used to making more elaborate meals, you might (like me) want to feel as if you're cooking at least a little. Here are a few ultra-fast things we do a lot:

"Rouille": Throw a couple of jars of roasted red peppers, a tablespoon and a half of oregano, 2-5 cloves garlic, 1tsp sugar, salt and pepper, 1/4 c olive oil, and (if desired) some anchovies and hot pepper in your blender. Blend. There is your sauce. Cook 2 lb pasta. There is your starch. Mix pasta, sauce, a can or two of fish. There is your protein.

Egg burritos: We've always got tortillas and salsa in the fridge and canned refried beans in the pantry. Scramble 6-8 eggs. If you've got time, throw a bunch of scallions in the oven at 350 with some olive oil for 10 minutes. Then you've got egg/bean/scallion burritos, filling and instant.

"Gazpacho:" Better in the summer when the tomatoes are better: fill your blender 2/3 of the way up with good tomatoes. Add a cup or so of tangy yogurt (we usually use Fage) a couple of scallions, 1/4 c olive oil, 2-4 cloves garlic, salt and pepper, some basil if you have some. Blend until it is soup. (I think of yogurt as protein -- if you don't, this is just a side dish for you.)

By the way, my son loves beanie weenie too. I'm not too proud to admit I make it. In fact, I'm not even too proud to admit that if you mix tater tots into it it is freaking awesome and lasts longer.

And while we're talking ultra-easy packaged goods which get you some vegetable matter -- you can add pretty much ANYTHING to a box of mac and cheese. It's like the universal solvent. Make two boxes, put a whole bag of frozen spinach in with the macaroni, and you've got your cruciferous vegetable. If you have 10 minutes instead of 7 minutes to make dinner, you can put in sliced almonds, pine nuts, and raisins.
posted by escabeche at 9:18 AM on October 1, 2010 [6 favorites]

Oh, and when I worked super late nights (seriously, 11 hour shifts where I'd get in after midnight) I'd come home and make an egg sandwich with the following, it was my default zombie-mode-before-passing-out dinner:

-sliced cheese
-1 or 2 eggs, cracked into a Pam-sprayed glass bowl (or Pyrex measuring cup), whisked a bit, with maybe shredded or grated cheese and herbs thrown in when I felt like it, and salt and pepper, microwaved for under 1 minute until a barely formed egg "patty"
-if I was super ravenous, a slice of coldcut ham or tomato or leftover whatever
-English Muffin, toasting in the toaster oven at the same time the egg is being zapped in the microwave

I'd just assemble, sometimes top with some basil if I felt like it, and chomped. Really filling and fast with minimal mess. If you eat it with some apple slices or other fruit you're good to go.
posted by ifjuly at 9:21 AM on October 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Quesadillas are quick and reaasonably healthy. Spray a pan with nonstick spray, heat up a whole wheat tortilla on medium heat, pile on some shredded cheese, sprinkle with cumin and chili powder, top with another tortilla, flip when first side is done, cook til other side is nicely browned and cheese is melted. Slice into wedges with a pizza cutter, serve with sour cream, guacamole, salsa, etc.

Microwave baked potatoes topped with steamed broccoli, sour cream & shredded cheese are quick and easy.

Another quick version of black beans and rice:

1 lb. package of cubed ham
1/2 bag frozen chopped onion
2 cans black beans (don't drain)
2 t. chili powder
Brown rice

Cook up two cups of brown rice with 2 3/4 c. water in rice cooker. (Alternatively, get the microwaveable bags of pre-cooked rice from Trader Joes.)

Saute the chopped onions in a little leftover coffee (or use water if you don't have coffee brewed.) When the onions are soft, add in the ham cubes, chili powder, & beans with their liquid, and cook til hot and bubbly. Remove from heat and stir in rice. Let stand for 5 minutes for flavors to mix properly. Serve with hot sauce, sour cream, shredded cheese.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 9:35 AM on October 1, 2010

I make clam linguine when I'm in this situation.

Can of baby clams (surprisingly proteiny and super high in iron)
Can of plum tomatoes (preferably the kind with Italian spices included)
Bit of oil
Teaspoon of balsamic vinegar
Some shredded mozzarella
Couple tablespoons cut fresh basil, or basil paste, or dried basil
300g or so of linguine
Salt and pepper

Start the pasta boiling. Cook the tomatoes in frying pan with oil, drain the clams, add to tomatoes, add vinegar, let it get hot, then add the basil, salt and pepper, and top with cheese when you're done. Mix with the linguine.

Really fast, I think it's tasty, and it's satisfying. Add bread & butter for a little extra filling-ness if required.
posted by Ouisch at 9:39 AM on October 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Right now I'm loving "skillet recipes" where everything is made all in one big pan. Here's my current favorite. It's got plenty of protein, and is loaded with healthy veggies - very tasty!

1 lb ground beef, browned
3 cloves minced garlic
8 oz sliced mushrooms (1 container)
6 oz coarsely chopped onion (1/2 medium onion)
8 oz coarsely chopped bok choy (1 small head)
28 oz diced tomatoes with jalapeños (2 cans)
Oregano or pepper to taste, if desired.
Shredded cheese

Brown the ground beef with the minced garlic in large skillet. Pepper to taste.
Add the mushrooms, onion and bok choy.
Continue to cook about 2-3 minutes.
Add tomatoes. Mix well and simmer about 10 minutes.
Serve in bowls with cheese sprinkled over top

I've also done an "Italian" variation of this, replacing the beef and diced tomatoes with jalapeños with Italian sausage and Italian-style diced tomatoes. (Or just plain diced tomatoes and throw in some basil and extra oregano.)
posted by platinum at 9:44 AM on October 1, 2010 [3 favorites]

I like Buitoni Light Four Cheese Ravioli, and it's really good with peas. You can cook frozen peas (or another vegetable) in the water with the ravioli. In the bowl, I use just enough butter or olive oil to keep them from sticking together. 12g of protein for what Buitoni calls a 'serving'; 15 g for half a package. One package has 24 ravioli.
posted by wryly at 9:48 AM on October 1, 2010

If you're nursing, you might not be too keen on lots of beans, cabbage, etc. which can cause gas, and thus distress for the baby.

Make ahead lasagna, pre-cooked chicken breasts, pot roast, etc. and I'd also recommend Nancy Silverton's Twist of the Wrist cookbook, even though you might not have all the ingredients at hand.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:48 AM on October 1, 2010

My buddy and I have a recipe we call "spicy rice". You can do the entire thing in 20-25 minutes (the time it takes to cook the rice). It typically feeds us for 4 or so days and costs maybe $10 total.

Large packet of Yellow rice
1-1.5lb Ground pork (originally selected because it is much cheaper than ground beef, but it's quite good)
1-2 large red peppers
1-2 large zuccinis
Half an onion
2 eggs
Salt, pepper, olive oil
Seasoning to taste for the pork (I use basic spices and Sriracha sauce, hence the name "spicy rice")

1. Prepare the rice as per the packet's instructions. Usually this is 20 minutes simmering in a covered pot.
2. Chop up the pepper and zuccini, glaze lightly with oil and salt/pepper to taste. Put in the broiler for 15 minutes, til browned on the edges and slightly wrinkly.
3. Chop the onion, set aside.
4. While the rice and veggies are going, cook the pork in a skillet. Light oil, seasoning, etc.
5. When the pork is almost done, add the onion and eggs to the pork; finish cooking.
6. When everything is done, mix!

For a more asian variation:
1. Use jasmine rice instead of yellow. You can toss in a packet of "fried rice" seasoning for flavor.
2. Grab a can of baby corn or bamboo shoots instead of the red pepper.
3. Add soy sauce to the broiled veggies as a marinate.

This all super-simple and borders on college-level cooking. BUT, what makes the differences are: prep style (I never liked cooked veggies til I began broiling them), selection of seasoning, and economy of oil (so you don't have a goopy mess at the end).
posted by Wossname at 9:50 AM on October 1, 2010

Get this formula down, and then get creative with in it. Protein+veg+starch and a well seasoned sauce. I've had a variation on this meal a few times this week, and its delicious and very fast. It can be made faster with pre-cooked grains, and frozen prepped vegetables. (I don't judge!)

I've been using frozen tilapia. Feel free to use fresh, or other frozen protein. Our store sells "perfect portion" frozen chicken breast pieces, which are thin and great for this too.

Tilapia with pan sauce, veggies, and starch:

Get a bag of individually quick frozen (IQF) tilapia filets. (under $4 for a bag of 6). If you remember in the morning, put 2 filets in the fridge. If not, use this awesome thawing trick:

Take your biggest heaviest pan, put it on the counter, and plop the frozen fish on it. You know that heat sink on your processor? It's the same principle. The fish and your pan come to equilibrium, and the pan will come to equilibrium with room temperature. You'll have thawed fish in 10-20 minutes, depending on the thickness, and how much surface area touches the pan. (put the flat side of the filet touching the pan. Don't use a warped pan) *

Meanwhile, start some rice or quinoa cooking. They'll take about 20 minutes. (hey, you also have to wait 20 minutes for your fish!) Consider making a double batch of grains, to save for later in the week. Pre-cooked brown rice (shelf stable bowls, or frozen bags) is a good, fast, alternative.

While you're waiting, you can prep some veggies for steaming, or use a frozen bag. Pick green beans, cut broccoli or cauliflower florets, slice squash, etc. You can also give some consideration to your pan sauce, and prep the ingredients:

Lemon-white wine sauce:
  • 1 shallot, sliced or minced
  • juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • 1 glass white wine (I buy the tiny "picnic" bottles of wine for cooking)
  • herbage of some sort. Fresh parsley is nice, but anything dried works too
  • A pat of cold butter, added after you turn off the pan, will thicken. Skip it if you'd prefer
Tomato-balsalmic sauce:
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved. Or 2 roma tomatoes, or 1 big 'ol tomato, or half a can roasted diced tomatoes
  • 1-2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (to taste)
  • Herbs, to taste. Basil, oregano, or parsley are good choices.
  • butter, or olive oil, after the heat is turned off
Dijon sauce:
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
  • 1 small splash rice wine vinegar, or whatever vinegar you'd prefer
  • 1-2 cups vegetable stock (or wine)
Or really, come up with any thing you can think of. Capers, lemon juice, parsley and white wine is another classic. Warmed salsa is great too, or pesto, or marinara from a jar. Or forget the pan, and go for a quick mayo-based sauce like tarter sauce or dill-lemon sauce. I would not complain with a simple squeeze of lemon and sprinkle of parsley, or some soy sauce and butter.

When you've got 8 minutes left on your grain timer, start to cook. Start your veggies steaming. Rinse out your pan, pat dry your fish, season with salt and pepper. Heat up a tablespoon or two of olive oil. Fry your fish 1-3 minutes per side over medium high heat. Remove them to serving plates. Cook your sauce in the same pan. Add more oil if needed, or pour off excess. If you're using fresh tomatoes, use a potato masher on them in the pan. Let the sauce cook down on high until nice and thick. Don't season it until the end, or you'll find its twice as salty when it's 1cup of liquid as when it was 2 cups of liquid.

Now, everything is magically done at the same time! If you're cooking from thawed/raw fish, and pre-cooked grain and vegetables, this takes 8 minutes with 3-5 minutes of prep. From frozen, and raw grains/veg, it's 20 minutes total.

When I have more than a postage stamp of counter space, I'd love to get a combo rice cooker/veggie steamer. Put in rice or quinoa, water, and frozen or prepped raw veggies. Walk away and think about other things. Come back 20 minutes later and cook some kind of protein.

Again, be creative within this formula. Thin protein + veggie + grain + sauce. It's a fast track to dinner, and reasonably well balanced if you go for smaller portions of grain.

*This is also great if you want to freeze ground meat. Put the meat in sandwich bags, and squish them flat. Chicken breasts or steaks? Double wrap them in plastic wrap, make sure they lay flat as they freeze (like on a cookie sheet), then put them in a larger freezer bag. As you can see, surface area is key with this technique. If you're thawing steaks, or something more than .5inch thick, put the pan and meat in the fridge, and leave it for a few hours, flipping once. Having a good thawing technique will keep your food safe, and let you take advantage of sales.

Yay science!

posted by fontophilic at 9:50 AM on October 1, 2010 [6 favorites]

I like sweet potatoes for moments when I am "Oh my god, starving" hungry.

Bake several in the skins. Eat some the first night, with your rotisserie chicken, or salad, or what have you.

Then, in the following days, when the baby is screaming, all you have to do is slice a line down the middle of the sweet potato, nuke it for (however long it takes to get it as hot as you want), stuff it with sour cream/butter/brown sugar/whatever you like stuffed into a sweet potato.

Loaded with vitamins. The fiber makes you poop. And the sour cream and butter that I add are very dense in calories. Brown sugar and butter won't take you quite as far, but damn it's also a delicious combo.

A warning though. I've tried stuffing them with the dairy and reheating. That doesn't work for me. It's a texture thing. And a temperature thing.

I lobby hard for eating the skins, but if you don't like them, just scoop what you do like, and pitch what you don't.
posted by bilabial at 9:52 AM on October 1, 2010 [4 favorites]

The great duo of asparagus and eggs. A bed of nice asparagus with a sunny-side up egg is another good, minimal take on dinner sometimes.

Then there's this classic 2007 article.
posted by .kobayashi. at 10:03 AM on October 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

I know you said pasta and sauce was a no-go, but it's pretty easy to add a protien. This is pretty much my go-to meal when I don't feel like cooking. I keep a few boxes of pasta on hand, a jar of pesto and/or red sauce, and frozen pre-cooked chicken and shrimp. While the pasta is cooking, I toss a few chicken breasts or cooked shrimp into a skillet with some butter, pesto, basil, etc. and "gril" for about 10 minutes. Drain pasta, add sauce and chicken/shrimp, maybe toss in some cheese if I'm feeling adventurous. It takes about 15 minutes.

The added bonus for me is that a) my husband and I can mix/match our sauces and protein without much extra work and b) I make enough so that we have lunch the next day.
posted by tryniti at 10:10 AM on October 1, 2010

My go-to is chili. I'm eating heated up leftovers right now. You dump 5 cans into a big pot, season, simmer for however long you want.

Two cans of tomatoes, one can each of red beans, white beans, black beans. Season with garlic, chili powder, a chipotle pepper, salt pepper. When you serve it, grate some cheese over it if you like. Make lots for freezable leftovers.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 10:11 AM on October 1, 2010

A friend of mine was told me her eating healthy strategy: Keep on hand a few bags of pre-washed baby spinach, and add it to everything. She puts it in pasta sauce, soup, whatever. So that's one way to get some healthy stuff.

Add some spinach and some canned tuna, or leftover chicken breast, to the pasta + sauce, and it's not a bad meal. Just go easy on the pasta.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:36 AM on October 1, 2010

Oh, also, we do spinach quesadillas:

1. Wilt some fresh spinach in a pan with a tiny bit of heat and oil or water OR defrost/heat up frozen spinach and add in some chopped onions if you'd like (this makes it more complicated)
2. Warm up a tortilla
3. Put cheese on top.
4. Put spinach on top.
5. Fold over.
6. Put salsa on top.

posted by bluedaisy at 10:38 AM on October 1, 2010

I have two babies under two and I am WAY down with the crockpot. I love my 4 1/2 qt - it's perfect for two adults and a toddler dinner with lunch leftovers.

On days I'm not prepared enough to crockpot, I make up a mess of black beans. In my big sauté pan I heat/thaw some frozen pepper/onion mix, add a couple cans of well rinsed black beans, and a couple cups of frozen corn kernels. A little lime juice, cumin, red pepper and a smidge of cinnamon and voilà!

This basic bean mixture can be put over rice (yay rice cooker!), used with some cheese and mashed sweet potato for a quesadilla or added to eggs and topped with salsa.

Congrats on the new baby!
posted by PorcineWithMe at 10:54 AM on October 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

Eggs. Scrambled eggs. Omelettes. Egg sandwiches. Frittatas. Eggs!
posted by kidsleepy at 11:09 AM on October 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

I use the ziploc steam bags more often than I'd like to admit for vegetables. Fill a bag with rinsed off broccoli or green beans, shake in whatever seasoning you'd like, and 4 minutes later...perfect side dish.

Our go-to is thin-sliced chicken fillets. Everglades Seasoning (or seasoned salt, or whatever you like) on both sides, lemon juice and worcestershire sauce over top. Stick under the broiler for a few minutes (seriously, like 5-7. Those things cook quickly.) until they're done. Mojo sauce also works well for this. Make couscous while the chicken's cooking and you have vegetables in the microwave, and it's like a real dinner.

Sometimes, I'll bake up a bunch of sweet potatoes over the weekend and throw them in the fridge -- topped with the pre-spiced canned black beans and some sour cream or greek yogurt, they're a good, filling, protein-y and fiber-y meal. The same thing, sliced up over spinach (cooked or raw) is also good.

Shrimp and spinach or mustard greens stir-fried with some garlic and topped with some sesame oil takes about 3 minutes.

Frozen meatballs (or non-meatballs) will bake in about 20-30 minutes. Cover them in barbecue sauce, bake, then serve over whole wheat egg noodles.

Sloppy joes are easy, and even easier when you start them with frozen trinity mix.

And on nights when I'm too tired for any of those, Chicken broth + cheese tortellini + spinach = soup. Toss together a salad and throw some bread in the oven and call it dinner.
posted by ThatSomething at 11:24 AM on October 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

I am usually facing the 5 o-clock hour with a baby in one arm, my toddler either clinging to my leg or throwing a tantrum under my feet, and a preschooler saying "Mommy--mommy--mommy" a few feet away. Here's what works for me:

Slow-cookers rock. Slow-cooker cookbooks do NOT rock, however, and it's hard to find good ones that don't add a can of cream of mushroom soup. The exception to this is "Make it Fast, Cook it Slow" (from the blogger at with the bonus that her meals are also gluten-free if that's your bag. Her recipes are tried and true but I've found that the cut of meat makes a huge difference (always use chuck roast for beef or another fatty cut or everything will taste like old clothes, for example). Recipes are easy to adapt. Her coconut beef is really like a beef rendang, and instead of measuring spices I just add a dollop of red thai curry paste.

Figure out what days are hardest for you and try to keep from cooking those days (or use the slow-cooker). I used to be an Only From Scratch kind of cook and now I am not ashamed to buy pre-chopped anything - onions, celery, etc. Fry those up with some olive oil and garlic and all you really need to do is add meat and deglaze with a little chicken broth or wine, put it over rice or pasta, and add a vegetable. Frozen veggies like broccoli and peas have become my friends. Slice a little cucumber and tomato for a crunchy side. Butter and parmesan make any frozen veggie taste great! So does pesto, or a little fresh thyme, or a tiny bit of soy, or a tiny squeeze of anchovy paste.

Add hummus to a turkey sandwich for more protein -- this is what I craved most with my new babies. Puree nuked lima beans with fresh garlic for a healthy dip. Eat plain greek yogurt with fruit and a little honey drizzled on it. Make oatmeal in the crockpot over night, or make a pan of baked oatmeal (it ends up almost cakelike and nutty) and eat it for breakfast or snacks for the next few days.

Try to make meat stretch, like broiling a flank steak with a spice rub and then eating it in tortillas the next day for lunch. When I make a casserole like lasagna (don't boil the noodles, just layer them dry with a little extra moisture in the sauce and cook as usual) I make it in smaller portions, either an 8x8 pan or a bread pan and freeze one for later. The point is to cook once and have enough to knock together a meal the next day with little or no cooking. Easiest meal ever is to throw frozen chicken thighs into the crockpot with a few TBS of butter and some soy sauce. Cook on low for a few hours and serve over rice.

Asparagus with a little olive oil and salt broils in about 5 minutes, and I use the leftovers in quiche the next day. Sweet potatoes will bake in their skins for an hour and then slide out easily -- we puree them with a little butter, cream and maple syrup for a silky side.

I've had great luck lately making dishes from Cooks Country magazine, where they have a center pullout recipe section with everything under 30 minutes. I just take a few mins here and there to prep something throughout the day so that I don't need big blocks of time to do it all. I even have started baking my own bread now that I know how easy it is and use my KitchenAid to do the work.

Oh -- I also prep stuff so that if I'm making muffins, I measure out 2 or 3 ziplocs of ingredients. Next time all I have to do is dump it in a bowl, add eggs and milk, and bake it. SO much nicer than bought mixes! I do this for cakes and cookies too.

Good luck -- the early days are hard. But I have 3 little ones, and my expectations are lower in prep/work, higher in nutrition, than they used to be. Just remember that you want to eat well but not tire yourself out or impress anyone. Simple is just fine. :-)
posted by mdiskin at 12:31 PM on October 1, 2010 [6 favorites]

I do rice in those microwave packs, two serves takes 90 seconds, the brown rice is nice. Then a tin of fish, tuna or salmon tipped over it, a squeeze of lemon, and your salad on the side.

I also like the frozen fish options, keep a couple of packets of them in the freezer, you could have baked battered fish, or thai flavoured fish - again with salad, or maybe some rice noodles, they take about three minutes on the stove and rinse and you're done.
posted by b33j at 2:35 PM on October 1, 2010

Here's a much better version of beans-and-wienies that's very easy to throw together:

part of a bag of frozen mirepoix mix (pre-chopped onion, carrot, and celery; alternatively you can chop your own)
1 1/2 cups french lentils
2 bay leaves
2 cloves garlic, chopped
turkey kielbasa, chopped
tablespoon butter
sprinkle of red wine vinegar

Bring six cups of water and the lentils to a boil in a big pot. Toss in mirepoix, bay leaves, and garlic, kielbasa, and some salt. Simmer for about twenty-five minutes (does not require close watching, but if it gets totally dry add a little more water), until the lentils are tender but not mushy. Drain off excess liquid, stir in the butter and vinegar, and add salt and fresh ground pepper to taste. Can be made without the sausage for vegetarians, but it ups the protein content.
posted by bookish at 3:21 PM on October 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Here's how we do nachos at my house: I heat up canned refried beans, usually in the microwave. Then I spoon the bean into individual bowls for each family member. I then pull out the toppings from the fridge: already shredded cheese, salsa in a jar, and sour cream. Everybody adds their own toppings and uses tortilla chips to scoop up the beans. It's dead easy and actually tastes really good. (I add some ranch dressing to my beans too, but I'm the only one in the family who likes that.)

If we're feeling fancy we sometimes brown some hamburger meat with a taco seasoning packet and throw that on too. We'll also sometimes add chopped lettuce, tomatoes or olives.
posted by TooFewShoes at 3:42 PM on October 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Buy frozen vegetables, whether corn kernels, broccoli, carrot cubes or anything. Stir them in a pot and add your preferred dressing. Have some omelet, dairy products and red meat or maybe canned fish, fruits/juice on the side. That should take less than 15 mins in total.

Or of course, you can add most of the above ingredients in your spaghetti.

Try more variations and different tastings, such as rice instead of noodles, so you don't get sick of them.
posted by easilyconfused at 3:49 PM on October 1, 2010

Just wanted to add that if you decide to try out some crockpot stuff (I highly recommend... I love mine)--crockpot liners are the greatest thing since peanut butter. Beats the living crap out of scrubbing a dirty crock.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 4:36 PM on October 1, 2010 [3 favorites]

My postpartum freezer meals thread may be of help. Note that it does not just include frozen food.
posted by acoutu at 5:01 PM on October 1, 2010

For quick protein to add to your spaghetti and canned sauce, just buy some frozen meatballs. They're really pretty good.
posted by IndigoRain at 8:49 PM on October 1, 2010

My go-to quick meal is tin of tomatoes + tin of beans + tin of tuna into a saucepan, heat, boil some rice or noodles or lentils, and serve.

Lots of protein, some veges, some carbs. You can add a bit of olive oil if you want extra fat to fill you up. You can add some frozen veges if you are worried about vitamins. The whole thing is ready in the time it takes to boil the rice/noodles.

The only worry if you do it too often is the high-ish sodium content of all the tinned stuff.
posted by lollusc at 8:58 PM on October 1, 2010

Quick Crusted Salmon:
Mix mayo and mustard in about a 3:1 ratio (favoring mayo) to make about a 1/2 cup. Mix in a little dried dill.

Smear the mixture over a one-pound salmon filet (I use Trader Joe's frozen, which I defrost in a pan of water) and bake at 425 or so for 10 minutes or so, depending on the thickness of the fish. The mayo/mustard will form a crust. Serve with rice.
I make this every 2 weeks or so. If you make it, you will in time come to find a further advantage: it's creamy and inoffensively textured enough that picky toddlers will eat it.

A more general tip: prep when you have a minute, rather than leaving everything for 5:00, when babies tend to be fussy anyway. I chop/saute all vegetables in the late morning, while the newborn is sleeping, and just leave them on the stove. Then at 5:00 i can ... add a little flour and some milk and cheese to make a binder for baked pasta; add some beaten eggs and milk and pour into a store-bought crust for a quiche; add some bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs and make a fricasee; add some curry powder, chickpeas, tomato paste, and water/broth and serve over rice; etc.
posted by palliser at 9:54 AM on October 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

If you have anything like a SupperWorks near you, they are pretty great and might help a lot. Not only is the time preparing a fun hour or two out with a couple of friends (I often do split meals with a friend) or a date with your husband - ours offers a glass of wine to sip while assembling - it's a bunch of pretty good, not unhealthy meals that really work on short notice. It's not cheap, but it is about what we spend per meal anyway, and it's inspiring, because sometimes I get it together to do the same thing at home. I don't do it regularly, but if I know we have a busy week coming up, I might make the effort. Sometimes I bring some to my elderly in-laws, sometimes it's because I get sick of my own cooking.

And, I'm agreeing with the crockpot suggestions, but if you grill, that's so much easier. Your meat or fish and whatever veg in a foil pack plus a salad don't even require twenty minutes prep, just assembly. Having things around like roasted garlic and lots of spices to rub and season the various things means you can customize based on your mood, which is such a huge part of cooking.

And, I'm going to say - if at dinner time you can't think of ideas, that's because you're tired and it's been a long day and it might not be the best time to think of dinner. How about thinking of dinner when you're shopping, and sort of shuffle it around to accommodate your new normal?

Why not plan a series of meals (especially what you can do with the leftovers) when you write your list (when you have the time and energy to think - not right before it's time to shop or cook)? An example would be on a Sunday Chez Good, I'll roast two chickens. One is Sunday dinner (with salad and whatever veg on the side). The leftovers become sandwiches, quesadillas, stir fry and soup for the next two or three days (with whatever veg are around). I might grill some sausages for a break from the chicken for one of those meals, but then take some of that and the chicken and make a jambalaya. Then, a pork loin for dinner one night (grilled with a brown sugar/cumin crust) becomes tacos for another meal. A pot roast becomes a beef vegetable soup and sandwiches. If I'm lucky, I only "cook" three times each week, and the other meals are assembled, with a rotating cast of vegetables providing the variations.

It's a hard time - but for a while, don't make or even follow recipes - just cook the basics and use what you know about flavour and spices to make them into meals.
posted by peagood at 1:06 PM on October 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Fried rice takes ~20m.
posted by archagon at 5:29 PM on October 3, 2010

I make steamed fish in the microwave, Asian style. Everyone who has tried it and seen how quick it is has begged me for the method.

1. Buy fish, most kinds work.
2. Put it in a microwave safe dish, squirt some lemon juice over it, then about a teaspoon of sesame oil.
3. In a small bowl, mix up a splash each of - light soy sauce and any liquid you have (mirin, rice wine, leftover white wine, or just some Sprite or beer). Pour over fish.
4. Add some Ginger and spring onion or coriander on top. I use the ones that come in a tube. They're great.
5. Optional - half a tin of diced tomatoes in the dish as well.

Zap for 5 -8 mins, depending on size of dish and power of microwave. Serve on rice/couscous/noodles with a side salad. I tend to make enough rice to last a few days.

Also, I make the quickest lentil / veg stew. It is delicious, hearty, and so healthy. Basically put in a pot - vegetables, lentils, onion, cover with broth, walk away. Come back in twenty minutes. Eat.

I just read another post on AskMeta that blew my mind - about being able to cook pre made burger patties from frozen, this should blow your mind too and make another quick dish!

My favorite quick pantry pasta - creamy tuna pasta.
Start cooking your pasta.
In another lan, sauté onions if you have them. Drain 2 big tins of tuna and sauté. Add some frozen peas/carrots/corn. Sauté. Add some form of cream - either fresh, or a can or 2 of evaporated milk (yes! It's awesome!) or Philadelphia cooking cream that keels for ages. Season to taste. About 15 mins all up. Whoo! Your pasta is cooked! Drain pasta, combine with sauce, sprinkle parmesan on top. YUM.
posted by shazzam! at 6:19 PM on October 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Both of these are for when you're not only rushed but also find the pantry is nearly bare.

When I'm starving hungry but too-tired-to-stir-anything, my simple, quick meal, served in a deep plate or wide shallow bowl, is boiled small potatoes served with the skins on, boiled eggs, a few florets of steamed broccoli (or carrots). Everything gets seasoned with salt, pepper and butter, maybe a little parsley. Sometimes I even peel the eggs at the table.

My kids always loved this old plantation lunch that originated with their grandmother's cook: Fried sliced spam, canned spinach garnished with boiled egg and pain perdu (French toast). (Way too much fat and salt, so I rarely have it anymore but it's a surprisingly good combination).
posted by Anitanola at 9:49 PM on October 3, 2010

Diced meat or fish + diced cabbage + cheese if desired + 1 tablespoon of any salsa = tacos

I warm my corn tortillas on the burner = better flavor
posted by snowjoe at 8:58 PM on October 5, 2010

Tilapia and Asparagus on a Bed of Rice:

(The only special equipment you need is a rice cooker with one of those steamer trays)

1. Put rice and water in cooker
2. Place frozen Tilapia and asparagus on steamer tray
3. Cover cooker and switch it on
4. Watch episode of 30 Rock (Mad Men if using brown rice)
5. Take food out of cooker and season however you please. I like lemon pepper.
posted by Ndwright at 8:29 AM on October 6, 2010

I'm surprised stir-fry hasn't been over-recommended here. I keep a frozen veggie mix on standby. Pair that with a protein (tofu keeps longer in my experience) then quick cooking rice. You can buy premade sauces or make up your own. I mean really, it's a staple for us when we're getting close to dinner and my blood sugar drops. I really become uber-b*tch when I'm hungry.

Also surprised noone's mentioned No Take Out yet.
posted by purpletangerine at 1:05 PM on October 6, 2010

101 Cookbooks has a good selection of healthy stir-fries and salads, etc. My favorite is asparagus stir-fry. You could lose hours reading her site, so browse at your own risk.
posted by purpletangerine at 1:08 PM on October 6, 2010

One of my easiest go to meals: Our local grocery store has all different filets of fish frozen near the meat section. We usually go for the mahi mahi because we have found it to be the best. It is a quick defrost. Being from South Florida with a fisherman for a father, I have to say it tastes very good. I just put it in tin foil with some olive oil, your choice of spices and bake at 350 for about 15 minutes. While that is baking I usually make some couscous which takes under ten minutes and maybe pan fry some squash and zuchini in olive oil. The whole meal only takes around 20 mins..
posted by heatherly at 2:00 PM on October 7, 2010

I just stuck a list of my favorite fast stir fries in another thread. They're all pretty quick, and based around the idea of meat with a veg or two. If you were using a rice cooker, or microwave rice, they'd make for truly simple and easy meals.
posted by Ahab at 3:52 AM on October 8, 2010

From my boss...Dube's chicken (pronounced Doobie) Dube's is a local restaurant in Salem, MA.

4 boneless chicken breasts
1 sleeve Ritz crackers
1 stick of butter or margarine
4 slices cheese of choice (I like swiss or cheddar) boss uses American.

Preheat oven to 350 F.
Use rectangular baking dish.

Melt butter/margarine in microwave.
Smoosh up sleeve of Ritz crackers into coarse crumbs in large ziptop bag, carefully add melted butter/margarine. Smoosh mixture until butter/margarine in incorporated.

Spray pan with quick release spray (Pam), place chicken in pan, cover each piece with a slice of cheese. Top with cracker crumb mixture. Bake for 30 minutes.

Also good with mushroom added after the cheese. I've also been meaning to try this with fish filets.

Is also really good cold the next day for leftovers sliced for a sandwich with cranberry sauce.
posted by Bexlemon at 8:41 AM on October 8, 2010

Aside from the time it takes to get the water boiling, this is a decently healthy 10 minute recipe that we eat all the time.

box of pastas
3 heads of broccoli
bag of julienned sundried tomatoes (usually available in produce section of common supermarkets)
parmesan cheese

1) set a big pot of salted water to boil on the stove
2) When water boils, add pasta. Set timer for 10 mins
3) Rinse broccoli and roughly chop
4) When 5 min left on timer, add broccoli to pot
5) When 2 min left of timer, add sundried tomatoes
6) When timer is done, drain, toss with cheese and black pepper to taste, and serve

Feel free to add or substitute any veg. The trick is not to overcook the veg. You want your broccoli to be bright green and toothsome, not grey-green and mushy.
posted by halfguard at 8:10 AM on October 22, 2010

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