What are your best 20-minutes-or-less recipe ideas?
September 24, 2012 10:47 AM   Subscribe

I need quick, healthy dinner options for a family of three (some restrictions apply).

So, my wonderful wife is the one who usually cooks dinner, since she gets home a few hours before me. But lately she's been unable to cook because in addition to having to wrangle our rambunctious 3-year-old solo until I get home, she's dealing with the two-headed monster of pregnancy and a Crohn's Disease flare-up.

So, we go grocery shopping once a week and have meals all planned out, only to get to the evening and my wife is (understandably) way too wiped to handle the cooking duties. This leads to me picking up dinner on the way home, which isn't helpful to the wallet or waistline.

That aside, I need quick dinner ideas that can be put together in 20 minutes or less.

The restrictions: we've got a seafood allergy in the family, and because of my wife's CD, dinner salads (and large amounts of roughage in general) are a non-starter. Otherwise, we're open to your ideas (our three-year-old is the antithesis of a picky eater). Ideally would like it to be light on the starches as well.

We have a Crock Pot. I'm not opposed to making one or two meals on a Sunday afternoon for later in the week if they heat up well, either. Prior to having kids, cooking used to be a passion of mine, so I'm no slouch when it comes to executing against a recipe. I just want to be able to feed my family something healthy and tasty within 20 minutes of my walking in the door.

Thanks MeFites.
posted by po822000 to Food & Drink (27 answers total) 51 users marked this as a favorite

One really easy meal out of the Crock Pot is this:

Beef Brisket, or Stew meat (nothing fancy, a nice, hard piece of meat)
A packet of Lipton's Onion Soup Mix
16oz baby carrots
Tomato Puree or small jar of prepared spaghetti sauce

You can sear the meat, but it's not imperative. Throw it all in the crock pot and cook on low all day.

When you get home, you can boil some noodles (or Dreamfield pasta) and serve.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:59 AM on September 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

The answer is in what foods you buy, and what you use your crockpot for. I'm a big fan of using the crockpot to make an ingredient that you then use to assemble dinner. Like pork shoulder with green chiles and cumin to make carnitas, or bone-in skin-on chicken breasts with a little water that you can then pull to make pulled chicken, and toss with barbecue sauce for barbecue sandwiches. Also, look into things like pre-made meatballs that you can then heat up in marinara sauce, pre-chopped vegetables that you can just wing into the microwave, etc. Yes, it is more expensive and not as healthy as making from scratch, but it is less expensive and healthier than picking food up on the way home. You are in trying times, it is OK to cut a few corners.

That having been said, here are some of my go-tos.

Sausages with sweet potatoes and pineapple! I use the chicken sausages from Aidells, there are a lot of different kinds, we like the bacon/mushroom/gruyere in particular. In the morning, wash your sweet potatoes and put them into the crockpot, whole, still wet, and set it to low. When you get home, throw the sausages into a non-stick fry pan with enough water to come about halfway up the sausages and turn it to high. While the water is boiling away, peel, core, and chop a fresh pineapple. After all the water is boiled off, maybe turn the pan down a bit to let the sausages brown up for a couple minutes, then pull them out of the pan and add in the pineapple. Sprinkle it with cinnamon and let it cook until it's just starting to soften, but not fully cooked. The sweet potatoes in the crock pot will magically be perfectly cooked.

Lemon chicken with broccoli and rice! Pre-make a marinade of lemon juice and cornstarch, maybe some salt and pepper. When you walk through the door, throw boneless skinless chicken breasts into that marinade, and start rice cooking. Let the chicken marinate for about 15 minutes, then brown it in some butter. While that's going on, either chop broccoli to steam, or throw a thing of pre-chopped brocc in the microwave. Add a little brown sugar (bc of the lemon juice) and the rest of the marinade, plus some water if it needs it, and cook until the sauce thickens. Et voila.

Chickpeas with coconut milk! You can pre-mince ginger and garlic, or do what I do and buy a gigantic container of ginger-garlic paste at the Indian grocery. Cook about 3 tbsp of that paste along with a tablespoon of curry powder in some ghee or a little oil, then add 2 cans of chickpeas and a can of coconut milk. Simmer until done, serve over rice.

More later if I think of them.
posted by KathrynT at 11:03 AM on September 24, 2012 [13 favorites]

Have you thought about cooking a meal *after* you eat, say on Monday, to be heated up on Tuesday? That might give you a wider variety. We used to do this with the grilled chicken breasts - I'd cook 2-3 days worth at a time, and then we'd just reheat during the week.

Easy things we do - pre-made chicken patties or hamburger patties and frozen veggies, sausages and peppers/onions, tacos (no shells) - you essentially brown the meat, simmer it in the taco mix, and then throw lettuce, salsa, and cheese in a bowl with the meat, grilled chicken breasts and frozen veggies.
posted by needlegrrl at 11:03 AM on September 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is an expansion of the pre-cooking a meal suggestion above - when you compose your menu for the week, see how many things can made ahead of time, or some prep work done ahead of time. Try to get as much of this done as possible during the weekend (soups and stews can be made ahead of time and kept in the fridge, vegetables can be chopped and cooked ahead of time, etc.). Then when you get home, you can just assemble and reheat what is in the fridge.
posted by needled at 11:07 AM on September 24, 2012

Some variation of stir-fried rice noodles is delicious and fast and easy, throw some veg like broccoli in a steamer pot as a side, and maybe heat up some miso soup with cubes of tofu.
posted by lakersfan1222 at 11:11 AM on September 24, 2012


Pizza Sausage!
Get some Italian sausages, slice in half length-wise and roast for a bit. Dab with pre-made spaghetti sause (make yourself or use a jar.) When nearly done, add some pepperonis, toast until they cook. Then add Italian cheeses. Mmmmm. Pizza Sausage.

Pork Chops and diced sweet potato.
You can buy pre-diced sweet potato in the packaged potato section. Ore-Ida has the Steam n Mash bags, or you can peel and dice the sweet potato yourself. If you do this. Zap in microwave for about 3-4 minutes, think par-boil.

Put pork chops on a cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil. Season as you like (mojo is good, barbecue rub, whatever you like.)

Put potato dices on a cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil. Spray or toss with olive oil and season with salt, pepper and a bit of cinnamon.

Roast until done. Serve with a green veggie and apple sauce.

Pork Chops on the stove.

Brown pork chops in butter in a large pan. Season them with salt and pepper. Add a can of Italian tomatos. I use cherry tomatoes in tomato puree. Burst the tomatoes, either in your hand before you put them in the pan, or in the pan with your spatula. Wear an apron, this may get messy. Or ask your 3-year old to do it. FUN!

Once the pork chops are simmering, add fresh sage. Oregano works well too.

Serve over pasta or spaghetti squash.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:13 AM on September 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

This cookbook has fast, easy, healthy dishes. Twenty minutes is pushing it, but after the first time I can make most of them in less than half an hour.
posted by scratch at 11:19 AM on September 24, 2012

I just bought a new slow cooker and made this in it and it was a huge hit and super easy, took me 2 minutes to throw in the pot. Yes you can prebrown the meat and whatever but I just threw it all in and it came up amazingly. Made a huge pot and froze the leftovers and had 3 more dinners from it.

A rice cooker is a huge help if you are short on time cooking, you can throw everything in the cooker and make up a quick stirfry while the rice cooks unsupervised.

Pick up a rotisserie chicken, have that one night and then you have the left overs for a chicken dish the next night.

Also some nights we just have breakfast for dinner, bacon eggs, fried tomatoes etc.
posted by wwax at 11:20 AM on September 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

Ina Garten's Spaghetti Aglio E Olio is my family's newest obsession. Very simple, but totally amazing (unless you don't like garlic). Adding chicken and a veggie to it, plus a green salad makes it a very servicable dinner that comes together as quickly as boiling a pot of water and pasta for 10 minutes.
posted by gregchttm at 11:20 AM on September 24, 2012

I don't have to deal with the dietary restrictions but I'm also working out of home and still in charge of getting dinner on the table. It can be done. Here's a few things that have helped. (A huge caveat: 20 minutes is BRUTAL. 30 is about the limit of my abilities. YMMV.)
  1. Weekly meal planning is a must. I have a whiteboard that lists the days of the week in two places: one for what meal is going to be served, the other for "what do I need to do in advance to meal X on the table for day Y." For example, if I want to BBQ some chicken from the freezer on Saturday, I have to make sure the chicken is out of the freezer and in the fridge on Thursday.
  2. Cook / prep cook as much as you can the night before. Chopping vegetables always takes longer than you think it will. Do that at night.
  3. Find good shortcuts! A jar of pre-minced garlic can save 3-5 minutes of chopping. It's no good in fresh foods like guacamole, but unnoticeable in marinades and roasts.
  4. Try a make-ahead cookbook. I've had good luck with the recipes in Fix, Freeze, Feast. You buy a ton of meat, make a big marinade, and freeze it all. Thaw it in the freezer a day or two before you need it (back to the meal plan!) and get things on the table.
Here's an example recipe from the FFF book has a recipe for Swimming Rama chicken that should work for you guys:
  • 6 lbs chicken, cut into bite size pieces
  • 3 14oz cans coconut milk
  • 1/4 cup fish sauce
  • 2 tbsp red curry paste (we used yellow curry last night b/c it's what I had on hand, really it's up to your family's spice tolerance)
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1 1/2 cups ground peanuts
On a calm night after the kid's in bed...
  1. Combine coconut milk, fish sauce, curry paste and honey in a pot and bring to simmer over medium-low heat
  2. Add chicken and cook 20 minutes or until no longer pink
  3. Stir in peanuts, remove from heat, allow to cool
  4. Divide into three labeled zip-loc freezer bags, throw 'em in the freezer.
Two days before you want to eat, thaw a bag in the fridge.
Then put it in a pot and bring back to a simmer. Serve on spinach.

Message me if you need more ideas... I've spent most of this year on this stuff and while I can't guarantee dinner is on the table at 6 on the dot at least we're not eating BK every night! :-)

(oh man BK sounds so good right now)
posted by rouftop at 11:21 AM on September 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

This pork loin recipe is delicious. If you made the glaze the night before, you could dump it in when you get home and eat 30 minutes later.
posted by jaimystery at 11:25 AM on September 24, 2012

It might be closer to 30 minutes, but quiches and frittate are brilliantly easy, require very few "set" ingredients aside from eggs/crust/cheese, and reheat well for virtually all meals. Slice some tomatoes or cucumbers for the side if a full salad isn't an option, though a simple olive oil and lemon squeeze works with most greens and quiche options. Sample suggestions: chunks of roasted potato with sauteed onions and rosemary; sweet potato with roasted red pepper and feta; leftover spinach with cheddar....I don't eat meat that often, but you could easily put in cooked sausages or roasted chicken as well.

Roasted peppers with leftover rice, ground beef or lamb, and marinara sauce.

Fried egg sandwiches or BLT's; slice tomato, onion, lettuce and let everyone make to their own taste.

If done at one time, this would take longer than your time limit, but lasagna doesn't have to take that long to prepare and you can substitute roasted vegetable slices or brown rice pasta in for the traditional sheets.

Crepes or savory pancakes! Saute frozen spinach with onion and garlic; slice chicken or sausage; cheese optional. Frozen berries + a bit of fruit juice + vanilla extract. Can make crepes at the same time or make the batter in advance. Also works well on french toast.

Pot roast or brisket. Like I said, I'm essentially a vegetarian, but this is such a fond memory of childhood. Also requires very little prep time, can be done on a weekend, or in your crockpot. If you're roasting it in the oven, you can do trays of other roasted vegetables either in the juice or by themselves for later recipes.

Poached eggs on salads.
posted by jetlagaddict at 11:37 AM on September 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I made this over the weekend and it was nearly effortless and absolutely delicious:

2 cups of dry split peas, sorted and rinsed
about 1 cup of chopped ham (from one of those big cheap hunks of sandwich ham)
handful of baby carrots, chopped
handful of snack-sized celery sticks, chopped
1/4 white onion, chopped
4 cups of water
1 chicken bullion cube
1-2 tablespoons of butter
garlic powder, onion powder, celery seed, cumin, italian seasoning and salt & pepper to taste (I like everything very seasoned)

I put everything in the crockpot together and cooked it on high for 3-4 hours and then low for a couple more hours. You could leave it on low for 8 hours while you're at work and voila! Return to deliciousness.
posted by crackingdes at 11:41 AM on September 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

One of our favorite go-to dinners is a rotisserie chicken, flour tortillas, chopped pepper, onions, avocado, cheese, etc. and make chicken soft tacos. You can add any topping you like, throw some refried beans on the side and you have a quick, easy meal that is easily adaptable to everyone's preferences. Then you can usually use the rest of the chicken for lunch sandwiches or roll ups the next day.
posted by pearlybob at 11:42 AM on September 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

Another favorite need-food-now meal is the taco/burrito/fajita bar.

Fry some hamburger, or chicken pieces, or steak strips, and season with cumin/chili powder/cayenne pepper/garlic powder/salt & pepper. Hamburger is probably the fastest. Heat up a can of refried beans or cooked black or pinto beans. Chop some iceberg lettuce and tomato.

Have on hand any or all of the above: salsa, tortillas, grated cheese, sour cream, canned jalapeƱos, canned black olives, tortilla chips, hot sauce, avocados, whatever else you like. People can assemble burritos or tacos or what have you based on their tastes.

I find this so fast and tasty I kind of wish I could have it every night...
posted by crackingdes at 11:47 AM on September 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also, the back of the Barilla No bake Lasagna noodles has an AMAZING lasagna recipe. We add Italian sausage and a little more cheese but it's super easy, and VERY good. Probably takes about 15 to prep and 45 to cook but 3 people could eat on it for a few days. My kids love it! Maybe prep one night and cook the next.... It would be even better... It's seriously one of the easiest, best lasagnas I've ever had.
posted by pearlybob at 11:53 AM on September 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks so much for the ideas so far - to help increase the realm of possibilities, I'm also open to something that may only take a few minutes of prep but up to 40 minutes in the oven - during that time I can play with the kiddo and give my wife some much-needed "chill time".
posted by po822000 at 12:09 PM on September 24, 2012

Ooh! OK, here's another one -- it sounds kind of weird, but bear with me, it's really good. You start by making slow cooker carnitas as described above. Then, in an 11x7 baking dish, you layer:

-- Canned black beans
-- Carnitas
-- Corn tortillas cut into strips
-- pureed roasted winter squash (I sometimes cheat and just open a can of "pumpkin" which is usually really butternut squash) mixed with Penzey's Arizona Dreaming spice blend, or whatever southwesty type spices you like
--Cheddar cheese, or a blend of cheddar and jack

Sometimes I do two layers of each, sometimes one layer.

Bake at 350 for 30-45 minutes or until bubbly. We call this "three sisters casserole" or "southwest lasagna" in my house.
posted by KathrynT at 12:28 PM on September 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

Turkey meat loaf! Tastes as good as hamburger meat loaf but way less greasy.

My base recipe is:

1 lb. ground turkey
1 egg
1/2 can tomato paste
Dash Worcestershire sauce
1/2-3/4 cup breadcrumbs
Seasoning to taste

Top with the remaining tomato paste.

You can also add in chopped onion, garlic, or shredded carrot if it suits your wife's dietary requirements. Or onion powder.

Put in a loaf pan and bake at 350 for 45-50 minutes. I usually serve with a frozen veg nuked in the microwave when the meat loaf comes out. Uncle Ben's instant rice packets are pretty good, we use the ones with very low sodium, brown, jasmine, bamati. Otherwise, you can cut up and roast some potatoes on a cookie sheet alongside the meat loaf. We're also fond of quinoa.

Another easy dish is baked white fish fillets:

- Pour a small amount of your favorite cooking oil into a glass baking dish.
- Put in the filets and turn once to coat with oil.
- In a small bowl, mix fresh or canned diced tomatoes, herbs of your choice, such as cilantro, or parsley and garlic, Italian herbs, etc. I toss in some bread crumbs as well.
- Pour tomato mixture on top of fish.
- Bake at 350-375 for about 25 minutes. Depends on the thickness of the filets.

Spicy baked chicken breasts:

- Coat chicken breasts with oil and sprinkle on a generous amount of cumin and chili powder.
- Bake on a sheet for about 25-30 minutes.
- Serve with rice or baby red potatoes and veg of choice.

The chicken breasts can be done with other spices but that just happens to be my favorite flavor. You can bake up a bunch on the weekend and freeze or refrigerate, depending on when you'll be using them. They can be shredded for stir fries or tacos, or chicken and rice casserole (rice, chicken and gravy, layered twice and topped with butter bread crumbs and baked till bubbly about 30 minutes, can also be made ahead).

Another thing we used to do is make a Sunday roast and put the leftovers into a pie on Mondays. Chop it all up and use pre-made pie crust, add gravy, and bake about 40 minutes.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 12:48 PM on September 24, 2012

One of my go-to meals when I don't have time or inspiration to cook dinner is to have breakfast for supper. Scrambled eggs, your breakfast meat of choice (bacon, turkey bacon, veggie sausage), toast or biscuits, applesauce or fruit. Maybe not the healthiest of dinners since there's no veg, but it's quick to fix and easy to clean up after.
posted by SweetTeaAndABiscuit at 12:49 PM on September 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

-Soba noodles with peanut sauce, cucumbers, and a protein (either tofu or chicken)--if you've got the protein pre-cooked it'll come together really quickly.

-Easiest, best tomato sauce: 1 large can whole San Marzano tomatoes; 1 onion, quartered; 2-5 tablespoons butter. Put it all in a pot, cook on low, squishing tomatoes occasionally, for 40-50 minutes. You can either blend it to mix in the onion, or pull the onion out and serve as-is. SO good--I use this sauce on pasta, in lasagne, on pizza, and am frequently tempted to just eat it with a spoon.

-French lentils--there's lots of recipes, but if you pre-chop the carrots, onions, and celery it requires almost no work. You just simmer them together for about 40 minutes with some spices and broth, and toss in parsley and balsamic vinegar at the end. So good, and a really solid meal with rice or bread or other carb-y side dish.

-I like to simmer chickpeas or white beans with a green (kale is good, could also use spinach or collards or chard), and canned tomatoes if I have them. I usually add cumin, garlic, and red pepper flakes, and simmer it on low for about 20 minutes. It's really flexible and easy. I can't remember where I got the original recipe, but it's so adaptable--you can use any bean/green/spice combo you like.

There's nothing wrong with eggs and toast, or grilled cheese and a side of fruit or raw veggies for dinner!
posted by min at 12:49 PM on September 24, 2012

Other thoughts--

Stuffed shells with ricotta, egg for binding, and herbs. Much easier than lasagna and faster cooking; more of a sauce/ricotta balance than starches. Can also be used to stuff eggplant rollatini; maybe wrap pancetta as well for more protein and flavor?

Roasted sweet potatoes, with your favorite sweet or savory stuffed potato fillings inside. If really pressed for time, you can actually cook sweet potatoes in the microwave. Not as good as roasted, but useful for making a quick side of mashed sweet potato.

Ooh, Kathryn T reminded me of another one-- roasted acorn squash with a maple syrup glaze. Just halve and roast under caramelized and soft all the way through. You can eat them out of the rind, and serve with the leftover or quick-cooking protein of your choice.
posted by jetlagaddict at 12:52 PM on September 24, 2012

I am at this very moment eating Chilindron Stew which a very tasty Spanish stew.

The recipe as written has a bunch of steps, but I put all the ingredients together the night before and then pop it in the crock pot in the morning and let it go for 8-9 hours.

(and my secret tip is to use smoked paprika instead of regular!)
posted by vespabelle at 1:18 PM on September 24, 2012

The Desperation Dinners cookbook seems to be what you need: Everything is made in under 20 minutes; it includes Kid-Friendly dishes (non-spicy); and nearly all of the recipes are delicious!
posted by sarajane at 2:42 PM on September 24, 2012

I'll Nth all the suggestions for burritos and stir frys. Those are staples in our house and we like them because they can go vegetarian or not depending on our mood or what we have in the house. We make meatless fajitas nearly once a week and I have not tired of them yet.

I know you said you'd like to be light on the starches, but we do a lot of pasta dinners that are light on pasta and really full on veggies. If you make an actual serving size of pasta per-person, and not an Olive Garden size amount, it's really not bad. Some or our favorites are angle hair loaded up with lots of multicolored bell peppers and maybe some sliced onions, lightly tossed in olive oil; we also go for some penne with lots of steams broccoli and peas (make a quick sauce out of some past water & cheese). Obviously you can add some meat to this as desired.

If you're into quinoa, I highly recommend this curried quinoa and veggies. You basically chop your veggies while the quinoa is cooking & then you're done. I eat it in a bowl, not in a wrap, but I'm sure it is delicious either way.

You also can't beat breakfast-for-dinner when you are looking for a quick meal. I imagine it'd get tiring to have constantly, but every now and then, I love a good omelet for dinner, and it's a great way to use little bits of leftovers in the fridge.
posted by nuclear_soup at 6:28 PM on September 24, 2012

Despite the reputation, this is one of my favourite cookbooks. It really is simple, quick and very very good.
posted by BadMiker at 2:59 AM on September 25, 2012

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