Family Dinners for People Who Hate to Cook
August 22, 2017 9:53 AM   Subscribe

Working Parents Who Hate To Cook: what should be on our list of easy family dinners?

If you love to cook, please consider skipping this question. I am really looking for answers from people who hate to cook. I'm glad you love to cook, but it means you approach this from a very different perspective, a perspective that I simply do not share with you.

Okay. My son is about to turn 3. We are working parents and we get home with him around 5:50pm. He is in bed with lights out by 7pm, which means we only have about an hour for the whole routine, including preparing and eating dinner. Up until now, we have just thrown together a toddler meal (some combination of foods we know he'll eat) for the kiddo, and then we've done our real adult meal after he's in bed. But now we think we need to buckle down and do a family meal together every night.

The issue is that we hate to cook. We both just hate it. My husband is the family cook because he has opinions about what we eat, while I just don't care. But neither of us want to cook. We do takeout way more than we should, and it's taking a toll on our health and finances. We have managed to put together a list of 2-3 easy dinner options for ourselves, but it takes a huge amount of motivation and energy and support and effort to get ourselves to actually make those dinners happen more than a couple times a week because we just don't want to do it.
I don't know why we hate to cook so much. Our kitchen is old and small and cramped and dark, so it's not a place I like to spend my time. But I recently learned about executive dysfunction, and I have to say that there's a not-insignificant amount of that going on with both of us as well. So if you were coming in to tell us that we just need a slow cooker or we just need to learn to caramelize onions properly or we just need to repaint the kitchen or whatever, I don't think that alone will do it. Blue Apron and such services look great, but I know they will show up at my door and then the food will rot because I will never ever be in the mood to cook it. The fact is that we just hate cooking, we never will love cooking, and yet we also really need to start putting a family meal on the table on a regular basis.
I think our best move is to broaden our list of dinner options that we know are easy and fast, and then just make sure we have those foods stocked in the kitchen.

So, parents who hate to cook, what goes on your table for family dinner on the nights when you're not doing takeout? What are some fast meals we should consider for our list?

*Additional caveat: our kitchen does not have a vent over the stovetop, so we will be less likely to make meals that will fill the house with that greasy smell of cooked meat that lingers for the next 36 hours.
posted by aabbbiee to Food & Drink (66 answers total) 103 users marked this as a favorite
Have you tried doing a big meal prep on Sundays that gets you off the hook from cooking for a few weeknights?

Roast chicken or beef, or lasagna, or spaghetti with meatballs, 3-4 sides, in portions such that they can be mixed, matched, and heated up nightly. This will take the heat off you at least a couple of nights a week and you can cook the meal right after grocery shopping on the weekend so you'll know you have what you need on hand.
posted by notorious medium at 10:06 AM on August 22, 2017 [13 favorites]

Hello! I also hate to cook, so so much. The advice given to me in this thread was pretty helpful!

(I specified no slow cookers at the outset because lord knows MeFi loves a slow cooker. But you know what I don't love? How every slow cooker I ever owned fucking died in the middle of a work day, destroying pounds and pounds of expensive ingredients and leaving me with no food! Fuck slow cookers.)

Also, if you're not working with a moderately-picky audience (I was), man, sandwiches and wraps and salads are your friend. Cook up a batch of chicken and boil up some eggs at the start of a week and rotate those on a variety of breads with mustards and bbq sauces and, I dunno, some fun lettuces? Healthy and kid-friendly and easy to add variety to. Lord I miss my days of sandwich dinners.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 10:12 AM on August 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

A pasta or rice side (the kind you buy in various flavors and dump in boiling water), a frozen vegetable side, and ham steak (precooked and just needs to be heated up in a skillet).

Quiche. Way easier than it sounds. Frozen pie crust, four eggs, some milk, and some veg (canned or frozen), shredded cheese, and a protein. Great way to use up leftovers.

Pasta and sausage, with bottled pasta sauce or just butter and grated cheese. Some sausage is pre-cooked and just needs to be heated up.

Bonus: These are all meals that my 3 and 4 year old will eat.
posted by amro at 10:14 AM on August 22, 2017 [4 favorites]

Easy easy meals:

Dry a whole chicken with paper towels inside and out salt it with two tablespoons of salt, oven at 400 until golden. Serve with bag of salad.

Pork shoulder with BBQ spices and a half bottle of beer in the slow cooker in the morning. Serve with taco wraps, on slider buns, etc in the evening 8+ hour later with some sliced cukes or other vegetable.

Take some precooked chicken sausage, put in pot with an inch of chicken stick, garlic. Heat. Add torn up kale and mix until kale is cooked a bit. Salt and onions could also be added at the outset. Serve in a bowl.

Grilled cheese sandwiches and sliced tomatos.

Fish sticks in the oven and cole Slaw on the side. Alternative, chicken nuggets. Bonus points: add tater tots.
posted by slateyness at 10:16 AM on August 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

Frozen quiche! frozen pot pies, frozen chicken breasts (you can even use real ones with a bit of prep...), rotisserie chicken from the store, coming home hot and ready to slice!

Also, things in boxes, like Mac'n'cheese, or we got tortellini that's frozen, and pesto can be bought as well and added.

We do a lot of take-out, though, taking advantage of living in a big city, where we can get Mexican (Speck eats tacos!), Indian (she eats chicken tikka!), Chinese (she eats dumplings! and beef with broccoli), and Thai (she refuses to even try it!)... Be easy on yourself.
posted by acm at 10:18 AM on August 22, 2017

Also, depending on the grocery situation where you are, you may have access to things like already-cooked chickens, pulled pork, prechopped stuff in a salad bar, that sort of thing. I take ample advantage of these--they're more expensive (probably? not that much more tbh) than doing it from scratch but much less expensive than takeout.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 10:19 AM on August 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

Our fast-and-easy meals include:
frozen tortellini or ravioli topped with jarred sauce
bean burritos (spread canned beans & pre-shredded cheese on a tortilla and microwave for 30 seconds)
baked (or microwaved) potato topped with canned chili or baked beans
naan pizza (top frozen naan with sauce & cheese and bake about 10 minutes at 400 degrees)

The omnivores in our family will sometimes add meat (like leftover rotisserie chicken or frozen meatballs) to their serving. We usually have some kind of salad or frozen vegetable with these.
posted by belladonna at 10:19 AM on August 22, 2017 [5 favorites]

In addition to the cook-Sunday-eat-all-week, there's also cook-Sunday-freeze-half, so that you don't have to worry about repetition blues. Two weeks later, that lasagna or whatever seems like an easy treat again!
posted by acm at 10:20 AM on August 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

Rub some store-made spice mix on a pork loin. Roast it in oven at 350 until cooked through.

At the same time toss some veggies (baby carrots so you don't have to peel and chop anything, green beans, brussel sprouts, etc) in olive oil and salt and pepper. Roast them on a pan in the oven, simultaneous to pork loin.

The best hack for roasting things without having to worry about burning anything is to line the pan with one of these. Best kitchen tool ever - nothing will scorch to the pan. Makes life so much easier.
posted by egeanin at 10:20 AM on August 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

I do a lot of rice, quinoa, or potatoes, plus whatever meat or protein we are in the mood for:
rice + canned beans + tortillas + baked chicken breasts
Baked potatoes + pork tenderloin (sliced into medallions) + green beans
Tofu + frozen stir fry veggie mix + rice or quinoa
Left over baked potatoes scooped into a skillet + veggies + tortillas
Quinoa + roasted veggies (cauliflower, broccoli, etc) + steak
Pasta noodles + spaghetti sauce + frozen garlic bread
Plus I keep some easy stuff on hand to keep us from eating out all the time... it's not very healthy, but it's cheaper:
- frozen French fries, frozen fish sticks / shrimp, frozen burritos, frozen pasta dishes, frozen veggie burgers, etc

Rice, quinoa, and Pasta all cooks pretty fast and can keep in fridge for several days or in freezer for weeks / months. It's nice to start dinner prep with at least one element already 'done'.
posted by machinecraig at 10:23 AM on August 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

Fried rice.

I am you, except my son is younger. I find fried rice to be a great vehicle for veggies, various types of meat, and flavors: teriyaki, pepper, etc. You can put eggs in it, switch out rice for noodles - it's awesomely flexible. It's also possible to do if you cook up a bunch of plain rice, then add your veggies and meats on a daily basis as needed.

Same with pre-made pizza dough. Throw some tomato sauce on there, and then whatever cut up veggies and meats you want, top with cheese.

If there's a Trader Joes near you, they sell excellent fresh shredded chicken breast that can be added to salads and fried rice and stir-fry dishes. I trust TJ's over most regular grocery stores, although this may or may not be justified!
posted by Everydayville at 10:28 AM on August 22, 2017

As suggested above, you need to work on preparing food on the weekend, so you can get dinner on the table fast, given your short window between dinner and bedtime.

So on the weekend, do a couple of these - don't do everything, or you'll poke your eye out with a paring knife!:
Roast a couple of chickens (or buy rotisserie chickens, if you aren't opposed to them)
Roast a couple of pans of veggies in the oven
Roast a beef or pork roast
Bake a few white or sweet potatoes
Boil up a big batch of rice or other grains
Fry up a big batch of taco meat.

Then, mix and match your prepared foods on the weeknights, supplementing with bagged salad and/or frozen veg, as needed. You might want to actually make a meal plan, so you know how much you need to cook and/or if you have any holes in the week. Also, you can then add things to the grocery list like tortillas + cheese for the tacos, sour cream for the potatoes, etc. Freeze any leftover foods (except for the potatoes), ideally before Friday rolls around.

You should also keep in the pantry/freezer a couple of emergency meals for when things go haywire:
Jarred sauce and spaghetti + maybe meatballs in the freezer
Meatballs in the freezer + a jar of gravy over pasta
Naan pizzas (from above)

Good luck!
posted by sarajane at 10:31 AM on August 22, 2017

Some secrets to enjoying cooking: better lighting, better knife, a knife skills class, foods you love eating, pre-prepped foods (love garlic? Sure lots of folks will gasp when I say to save yourself time and buy it in a tube or a jar or those Dorot brand cubes, let them gasp. Ditto pre-chopped veggies and meatballs in a bag).

Also, less cooking.

Do you like cheese and crackers? That can be dinner if you add two nice veggie sides. You can make a salad from one head of lettuce, one or two nice tomatoes, and one zucchini. Or whatever vegetable combo you like. Even buying a premise salad at the grocery store is cheaper than the restaurant version.

Spaghetti and meat balls: Get a bag of meatballs, a few boxes of spaghetti and a few hats of sauce. Feel free to taste test several jars. In the morning thaw however many meatballs you'll want for dinner. As soon as you walk in the door, one of you puts the pasta water on to boil. It's a quick dinner if you're not standing around waiting for the water. Serve with salad or frozen microwaved veggies.

Tacos: poach or bake some chicken breasts or thighs on the weekend, or buy them rotisserie. cooked. Shred the meat and mix in some taco seasoning. Use grated cheese, sour cream, tomato, and beans. You can also turn this into nachos of rice bowls.

Hot dogs or sausages: skip the bun, add a relish and veggie sides. Again, you can cook these in the oven. Fuck it, use canned corn if you want, but I like the bagged frozen stuff myself.

Grilled cheese sandwich: butter the pan. Use grated cheese on each bread slice, cover the pan wth foil until cheese is melty. Add bacon or tomato slice of sliced ham. I like two cheeses mixed, you'll find your cheese rhythm here. Kraft singles are fine. It's what you're getting if you order from the kid menu at a lot of places. Serve with veggies and soup.

Bobs red mill makes a bean soup mix that I like. Sautee an onion, a carrot and a little bit of celery. Or don't, the soup doesn't care. Add boiling water. Cook until the beans are done. Serve with grilled cheese sandwich.

Pancakes: make an ungodly number of pancakes on the weekend. Freeze then on a baking sheet then put them in a ziplock bag. Reheat on the baking sheet. Cook bacon in the oven. Or bug it pre-cooked. Serve with fruit. Frozen fruit even. Splurge on real maple syrup for this. Works with waffles too, if you have a waffle iron.

Really, any entree you get in the frozen aisle is going to be cheaper and possibly healthier than what you get in the restaurant. Add a salad or some sliced fruit and veg and you have a dinner.

For veggie sides, if you want to make them at home, you can roast Brussels sprouts in the oven in about the time it takes to boil a large pot of water, make and dress pasta. You can roast squash at home. Really any firm veggie can be tossed in olive oil and roasted. The smalles the pieces you cut it into, the faster it cooks. You can buy thirty kinds of pre-made veggies. Somewhere, a kid is having boxed Mac n cheese for dinner tonight and that kid is probably fine. Spend the time you save reading to your kiddo, even if you're 'just' reading the Mac n cheese box.
posted by bilabial at 10:31 AM on August 22, 2017 [4 favorites]

Here's a link to my quick-n-dirty Tex-Mex meals comment from a year or so back.
posted by telophase at 10:31 AM on August 22, 2017

Scrambled eggs, my friend. Scrambled eggs. Plenty of them; it doesn't take any longer to cook 3 per person than two, and you'll feel better. Serve some cherry tomatoes on the side, or a cut up bell pepper. You want a piece of buttered toast with that? Seems reasonable. You still hungry? I see some bananas in the fruit bowl. Spread a little natural peanut butter or sunbutter on that, you'll be fine.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:33 AM on August 22, 2017 [9 favorites]

Oh. And pb&j with a banana can also be dinner. You can serve that with cut up cheese or a sliced apple or carrot sticks. Feel free to give the adults two sandwiches.
posted by bilabial at 10:36 AM on August 22, 2017

I don't think these ideas are what you need. I think what you need is dump-cook-serve. Dump it in a pot, cook it, eat it.


It comes with a rack for the inside, there is a technique called Pot in Pot cooking. Put rice or other grain in the bottom with water, put in the rack, use an oven proof bowl or similar, dump some meat or chicken and veg with a splash of wine or soy sauce or seasonings or whatever, put on the lid and set it for 20 or 30 min. Frozen chicken or meat is fine. Eat.

It's a pressure cooker that is dead easy to use. There are TONS of youtube and pinterest recipes. Rinse the lid with soap, careful with the rubber sealing ring. Let that part dry face down. Clean the pot. put it back together for tomorrow night.

It's a life saver. Do the veg on the side on the stove if it's something that might get mushy. Done. Seriously, it's the easiest thing ever.
posted by jbenben at 10:38 AM on August 22, 2017 [5 favorites]

If you don't mind a cold protein, precooked chicken is excellent. Trader Joe's sells good quality cooked chicken chunks in the refrigerated case. Costco does too.

Throw the chicken meat into the standing mixer (stay with me here) with some mayonnaise and a little additional water to make sure everything is well moistened. No mayo in the house? Use salad dressing, sour cream, whatever you got. Let it shred up in there while you chop up a bunch of celery and apples. Maybe raisins if you like that. Throw some cut up bell peppers in, why not? Plenty of salt, lemon if you want, whatever tastes good to you. Garlic salt is always a good idea. Whatever you like, add all that stuff to the mixer once the meat is shredded and well mixed. Voila you have made a really delicious chicken salad, and you didn't cook jack. And all you need to do is wash the knife and cutting board and mixer bowl and paddle.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:40 AM on August 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

OK, so a disclaimer that I do like to cook. However, that was something I intentionally made myself do, and I remember quite well when I didn't like cooking, including when I was a single parent with a full time job plus freelance. I was very much avoiding cooking back then, but still had to do something.

These are a couple of the main things I did:

Sorry, the first one is making soups in a slow cooker. For vegetable soup, I would throw a bunch of frozen vegetables, some stock and/or tomato juice, and a Tbsp. or two of spice blend in the slowcooker, and time it to be ready about the time I came home. For bean soup, I would buy bags of multi-bean soup and follow the directions. I also had a breadmaker I'd sometimes use, too, but if I had it to do again, I'd get baguettes or something from the store instead.

Perpetual salad bar. You get a thing of salad greens, and then just a bunch of stuff you'd see in a salad bar and keep them in your refrigerator. Hardboiled eggs, canned beets, canned chick peas, cottage cheese, other kinds of cheese, maybe some tuna, chicken, or pasta salad, a couple kinds of dressing, etc., and replace or replenish supplies as necessary. Also have some bread and/or crackers around. Sometimes in the summer when it was too hot to cook, we'd do that for dinner almost every night. (The other nights, we'd go out somewhere or once in a blue moon when I was feeling ambitious, grill something outside.)
posted by ernielundquist at 10:41 AM on August 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

My go-to "I can't even" meal is (1) rotisserie chicken, (2) baguette, (3) pre-washed salad greens, and (4) dressing. I can pick up all these ingredients cheaply at my local grocery store, and they require next to no prep once I get home. Together, they make a pretty healthy and satisfying meal -- in busy weeks, I might eat this twice a week (one rotisserie chicken is generally good for two meals' worth of protein in my house). Check your grocery store to see if they have rotisserie chickens or any other semi-prepped meals -- like a bunch of pre-cooked veggies you could drop in a rice cooker with some rice and a can of beans, for instance.
posted by ourobouros at 10:48 AM on August 22, 2017 [6 favorites]

My favorite is breakfast-for-dinner. I rarely have the energy or time to make eggs and toast and sausage (soy sausage for me) in the morning, so it's a nice treat to have it for dinner. Add baked beans and fried mushrooms and tomatoes for something resembling a "Full English."
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:53 AM on August 22, 2017 [3 favorites]

YES. THIS. Every "easy weeknight recipe" I find assumes I'm fine with food prep steps beyond "opening a container" and "starting to eat." They are wrong. I am not fine with that.

Because I also hate grocery shopping, I always keep a couple of bags of Chicken Voila in my freezer for those evenings when I JUST. CANNOT. EVEN. with the chopping and the cooking and the dishes but would also rather not eat three string cheeses and half a bag of pistachios and call it dinner. They sell family-sized bags, and sometimes I'll buy an additional bag of matching frozen veggies to throw in to pad it out some more. It does not affect the sauce-to-food ratio much. The Alfredo or Ranch are my favorites.
posted by helloimjennsco at 10:56 AM on August 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

I do not enjoy cooking. Easy meals that work in our rotation:

- nachos. Open can of refried beans. Put in container. Top with salsa and cheese. Microwave until cheese melts. Serve with tortillas or tortilla chips.

- bowls. Open can of beans, drain, rinse. Microwave whatever frozen veggies you like. Cook rice (instant microwave rice works fine). Put those things in a bowl with salad greens. Top with salsa, salad dressing, sriracha, whatever.

- eggs. I like fried eggs on tortillas.

- tomatoes + fresh mozzarella + balsamic.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 11:04 AM on August 22, 2017 [3 favorites]

You need meals that you can assemble rather than "cook." That might mean prepping stuff on the weekend, but I'll list out some easy meals that don't require prep.

-the "perpetual salad bar" idea up top is great. I do this for my lunches.
-Coleslaw mix in the bag. Toss with oil and vinegar or a simple vinaigrette you buy at the store. Top with tuna salad or egg salad. (Mix tuna and mayo.) For variety, add some salsa or tabasco.
-"snack dinner": pop some popcorn (fiber!). Slice up some apples or whatever fruit is in season. Add some cheese slices, pickles and olives. Maybe some salami.
-Bean nachos with broccoli. Yeah, this one is weird but a go-to in my house when we're tired. Assemble tortilla chips, refried or rinsed beans from a can, grated cheese, maybe some sweet onion slices or chile from a can if you're feeling fancy. Put it in the oven or the microwave until stuff is melty. Break up a head of broccoli or buy some frozen stuff--nuke it, steam it. Eat it with the nachos with lots of salsa and sour cream. (They go well together, trust me.)
-Sandwiches. Sandwiches are delicious. My favorite for dinner: bread, turkey slices, cheese, mayo, dijon, red onion slices and lettuce or greens. Buy the pre-washed and prepped lettuce or greens. Heck, buy the pre-sliced cheese too. Maybe add an apple on the side for more fruit/veg.
- Breakfast SALAD for dinner. Greens, add some red or green onion for flavor. Some carrots if you're feeling ambitious. Drizzle with vinaigrette. Maybe sprinkle on some walnuts or pepitas. Fry an egg or two and put it on top. That's it.
-Microwave tacos!! Smear refried beans on corn tortillas with a butter knife. Top with cheese. Microwave. Add salsa and any of the following from a bag: cabbage, mixed greens, lettuce. Add your delicious fat of choice: avocado, sour cream, mayo, salad dressing.
posted by purple_bird at 11:06 AM on August 22, 2017

My husband has executive function challenges in this arena, so I am coming to you from the perspective of someone for whom this is easy who has tried to facilitate someone for whom this is hard (I just can't do it all myself).

Really the solution has been to find maybe 4 things he can make, or assemble from prepared/semi-prepared components. One of those is actually kinda fancy (from when we tried Blue Apron, our favorite meal) but he's made it so many times it's his thing now. One option is Big Salad, assembled from purchased vegetable components and home-browned ground beef or bulk-cooked chicken thighs chopped up. One is Breakfast for Dinner. One is stovetop poached chicken or pre-prepped meat with roasted broccoli or a steamer bag of frozen veg (we keep 3-5 of those in the freezer at all times). We also keep in stock in the freezer one frozen pizza and one of those frozen pasta skillet dinners, which either of us can throw on rather than ordering delivery.

There's also always sandwich makings and canned soup in the house. Sometimes that's dinner, and that's fine.

We do have an Instant Pot. I could provide him with basic recipes and he could make them. I would certainly recommend it over a slow cooker - it does have a slow cooker mode, but the upside of the IP is that you can start thinking about dinner 50-80 minutes before mealtime rather than 6-8 hours, so long as you have some basics on hand. (If you want to know my basics, let me know and I will tell you.) In our case, I am so much more agile in the kitchen that it is almost completely mindless work for me to do these Instant Pot meals myself in a quick break from work (I work from home). I do often use it to bulk-prep chicken thighs or taco meat or pulled pork, which along with store-made frozen meatballs constitute 90% of our protein intake. He then uses that to assemble Big Salad or Meat And Steamed Veg.

I think there's a lot of propaganda out there that frozen or canned vegetables are "processed food" (all food is processed, by that metric, unless you pick it out of the ground and transport it yourself; even home canning is processing) and that spells BAD. That's bullshit. Recycle whatever you can of the packaging, but eat frozen vegetables and use the microwave and buy ready-to-heat or ready-to-eat basic non-gloppy foods from your grocery store deli, if all you really have the time and patience for in your life is assembly. Just that is still, if you make judicious choices, miles ahead of takeout food in almost every case in terms of nutrition, portion, and economy.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:08 AM on August 22, 2017 [4 favorites]

And if I was equipping a kitchen for my husband to use on his own, I'd probably skip the instant pot and get him a cheap fancy rice cooker instead. I use mine all the time for steaming tender vegetables that don't need hardcore pressure cooking (everything green, cauliflower, chunks of potato/sweet potato/eggplant/mushrooms - pretty much everything except winter squash, which is a longer cook). You can steam meat and seafood over your rice while it cooks. You can use it for rice, quinoa, oatmeal, you can make chili in it, and these more-American model closed rice cookers are also slow cookers if you get into that.

You can go even cheaper but I think the closed cookers are slightly more versatile.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:25 AM on August 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

We do our family meal at breakfast and that makes life easier.

But! For dinner, one of our favorite is shrimp tacos. You get frozen shrimp poppers, throw them in the oven. Put them on flour tortillas with your favorite toppings. Ours are cabbage (sometimes with slaw dressing - mayo, lime juice, sugar; sometimes plain); radish; mayo mixed with some cumin; sometimes a mango or pineapple salsa (fruit, red pepper, red onion, lime juice). The kids eat them disassembled. Even the four year old likes the shrimp.
posted by dpx.mfx at 11:26 AM on August 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

Also something that helped was defining the days. Our house was:

Monday - breakfast for dinner
Tuesday - tacos
Wednesday - pizza
Thursday we eat at grandmas
Friday - carry out, eat out, popcorn for dinner, who knows
Saturday - I cook for realz, yo!
Sunday - clean out the fridge day
posted by dpx.mfx at 11:27 AM on August 22, 2017 [3 favorites]

I had a question a couple of weeks ago about how to reduce time and effort while camping. A lot of the answers are working their way into our home kitchen as well for the same reasons that you state: cooking all the time sucks.

1) Experiment with boil-in-bag meals. See if you can find Tasty Bites -- tasty Indian food like lentils and vegetables -- and Vana Life Foods stews. Similar stuff (possibly identical white-label) is at Trader Joe's.

2) No chop vegetables are worth the money. If I had my way, we would only eat the following vegetables:
* baby mixed yellow/orange/red peppers
* cherry/grape tomatoes
* mini (sometimes called "Persian") cucumbers
* bagged baby carrots
* bagged snap peas (bonus points -- some come in microwaveable bags if you're feeling REALLY fancy)

The theme is "chopping vegetables takes forever." Don't let anyone tell you a food processor saves time either because you have to wash the damn thing and they all have innumerable crevices for crap to hide in.

Pre-washed lettuce is good in theory but I've found the mean time to black sludge varies greatly so I usually get romaine hearts, which I roughly chop and throw in the salad spinner before a meal. I hate doing this but sometimes you just need something green. :-)

3) Finally, when I'm really desperate, we do "pickins plates." Put a bunch of nuts, veggies, cheese, deli meat, etc on a couple of plates in the middle of the table and just munch.

And somehow a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store ends up on our table at least once a month, though we never plan for it. They're just so tasty and often the price isn't that much more than buying a raw chicken ourselves. An $8 chicken feeds a family of four (with two little ones) for a meal or two and the leftover bits can turn into a chicken salad without too much effort.
posted by rouftop at 11:28 AM on August 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

Relatively balanced dinners I routinely ate when I was living by myself and couldn't be arsed to cook for 1:

Tuna salad on toast or crackers + baby carrots + a piece of fruit

Avocado toast

Bread, cheese, wine, and a green vegetable.

Kale and eggs: steam the kale in a bit of water and add salt and pepper. Cook the eggs however you want.

Sweet potato fries from the freezer section + chicken tenders from the freezer section + a roasted or steamed green vegetable.

These take some prep, but you can make a lot and eat them for days:

Bean and quinoa salad: make quinoa on the stove. Roast some sweet potatoes in the oven. Rinse a can of black beans. Open a bag of spinach. Combine everything in a big bowl with some salt, pepper, cumin/chili powder/garlic powder/cinnamon. Equally good hot and cold.

Bean chili: chop an onion, 2 carrots, and maybe some celery. Sautee on the stove. Rinse 1-2 cans of black beans and 1-2 cans of kidney beans. Add to your sauteed veggies. Add a 28-oz can of crushed tomatoes and maybe 1/2 cup of water. Season with garlic, chili powder, cumin, cinnamon to taste. You can either serve this as soon as it reaches a simmer, or wait a little longer until it cooks down to a consistency you like. Serve with sour cream, cheese, and/or avocado on top.

Spinach curry: Make some rice. Thaw 2 packs of frozen spinach. Sautee a large onion and lots of garlic on stove. Add spinach, a can of rinsed chickpeas, and a can of coconut milk. Season with salt, curry powder, cumin, cayenne.

I'm realizing that the above recipes are all vegan-ish, but you could certainly add some meat to them if you wanted.
posted by coppermoss at 11:29 AM on August 22, 2017

Here's my "don't wanna cook, but won't serve cereal" recipies.

Pasta, veg and meatballs. Boil water and throw in pasta. While that's underway, microwave pre-cooked frozen meatballs to a good eating temperature. Just before the pasta is ready, throw in about 2 cups of frozen vegetables (you'll need to likely re-turn up the heat). When the veg are a good temp, remove from heat and drain. Return to the pot (or large serving bowl if you like extra dishes) and add a jar of sauce and meatballs. Serve.

Reubans! Corned beef (or use ham to make it a Rachel), sour kruat and thousaand island dressing on rye bread. Grill it and you're done. pro tip; a panini press makes 4 sandwiches at once with no flipping versus most pans that will to 1-2 sandiches at a time. Griddles require flipping. Also, panini presses can be setup outside for those hot summer nights where you don't want to make the kitchen warm (and run up the AC) but still have some warm food.

Tuna sammies! Drain cans of tuna fish; 1 can makes two sandwiches. Add tuna fish and mix in mayo and sriracha sauce to taste. Spread on bread and top with more bread. If you wanna be really fancy, grill the sandwiches (see previous tip re: panini press). Serve with raw veggies. Include dip if desired.

Eggs! Scramble a tonne of eggs (16-24) with garlic powder and pepper if your kids eat that. Serve with toast. Possibly add frozen ommelette mix (frozen chopped onions, peppers and mushrooms) if you can find it.

Sorry, this last recipie is pretty complex for this list, but it's my favourite. Sometimes it's on the menu 2x a week despite it taking the longest.

Burritos. Depends upon thawed frozen meat - either move it from the freezer to the fridge the night before, or thaw in the microwave (takes about 10 minutes). I have two variations - the simple one uses a can of refried beans as binder. The more complex one relies upon sweet potato as binder. If you're doing the simple option, you open a can and drain off some of the excess oil. For the complex option, microwave 2 mid-size sweet potatos for 8 minutes. Wait 10 more minutes, and the skins should slough off of the sweet potato easily - save those skins for snacking if you're weird like me. Otherwise if you have dogs they'll happily gobble them up.

Once you've chosen the binder, brown 1 lb of ground meat and then add taco seasoning. Drain 1 can of black beans and 1 cup of salsa to the meat and continue cooking. After 3-5 minutes of cooking, lightly mash some of the black beans with a wooden spoon for more flavor, or leave them alone. Add the binder and continue to heat. When the binder starts to bubble, add 1.5 cups of corn. When the corn is warm, remove from heat. Put the tortillas on plates and teach the kids to roll their own burritos.

Seriously, rolling 10-14 burritos sucks the enjoyment from this recipie - everyone rolls their own. The young kids seem to enjoy eating their falling apart burritos because they did it themselves (just make sure to have forks and accept that they might need to wash their hands inbetween burritos). After 4-5 times they'll do it at least as well as you will when you're trying to roll 14 at once and stopped carring around number 5 if they fall apart or not.
posted by nobeagle at 11:35 AM on August 22, 2017

I have a good friend who doesn't cook, and I just set him up with (note: that is a referral link; if that's not cool I have no problem changing it). Unlike almost all of the other meal delivery services, the food is already prepared and all you have to do is heat it up. It's not frozen, but you can freeze it if for some reason you're not able to eat it before it goes bad. My friend's first delivery comes in two days, so I can't tell you how good the food is, but it's got good reviews. The only drawback is that it's not super cheap; $9 to $10 per serving, but that includes delivery.
posted by theperfectcrime at 11:43 AM on August 22, 2017

Pre-washed lettuce is good in theory

My hack for this: instead of bag green salad, get broccoli slaw, cole slaw/shred cabbage, or that Superfood Salad blend thing with the kale and stuff. Every once in a while you get a bag that must've sat at the store too long, but for the most part this tougher stuff will last a week, unopened, in the crisper drawer.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:44 AM on August 22, 2017 [3 favorites]

[Removed the referral part of the link; carry on.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 11:52 AM on August 22, 2017

Here are some hacks that I think will help with the executive function/unpleasantness part of this ask:

- Use a Google calendar or some other kind of schedule so you can plan what you've having for the week. This can help with making shopping and cooking efficient. It also means that everyone knows what's for dinner, anyone can preheat the oven or pull out the necessary ingredients. I tend to do this on my Friday afternoon lunch breaks so I can make sure I have enough planned meals for the week. This will keep you from decision-making when everyone is tired and headed toward the 7pm bedtime goal (the WORST).

- Do the majority of the prep work when you are not rushed. Can one of you take time to prep things for the week? Preferably this would happen when they are not also on kid-duty. Do whatever helps to make it fun/useful. That can mean listening to music, a podcast or an audiobook. That can also mean leaning on pre-prepped ingredients (a little extra money to save on food waste and frustration is so worth it). You can make full reheatable meals (stews, casseroles, etc) or prep the veggies, sauces, precooked meats or whatever to throw together later.

- Prep reheatable things in the container you'll be putting on or in the stove. That's pretty intuitive for casseroles, but do it for soups or stews too! That means you only have to pull out the saucepan and place it directly on the stove. It's worth picking up a few extra 2-4 quart lidded saucepans to allow you to do this. If you do , you can easily have 2-3 hot meals/week ready to be heated in just a few minutes. Then there's only the pot to wash afterward.

- As some people have recommended, don't hesitate to be flexible about what "dinner" means. Scrambled eggs with frozen veggies (onions, peppers, spinach, pre-cooked potatoes, rice or pasta, pre-cooked meat or sausages, etc) aren't just for breakfast. You can add rice or other grains or just serve toast alongside. Pancakes or toaster waffles with fruit and yogurt don't take long and little people often see this as a major treat. Picnic dinner with cheese, meats, veggie and bean salads (make ahead for the week!) and fruit is basically just pulling things out of the fridge for dinner.
posted by annaramma at 11:52 AM on August 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

annaramma reminded me: Waffles and Ham! Frozen toaster waffles, and lunch meat ham - take X slices (depending upon thickness - aim for 1-1.5 "servings" ), roll it up and stick a fork in it to keep it from unrolling / to use for eating. "Ham rolls" are a thing in my house, and I love using them to add a bit of protein/fat to a carbohydrate heavy meal. Plus, ms. nobeagle will go insane if I get favourites for "ham rolls."
posted by nobeagle at 12:01 PM on August 22, 2017 [6 favorites]

Create economies of scale where you can. Particularly, chopping a bunch of onions, peppers and other vegetables in a huge batch on the weekend, then freezing them in ziploc bags in portions ready for a single meal is a huge time-saver both absolutely and in terms of how much time a given meal takes to prep. It also can help alleviate decision fatigue.

I've read you can freeze cooked rice with good results. I've never tried it, but in your bulk prep you could cook a big pot of rice while you're chopping veggies and stuff, and then freeze it in meal-sized containers.

You could then put the smaller ziplocs of individual ingredients into larger meal-kit ziplocs, so you just grab one from the freezer and it's got all the veggies/rice/whatever ready to go so you don't even have to think about it too much.

We make a lot of things that are essentially very similar ingredients but with different spices and condiments. For example, burrito bowls are sauteed onions and peppers with some kind of meat or meat-substitute (we use vegetarian chipotle sausages). Store-bought guac, sour cream, pico de gallo and shredded cheese on top. One pan. If you like rice, that's a second pan. Start with the same base and toss in some chopped celery, carrots and broccoli, add some tamari, soy sauce or teriyaki sauce and you have a nice Asianesque stir-fry (again, add meat as you prefer).

You said no slow cookers, but may I recommend a rice cooker? It has set-it-and-forget-it convenience if you get one with a timer. And you can cook a whole meal in it (I've never cooked meat in one, so you're on your own there). Put in the requisite amount of rice and water or broth, toss in a ziploc's worth of frozen onions, carrots and broccoli and it will be all nice and delicious when it's done. And rice cooker pots these days are usually non-stick, so clean-up is kind of a breeze. You can use whatever seasonings you like to make it more interesting.

Also, bagged salad mix is a real time-saver.

But yeah, my number one suggestion is to do as much bulk prep for the week as you can in one or two sessions. Having pre-measured, already-chopped veggies etc. makes individual dinner prep and clean-up way way way faster and easier.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 12:34 PM on August 22, 2017

Stir fry is one of my go-to easy meals. You could get the pre-made frozen kind from the freezer aisle + rice and you can be eating in about 30 minutes.

If you want a bit more control over what you get, it's almost as easy to buy a bag of frozen stir-fry veggies (Costco sells a good one, if that's an option), add the protein and sauce of your choice. Serve over rice. I like chicken tenders or whatever they're selling as beef for stir fry. These both cook quickly and don't require prep beyond tossing the meat in the pan. It feels a bit healthier doing it this way, but requires you to have more stuff on hand.

I don't know how kid friendly this meal is, so ymmv.
posted by Maeve at 1:00 PM on August 22, 2017

Trader Joe's was made for you and me. When my kids were little and I had a side business hosting exchange students, I got in the habit of doing a every two week trip to Trader Joe's and I loaded up on the food in their freezer section. I invested in a chest freezer. I would also buy extras of bread and milk and freeze those.

You have a variety of options in terms of prepared items that you can mix and match or items that need sauces or garnishes. They have a couple of different kinds of chinese style chicken, frozen plain rice, frozen fried rice. I would make those and add frozen peas, and their goza. They have frozen plain boneless chicken breasts that you could cook and add to pasta and use pesto. Fresh cut tomatos for the veg in that dish always tastes good. There are meatballs that you cook in the tomato sauce, get pasta and some frozen broccoli. There is seriously no end to the quick and easy meals you can make from Trader Joe's. And my fall back is always breakfast for dinner. Eggs and toast, pancakes with some of their frozen fruit defrosted.
posted by momochan at 1:00 PM on August 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

Okay, I just wanna say that I kind of hate cooking (well, it's more like I have complicated issues lingering from child abuse that affect my ability to function well in the kitchen) and I love Blue Apron. I also really like Purple Carrot. We use both of these plans and it has been such a transformation. I actually cook consistently now, which is a huge relief for my husband (who otherwise does a disproportionate amount of the cooking). Nothing else I have ever done has worked this well. So, you might wanna at least give it a trial run. I have a week's worth of free meals from Blue Apron to give away if you want 'em. Just send me a private message.
posted by pinetree at 2:09 PM on August 22, 2017

My mom doesn't like cooking, and I don't like cooking either. My dad didn't really cook. Growing up our dinners could be:
-a bowl of soup (sometimes canned and sometimes reheated from a pot made on the weekend) and a half a sandwich or a grilled-cheese sandwich or cheese and crackers, maybe with a handful of baby carrots on the side
-breakfast for dinner (strictly scrambled eggs, toast, maayybe microwaved bacon)
-spaghetti with meatballs (made ahead and cooked from frozen) with jarred sauce, side salad with dressing
-roasted chicken or a store-bought rotisserie chicken (pretty much the only thing my mom likes to cook is roast chicken) plus two vegetables (usually frozen spinach heated in a skillet with butter and salt and green beans)
-giant salad nicoise (bagged lettuce, green beans, hard boiled eggs, capers, new potatoes, vinaigrette, tuna)
-chili (beans, ground beef, seasoning packet) with corn muffins (Jiffy Mix)

My mom didn't use a slow cooker, so I do some of the above and add:
-reheated leftovers from the fridge or freezer (this is critical- I can't bring myself to cook on weekdays). I like things I can make in a slow cooker and this is my favorite soup and my favorite meat thing. They make large portions so I can freeze some.

I personally hate chopping a ton of vegetables, so this heavily influences my cooking decisions. I'm not even willing to prep vegetables for cooking ahead to be honest. Also, is any of this food fancy or very interesting? No, not particularly. But we ate interesting food when we went out- Thai, Mexican, Indian, etc.
posted by Mouse Army at 2:16 PM on August 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

Dirt simple Hoppin' John: blackeyed peas, collard greens (or kale or mustard), onion, rice, vegetable oil, bullion cube.

Throw all in a pot, boil, season with salt, pepper, hot sauce, eat.
Endless variations, stupid easy, stupid cheap, fairly complete nutrition, rather healthy. Takes about 35 minutes of simmering, which may not count as fast, but makes up for it in easy/cheap/tasty points.

Also I like cooking now, but I used to hate it, and "one pot" recipes are still what I live on. Just search for more one pot (or one pan) recipes for lots of related easiness.
posted by SaltySalticid at 2:23 PM on August 22, 2017

I don't dislike cooking but a lot of times resent the time it takes. A few recipes I like a lot, for few ingredients, simple prep, no onion cutting, and only one pot to clean are:

Chicken with Feta, Basil, Chickpeas
Lemon Pepper Chicken

Both of those are slow cooker recipes, probably could be made in an instant pot faster, or make one evening and eat the next 2 days. With rice, they both make enough for 4 meals, and are just as good the second day.

Two others that are easy, filling, and one-pot:
Latin Chicken with Rice, I don't bother with the salsa or sour cream.

And this, which I can't find online:

1 pkg rice a roni chicken flavor
1/2 tablespoon butter
2 cloves garlic [those packages of frozen garlic from Trader Joe's are great]
1 tsp cajun or creole seasoning
8 oz frozen salad shrimp
15 oz can black beans
1 cup frozen corn

saute rice-vermicelli mix with butter until vermicelli is brown
add garlic, 30 seconds more
add 2 cups water, both seasonings, boil
cover, simmer 10 minutes
add shrimp, beans, corn, bring back to boil, simmer 5 to 7

And yes, look for "one pot" or "few ingredients" recipes.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 3:15 PM on August 22, 2017

In addition to the aforementioned Costco things (full disclosure, I do love to cook, but as a full time employee and phd student and with a wife who has a full time job and chronic health issues... we do a lot of assembling too, not cooking), our Costco has a ton of ready good options. I got us a Caesar salad (fully prepped, croutons and dressing on the side) that fed us and our housemate for a dinner and two lunches for like $7. They have pre-marinated wings, you just have to shove them in the oven. We got some precooked lime and garlic shrimp one day that were AMAZING and I haven't seen since. They have pre-buttered and spiced salmon, again, just shove it in the oven and eat. Lots of cold salad type things (no one ever died from eating chicken salad from a pail and applesauce). It's not the cheapest option, but it's cheaper than takeout and with massive portions, you're getting more than one meal from the same shove-in-the-oven-and-wait dish.
posted by joycehealy at 4:05 PM on August 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

We cook once or twice a week.

Scrambled eggs - yes. You can prep a bowl's worth in advance; we usually cook a dozen on Sunday mornings and then use them throughout the week. Frozen waffles - yes. Or just toast - yes. Pot of oatmeal, to which we add a bit of granola, and a few raisins.

Fruit as snacks - fresh apples or bananas. Berries. Frozen blueberries. Dried cranberries. Add cashews or almonds for a bit of protein and staying power. Or apple wedges with some sunflower butter or peanut butter to dip them in.

We usually cook a big pan of chicken and cut it up for lunches, served with rice or pasta, and a bit of veg, steamed broccoli, or frozen peas & carrots. Or on sandwiches, or added to salad.

Get a steamer pot for easy veg cooking (add butter and salt & pepper or seasoning of your choice). Get a rice cooker for easy rice prep; we keep a pot in our fridge at all times.

I do a big pot of soup once a week (sausage and kale - brown the sausage, add 2c chicken broth and 2c water, add chopped kale, simmer 5mins. 20mins total).

I do a roast once a week (throw it in the oven and it's done when the timer goes off).

Sometimes I use a crockpot; I don't like to leave it on when we're gone. Rather, I put it on at night and the food is cooked when we wake up in the morning.

Big pots of mac & cheese or pasta.

Essentially our meals are somewhat of a buffet; there are always 2 or 3 choices of already cooked protein, veg, and carb waiting in the fridge.
posted by vignettist at 4:10 PM on August 22, 2017

Couscous is the easiest starch. Easier than rice, large cut pasta, even buying bread because it doesn't go stale or mold. Avoid the large pearl couscous (sometimes called isreali couscous) and go for the smaller moroccan variety.

All you do is put your couscous in a container that holds heat well. This can be a pot but it can also be a bowl or whatever because you don't actually need to put it on the stove. Then get some water boiling, if you have an electric kettle that work or you can zap it. Pour enough boiling water over your couscous to cover it plus maybe half an inch of additional liquid above it, and then cover. Let it sit for about fifteen to twenty minutes (prep the rest of your food in that time, or whatever else you need to do) and then check to see that the liquid has been absorbed, and fluff it with a fork. Sprinkle a little salt on there as you fluff it. Boom, simple couscous.

To get way more delicious but not much more difficult, place pot on stove, set at medium heat. Melt some butter or oil in pot, add couscous. Toast dry couscous in the butter/oil for about a minute, add liquid and salt (it can be water but any kind of broth is great, get the kind in little juice boxes, or water + bullion cube, or wine or citrus juice cut with water, or whatever!), bring to a boil, cover, take off heat, let sit until liquid is absorbed.

To make this into a complete one pot meal, melt some butter in the pot. Sprinkle some dried herbs (thyme is good dried and is fairly forgiving) and spices (try paprika) in the butter, or any spice mixture you like, plus salt and pepper. Saute some chopped garlic and onion until translucent (buy the jars of minced garlic and you can often find pre sliced onions, but also you can chop onions on a weekend and they are good in the fridge for a week and longer in the freezer), just until they aren't raw anymore. Mix in chunks of dried apricots (great to have on hand for snacks anyway) and smashed almonds (also good snack, put some almonds in a ziploc bag and smash with a heavy pot or rolling pin or pepper grinder or whatever), add cubed raw chicken and saute until the chicken turns white (but isn't fully cooked through, a couple minutes, more if it starts out frozen. you can also add precooked chicken and skip the that step.) Add couscous, mix with everything, add chicken broth to cover ingredients, and bring to a boil. Put on lid and turn off heat, let it sit for twenty minutes. You will note that all the yummy bits have risen to the top. Check to make sure your chicken is cooked through. Optionally, squeeze some lemon on top and sprinkle some fresh parsley - it makes a big difference IMO but might not be worth the hassle to keep these fresh ingredients on hand for you. Hooray! Super fancy seeming Moroccan inspired apricot chicken couscous, makes excellent leftovers, is good at room temperature, top a pile of lettuce greens for a nice lunch, great with slices of good summer tomato and cucumber, able to make year round with ingredients that you keep in your pantry that do at least double duty. Swap chicken for shrimp or garbanzo beans for variety.
posted by Mizu at 5:03 PM on August 22, 2017

Red rice is really nice and ridiculously easy - oil in pot, saute an onion, chuck in a cup of uncooked rice and stir for a minute or two, chop up 3-4 tomatoes and chuck them in dittto, now pour in a couple of cups of stock, bring to the boil and simmer until the liquid has gone. Add some herbs and salt and pepper and cheese and eat. Yum!
posted by Sebmojo at 7:47 PM on August 22, 2017

My go-to Can't Even meal, besides rice and beans, is pasta with kale. Put on a big pot of water. When it boils, add pasta for however many you're serving and the contents of a bag of frozen kale (don't need to thaw). When the pasta is done, drain, toss with butter or good olive oil and some Parmesan. For fanciness, sauté half a chopped onion and several cloves of chopped or garlic-pressed garlic in some olive oil while the pasta cooks and toss the drained pasta with that.
posted by skycrashesdown at 8:18 PM on August 22, 2017

I have had great mileage dumping frozen spinach, frozen chicken, and a few spoonfuls of spicy salty sauce into my insta pot and setting it for 15 minutes. You could probably add some potatoes for a starch. I've been using chili garlic sauce because that's what I have, but sriracha / fermented black bean / worcestershire / (what sauces do non-asian people use?) / chopped garlic would probably all work.
posted by batter_my_heart at 9:02 PM on August 22, 2017

I like to cook but we're busy and I have to feed a bunch of people.

I make lots of soups. Base: carrots-onions-celery (you can buy these pre-chopped at the store. I know Wegmans has a specific soup veggie mix in the produce section, and I always have frozen, chopped onions in the freezer). Brown those in some olive oil. Add some minced garlic (I buy a huge jar of pre-minced garlic.) You can brown some Italian sausage or ground meat with this if you want or I shred up a grocery store rotisserie chicken. Add some stock or broth and some water. I never measure, it always comes out fine. At least one box of stock and one can of broth, more if you're going for a really huge pot of soup. A couple of broth cans of water. Salt, pepper, bay leaf, poultry seasoning if it's chicken soup, Italian seasoning, whatever. Cans of diced tomatoes, white beans, frozen peas or corn. Rice or pasta. A bag of frozen kale or a bag of baby spinach at the end. Meatballs! A squeeze of lemon juice from one of those little bottles that shaped like a lemon freshens up the taste! Whatever! I've literally never had a soup come out badly when I did some version of the above. Serve it with parmesan or mozzarella cheese and a loaf of formerly frozen but now toasted in the toaster oven garlic bread.

Or just throw everything into a pot and boil it. As long as you add some kind of seasoning, it will be fine.

I always make a positively enormous pot of soup and freeze half of it.
posted by Aquifer at 9:34 PM on August 22, 2017

This is my go-to at Trader Joe's (and probably most places, but TJ's is my go-to cheap and cheerful option):

Shopping list: buy garlic (even pre-skinned, in the refrigerated veggies part of the store), some green vegetable that has already been rinsed and chopped and bagged, canned beans (chickpeas are good here), pasta, olive oil if you don't have any, and sausages (real meat or otherwise). Bonus: pre-grated parmesan.

Cooking directions: Rinse 1 can of beans. Chop 2 sausages, then fry them in oil with the garlic and whatever dried herbs you have lying around. After they're cooked enough and a little browned, add the beans, then add 1 bag vegetables. Serve with pasta, or make penne and then stir it in after you drain it. Salt to taste. Apply pre-grated parmesan.

You might also like this Mark Bittman column has 101 simple meals ready to serve in ≤10 minutes. The recipes are all one-liners, which I find nice for my... executive function challenged brain, since just looking at a recipe tends to make me feel anxious and overwhelmed, but everyone's different. Here's an example: "Stir-fry a pound or so of ground meat or chopped fish mixed with chopped onions and seasoned with cumin or chili powder. Pile into taco shells or soft tacos, along with tomato, lettuce, canned beans, onion, cilantro and sour cream." End of recipe! Or here's another: "Make wraps of tuna, warm white beans, a drizzle of olive oil and lettuce and tomato."
posted by en forme de poire at 10:39 PM on August 22, 2017

Our method is pretty much toddler meals, but we all eat them in our similarly-short meal time window. I don't love to cook, and I dislike clean-up (esp. greasy clean-up) more, so our go-tos are some combination of:

-Avocado toast
-Fried/over easy eggs (faster and easier for me than scrambling)
-Tortillas with beans (canned refried or whole) and cheese
-Noodles of some kind with spinach. I put the fresh spinach in a colander then drain the pasta over it. I usually oblige and give the kids plain noodles scooped off the top
-Microwaved oatmeal with frozen berries and peanut butter. The frozen berries cool it quickly for the kids
-Sweet potato, poked several times with a fork and microwaved for about 8-9 minutes on a plate. Wrap in foil until ready to eat or it can get tough
-Microwaved baby carrots, sliced lengthwise so they cook in 2-3 minutes with a little water
-Frozen peas or corn. Sometimes I just thaw it by running warm tap water over and draining
-Cheese, straight up, or grilled cheese with mayo as the grilled-side spread
-Pizza, either frozen or with store-bought, pre-made crusts. Freezing shredded mozzarella works well. Piling on lots of spinach helps me feel better about this one
-Mac and cheese, from the box
-Pancakes or waffles. I usually do some one-bowl whole-wheat with berries deal
-Roasted broccoli or cauliflower. I like getting the pre-cut steamer bags and roasting in the toaster oven--quicker than the conventional oven, and a smaller pan to wash
-Whatever fruit

Weekend batch cooking is nice, but not always how I want to/can spend a weekend! If I do:
-A few chicken breasts
-This very dump-y chicken salsa casserole
-Steel-cut oats
-A lentil stew of sorts with carrots, potatoes, and barley made with stock and/or a ham bone
posted by Leona at 10:08 AM on August 23, 2017

I guess my question would have been better phrased as "What do you put on the table for family dinner when You Just Can't Even?" (with the caveat that I don't live within 100 miles of a Trader Joe's).
ADHD and Executive Dysfunction issues really do make it feel like the effort to fill up and boil a pot of water is practically the same effort as a seven-course meal, so some of these recipes with the seven ingredients and the chopping and several pots and all of that feel way outside my realm of possibility. I do know the "cook a big pot of X on Sunday" trick- it's just that... I don't want to. I hate cooking. I don't want to waste my precious weekend minutes doing something I hate as much as cooking. I would rather do almost anything else, like laundry or yardwork or helping someone move a piano.

I do appreciate everyone's input, for real! I have written up a list of our current meal ideas plus some ideas from here that seem doable, and I'll post the list to our fridge and make sure we have that stuff stocked. A list will help us get started on something to put on the table, rather than our usual flailing/whining around the kitchen.

I keep hoping my husband will get the cooking bug and then he'll start wanting to do lots of prep work and make big pots of Sunday chili and sharpen our knives and all of that. If he does, I'll come back here for your fancier ideas!
posted by aabbbiee at 10:27 AM on August 23, 2017

One other option - if you have a little bit of money to throw at this - is look on craigslist for a private chef. That sounds like something a rock star has, but if you're in a city of any size you'll find a bunch of young nutritionists and personal trainers and just, like, underemployed/retired people who will shop and cook for you, and either deliver or have you pick it up. With some of them, you wash and return your containers to them on the next delivery/pick up, others will do it disposably.

Overall this is generally cheaper and mostly less wasteful than Blue Apron etc, and it certainly takes all the burden off you or your husband. And if you're prone to food waste because you buy stuff that doesn't get cooked in time, it might even be cheaper all told, since these folks are usually super-efficient.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:00 AM on August 23, 2017

Also, cereal for dinner is ok. Bag of veg and tub of dip/hummus is ok. Toast is ok. Snack type food is ok. Hard boiled eggs and antipasti is ok. A rotisserie chicken is ok. All of this is basically available ready to eat in most supermarkets. If cooking is not for you then don't make your main meal one you have to cook. You can all have a small meal/snack together at the end of the day. You still get the structure of sitting down for a meal. But nowhere does it say this has to be your main meal.

I assume you all eat during the day. So move away from the idea that dinner is your main meal on a school day. Plenty of cultures rely on light meals at the end of the day. And from what you say you presumably don't take packed lunches so don't have to overcome the same hurdles here.

And on preview, yes, outsourcing the problem also works and may give you healthier options than your take outs.
posted by koahiatamadl at 12:08 PM on August 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

Oh, executive function problems, I hear you.

The boiling water. I feel you. Try taking the meatballs out of the freezer and filling the pot of water in the morning while kiddo is eating breakfast. Pop a lid on it (the water) and leave it on the stove. Put the box of pasta on the counter. Then when you get home at night you can literally just turn the burner on.
posted by bilabial at 12:11 PM on August 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

My favorite family dinner when I was a kid was soup and sandwiches. It was often canned soup. Sometimes Mom would make the sandwiches ahead, cut them into quarters, and pile them onto a big platter so it would look fancier than it really was. But soup and sandwiches is usually what I requested on my birthday.

(Low-sodium canned soup is probably better, but it wasn't as widely available back during the War of 1812 when I was growing up.)
posted by The Underpants Monster at 5:19 PM on August 23, 2017

One other option - if you have a little bit of money to throw at this - is look on craigslist for a private chef.

This is exactly what we did when I had a new baby and we couldn't be arsed to cook. We told her what kind of food we liked generally and let her suggest a menu. She offered six entree suggestions a week and we picked three from her list. Most of the time we had her cook double portions. We paid for the groceries and a flat rate for her time. Reader, it was sooo worth it.
posted by vignettist at 8:06 PM on August 23, 2017

You know what's a fine dinner? Hummus, pita or chips, baby carrots and grapes. That's what we had last night! So is peanut butter and jelly. Whole wheat bread, natural peanut butter, low sugar jelly. Chips and salsa and a sliced apple. A bag of salad with a grocery store rotisserie chicken. Greek yogurt with fruit. Oatmeal with fruit and nuts. Celery and peanut butter. Cheese slices, wheat crackers, and a sliced pear.

Sandwiches are a fine dinner. Salads are a fine dinner. And can be made in <5>
I think you might just want to buy some ready-to-eat, healthy things and just eat those.
posted by Aquifer at 8:06 AM on August 25, 2017

My I Cant Even meals happen very often. I have given myself permission to shop in the pre-chopped section of the grocery store, and eat a lot of microwaved frozen food.

Chesse quesedillas: Put a tortilla wrap on a pan. Dump pre-shredded "mexican cheese" from a bag on it. Put another tortilla on top. Cook, then slice up like a pizza pie. Dunk the triangles directly into a jar of salsa with each bite.

I keep a jar of something like this jarred simmer sauce in my pantry. Then when I have leftover rice from my almost-weekly Chinese delivery, I dump a packet of pre-cut veggies (i usually do the pepper & onion ones at my grocery store) into a pot, cover it with the jar of sauce and plop the leftover rice in, too. If I have it in me, I chop up some raw chicken and throw it in, too.

Bagged Salads. The kinds where it even comes with the little crunchy toppings and a packet of dressing. When I buy those, I try to also buy one of these bags of pre-cooked chicken to turn the salad into a heartier meal.

Have a canned soup you all like? Buy a whole pile of them. Perfectly reasonable dinner.

Frozen Pizza. I like Red Barron. Fuck it, you know?
posted by waterisfinite at 1:37 PM on August 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

I also like foil pan nachos. Throw tortilla chips, canned beans, and shredded cheese in foil pie plates, one per customer. Put in a hot oven until cheese is melted to your satisfaction. Everybody adds their own sour cream, salsa, and whatever else you like on your nachos, plus lettuce if you want to call it a salad.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:18 PM on August 27, 2017

Thanks again, everybody! It's been a month, and I can say that we've been more successful with this than I expected. No, of course we're not doing any weekend food prep, but we are eating dinner as a family almost every night.

I did put a list of easy meal ideas on the fridge and then stocked the house with those foods. When I come home, I fill the pot of water and turn on the stove, or I put something into the rice cooker, or I otherwise start the plan rolling. When my husband comes home 30 minutes later, he follows through. It really does take 30 minutes for a pot of water to boil on our stove, so it's no wonder that it feels so much faster and easier to run out for food instead.

It's been great to serve our kiddo dinners that look like dinner. And we also have more time now that we're all eating together instead of doing two dinners, one for the kiddo before his bedtime and a second one for us after he's down. That's been pretty nice. So while it's more work in those minutes after arriving home, it's worth it.
posted by aabbbiee at 1:02 PM on September 26, 2017 [3 favorites]

I cook pasta way more now I have a microwave pasta cooker. I got this one based on reviews because it means I can ignore the pasta safely while it's in the microwave box and just make a quick sauce, then strain and combine. No pre-boiling water on the stove required. It works really well with dried pasta, haven't tried with fresh but fresh I just cook almost directly in sauce anyway.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 4:54 PM on September 26, 2017

If it takes half an hour to boil water on the stove, have you thought about getting an electric kettle? They're not expensive and they boil water quite fast (plus then you can use it for tea or whatever).
posted by en forme de poire at 10:31 PM on September 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

Yep, get a kettle, or electric pressure cooker. I use my Instant Pot to boil pasta now because it can get like 8 cups to a boil in maybe 5 minutes on Saute mode.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:45 PM on September 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

It really does take 30 minutes for a pot of water to boil on our stove

An electric kettle will change your life for about $25-40.
posted by salvia at 8:37 PM on September 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

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