Feed my family: quick and easy meals
April 13, 2021 6:46 AM   Subscribe

I need to get dinner on the table in 30 minutes or less. What are your favorite/go-to quick and easy recipes? One-pot wonders, favorites, meal hacks all welcome. Bonus points for quick, easy meals that also make leftovers (6+ servings).

Two working parents + a toddler at home = no time for cooking.

Recipes or strong guidelines appreciated. I grok formulas like protein + veg + grain or cheeseboard is tasty, but do not have the extra brain power right now to come up with specifics.

Food restrictions: no shellfish, no pork, no meat & dairy in the same meal

Food preferences: happy to use some convenience foods (brand recommendations welcome); prefer no added sugar; would like to not eat pasta and bread for every meal

Toddler loves strong flavors (e.g. curry, chili, sauerkraut, blue cheese, kimchi). We eat omnivorously, including fish, lamb/goat, beef, chicken, beans, tofu, tempeh.

Assume a competent cook with a decently stocked kitchen but no fancy cooking gadgetry or appliances other than a stove/oven. Access to typical US supermarket as well as farmers markets, Asian market and some Latin American foods.
posted by carrioncomfort to Food & Drink (31 answers total) 75 users marked this as a favorite
My wife and I have been making a lot of gigantic fridge clearing soups throughout the pandemic. They vary depending on what we have on hand at the moment, but the gist of it is:

- fry up some onions and garlic (and maybe ginger)
- add complementary spices as desired (I prefer a combo of cumin, coriander, garam masala, curry and chili powder, but whatever you like)
- add a can of tomatoes
- add 3 cans of broth
- add whatever you like from there (my wife is vegan, so it's usually a melange of potatoes (ALWAYS POTATOES), red lentils/rice/quinoa, chickpeas, fake meat and/or tofu (of course, various types of real meat would work well), and various vegetables, most commonly carrots, broccoli and/or leafy greens) and let it simmer for a while. When the potatoes are soft, it's done.

Beginning to end it's probably just a bit over 30 minutes, but the end result is the biggest pot we have full to the brim of delicious soup that tastes even better after a day or two.
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:02 AM on April 13, 2021 [2 favorites]

This roasted tomato and white bean stew is delicious, quick and easy to make. The only cooking involved is roasting the tomatoes and then sauteeing the onion and garlic. Then it's just a matter of throwing everything else in the pot and simmering it for a few minutes.
posted by essexjan at 7:04 AM on April 13, 2021 [3 favorites]

Cook some pasta and broccoli in the same pan. Meanwhile, soften chopped onions and garlic in a frying pan and then add cream* and chopped blue cheese. Stir on gentle heat until cream has thickened a bit and cheese has melted. Add drained pasta and broccoli to pan with cream sauce.

(*I use whatever cream I have to hand - usually double cream but single or extra thick double all work)
posted by EndsOfInvention at 7:07 AM on April 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

When you say 30 minutes: do you mean 30 minutes prep time, but that could be earlier in the afternoon, or you've just arrived home and you need food in 30 minutes? If it's the former, an Instant Pot can be terrific - you can saute spices and aromatics, then add the meat and vegetables, set to cook and walk away.

If you need 30-minutes from start to finish, the fastest thing that I can think of that will also make leftovers is what I call my frying-pan casseroles - that is, I make something like a casserole or stew, but in a wide, deep frying pan, so that it simmers much more quickly than a pot would.

I start with canola oil (at least 2tbsp, if not more), spices (I love paprika, cayenne, cumin) and aromatics - garlic, ginger and/or onion. If I am cooking with meat, I'll add that first to brown, then the vegetables that take longer to cook (chopped celery, kale stalks or carrots). After that's had a few minutes frying, I'll often add canned chick peas or black bean with their water (especially if I haven't used meat) - that helps make the sauce - and/or a can of crushed tomatoes. Then I'll put the lid on and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Vegetables that cook very quickly - broccoli crowns or kale leaves - go in at the end. Depending on the frying pan, this can be a fair number of servings. You can do a lot of variations - the flavours come from the meat and/or spices. I usually serve it on rice (made in the rice cooker - that can take 30-60 minutes, depending on the rice cooker. If you like quinoa, that's faster; couscous is super fast (5 minutes, and you can just boiling water from a kettle).

For just two people - which would feed two people and a toddler, but not have leftovers - my husband and I used to get the cheapest minute beef steaks at the store, age them for a few days in the fridge, cover them with hot paprika (spicier variety) and flash fry them with a bit of olive oil. Right after doing the meat, we'd do our vegetables - greens like kale or collards, green beans or broccoli crowns all fry very quickly - in the same pan with a bit of soy sauce added, and serve on rice. This was even less time, except for the rice (which we had put on earlier).

on preview: The Card Cheat and I apparently have the same (non-) recipe book. But I would definitely add your leafy greens at the end. In fact, one of the best ways to add kale/spinach to a stew is to finish the stew, turn off the heat, then add the chopped greens, stir and let the residual heat cook the greens. They will wilt and cook just enough to be sweeter, but not too much.
posted by jb at 7:16 AM on April 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

I have reached the point in the pandemic at which I cannot. I just cannot. So I have been eating things like a whole bunch of roasted asparagus (15 min in the toaster oven) over microwaved rice cooked with garlic and a bit of vegetarian better than bouillon in it. I also like to roast sweet potato chunks - about 30 min in the same toaster oven, though to do enough you might need the real oven, I'm just cooking for me - and while they cook, saute onions and mushrooms in a combo of butter and oil with whatever flavouring I feel like, and dump said mixture over said sweet potato.

I found this green curry kit and use it with tofu and whatever veg I have, it takes about 30 min. It or something like it works with whatever you have.
posted by wellred at 7:27 AM on April 13, 2021 [2 favorites]

A Thai green curry is easy and quick if you can get hold of a tub of ready-made paste (e.g. Mae Ploy). Then all you need is some chicken (or other protein), a can of coconut milk, a bit of veg (green beans, baby sweetcorn, pea aubergines, mushrooms all work well) and some rice to serve it with. Takes about 20 minutes to prepare and cook.
posted by pipeski at 7:28 AM on April 13, 2021 [3 favorites]

In one pan, quinoa, ideally with some red pepper flakes and garlic (jar garlic is fine) plus salt.

Heat your wide heavy saucepan over medium-high heat as you coarsely chop an onion. Add the oil of your choice, onion then salt and stir. (My stove's medium-high is not too hot for this - if your stove runs hotter than mine, set at medium so you don't start burning the onion.)

Meanwhile, chop some bell peppers or mini bell peppers. When chopped, add to pan and stir.

Halve some cherry tomatoes. If you want to add black beans, drain a can and rinse.

When quinoa is done, add cherry tomatoes to pan and quickly saute until hot. Also add beans if using. Add quinoa to pan and saute until everything is well mixed. Season with chili and onion powder, correct salt and add goat cheese.

If you don't want to use goat cheese, you can mix about 1 tsp olive oil with the juice of a small lemon and use that, adding further chili powder to balance.
posted by Frowner at 7:29 AM on April 13, 2021

A couple of general notes:
- In your situation, I'd strongly consider getting a rice cooker (ideally one with a "delay" setting -- the one I use is $40) and a slow cooker (the one I use is $35). They make it a lot easier to prep healthy meals when you're time-limited in the evenings. Theoretically, you could use an Instant Pot for both functions, but I find it harder to use & clean.
- Budget Bytes is a great source of quick, nutritious, and practical meals. Here's their Quick Recipe category.

And here are some of the quick meals I make most often.

Nutritious easy meal that just requires a quick trip to the grocery store.
- Whole rotisserie chicken
- Baguette
- Pre-washed salad greens
- Balsamic vinaigrette

SHREDDED CHICKEN TACOS (requires slow cooker)
Make 2-ingredient Slow Cooker Salsa Chicken. Set up slow cooker in the morning (on low) or at lunch (on high). Double or triple the recipe for lots of great (and freezable) leftovers. Serve with tortillas and toppings.
- Good toppings when you have absolutely no time: pre-washed mixed greens and hot sauce or salsa.
- Better toppings when you have a little more time: shredded cabbage, sliced radishes, chopped avocado, a can of black beans heated on the stove with some cumin & oregano & smoked paprika & garlic/onion powder, hot sauce or salsa.

Cook up some rice (ideally, set it up in the rice cooker in the morning to be cooked by dinner time). Top with your choice of:
- Tofu cubes (plain or marinated/flavored tofu both work). Feel free to sub in diced chicken, sauteed ground meat, etc.
- Veggies: my favorite combo is shredded cabbage, grated carrot, sliced scallions, & diced avocado
- Dress with soy sauce, hot sauce or chili oil, and sesame oil to taste
- Bonus: sprinkle with nori flakes and/or sesame seeds

Use this recipe from Budget Bytes. I usually add some sauteed ground turkey to make it a bit more filling. Serve with garlic bread, or over rice/couscous/pasta.

Put some pitas on a baking sheet. Slather the top of each pita with hummus, then layer on some thin-sliced fresh tomatoes. Top with shredded cheese & sprinkle on some sunflower seeds. Bake at 350 until cheese is melty, then broil for a minute to make it bubble.

Put some pitas on a baking sheet. Slather them with canned tomato sauce and add your favorite pizza toppings. Bake at 350 until cheese is melty, then broil for a minute to make it bubble.
posted by ourobouros at 7:34 AM on April 13, 2021 [10 favorites]

Blackened fish takes five minutes, start to finish.

0. (If using frozen fish, place in the fridge the night before to defrost.)
1. Get yourself a fleshy white fish filet, like mahi-mahi or catfish.
2. Pat dry, then rub Cajun seasoning on both sides. (I use this, but it's easy enough to make your own).
3. Fry up some butter and olive oil in a decent-sized pan for however many fish filet you have.
4. Pan fry the fish; flip after 2-3 minutes once the first side is blackened, but otherwise leave it alone.

I serve this with white rice and Costco mango salsa; it's a hit every time.
posted by basalganglia at 8:10 AM on April 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

Allow me to introduce you to the Racheal Ray empire. 30 minute meals is what put her on the map and she has cookbooks, a show, and website/magazine and now there is even 16 minute recipes angle from Ree Drummond.

These are simple and straightforward dishes, Ray doesn't assume you have fancy gear or magic skills. Warning: her show is very enthusiastic.
posted by zenon at 8:10 AM on April 13, 2021 [4 favorites]

The jarred Indian and Thai curries are great for this, I wish my kid liked flavors because we used to eat them all the time. Toss whatever veg and protein you have in with the sauce, heat until veg and protein are toothsome, eat with rice or naan bread or no starch at all. (One thing to note: a lot of the Indian curries contain butter/cream, so plan those as meatless.)

Fried or poached eggs over roasted sweet potatoes and spicy sausage is another favorite. If the sweet potatoes were pre-scrubbed and chopped into 1/4 inch thick half-moons, it would definitely be sub-30-minutes, and it might make it anyhow if you’re a fast chopper. Regular potatoes and broccoli are good instead of the sweet potatoes for variety.
posted by tchemgrrl at 8:30 AM on April 13, 2021 [3 favorites]

We have a meal that's called in my family "Monday Night Dinner" regardless of when it's prepared. It's roast veg & grain with a sauce and it can be quite hands-off. Here's a schematic of how we create it:
1) The Veg: Cauliflower, sweet potato, onion are common choices; use a bag of precut ones from your grocery produce/salad section if you like. Toss these vegetables in a roasting pan with a very healthy glug of oil and salt and pepper. Roast until they're nicely browned.
2) The Grain: The Trader Joe's Harvest Grains blend is our "standard" for this, though we've moved towards a DIY version that lets us decrease the pasta and increase other components.
3) The Sauce: Mix up tahini, lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic.
4) The Protein: We don't usually add anything, but feta or tofu or some pre-made chicken/sausages would be a lovely addition.

While the veg roasts, cook the grain and make the sauce. Then throw it all in a bowl.
posted by knile at 8:33 AM on April 13, 2021 [2 favorites]

A lot of American-Italian food is really easy. For spaghetti, you just boil noodles and simmer sauce, and then pour the sauce over the noodles. It takes about ten minutes and two pots. If you want to add meat to the sauce, you can do so in the saucepan before adding the sauce (no additional dishes) and while the water comes to a boil (minimal added time). We do pesto chicken gnocchi a lot, which is the same principle. Boil the gnocchi (about three minutes after the water comes to the boil, cook the chicken (I usually saute, but if your oven doesn't take forever to preheat, baking is also easy), and then add the pesto once everything is in the bowl. Throw some sun-dried tomatoes in as well, good stuff. The volume doesn't really affect the time; if you have pots and pans big enough to boil gallons of water and simmer gallons of sauce, you could probably make a month's worth of leftovers and still have it only take like ten minutes to get it on the table. Like you, I don't want to eat pasta every night, but it's a good arrow to have in your quiver for nights when you work late or whatever.

If you have or can get a grill (doesn't matter if it's gas, charcoal, or a George Foreman, but you should probably have at least one of those), grilled marinated chicken is easy and quick. We buy a lot of pre-marinated chicken in different flavors (Greek, lemon pepper, etc.) so the prep is done and we just throw it on the grill. Again, the volume doesn't affect the time: on a big grill you can cook 24 chicken breasts at the same time. Pre-formed burger patties are another ready-to-go grill item that can be made in bulk, although burgers don't work as well for leftovers. The advantage with burgers is that you can incorporate all sorts of different flavors via toppings. You, your spouse, and your kid could all eat different

I'm a pretty decent cook, but one of my favorite things is finding good no-prep sides. For rice, Trader Joe's has organic brown rice that microwaves in three minutes. It's incredible. They're probably your best bet for quick side dishes. They have a coleslaw veggie mix (red and green cabbage and carrots) that you can just add mayo to, and my wife really likes their cauliflower rice. Seeing that you're in New England, if you have a Shaw's available, they have some packaged sides in their deli area that are better than average (e.g., risotto). My wife and daughter like Target's coconut rice. (Wow, I never realized how much rice we eat.) For mashed potatoes, my favorite brand is Simply Potatoes, which are widely available. I've generally had good luck with Birdseye steamer veggies, and if you have a Wegman's near you, their store brand frozen veggies are high quality and they have a lot of non-frozen veggie dishes as well.

In general, cooking meat is what takes most of the time, so finding quality pre-cooked meat is a huge help. Don't underestimate the rotisserie chicken! Trader Joe's again - they have a lot of pre-cooked chicken breast (like, salad strips), which is exponentially better than supermarket brands like Perdue. And also, Shaw's again - they strip the meat off rotisserie chickens and sell it as meat only, which is good. I think Market Basket does this too but I refuse to go to a Market Basket to check haha. Most sausage is pre-cooked, so that's a quick option. I've never really found pre-cooked beef that's any good, but it's really easy to brown a bunch of ground beef and freeze it for later microwaving. For chicken nuggets, Bell and Evans brand is the best, but they're a little expensive. They're usually at Whole Foods, but some other stores carried them as well.
posted by kevinbelt at 8:33 AM on April 13, 2021

Chicken adobo!

Things I've done to make that recipe even more convenient:
* Use Penzeys Minced Garlic instead of chopping garlic. We seriously buy this stuff by the 2-cup jar; it is a permanent staple in our kitchen.
* using boneless skinless chicken thighs instead of bone-in skin-on makes the cook time more like 20 minutes total instead of just over the half-hour mark, especially since you don't need to do a "crisp the skin" step; could probably even shorten further if you had pre-cubed chicken on hand.
* having rice pre-cooked on hand. Or substituting with rice noodles or couscous that can just sit in boiling water for a few minutes, be drained, and be ready to go. But many Asian recipes will presume you have rice ready to go with whatever you're making.

Taste adjustments:
* use ground pepper instead of peppercorns (okay, this is not really about convenience, but it's a great substitution if your toddler decides they don't like biting into peppercorns)
* use apple cider vinegar instead of distilled white vinegar or cane vinegar, also tastes great!
* while the chicken is cooking, saute some spinach or broccoli or bok choy on the side, goes great with the rice and sauce and gets a vegetable in.
posted by Pandora Kouti at 8:50 AM on April 13, 2021 [2 favorites]

Oven-roasted meals can fit in the 30 minute window, barely. One of my go-to meals is frozen salmon or whitefish (mostly-thawed in water for a few minutes first) + an easy-prep, fast-cooking veggie like asparagus or zucchini or frozen veg + some fries, all dumped onto a couple cookie sheets. It takes about 25min at around 400 with almost no prep, just slicing the veg as needed and throwing some seasoning on the fish (just lemon juice and salt and pepper is fine).

Another really quick meal we do is bean burritoes - you just need to fry up some bell peppers/onions/whatever other veggies for a bit, add canned black beans and seasoning, and prepare toppings. We pre-chop and freeze (or buy frozen chopped) bell peppers/onions/spinach/mushrooms/etc to make all the prep a lot faster.
posted by randomnity at 8:51 AM on April 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

Some of our quick and easy meals:

Sauté ground beef or turkey, dump in a jar of Prego type spaghetti sauce, microwave a bag of broccoli slaw, dump the sauce on the slaw and eat. Or omit the slaw, add half a bag of frozen spinach to the sauce, and eat over pasta. Sometimes we’ll sub a bag of veggie meatballs for the actual meat and just eat it like that.

Quesadillas (you can add canned beans or whatever or just have cheese plus tortilla!)

Bean dip (mix a can of refried beans with a jar of pico de gallo salsa, cover with shredded cheese and bake till warm, optionally add sour cream or avocado or a squeeze of lime, eat with tortilla chips or veggies)

Crisp fried eggs with furikake sprinkled on them and a drizzle of soy sauce and sesame oil, maybe over some bagged salad greens or toast or something

Sheet pan roasted salmon and veggies (cauliflower, broccoli, asparagus, green beans all come out well)—oil the pan, toss the stuff in the oil, salt and pepper, chuck it in a 450 degree oven for about 20 min, maybe garnish with a squeeze of lemon.
posted by music for skeletons at 9:30 AM on April 13, 2021

I rely completely on frozen veg right now. You're so lucky your toddler will eat strong flavours!

1) Saute (or don't) tufu and (frozen chopped) onion. Add this butter chicken sauce from Costco. Serve with whatever grain.

2) Scrambled Tofu: Saute blend of frozen onion and bell pepper. Add curry powder (I prefer a mix of madras and whatever non-spicy yellow curry powder). Add broken up tofu. Serve with who cares.

3) Tacos: I like Beyond Burger meat substitute. Fry it up, grab a bad of shredded cheese, open up the jars of salsa, sour cream and guacamole and let everyone have at it.

4) Cajun seasoned Basa. Defrost basa, make sure it's somewhat dry so that it can get crispy. Sprinkle with Clubhouse Cajun Seasoning, pan fry in *butter* (I say it has to be butter). It has to be a firm fish like basa or there's no point. Serve with whatever.

6) Falafel Pita. Buy frozen falafel. Buy premade baba ghanoush or see it you can get the 'eggplant dip' in a can (can't remember what it's called) in the Mediterranean section of the store and add garlic and mayo. Buy tzatziki. Put that stuff with whatever veg (OK I guess you need fresh for this one) into pita.

7) Seconding Pita Pizza

8) Grilled cheese and soup. Who cares if the soup is from a can.

9) My kids like (store bought) meatballs + gravy (costco brand powdered) / (or honey garlic sauce) + rice. Roast or microwave broccoli or whatever veg to go with.
posted by kitcat at 9:58 AM on April 13, 2021

I make a sort of hash with ground beef, potatoes and sweet potato. (I aim for about half ground beef and half potato/sweet potato.) Peel and boil some potato and sweet potato until soft. Fry some ground beef with a lot of chili powder until it's not pink. Add the potato and sweet potato, chopping and mashing it with a spatula, with some more chili powder, maybe some salt and pepper. Fry it all up until it looks done enough for you.
posted by Redstart at 10:25 AM on April 13, 2021

When I was a single mother with two small children, we had a handful of weeknight dinners on rotation. Then weekends, I would often cook a bigger stew or a roast (chicken, lamb or veal) that would provide us with leftovers for at least one day, often more. I had a roomie, and she cooked the green curry mentioned by several above - and no other meals - about once a week. This was on a small budget. No one minded seeing favorite dishes once a week.

Pro tip: serve the kid some raw vegetables while you are cooking. Carrots and cucumbers were favorites in our family, with a little bowl of hummus to dip in. A garlicky yogurt dip is nice too, for meatless days.

Green curry a la wonderful roomie:
Ingredients in order of appearance:
vegetable oil
green curry paste to taste (we like one tablespoon)
two chicken breasts
coconut milk from one small can
1/2 cup of chicken broth
frozen vegetable mix (wok mix) OR 4 spring onions, 1 carrot, 1 cup of broccoli fleurets, 1 cup of frozen peas or sugar snap peas
soy sauce to taste
lemon juice to taste
Cilantro for topping

Start the rice. Go by the amounts and instructions on the package. Cook a double portion for fried rice the next day, if you like that.
If using fresh vegetables, cut the white part of the onions and carrot into slices on the bias. Save the green parts of the onion for another day, (see below).
You can use frozen broccoli, if using fresh, cut it into bite-sized fleurets. Put the onions and carrots in one bowl, and the greens in another.
Cut the chicken into bite sized pieces. If your package is more than two pieces, wrap up the rest safely for next day.
Heat up your pan or wok with oil on it to medium high.
When the oil is shimmering, add the curry paste.
Let it fry till the aromatics are released.
Add the chicken pieces and stir till they are cooked on all sides.
Add the carrot and onions if using fresh and stir for about a minute more.
Add the coconut milk and the broth and bring to the boil, turn down the heat to medium.
Add the green vegetables, or if using mixed frozen vegetables add all the vegetables (they have been blanched as part of the freezing proces)
Cook till the vegetables have the bite you like. While you are tasting the vegetables for bite, also add the proportion of soy sauce and lemon juice you like.
Serve with lots of coriander, or if you don't like that, Thai basil

Alternative version: you can use any white fish instead of chicken. If frozen, and that is a good idea, thaw the fish in your refrigerator while you are at work. Add the fish in the last phase, with the green vegs, rather than in the beginning.

If cutting and cooking the curry takes longer than cooking the rice (20 - 25 minutes), you have cooked it for too long.

Inauthentic fried rice and chicken at the mumihouse
Ingredients in order of appearance:
vegetable oil
chicken + seasonings to taste
whatever you like for a simple salad
spring onions
leftover rice
soy sauce
frozen peas

Turn on the oven to 200 C right away when you get home.
First, season your chicken breasts or thighs well with salt and pepper/ soy sauce, sweet chili sauce and lemon / salt, lemon and paprika. Maybe wear gloves and rub the seasoning in well. It's like a short dry brine. Put them in a ovenproof dish (you can actually do the seasoning in the dish).
Then make a fresh seasonal salad you like.
Cut the white parts of the spring onions on the bias, and the green parts (including the leftovers from the day before) into very fine slices
Put the chicken into the oven.
Heat your pan or wok with vegetable oil to medium high.
Fry the onion till just very lightly colored (not brown), while stirring.
I like to add cumin here, because I love cumin.
Add in the rice. Keep the heat high, stir vigorously till there are browned bits of rice. You may need to move the rice around, so some sits in the middle for a bit to brown while the rest waits on the sides of the pan.
When the rice looks nice, look at the chicken pieces. Maybe turn on the broiler for a bit of a scorch.
Season with soy sauce to taste (please taste), and add frozen peas
Keep stirring till the peas are warmed through.
Now it depends how your chicken pieces are doing, and that depends on their size. If they are tenders, they certainly will be cooked through. If larger pieces, cook till they are.
Sprinkle the spring onion greens over the rice and serve.

(You can cook the chicken pieces in a pan, which is faster and means you can let them rest a bit before eating, a good thing, it depends on what you find easier)

Spaghetti alla puttanesca

Puy lentil stew.
Ingredients in order of appearance:
1 smallish onion
1 carrot
(lamb or beef in bite size chunks if you want, 100 grams pr serving, alternative below)
1 or 2 cloves of garlic
cumin and thyme to taste
1/2 cup of white wine or 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 can of Puy lentils (I prefer Bonduelle lentils, they come in smaller cans sometimes, if so two small cans)
2 cups of chicken broth (store bought is fine) or one cup of broth and one can of chopped tomatoes.

seasoning to taste

Cut the carrot and onion into small cubes. Chop the garlic very finely
If using meat, brown the meat in olive oil at medium high heat
Turn down the heat to medium and add the vegetables and stir till the onions are translucent
Add the garlic and stir for 20 seconds, then add the cumin and thyme to taste (or a herbes de Provence mix)
Add the wine/vinegar and stir till all smell of alcohol /harshness from vinegar has evaporated.
Add the lentils
Add the broth (and tomatoes if using)
Let it simmer for five minutes, then season with salt, pepper and lemon juice to taste.

If you are not using meat in the stew, this goes very well with a grilled sausage, such as merguez. An other alternative is to use leftover meat, lamb is best. Then you don't brown it first, but just throw it in with the canned lentils.
This stew almost needs a piece of bread to go with it.
And if you didn't use tomatoes in the stew, a salad with tomatoes is a nice but not urgently needed side.

Broccoli gratin
If you used fresh broccoli on the first day, you should have about half a head of broccoli leftover. This can become a broccoli gratin. I sometimes steamed the broccoli while I was cleaning up after dinner and just left it in the fridge till I needed it. It's important, whenever you do it, that you don't let it steam too long, it needs to still be green and vibrant. Also, add salt while steaming.
Ingredients in order of appearance:
a knob of butter
steamed broccoli (or frozen but thawed), it can be cauliflower as well, and one can add sliced, steamed carrot too.
a jar of bechamel sauce
four eggs, separated
parmesan cheese

Turn on the oven to 190 C (or 175 C air circulation) as soon as you get home.
Grease a not too tall ovenproof dish with the butter.
Spread your veg into the dish
Gently warm the bechamel sauce (no boiling), and stir in the egg yolks, turn off the heat
Whip the egg whites til they form gentle peaks and fold them into the sauce, pour it over the vegetables. Sprinkle with parmesan and breadcrumbs to taste, and bake for 30 minutes. It might take 5 minutes more or less, depending on the size of the dish. You want it almost but not quite runny on the inside. So this may not be perfectly within the 30 minutes. But it is a very easy dish to make. It is even better made with bechamel from scratch, but then it is definitely more than 30 mins.

While the gratin is in the oven, you can make a hearty salad with a dijon-type vinaigrette or the Catalan type garlic bread, where you rub the garlic and tomato on toast. Or both. You want something with a bit of a punch, against the gentle egg dish.

Leftovers from roasts
With leftover chicken, we could make salads or sandwiches depending on the mood. Chicken goes really well with asparagus, both in salads and sandwiches. Or just cold chicken served with new potatoes and haricot verts with a mustard vinaigrette. Sometimes, I would cook the bones from the chicken into a broth the same night (it just stands there, simmering, no work), and use that for a soup the next day, with leftover scraps of chicken and maybe vermicelli noodles. I like to flavor this with lemon, white pepper and a bit of chili oil. But it is lovely plain, too.

Leftover veal or lamb almost always went into a hash with onion and potato because it is so delicious and easy. Specially with a fried egg on top, and Worcester sauce and ketchup. If some meat survived or if the "roast" was actually a braise, it went into sandwiches. Try a grainy whole rye bread, if you don't want to eat too much wheat.

I learnt during that time of my life to make a simple stew, where you just cut up all the ingredients into nice biggish chunks and add them to the pot at the same time. No browning. Just long, slow cooking. Even better in a Dutch oven in the oven. Just make sure the moisture content is OK. Great leftovers that just need reheating, served with couscous or mashed potatoes. A sprinkling of chopped parsley freshens it up. It's not boeuf bourguignon, but it damn good.

This is almost the entirety of the mumihouse meal plan when I had small children, except for holiday food. Fridays, we almost always had takeout pizza in front of the TV.
posted by mumimor at 11:51 AM on April 13, 2021 [3 favorites]

I do a quick and budget version of saag paneer which I am pretty sure I've cut to 30 minutes. *Big caveat that this is definitely not authentic.

-I cook rice in my instant pot in 30 mins but you could use quicker cooking rice or naan.
-Simmer a 10oz bag of spinach and a cup of water in a big-ass pot until it wilts
-at the same time, in another pot, saute some chopped ginger and garlic OR you can use powder if you don't have time for this.
-Drain any leftover water from the spinach, add ginger/garlic, add a can of diced tomatoes (I drain them), a can of evaporated milk, a bunch of onion powder and curry powder, and any other spices you want. Simmer for 20ish minutes. It will be chunky which some people like; or I use an immersion blender to make it smoother.

I use plain 'ball' mozzarella for the cheese at the end, but if you can get paneer all the better, or farmer's cheese etc.
posted by nakedmolerats at 12:38 PM on April 13, 2021 [3 favorites]

I do a bunch of bone-in skin-on chicken thighs at once in the oven on a sheet or roasting pan and serve for 2-3 meals - admittedly this baking portion takes more like 45 minutes. I think these are tastier and in the aggregate less work than a rotisserie chicken (because they are easier to break down) - to me the key to using leftover chicken is to salt before roasting, salt after cooking, and then salt again if you cut them up into smaller pieces, and then if you stir them into something, only do this so it reheats through, don't let them cook for much longer.

For one meal, I eat the chicken after roasting with a roasted vegetable or starch (like cauliflower or squash or potato), and a green vegetable side (maybe sauteed asparagus, blanched or steamed broccoli, blanched or steamed green beans).

For another meal I sometimes make tostadas with the chicken (or I do tostadas with refried bean and cheese, maybe also roasted cauliflower); I put cheese, olives, salsa, lettuce on my tostadas, use pre-made shells. You may like avocado, chopped tomatoes, sour cream, adjusted to your preferences/dietary needs. I usually do this with an easy vegetable on the side like blanched green beans or a salad of cucumber and bell peppers, or whatever.

For another meal I like chard or another green sauteed and then add a Maya Kaimal simmer sauce, thinned out with some chicken broth, then add in leftover chicken at the last minute (this is fine with chick peas, or with white fleshed fish too.) This I often serve over roasted cauliflower and/or roasted potatoes and/or rice and/or flatbread.

As you can see, in the winter, I roast a lot of cauliflower and in the summer I blanch a lot of broccoli.

I do chicken piccata, this can take 30 minutes if you work fast and use tenders instead of breast cutlets. I like picatta with egg noodles (you can can cook string beans or broccoli in the same water), or with rice.
posted by vunder at 12:39 PM on April 13, 2021

This is maybe out of left field but I was also feeling overwhelmed in this same way and decided to subscribe to Hungryroot. They send me groceries plus recipes selected by them weekly, although you can review and change their selections before it ships. The groceries come as whole food items I would otherwise get at the grocery store, not pre-measured ingredients, so I feel a bit better on the packaging front than I would with a lot of other grocery delivery plans and I ALWAYS have leftovers. There's a lot of flexibility in specifying dietary restrictions and how many meals I need, and you can always cancel the delivery if you don't need it in a given week. I guess you'd have to budget it out for you, but it's not that far off from what I was spending anyway on groceries.
posted by deus ex machina at 2:06 PM on April 13, 2021

A meal prep service (where you tell them your preferences and they sent you food kits that you prepare) might be a great thing to do for a while. They also save you planning and shopping time. You can order 3 or 4 dinners a week with four servings for your leftovers. You might at least try it for a month. They're not just for folks who don't know how to cook.
posted by bluedaisy at 4:44 PM on April 13, 2021

Half the grocery store is stocked with prepared and semi-prepared food to make quick meals, so half the battle is in the shopping. Some of these items are good, and a few are great; some not so good.

Burgers and fries from the freezer. Store-bought frozen burgers take 15 minutes. Frozen fries take 15-25 minutes depending. Fries come in both white potato and sweet potato.

Already portioned frozen fish. We buy tilapia in the bag at Costco. This we do thaw ahead of time. Season with a spice mix (we like jerk seasoning). It takes 5 minutes per side in the skillet. We tried Costco's salmon too. The fish was OK but the portions too large for us. Now we get salmon from fish monger at the grocery store. Also about 5 min per side.

Our most recent find is chicken stew. It's a one pot meal not too different from chicken pot pie filling. Several recipes on the internet.
posted by SemiSalt at 5:24 PM on April 13, 2021

I meant to add to my comment above that Hungryroot meals are almost always 10-15 min of prep, and I haven’t seen one that takes more than 30 min.
posted by deus ex machina at 6:02 PM on April 13, 2021

KD ala Mitheral: (all measurements vague, it's a what you have sort of dinner)
  • 2 big boxes of Kraft Dinner or 3 of the regular size ones
  • 1-1.5 lbs ground beef
  • 1 medium-large onion
  • 2 tablespoons [Kirkland] minced garlic
  • 1 cup frozen kernel corn
  • 1 cup broccoli florets
  • Salt
  • pepper
  • butter and milk for the KD.
  • Splash of cooking oil (Canola or olive or whatever)
Put water on to boil for the KD. Use a large pot as eventually everything above will be in the pot.

Chop the onion. If I'm making this for myself I cut it into 1cm pieces or so, my daughter doesn't like chunks so for her I chop it up fine.

Pour a splash of oil into a frying pan and saute the onion.

In a couple minutes add the hamburger to the onion and break it up. Fry over medium heat stirring occasionally until hamburger is brown.

While the hamburger is browning add the macaroni to the boiling water.

When the macaroni is about three quarters done add the cup of corn.

Once the beef is browned add the garlic and broccoli, salt and pepper to the hamburger and stir. Cook for another minute or so.

While the garlic/broccoli is cooking drain pasta/corn mixture and then add cheese powder, butter (or margarine) and milk. mix thoroughly.

Add the hamburger mixture to the pasta and mix.

I've subbed peppers for the broccoli, pork for the beef and peas or peas/corn mix for the corn. It's also good with a tablespoon or so of Chili Garlic Sauce (the clear plastic jar with a chicken on it) added to the hamburger at the garlic stage.

I actually prefer this heated in the microwave the next day to fresh out of the pot.
posted by Mitheral at 6:51 PM on April 13, 2021

We're obsessed with the NYT's butter tofu recipe both for taste and ease of preparation. We get probably four meals out of it (for two adults, so maybe 3 dinners for 3 people?) Sometimes I stretch it since it makes a lot of sauce by adding frozen peas and/or roasted cauliflower.
posted by CookieNose at 8:16 AM on April 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

Start with frozen or canned vegetables, the kind that are already chopped small and need to be cooked only for moments to heat them up.

If you do noodles go with small ones such as macaroni and cook twice the amount, saving half in a container in the fridge for tomorrow.

Scrambled eggs or omelet cooks quickly. Look for meat that is in thin slices or pieces that don't need anything removed and cut it in the pan after you start frying it. Minutes steaks, boneless skinless chicken, cold cuts or tofu can all be cut while they are surrounded by sizzling oil.

Serve in courses the way restaurants do where they bring out the bread first, but don't switch to a situation where the same cook never gets to sit down. Have your cooks switch places and have everyone eat the breadsticks standing up in the kitchen while they set the table or dig out the fruit for you.

Frozen boneless fish fillets can be poached rapidly.

Don't aim for full scale dinners on a weeknight. If dinner involves bread, cheese, a steamer full of previously frozen veggies with butter and pre minced garlic from a jar, a filet of poached fish, and yogurt with canned orange segments and fresh grapes for desert you are more than on top of your game.

While washing dishes cook something for tomorrow so it will be ready cold in the fridge, such as rice, noodles or a small roast. Cook the stuff that needs 45 minutes in the oven, or simmering while you are doing the other kitchen chores. You can also cook the little roast for tomorrow while you are sitting down and eating, if you throw it in a pan, sprinkle it with seasoning and put it in the oven just as you are dishing up but that is only for days where the prep is quite simple.
posted by Jane the Brown at 8:34 AM on April 14, 2021

Here is a basic menu

1. Frozen veggies: any sort, plain or mixed including stir fries

2. Pre cooked starch: bread, canned beans, instant pouch rice, crackers, ryvita, corn chips, tortillas, naan.

3. Fast cooking protein: boneless meat, boneless fish, eggs, tofu

4. Precooked or no cook sauce or spices: Curry sauce in a jar, tomato sauce in a jar, steak spice mixture, pre-minced garlic, yogurt, hummus, tahini, frozen onions and peppers

5. Fruit for desert: canned fruit cocktail or oranges or peaches, frozen fruit, fresh grapes

6. Cold veggies: ripe avocado, ready to use carrot sticks, raw cauliflower and broccoli, pre bagged salad, deli veggies sold by the tub, canned artichoke, canned asparagus, olives, pickles

Rather than menu planning, run through the list, grabbing one of each and throwing it on the counter. On a bad night don't try to get past the first three. On a good night try to get all six with a couple of items in the sauce/spice family and multiple items in the cold veggie category. If you do canned beans, drain and rinse them, then throw them in the steamer with the vegetables, or into the frying pan with the meat rather than heating them separately. On a really bad night substitute cheese for the cooked protein. The frozen stir fry veggies can go in the steamer or in a frying pan, but don't try to boil them as they often come out too watery if you do that.
posted by Jane the Brown at 9:02 AM on April 14, 2021

Crustless Quiche:

Turn oven on to 350 F

Mix into a bowl:
9 eggs
1 cup shredded cheese
a couple cups of cut up vegetables, well drained
a sliced onion, sauted until soft (or 1/2 teaspoon onion powder, which is what I mostly use)
some milk or cream, if you feel fancy
a sprinkle of garlic powder, salt, pepper, etc - spice to preference, basically

Pour into a pie tin

Bake at 350 for 30-45 minutes, until it's well set

All of the measurements are approximate, adjust to taste and/or what's in the fridge. The really important parts are to have enough eggs to bind everything together, and to make sure the veg won't give off too much water during baking.
posted by Ahniya at 4:56 PM on April 14, 2021

This should be on your meal plan, too, if it isn't already: shakshuka I didn't know it when I was your age, but now it is on the menu every single week. Mostly the (now adult) kids make it themselves.

Another thing I didn't know back then is that you can keep a simple yeasted bread dough in the fridge for several days and make pita breads on a hot skillet when you need them. A cast iron skillet is best. The pan needs to be really hot, or they won't puff up and it will take more than a minute on each side. But they will still be delicious.
posted by mumimor at 2:41 PM on April 15, 2021 [2 favorites]

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