Dead Simple Dinner Ideas
February 20, 2019 1:57 PM   Subscribe

What are some dead-simple dinner ideas? Looking for stuff that’s even easier than the “Easy 30-minute Weeknight Dinner” listicles, due to laziness, burnout, small kitchen, and temporary weird living conditions. There are 2 of us and we eat meat but no seafood. Sadly we don't have a crock pot or Instapot.

Here are my criteria:

Minimal ingredient list
Has meat and some semblance of veggies
Vaguely healthy
Somewhat home made (beyond frozen meals or takeout)
Not too much chopping, prep, or cleanup.

I’m looking for alternatives to Spaghetti & Meat Sauce (Brown ground beef. Add jar of spaghetti sauce. Boil pasta. Serve.)
posted by jschu to Food & Drink (38 answers total) 84 users marked this as a favorite
Do you have an oven? Sheet pan dinners could work well for you. Everything on one baking sheet, cooked together in the oven and if you use parchment paper, you don't even have to wash the baking sheet. Googling "sheet pan dinner" will get you lots of ideas. Get a few tasty spice and herb blends (I love the ones from Penzeys) and you'll have a delicious and healthy dinner.
posted by quince at 2:01 PM on February 20, 2019 [12 favorites]

Budget Bytes' One Pot Creamy Cajun Chicken Pasta. Can be made even simpler by using chicken tenderloins instead of chopping the chicken breast and a premixed cajun seasoning instead of blending your own. But dead simple and delicious as written.
posted by apparently at 2:03 PM on February 20, 2019 [2 favorites]

One tip regarding veg chopping: um, I'm kind of a dirtbag and I've started getting my veggies from the grocery store salad bar when I don't want to deal with prep. Seriously I'll go and fill the salad box with like, peppers and onions if I want tacos, or spinach if I want to throw that in with my pasta, or cucumber and tomato for sandwiches, or just enough of the protein/cheese that I want, etc. Everything is sliced, everything is washed. I also don't think it's worked out to be more expensive -- less goes to waste, both because I can get exactly the amount I need, and because the barrier to using it is so very low.

One of my favorite easy dinners is sautéed peppers and onions in a pita with (store-bought) tzatziki and chickpeas, but it'd be good with chicken too. It's one pan and pretty good for you.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 2:09 PM on February 20, 2019 [17 favorites]

When we were remodeling our house last year we ate a lot of turkey sandwiches and bagged salad. Nothing wrong with a turkey sandwich for dinner! And it takes five minutes.
posted by something something at 2:10 PM on February 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

Earlier this week I stumbled upon No recipe recipes and it sparked a really easy delicious meal. I grabbed some chicken thighs, an onion, a shallot, and baked them with a little white wine and salt and pepper. Served it up with some sauteed greens. Was really easy and I just made it after reading one of the "recipes". I can't wait to try another!

I also often just grab some stir fry veggies, cut up some chicken, toss it in the wok with a little sesame oil, soy sauce and some corn starch, served over steamed rice. Easy peasy!
posted by pazazygeek at 2:12 PM on February 20, 2019 [3 favorites]

Bagged chopped salad is a great base for a stir fry. Start some diced/sliced chicken or pork in your pan, once it's about 5 minutes away from being done, throw in the chopped salad. You can use the dressing that it comes with or just toss it with some soy sauce or whatever you feel like. Easy peasy and it takes maybe 15 minutes.
posted by dawkins_7 at 2:12 PM on February 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

I also came to recommend Budget Bytes. There is a category of one pot meals that are fast and (what I've tried!) are delicious.
posted by source.decay at 2:13 PM on February 20, 2019 [2 favorites]

For a long time our go-to quickie was chicken tacos.


Chicken. I like breasts, but tenders or thighs work fine, too.

One jar decent green salsa.

One can Rotel.

One can black beans.


Shredded cheese, if you want.


Preheat your oven to 350 or so.

Cut the chicken into manageable bits and put into a pyrex baking dish. Pour in salsa.

Put 'em in the oven.

Empty black beans into saucepan; add Rotel. Cover and put heat on low. They're done when the chicken's done.

Assemble into tacos. Have the beans ON the tacos (as I do), or BESIDE the tacos (my wife's preference); your choice!

posted by uberchet at 2:17 PM on February 20, 2019

I love a deep frying pan, and did a lot of what I would call "quick pan-fry" meals:

- oil and spices - heat a little for flavour (if you're not a self-spicer, buy some curry and/or chilli mixes)
- add meat (sliced chicken breasts, beef steakettes, pork chops - thin enough to cook through) and cook, take out (I put it on one of the plate we're about to use - no need for more dishes)
- add veggies and fry in the oils-spices-meat deliciousness - green veggies like kale, broccoli, green beans all do well this way.
- put meat back in to warm up, then serve

Serve with rice or pasta.

If you're using a nice lighter oil like canola and relatively lean meats, this can be very healthy.

(If you like rice, I would recommend a rice cooker. Relatively cheap and small compared to other gadgets, but if you make rice 3x per week, it's so worth it.)
posted by jb at 2:17 PM on February 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

Oh, and let me echo the rec for Budget Bytes. My wife found that site a while back and we've been enjoying it. They're sometimes a little bland, but that's easy to fix.
posted by uberchet at 2:17 PM on February 20, 2019

In terms of cutting down on vegetable prep: Frozen vegetables are really cheap and also don't need any prep - you can cook them from frozen.
posted by jb at 2:18 PM on February 20, 2019 [2 favorites]

Two words: simmer sauce.

1) Buy pre-cooked bags of microwaveable rice. (Or, if you want to go budget, make a huge thing of rice and freeze pre-portioned servings to thaw as needed.

2) Meat cut into chunks. You can do the dicing on shopping day and keep it in a tupperware till cooking time if you want. Or, if you do make a sheet pan dinner or buy a rotisserie chicken at the store, you can use leftovers. Fresh meat that needs cooking or leftover meat are both fine.

3) Add jar of sauce. That one is my favorite, but there are tons available at my local grocery store. Trader Joe's has their own brands. There are Indian, Thai, Chinese, Caribbean.

4) Add frozen vegetables. No need to thaw, they'll cook in the sauce. I like frozen b/c they are already the right size. For korma, I like green beans and carrots. For others I'll add peas or cauliflower.

5) Microwave rice, pour cooked chicken/mix over rice.

It's basically what you've been doing, but adding some veggies and switching up your flavors so it's not the same thing every day.

Good luck.
posted by gideonfrog at 2:21 PM on February 20, 2019

Pre-chopped vegetables turn medium effort recipes into no-effort recipes.

(on preview, what jb said, although IME it takes some experimentation to find out what you like/don't like frozen, whereas these days my grocery store has pre-chopped everything)
posted by quaking fajita at 2:21 PM on February 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

Get a cast iron skillet. Leave it on the stove all the time. Turn on the stove, cut veggies. Seriously, just hold a knife and veggie over the pan and let the cut parts fall in. Longer cooking veggies first, then shorter cook time veggies and protein. Throw in spices, turn down to a simmer, stir every once in awhile. Your done.

You can cook any variety of protein, veggies, spices, to satisfy whichever flavor craving you have for the night. You can even just push the veggies aside and stick a whole cut of something next to it.

Throw in a can of beans, or precook rice or pasta one night and leave it in the fridge so you can add to it.

Once you are done, leave the skillet on the stove so any leftover bits carbonized and wipe that off with a towel if you want.

You can invest in different spices and oils for flavor. I don’t eat meat, and won’t address that, but other stuff: tomatoes, onion, garlic, broccoli, asparagus, cauliflower, mushrooms, tofu, beans, rice, pasta, potatoes, carrots, kale. Pretty much anything. Grate and throw some cheese on top of you get bored.

And don’t let peole get you worried about cast iron care. Dead simple. It’s just a hunk of metal. It will survive laziness.
posted by MountainDaisy at 2:22 PM on February 20, 2019

I made this soup the other day - i cooked and shredded chicken breast but you could use rotesserie

i also sauted some onion first but the original recipe didn't even call for that.

2 cooked and shredded chicken breast
32 oz chicken stock
2 cans great northern beans drained
1 16 oz jar green chili sauce i used this
1 teaspoon ground cumin
salt and pepper to taste ( i also added dash of Tapatio hot sauce but not necessary)

Add everything to large pot and simmer for 20 minutes. good served with sour cream, avocado, shredded cheese and tortillas or tortilla chips.

super super easy version of white chili
posted by domino at 2:22 PM on February 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

Another Budget Bytes winner is dragon noodles. Original recipe has no meat, but she also does lime shrimp dragon noodles and pork and peanut dragon noodles.

This recipe for penne with (canned) tuna, lemon, and basil is one of my summer staples.

Broccoli and chicken quesadillas are super easy if you make a batch of chicken thighs on the weekend. You could probably also buy a rotisserie chicken and use the meat from that.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 2:23 PM on February 20, 2019

Bagged salad and rotisserie chicken
Sheet pan of potatoes, carrots and sausage chunks (top with onion powder and salt)
Crudites of meat cubes, cheese, veggies and dip
Veggie filled omelets or frittata
posted by soelo at 2:34 PM on February 20, 2019

I think you may really like the (free!!) Stone Soup cookbook PDF. All recipes are 5 ingredients (or less) and take 10 minutes (or less), typically little to no prep or having to think much about what you're making.
posted by nightrecordings at 2:34 PM on February 20, 2019 [4 favorites]

My canonical simple dinner is a cheese/bread/veggie [and optional meat] plate:

Vegetables: baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, sliced up bell peppers, any other sliced up raw vegetables
Cheese: one soft and one slicing (or more if you have a lot of cheese around)
Butter - if you like butter on things
Bread or crackers - baguette, fancy seed crackers, rye crispbread, etc
Grocery-store level salami (back when I ate meat, I liked Genoa salami for this) or similar
Sliced apples, grapes, dried figs, etc.

You can obviously simplify this or change it up - my version is often peanut butter on rye crispbread, tomatoes, apples and cheese slices.
posted by Frowner at 2:35 PM on February 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

Nigel Slater's Chicken with Haricot Beans is dead simple and very quick, and has become a regular fixture in the HandfulOfDust household. NB It doesn't have to be chicken on the bone - fillets work just fine.
posted by HandfulOfDust at 2:37 PM on February 20, 2019

We get rotisserie chickens pretty regularly, eat the drumsticks and the legs one night, chop off the breast meat and eat that the next night, and either make stock with the leftovers or toss it. Carrot sticks and ranch for a veggie (or boxed spinach with balsamic vinegar and olive oil), and we pre-make some rice or couscous every week and keep it around to heat up. If I saute chopped veggies, i'll just toss the rice/couscous in there at some point to heat it through.
posted by elmer benson at 3:07 PM on February 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

You have a lot of chicken suggestions. I'll add that the supermarkets have great varieties of chicken sausage now that make it even easier.
In one pan: Bag of frozen veggies, sausage, and sliced up polenta to fry on the side in the same pan. So easy and so easy to clean up (no raw chicken clean up saves time.)
posted by nantucket at 3:07 PM on February 20, 2019

Your question has me wondering which item in our usual rotation is actually the quickest. I think maybe what we call Mexican Roll Ups: Brown & season the ground meat as directed on the Taco Mix packet. At the table, put a couple of spoonfuls of the meat on a flour taco, top with store-grated cheese, bagged green stuff, and store-bought salsa. In truth, we usually slice up lettuce from an actual head, but....

Frozen vegetables standardize the process. Put veggies from the bag into a small, covered microwave pot, add a splash of water, microwave for 3 minutes. We don't use them, but the grocery store freezer aisle is full of half-made meals. They've practically squeezed out the plain stuff.
posted by SemiSalt at 4:19 PM on February 20, 2019

I have been getting a lot of mileage out of this question I asked a while back: Quick Easy Cheap Healthy Delicious.

I've only worked my way a little ways down the list of answers so far, but I've gotten a lot of use out of the Dragon Noodles and Pasta with Chickpeas recipes in particular. Neither of them contain meat, but they are both quite hearty. The One-Pot Beef Stroganoff recipe is also a definite winner.

I made the Pasta with Chickpeas again tonight, after getting home from work. I double the recipe and this is how I make it:
  1. Put a quart (four cups) of water on to boil.
  2. In a big skillet, glug in some olive oil (I believe the actual recipe calls for 4 tablespoons but you don't need to be precise) and then slap on a big blob of minced garlic from a jar. Set to medium low.
  3. Open a small can of tomato paste and a big (29 oz) can of chickpeas. Dump the chickpeas out into a colander.
  4. After the garlic gets nice and smelly, scoop out half the can of tomato paste and add it to the skillet. Mix that around a bit. Cover the can with tinfoil and save it in the fridge for another day.
  5. Stir that around for a minute or so. By now the water is boiling. Dump in the chickpeas, shake a cup or so of pasta (I like to use campanelle, but any short pasta is probably fine) into the pan as well, and then pour the water over it. No need to be precise with the pasta, it'll be fine.
  6. Let that simmer, uncovered. When the liquid is starting to disappear, put some more olive oil, more garlic, and a bunch of red pepper in a small skillet and get that heating up on medium.
  7. Once most of the liquid is gone, serve out your pasta and chickpeas into bowls and top it with the spicy garlic oil, some Parmesan cheese, and black pepper.
  8. Voila! Delicious, filling, inexpensive, and dead easy to make.
  9. Save the leftovers; it reheats very well. This is why I double the recipe. For two people I might quadruple the recipe; in a large skillet it would probably all still fit, but you might upgrade to a large pot at that point.
It's become a staple around here, precisely because it fulfills the "quick easy cheap healthy delicious" criteria. I can throw it together on a Wednesday night after getting home from work, the cleanup is a breeze, it costs very little, it's not terrible for me, and it fills me right up. And tomorrow night I'll have it again. Haven't got tired of it yet.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 4:36 PM on February 20, 2019

I highly, highly recommend this cookbook for meal strategies to fall back on when a 30-minute meal is just too much.
posted by Andrhia at 5:28 PM on February 20, 2019

Everything is a taco.

Frozen pre cooked cut up chicken with canned chipotles in adobo, topped with bagged shredded cabbage.
Sautéed peppers, onions, zucchini
Frozen spinach and sweet potatoes
Fish sticks with yogurt and cilantro
Canned black beans and anything
posted by OrangeVelour at 5:41 PM on February 20, 2019 [3 favorites]

We made this tonight, easy and delicious. I modified it a little to eliminate chopping and fussing around. This is the in the category of meals I jokingly call "Chop, Chop, DUMP!". It mostly involves opening packages and stirring.

Taco Soup

1 small plastic container of chopped onion.\
Spoonful of garlic from a jar
1 - 2 lbs ground meat (optional)
2 cans black beans
1 package taco seasoning
1 small (14oz?) can Rotel
1 small (14oz?) can diced tomatoes
1 T bouillon (prefer "Better than Bouillon")
1 small bottle of tomato juice or V8.
Salt to taste.
Maybe some shredded cheese.

1. Cook onions and garlic until nearly done.
2. If using, add meat, stir until brown.
3. Open beans, drain. Dump drain beans into pot.
4. Put in the taco seasoning, stir until fragrant.
5. Open Rotel, drain. Dump drained Rotel into pot.
6. Open tomatoes, dump directly into pot.
7. Stir, mix everything together.
8. Dissolve 1 tablespoon of bouillon in 2 cups water. Pour bouillon water into pot.
9. Pour in some (~ 1 cup?) tomato juice, drink the rest or save for later.
10. Heat until bubbly.
11. Serve.

Serving Suggestions:
Shredded cheese.
Sour cream.
Microwave in-the-bag rice.
Any remnants of chopped onion.
Whatever refrigerated biscuits you like best.
Hot sauce.
posted by Guess What at 5:44 PM on February 20, 2019

Egg in a basket! You can cut the hole in the bread with a glass and a knife if you don't have a cookie cutter in the right shape/size. Add some bacon or sausage to the same pan if (if you have the room, another if you don't) for your meat, saute some greens (kale, spinach, mustard greens, chard) for the vegetables, or steam whatever your preferred frozen veggies are in the microwave, and ta da. Meal in 15-20 minutes or less.
posted by yasaman at 6:01 PM on February 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'd consider this more of a beef stroganoff than hamburger helper, but either way: I LOVE IT. I make it with ground turkey instead of ground beef (honestly tastes about the same), and I do double the mushrooms (yum), and you could add peas or the vegetable of your choice to it. I've made it without the flour, too, because I didn't have any, and it was still great. I guess it's not a HUGE difference from spaghetti and meat sauce, but it's a different flavor profile. And one pot! Hotcha.

I also made this chicken dish the other day, and honestly it could not have been easier. The only "chopping" was slicing up a lemon.
posted by Charity Garfein at 6:34 PM on February 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

MeFi's own mishafletch has written a cookbook, Cooking is Terrible.

Not a lot of meat dishes, but some, and very minimal prep work.
posted by lharmon at 7:07 PM on February 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

Do you have a Trader Joe’s nearby? I don’t want to admit how often I get the quinoa+veggies frozen bag mix (or the superfood pilaf one) with some of their chicken sausage (slice and sauté one package) and add a little Siracha on top. It gives me three very full servings.
posted by raccoon409 at 7:24 PM on February 20, 2019

Also this smitten kitchen recipe is stupid easy. To me it almost tastes like risotto but also gets in a little bit of that veg (doesn’t have meat but it feels “meaty” enough that I don’t miss it. You don’t even have to slice the tomatoes if you don’t want to.
posted by raccoon409 at 7:26 PM on February 20, 2019

I stumbled on this recipe for baked sausage with apples and potatoes a while back and it's super-simple; especially since I have used those pre-cooked sausages you find by the bacon, the ones that come four to a pack and come in a bunch of different flavors. All you do is chop things up and throw them into a baking dish, then bake them; potatoes and onions first, then you add sausage and chopped up apple. The original recipe uses uncooked sweet Italian sausages that you lay whole on top of the chopped-up stuff, but I found it was even easier to slice up those pre-cooked sausages and add that with the chopped apple instead. (I find that one apple, one small potato, one small onion and one sausage link is the perfect amount per person.) You don't even need to peel the apple or the potato, and the onion doesn't have to be finally diced, just cut into chunks.

A cousin got me this cookbook for Christmas one year and it has a lot of other simple recipes. (She told me that she and her husband had picked that up first when they were at the bookstore shopping, and continued browsing through the store looking for other gifts - but one or the other of them kept flipping through that cookbook as they shopped, and finally went back and got a second copy for themselves because they found so much good stuff in it.)

One such recipe became one of my go-to's and I've practically memorized it. There is one specialty-ish ingredient - preserved lemons - but if you can't find it to buy, you can make it yourself (it does take a couple weeks of sitting around, though). But it's worth having on hand.

Here's the recipe for preserved lemons first:

Get a bag of about 9 lemons, a jar and a box of salt. Cut about half of the lemons into quarters to start. Drop a spoonful of salt in the bottom of the jar, then lay a couple wedges of lemon on top of that. Then add another spoonful of salt, and another couple wedges of lemon. Keep alternating like that. cutting more lemons as you need to, to fill the jar - and make sure it's pretty compact, you can smush the lemons down a little. Once the jar is full, sprinkle on one last spoonful of salt, then juice enough of the rest of the lemons to make enough juice to just cover everything over in the jar. (Maybe you'll need only one or two.) Then, close the jar, and give it a shake - and then just leave it on the counter for two weeks, giving it a shake every day to mix everything up. After two weeks, you've got the preserved lemons. You can store the jar in the fridge indefinitely; the lemon wedges will be soft and squidgy and intensely flavored with lemon and salt, which you can mush with butter and herbs for seasoning things; when I roast chicken, I fish out one of the wedges and mush it with a half a stick of butter and some chopped herbs to season the inside of the chicken, for instance. Or sometimes when I have broiled fish fillets, I smear some of of a preserved lemon wedge over each fillet before I pop it in the broiler.

The second recipe I have, which USES preserved lemon, is:

Preheat the oven to 375 or 400 or so. For two people, take a pound of potatoes, cut them into chunks and dump them into a baking dish just big enough to hold them in one layer. Drizzle some olive oil over them. Then fish out two preserved lemon wedges, cut them into a few pieces and tuck them in between the potatoes. Sprinkle salt and pepper over that, drizzle in enough water to come up to a half inch deep in the baking dish, and then lay a few chicken parts on top of the potatoes (for two people I'd go with either 4 chicken thighs or two whole chicken legs). Sling that right into the oven for 45 minutes or until the chicken skin is golden and crispy.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:34 PM on February 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

The easiest recipe I know for chicken is David Lebovitz' caramelized shallot chicken. Which is simply: chicken parts, vinegar, olive oil, soy sauce, and finely diced shallots. Mix it all together and bake. 30-45 minutes in total.

If you like beef and you can get this cut, then tri-tip with any dry rub is fantastic. Don't need a grill, you can bake this 375 F of 10 minutes per pound. Be sure to let it rest before cutting into it.
posted by jadepearl at 2:56 AM on February 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

Where we are you can get lots of different sauces in jars that you cook with a protein and then serve with a starch. Possible starches as easy as pasta are pasta, rice, couscous, new potatoes, bread.

We like meals this easy. We buy ready to cook meat things that go in the oven or small pies, or felafel and hummus and then serve with ready to cook veg, and or bagged salad.
posted by plonkee at 10:10 AM on February 21, 2019

My wife and I share recipes on our site, and many are of the quick and easy variety.
posted by terrapin at 1:14 PM on February 21, 2019

Have you seen Bitmann's 10 minute meals list?

1 Make six-minute eggs: simmer gently, run under cold water until cool, then peel. Serve over steamed asparagus.

2 Toss a cup of chopped mixed herbs with a few tablespoons of olive oil in a hot pan. Serve over angel-hair pasta, diluting the sauce if necessary with pasta cooking water.

3 Cut eight sea scallops into four horizontal slices each. Arrange on plates. Sprinkle with lime juice, salt and crushed chilies; serve after five minutes.

4 Open a can of white beans and combine with olive oil, salt, small or chopped shrimp, minced garlic and thyme leaves in a pan. Cook, stirring, until the shrimp are done; garnish with more olive oil.

5 Put three pounds of washed mussels in a pot with half a cup of white wine, garlic cloves, basil leaves and chopped tomatoes. Steam until mussels open. Serve with bread.

You get the idea...
posted by xammerboy at 8:44 PM on February 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

Red beans and rice is our go to when we don't feel like cooking. I chop 1lbs of kielbasa and brown it in a pan and then add 1 can of beans and 1/2c. rice and a cup of chicken broth and some spices and stick a lid on it. When it reaches a boil cut it to low and cook it for 12-15 mins until the rice is done. All in one pot and comes together in about 20 mins.
posted by julie_of_the_jungle at 9:47 AM on February 22, 2019

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