25 Quick and Easy Dinners (Plus 5 Delicious Desserts!)

by Tara Struyk on 16 November 2011 5 comments

The notion that junk food is cheaper than cooking at home is a myth that many busy, working people understandably cling to. Sorry to burst your bubble, but unless you’re digging into some truly fine fare (caviar, anyone?), eating in still provides the best value. The good news is, a homemade dinner can be both quick and delicious if you keep your pantry well-stocked and have a few simple go-to recipes at hand. Here I’ve provided 25 easy, delicious recipes using basic ingredients from your fridge and pantry, including a few that you can get on the table in mere minutes. I’ve also included five simple desserts; these simple suppers are so quick, you’ll have plenty of time. (See also: Make-Ahead Food: 10 Things to Cook on a Sunday)

Pasta Dinners

Pasta is the easiest thing to cook on short notice and, in many cases, only requires a handful of common ingredients. Pasta with sausage and tomatoes has few ingredients and very little prep time — just throw it together and put it on the stove to simmer. If you’re looking to shoehorn a little extra produce into your diet, I highly recommend this acorn squash macaroni and cheese; make it easier by skipping the white sauce and just mixing mashed cooked squash, milk, spices, and some of the grated cheese together, adding an egg, and mixing it all in with the cooked pasta. Top it with some breadcrumbs, butter, and the rest of the cheese. You’ll be surprised at how well squash complements this dish — and boosts its nutrition.

Beans, Beans...

Whether you choose to buy them canned or dried, beans, peas, and lentils are delicious, cheap, and easy to cook. Plus they make a great meal when you haven’t had time to do much shopping. For something with tons of flavor — and only a few ingredients — try this quick chickpea curry. Vegetarian chili is another great option, especially because it’s so flexible; if you don’t have what the recipe calls for, just use whatever produce you have on hand. You can also throw these meals in the slow cooker, making them even easier. Black bean enchiladas are another quick and tasty treat. If you’re looking for something lighter, check out this warm lentil salad with feta, grapes, and mint.

Let Them Eat Meat

A friend of mine recently discovered that his mother’s famous family pot roast involved only three steps: buying a roast, sprinkling it with salt and pepper, and placing it in the oven. You can get fancy with meat recipes, but on a weekday you can’t go wrong with simple meals like a flash-fried steak simply seasoned with salt and pepper. If you want something a bit more flair, make these Chinese pulled pork sandwiches in your slow cooker. If you put this together early in the day, dinner will be ready whenever you are. The same goes for these delicious slow-cooker Italian meatballs. Finally, if you’ve never roasted a whole chicken in your slow cooker, this is one recipe you’ll want to hang onto for hectic weeks. Just add salt, pepper, and about eight hours of cooking time and you’ll have a great meal — and plenty of leftovers.

Stick-to-Your Ribs Soups and Stews

Soups and stews make great meals during cold weather — and they give you the chance to cobble together some of the leftover things in your fridge. If you roasted a chicken (as shown above), take those leftovers and transform them into Thai chicken noodle soup, or toss leftover ham into a hearty and healthy split pea soup. Clam chowder is another good bet if you keep a couple of cans of clams handy. It will look very gourmet if you serve it in a bread bowl, but takes less than 30 minutes to prepare.

Vegetarian Delights

Tofu’s not to everyone’s taste, but it’s a very convenient staple that keeps for months (unopened) in the fridge and can even be purchased in non-perishable Tetra Paks. Plus it makes for a nearly instant meal. If you’re not sure about tofu, this recipe for vegetarian Pad Thai may just change your mind. If you’re pressed for time, use commercial peanut sauce instead of homemade. For an even simpler option, try fried tofu with garlic and pepper sauce.

Something Fishy

Seafood is probably the best quick dinner idea out there. After all, a fresh piece of fish or shellfish can be cooked to perfection in mere minutes. Seafood also freezes well, making it easy to keep on hand. If it’s warm enough to barbecue or you have an indoor grill, try this recipe for grilled salmon. And, while you might assume crab cakes are fussy, they’re actually simple and quick to prepare, especially if you use canned crab meat. You could even toss together an extra-large Asian shrimp salad; the leftovers make a delicious lunch the next day.

Rice Is Nice

Rice is a quick and versatile pantry staple, so try to keep a few kinds on hand. For a quick and comforting dinner, check out this 20-minute cheddar cheese risotto. Or, try this delicious, balanced turkey, basmati and wild rice casserole; it requires only 15 minutes of prep time. Then, just pop it in the oven and tackle some other chores while it bakes. Even better, put your feet up and relax!

Extra-Fast Suppers

For those crazy weeknights when you feel just too busy to cook, there are still a few things you can get onto the table in less time than it takes to grab takeout. Pita pizzas are a fun recipe that can be thrown together and cooked in just a few minutes, especially if you use a few convenience products such as canned tomato sauce, pre-grated cheese, and pre-cut veggies and deli meats for your toppings. Eggs in any variation are also quick-cooking, inexpensive, and satisfying. For something quick and elegant, try this recipe for roasted asparagus with poached eggs. When you don’t have any fresh food on hand, this tuna curry can save the day. And here’s another quick meal you probably haven’t thought of — rice paper rolls. Use leftover or pre-cooked chicken, shrimp, beef, or tofu and have your family customize their own meat and vegetable combinations.

Sweet Endings

Dessert certainly isn’t essential, especially when you’re in a rush, but it’s a nice way to wrap up a meal. Plus, there are many quick and simple desserts that can be made from scratch in a few minutes. This easy chocolate cake mixes up in one bowl (fewer dishes to wash!). If you have leftover rice from a previous meal in the fridge, recycle it into rice pudding. This makes a great breakfast or snack, too. If you really have a sweet tooth, check out this luscious tres leches flan cake, which transforms a simple box of yellow cake mix into a sweet, beautiful, and unique dessert. You can even recreate the thin mint cookies made famous by the Girl Scouts — no baking required. If you need something a bit less sweet, tuck into this recipe for vanilla roasted peaches with raspberries.

Cooking at home is a cheap, healthy way to feed yourself and your family, but it doesn’t have to mean hours at the stove. Keep a list of these and other simple family favorites so you can reach for them when you need dinner in a hurry. If you keep your pantry and cupboards stocked with items like pasta, rice, and canned goods, you will always have the makings of a quick and healthy meal on hand. Bon appetit!

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Meg Favreau's picture

I made crab cakes with canned crab last week, and I was surprised by how easily they came together (and how utterly delicious they were). I'm also a big proponent of stir-fry for a fast dinner, especially when you prepare it with noodles instead of rice, so it doesn't take as long to cook.

Does anybody have other quick dinner suggestions?

Guest's picture
other guest

a very enjoyable article, but most of your recipes are way too expensive for my budget - and horribly complicated!

Tara Struyk's picture

Thanks for the feedback. I highly recommend the vegetarian chili as a budget-friendly choice. All you need is canned tomatoes, beans and spices. I virtually lived off of this in college because it's easy to make and very inexpensive.

Guest's picture
Bill

An Indian or Mexican Flavor... you choose:
Either goes well with rice and perhaps a cabbage slaw.

Skinless chicken breast, cubed. Brown in skillet in a little olive oil before adding the veggies.

Medium dice carrots, onion and celery and add to a can of diced tomatoes in skillet (medium heat). If too dry add some liquid (water, or a can of vegetable/chicken stock for more flavor) Season with some freshly ground black pepper, a little salt, and some celery seeds. Also, squeeze in the juice of half a small/medium lime. Choose whether you want to add the curry paste (a tablespoon, or to taste | or salsa, the whole small can) to the veggies. Add brown sugar (dark or light, or even granulated) to taste. *Brown sugar is flavored & colored with molasses.

Patak's Curry Paste (Hot/Mild)
http://www.pataksusa.com/product-detail?id=9

Herdez Salsa Ranchera
http://www.herdeztraditions.com/herdez/salsa_ranchera.aspx

Guest's picture
Guest

These are good starter recipes, but salt and pepper is just never enough seasoning for any meat unless you're going for bland. That said, the recipes leave plenty of room for individuals to add to as they please so thanks for the ideas