Dinners to keep me from the drive-through
October 4, 2017 7:00 PM   Subscribe

Looking for fast, well-balanced meals that don’t require much prep or produce a lot of dirty dishes.

I’m trying to break my fast-food habit and realized one of the things that draws me to the quarter-pounder meal at McDonald’s is that it’s an easy way to get a mix of protein, fat, and starch - it’s not healthy, but it’s filling and fast. I recently started working out and my body really craves hearty meals that offer this balance. But it would be great if I could get it without going to McDonald’s!

The one cook-at-home thing that I’ve found that is a viable alternative is an omelette with diced veggies and cheese, with toast. This works well because the eggs and cheese give me good protein and fat and the toast gives me starch. The other reason this works well is that it’s super-fast (I can make it in 5 minutes) and doesn’t require chopping (I use pre-diced veggies and pre-shredded cheese) or dirty a lot of dishes (basically just the omelette pan).

I’m looking for other dinners like this:

- Good balance of protein, fat, and starch
- Super-easy and fast to prepare, doesn’t involve much prep or dirty a lot of dishes.
- Not super-concerned about calorie load since anything I make at home will be better than McDonald’s!

I’ve been experimenting with meal prep on the weekend (trying both prepping ingredients like chopped veggies as well as making whole meals) but this is for those times I didn’t get to do it over the weekend, or I’ve run out of the things I prepped.

Other things I’ve tried that were good for the first criteria but didn’t meet the second:
- Pasta, sauce, sausage, veggies (requires at least two pots, takes about a half hour, chopping)
- Sauteed shrimp with seasoned rice and steamed broccoli (this is pretty close but dirties three pans and is fairly complicated to get it all timed right)

Sandwiches and quesadillas are good when I have things to put in them! But I've found they often don't feel like a complete meal to me.

I realize what I’m asking for is difficult and I promise, I do actually cook real food quite a bit. This is just for those nights I have no spoons and I need to keep myself from the drive-through.

not looking for crockpot recipes or food-prep tips, though those are wonderful. This is strictly for those nights when I'm like "oh shit I'm starving and can't bear to actually cook." I also keep a good stock of frozen meals in the freezer.
posted by the sockening to Food & Drink (37 answers total) 69 users marked this as a favorite
I chop potatoes into a pot, add water, and boil. No need to wait for the water boil like with pasta. The potatoes are done when the sound of the water thickens (or stick a fork in 'em). I add butter and cheese and plain yogurt and garlic, and it's very filling.

You could add pretty much anything you like, but you don't have to. Eggs, veggies, beans, tomatoes, whatever. Or not! In any case, eat straight from the pot. One dish. Tell yourself: "I'm eating out tonight. Out of a saucepan."
posted by aniola at 7:11 PM on October 4, 2017 [7 favorites]

If you don't cut the potatoes, it takes a lot longer. But you don't have to cut them into perfect cubes or anything! I don't even use a cutting board. I just turn the water on to boil and start cutting the potatoes straight into the pot while the water's still cold.

If you forget about the potatoes but catch 'em before they really burn, they taste just like hotdogs.
posted by aniola at 7:12 PM on October 4, 2017

Canned beans in tortillas. Plus cheese, salsa, whatever.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 7:17 PM on October 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

Canned chili + cheese on top of potatoes is also good. Like foil dinners when you camp.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 7:18 PM on October 4, 2017

Take a look at sheet pan dinners.

Another thing I've done is make open-faced sandwiches with a big slice of chewy sourdough, mustard, slices of tomato, some sort of vinaigrette and a few slices of cheese on top. Then wrap in foil and freeze. When I come home hungry and tired I pop one of two in the oven - foil peeled pack from the tops - and heat them up until the cheese gets melty. Boom. Dinner. Bonus if I eat with tossed greens.

Other lazy dinners:

Lazy tuna salad - tuna, mayo, salt, pepper, lemon if I have it - with crackers.
Smoked oysters with crackers
Grazing - some combination of foods that don't require cooking - examples include summer sausage, dried apricots, cheddar, chocolate, good crackers, apple, orange.
Trader Joe's frozen dinners
Hummus with veggies
Yogurt with fresh fruit
Rotisserie chicken can be a base for all kinds of dinners. Toss bagged greens with a quick homemade vinaigrette, throw in some cherry tomatoes or olives or nuts or whatever you like, add some chicken. There's dinner.
posted by bunderful at 7:21 PM on October 4, 2017 [9 favorites]

"Charcuterie plate" is my answer to this problem and pretty much for the same reason, the siren call of the Quarter Pounder. It feels like a *fancy* meal for me probably because I know places that charge a fortune for cold meat and European cheese wedges on a plank of hardwood. Mix and match as you like from your fridge or pantry: cheeses, salami or similar, apples/pears/berries, baguette or crackers, cornichons/olives/pickles, smear of whole grain mustard and/or fancy jam. Maybe serve over some bagged spring mix if I am feeling the need for green. Could also have nuts. Or a boiled egg. Or whatever. Most of this stuff keeps for a bit too so that's a bonus - just shop on the weekend & keep until needed.
posted by pointystick at 7:21 PM on October 4, 2017 [12 favorites]

How about pizza on a pre-baked crust with lots of toppings to make it feel like a squarer meal? Vegetables, or less healthy as your taste determines.

They make all sorts of fancy expensive pre-baked crusts these days, but I just buy bags of large pitas from my local Middle Eastern market and freeze them. I can switch on my oven, spread the sauce and cheese on a pita before the oven is pre-heated, and within 12 minutes have a cheese pizza.

It's not mind-blowing pizza or anything, but small touches like some fresh garlic or olive oil mixed in with the sauce, or a bit of nice parmesan added to the shredded mozzarella, can make it pretty satisfying—much better than fully-premade frozen pizza, IMO.
posted by XMLicious at 7:24 PM on October 4, 2017

I keep a loaf of thick-cut seeded sourdough bread in the freezer.

Toast + rub with cut garlic + drizzle of extra virgin olive oil + sliced avocado, diced tomato, fresh basil leaves, finely diced red onion

Toast + cream cheese + smoked salmon + snipped fresh dill + cracked black pepper

Toast topped with large field mushroom fried flat in the pan topped with crumbled marinated feta and pine nuts, and maybe a fried egg

Quick and nutritious. The key is very good quality bread, and olive oil.
posted by Salamander at 7:25 PM on October 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

Also along the lines of *bunderful*'s suggestion: do you have a panini press? Game-changer. Get one with non-stick plates and the corrugated grill on one side, for those nice crunchy toasted 'lines'.

I buy a bag of panini or Turkish bread rolls, and fill with any combination of:

Sundried tomatoes
Marinated artichokes
Marinated peppers/capsicum
Red onion
Feta cheese
Mozzarella cheese
Fresh basil

And whatever else you can think of. Drizzle bread base with extra virgin olive oil and fill. Make an assorted batch, wrap individually in aluminium foil, stack in the freezer. Take one out and either defrost slightly in microwave before toasting in panini maker, or take one out in the morning to defrost in the fridge for later.

If you fill them up nice and thick, they're easily as filling as a burger, way healthier, cheaper and quicker. Win!
posted by Salamander at 7:34 PM on October 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

If you can find it, I use this or similar products from the health food store to quickly cook hot quinoa based dishes as a base. I then cook an egg or stir fry veggies or tofu to eat along with it. Quick and easy and satisfying after a work out.
posted by frumiousb at 8:01 PM on October 4, 2017

Canned beans or boiled lentils, bit of meat (like pre-cooked sausages), frozen vegetables, some savory herbs (thyme or anise for example). One pot, 20-minute meal.

All the ingredients store for long periods of time, too, so I have them around as "backup" and it really removes an excuse to get take out on the way home.
posted by mark k at 8:06 PM on October 4, 2017

My standard lazy meal is sardines packed in olive oil with dab of mustard alongside, crackers with butter, and any raw vegetables I have, dressed with olive oil and vinegar. The best sardines are from Trader Joe's and Costco.
posted by HotToddy at 8:13 PM on October 4, 2017

Frozen salmon burger (Costco has really excellent ones if you have access) on a bun with avocado (and pre-sliced or shredded cheese if you are me). My husband usually eats two. 5-6 minutes on a side, slice the avocado while it is cooking. If you are extra fancy nuke some frozen broccoli while you are doing it. 12 minutes start to finish, relatively healthy. You can keep the buns in the freezer, too, if you want.
posted by charmedimsure at 8:21 PM on October 4, 2017 [4 favorites]

*Quick Stir-Fry*

Equipment: wok + wooden spoon, chopping board + sharp knife

- peanut and/or sesame oil, soy sauce, oyster sauce, fish sauce, brown sugar/palm sugar
- garlic, ginger, skinless chicken breast, leafy Asian greens (eg bok choi), red or orange veg (capsicum, carrot, red onion)
- packet straight-to-wok rice/egg noodles or packet microwave rice

- heat wok over high heat with a splash of oil/s
- slice chicken breast, finely chop garlic & ginger, slice vegetables
- add to wok: garlic, ginger, and approx 1tbsp each of soy & oyster sauces. Stir fry 1 min
- add chicken. Stir fry approx 4 mins. Remove from wok.
- add veg, fish sauce, tspn brown sugar or palm sugar, noodles (if using, otherwise zap rice in microwave as per instructions). Stir fry 1-2 minutes
- return chicken to wok. Combine everything. Eat.

The key is to have the oils, sauces, noodles and rice ready to go. I keep mine in a dedicated plastic tub in my pantry. This then literally takes 10 minutes, beginning to end. It looks complicated written out, but it's really, really not. Do it twice and you can do it in your sleep. And having all the sauces and oils is what makes it taste delicious, instead of 'I stir-fried a bunch of bland stuff, and now I wish I had a burger' :)

You can get fancy and stir-fry some cashew nuts before the chicken and set aside to drain on paper towel. Add at the end for protein & crunch.
posted by Salamander at 8:28 PM on October 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

What about just making your own cheeseburger? You can buy pre-prepared patties, or just buy ground beef and make your own. You can keep the raw patties in your freezer, and just pull one out when you want to cook it. You can even keep the hamburger buns in the freezer too. They cook super quickly on the stove top or broil them in the oven or whatever.

For a side, a can of baked beans works, or make a baked potato.
posted by litera scripta manet at 8:31 PM on October 4, 2017 [3 favorites]

Costco Turkey burgers. Stick one in the toaster oven for 20 minutes then top with pesto or avocado and eat alone or in a burger bun or inside two slices of toast. Cheap, easy , filling.
posted by fshgrl at 10:04 PM on October 4, 2017

I discovered teriyaki black bean stir fry the other day. Really tasty. I precook rice and freeze it in single portions.

Shrimp is good for stir fries. Cook from frozen, no chopping required.

BLT's or BLAT's are hard to beat taste wise. You need fresh ingredients, but a five minute trip to the supermarket gets you dinner for a week (freeze the bread rolls for later in the week).

Couscous can be cooked in the bowl you eat it out of in a couple of minutes (the box tells you how) Add flavored can of tuna, some veg (I like celery, red capsicum and corn) and mix.
posted by kjs4 at 10:23 PM on October 4, 2017

Our standard lazy meal is protein on the grill, veggies on the grill, tortillas on the grill, and a salad. We do this three or four nights a week.

You can mix it up here and there but the key is it requires no pots and pans, no complicated ingredients, and only a few utensils.

You do need a gas grill and decent weather, however.
posted by notyou at 10:25 PM on October 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

You could get a George Foreman grill to make really quick burgers, steaks, chops, salmon and grilled chicken. Also throw some veggies on the grill like cherry tomatoes, zucchini, whatever. Get different seasoning mixes to change things up a bit. I'm actually all about gadgets for quick cooking and have an Instant Pot and an air fryer that I love, too. I use the air fryer to make fries - just cut up potatoes, throw them in and add a tablespoon of oil and cook for half an hour. They're really delicious, much better than McDonalds. I can also make chilli fries, sweet potato fries, etc. I also make big batches of pizza dough and freeze. Take out in the morning and when you get home roll out, top and bake. Also delicious.
posted by hazyjane at 10:34 PM on October 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

I just realised I did a version of this last night - "baked" potato!

1. Wash a potato and cut into chunks.
2. Nuke in the microwave for about 2.5 minutes.
3. Defrost some pre-cooked protein (usually a veggie burger pattie for me) and frozen corn.
4. Place chopped protein and corn over potato chunks. [If I have some sliced mushrooms I will also include them here].
5. Add sauce (usually bbq sauce).
5. Put some sour cream and shredded cheese on top.
6. Microwave until the shredded cheese is somewhat melty.
7. Wait for a few minutes to consume or risk fiery death to your tongue because you are too hungry to wait.

Also of note: often part of the desperation that leads to poor takeaway choices for me is that I'm just too hungry by that stage to put up with even a reasonable delay to eating. If this is you too, consider approaching the problem earlier or including an afternoon snack in your plans.
posted by Cheese Monster at 12:02 AM on October 5, 2017

Pre-cooked rice pouch (c.1 min in microwave, cooked in the bag)
Frozen steam veg bag (c. 2 mins in microwave, cooked in the bag)
Cooked chunks of chicken/ham/fish/whatever from deli counter, microwaved on your plate (1-2 mins)
Mix together, chuck on soy sauce/ready-grated cheese/olive oil or some combination.
No washing up except your plate and fork.

These are all UK links but I assume similar stuff is available elsewhere. The rice comes in loads of different flavours, you can get quinoa, barley etc. mixed in for variety. It's surprisingly good - there's a wholegrain rice and quinoa with a hint of garlic mix I get that sounds horrifyingly dull but is SO tasty.
posted by penguin pie at 4:22 AM on October 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

I keep a bag of Costco burger patties in the freezer for exactly this; I also keep a bag or two of frozen french fries (which take a bit longer but with almost zero effort). A burger and maybe some salad or fruit on the side is easy and scratches exactly the fat/protein/carb itch you are describing. I use regular bread but as noted above you can freeze hamburger buns if you like those better.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:32 AM on October 5, 2017

Single pan baking - line a baking sheet with parchment paper and bake veggies, potatoes, chicken, etc. The cleanup is done when you remove the sheet of parchment and give the pan a quick wipe.

On week nights, we will typically slice a chicken breast or pork chop in half lengthwise, fill it with spinach and cheese or apple and cheddar, microwave a potato (the oven crisps the skin which simulates a baked potato) and then include a root vegetable dressed with honey, maple, or spices. Whole thing cooks at 350 degrees until it's done. To dress it up, my wife often heats up a can of mushroom soup and we add that at the last minute.
posted by notorious medium at 6:49 AM on October 5, 2017

Quesadillas are super fast, and you can use whatever combination of cheese + cooked meat, cooked veggies, spinach or other quick-cooking green or veggie, etc. that sounds good to you. Tortilla in a skillet over medium to high heat, pile on the filling, top with another tortilla, wait a couple of minutes until the cheese is melted then flip and finish on the other side for a minute or two. If you pile on the cheese and/or fillings, it's pretty satisfying.
posted by MadamM at 6:50 AM on October 5, 2017

Rotini or similar pasta shape, open a can of chickpeas or white beans, feta cheese, olive oil, oregano and good chilis. I don't bother with garlic. Eat with a salad if you want.

Roasted veg on the weekend when you have prep time - do enough to have a whole bunch! Beets, carrots, potatoes, fennel, sweet potato, brussels sprouts - hearty and toothy veg. Toss in olive oil, s&p, roast at 400 F for 45 mins to an hour - use one big pan. Then through the week throw them on top of pasta, or add a hunk of nicely charred meat and sop up the juices with good bread.

Microwave a baked potato and cover it in cheese. If you have leftover bacon (lol) put it on top. I don't like sour cream but I get why people eat it, maybe you do. Add a lot of pepper and maybe some green onions. If you are still hungry, you have staved off the worst of it with starch and can consider cooking something else.

Rotisserie chicken is a gift from the grocery store gods.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 7:42 AM on October 5, 2017

You want Budget Bytes' One Pot category. I've made a ton of these and they are all really damn good.
posted by capricorn at 9:36 AM on October 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

Get a chunk of salmon. Pour some sweet soy sauce over it. Wrap in aluminum foil like a little boat (all seams on top, rolled over to make it leak-proof). Put it on a baking sheet anyway.

Cook this at 400 degrees for around 25 minutes and then unwrap (carefully) and check for doneness. Throw it in another 10 min if it's too squishy inside.

Eat this with rice and/or salad greens with bottled dressing, or microwave steam-in-bag veggies you like.

Since you toss the aluminum foil, and if you wrap it well it won't leak, the baking sheet will be clean and all you have to wash is your plate.
posted by ananci at 11:39 AM on October 5, 2017

In addition to frozen meals, keeping some frozen ingredients will be helpful. Think frozen breaded fish from Costco (20 mins in the oven), frozen veggie fried rice from Trader Joes (5 mins in the microwave), etc.

You might also want to invest in a pressure cooker if <1>
But my go-to for this type of thing is a taco bowl. I make enough taco meat (ground beef with taco seasoning, tomatoes, onions) and rice (add some butter and chopped cilantro) to freeze. Then when I need to make one, I microwave the meat and rice, mix with canned beans, any fresh tomatoes/lettuce/etc I have available, some shredded cheese, avocado, maybe some crushed up tortilla chips, and I'm good.
posted by AceRock at 12:52 PM on October 5, 2017

Thanks all! I marked as "best answer" the ones I that had ideas I hadn't thought of and sounded good, but there are so many ideas here! Would love to hear some more! I said I wasn't looking for meal prep ideas but damn you guys had some good meal-prep ideas I hadn't thought of!

I'm going to make a list from this post of things I can make when I have nothing prepped and it's going on my fridge and in my phone to save me from McD's.
posted by the sockening at 5:36 PM on October 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

Make a baked potato in the microwave. Top with full-fat cottage cheese, salt & pepper. If you want a veg, slice up a tomato to have alongside.

Quick Mexican dinner: microwave a bag of Uncle Ben's Jambalaya Rice, and heat up a can of refried beans on the stove. Layer beans and rice on half of your plate and top with shredded lettuce and diced tomato. Add more lettuce and tomato on the other side as a salad. Top with ranch dressing.

If you like Indian food: Nuke a bag of frozen peas and carrots. Meanwhile open 2 cans of Amy's Golden Lentil soup. Add a can of drained, sliced potatoes. Heat on the stove while other veggies cook in microwave. Add cooked veggies to soup. Microwave a pouch of Uncle Ben's Basmati rice to go along with.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 6:23 PM on October 5, 2017

Have a Mealsquare or two.
posted by serena15221 at 7:06 PM on October 5, 2017

Do you love egg mcmuffins? I fucking love them. So this has been taking my house by storm lately:

Mabelstreet's half-assed mcmuffin:
Put an English muffin in the toaster
Scramble an egg in one bowl (with salt and pepper if yer fancy-like)
Spray Pam into another bowl, then dump the egg in
Microwave 30 sec (this is the best because of the "add 30 sec" button)
Throw a slice of cheese on top and cover (pro tip: cover it with the plate you'll eat on)
When the egg mcmuffin is done toasting, put *mayonnaise* on both halves
Put the egg and cheese on it (hold the top muffin on the cheese, invert bowl, lift bowl off, place bottom muffin)

All three dishes clean up easy
Some microwaves, hit it for ten more seconds to melt the cheese; I recommend pepper jack
posted by mabelstreet at 8:05 PM on October 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

Rice-a-roni, throw in some cut up boneless skinless chicken thighs and broccolli. I don't precook the chicken and have never had a problem, just make sure it's cut up in 1 in or so cubes. You could also cook the chicken in the skillet then saute the rice if you were worried about it.
posted by DarthDuckie at 5:33 AM on October 6, 2017

Hot ham and cheese sandwiches:

Buns or bread
Thin-sliced deli ham (I get the Oscar Mayer brand in the lunch meat aisle)
Cheese slices

Turn on the oven to 350. Tear off a square of foil large enough to wrap each sandwich you are making. Assemble sandwiches right on the foil (bottom bread, pile of ham, slice of cheese, top bread). Wrap the sandwiches in foil and place in oven. You can put them on a cookie sheet if you want. Bake for about 15 minutes. When you unwrap the sandwich you can use the foil as your plate.

Serve with applesauce (get the little lunchbox cups to avoid dishes) and some good potato chips.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 9:00 AM on October 6, 2017

I recommend looking at the One Pot Chef channel on you tube. All of his recipes that I have tried have come out well.
posted by wittgenstein at 7:06 PM on October 6, 2017

Protein + mayo salad is great for this. Open can of protein (tuna, chicken, shrimp, ham), mix in some mayo in the bowl you want to eat out of. Eat with crackers, and a banana if you want some fruit.
posted by joycehealy at 9:26 AM on October 7, 2017

Veggie burgers. Microwave for a minute while you slap some mayo and mustard on a roll, add vegetables and cheese as desired.
posted by metasarah at 11:57 AM on October 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

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