Quick and Easy Meal Ideas and Recipes
Cooking the Melissa Way (With as Little Effort as Possible)
My sister and I are complete opposites. She loves cooking elaborate and fancy meals for friends and family (she is currently working her way through culinary school). I enjoy cooking, too. But I always try to find the fastest, easiest, least messy way possible. This lens includes recipes I've come up with that not only meet those qualifications, but are also pretty darn tasty if I do say so myself (and my husband would agree!). I have also included quick meal and snack ideas, and a list of ingredients I usually keep on hand.
Most of the measurements are approximations. I usually don't measure out my spices, I just keep adding til it's good (that's how a real cook does it, right?).
Picture by my husband, showing you what I do with all the time I save making these easy meals.
10 Quick and Easy Meal Ideas
Lunch and Dinner ideas
Have this ever happened to you? You're standing in the kitchen, staring blankly into your refrigerator. Your stomach sounds like a dying moose, and you just want something to eat, fast. Completely uninspired, you slam the fridge door shut and run off to your nearest fast food joint.
Don't let this happen to you! I've compiled a list of quick and easy meal ideas that I use when I'm in a hurry or am feeling stumped as to what to make for lunch or dinner.
1. Nachos: I ate a lot of these when I was going through my vegetarian phase (which did not last long...). The black beans are so hearty, you don't even miss the meat! Take a can of black beans, and drain them as much as possible. Cook them according to the directions on the can either on the stove top or in the microwave. Season them with a dash of garlic powder, onion powder, cumin, and cayenne. For toppings I use shredded cheese, fresh diced tomatoes, sour cream, salsa, and homemade guacamole (see my guacamole recipe for awesome homemade guac. You'll never go back to store bought!).
2. Hot dogs wrapped in croissants and baked for as long as the croissant can calls for. Heck, go crazy: wrap the hot dog with cheese before wrapping it in the croissant. :)
3. Biscuit pizzas: My best friend's mom always made these for our sleepovers. They are so good, and faster than delivery or even a frozen pizza (and way better, in my opinion). Just take a can of biscuits and flatten them on a cookie sheet. Then top with your favorite pizza toppings! Or, have everyone make their own personalized pizzas. That way everyone gets exactly what they want! Here are a couple of ideas to get you started:
-Pepperoni, canned sliced mushrooms, mozzarella cheese, and pizza sauce
-Sliced olives, artichoke hearts, mushrooms, diced tomatoes, mozzarella, and pizza sauce
-Cooked crumbled sausage, cheese, and pizza sauce
-Mozzarella, cooked spinach, and diced tomatoes
-Just cheese and sauce!
-The possibilities are endless!
After you place your toppings on the biscuit, bake them in the oven according to the directions on the biscuit can.
4. Loaded baked potato: These aren't necessarily fast, since baking a potato takes 45-60 minutes, but they are easy. Wash and bake the potato (I place mine in a pie dish. You can also put it directly on the oven rack) in a 400 degree oven for 45-60 minutes. You should be able to easily pierce the potato with a fork. Then for toppings I use butter, shredded cheddar cheese, diced up turkey lunchmeat, and ranch dressing.
5. Tacos: We usually do soft tacos. Brown some ground turkey and add your fave taco seasoning (I recommend looking for homemade recipes online. They taste so much better than store-bought, and the sodium content is usually way lower. Win-win!). We use the same toppings as we do for our nachos- cheese, sour cream, tomatoes, guacamole, and salsa. Or you can make a vegetarian version of these by substituting black beans for the ground turkey.
6. Reuben sandwiches: We use turkey pastrami or corned beef lunchmeat, provolone cheese, sauerkraut, and Thousand Island dressing. Assemble all the ingredients between 2 slices of Jewish Rye bread (or whichever kind of rye bread you prefer). Melt butter in a pan over medium heat (you don't want it to be too hot), and cook each side of the sandwich for 2-3 minutes, or until the cheese is melted.
7. Spinach salad: My wonderful husband made this as a side dish with our dinner a couple nights ago, and oh my goodness, it was the best dang salad I've ever had! He just used fresh baby spinach, fresh broccoli florets, sliced mushrooms, dill pickle slices (trust me!), and shredded cheddar cheese. I had it once with Italian dressing and the next day with ranch dressing. Both dressings are delicious with it! This could easily be made into a meal by adding cooked diced chicken or diced lunchmeat.
8. Egg salad: This could either be as a sandwich (it's really good on bagel thins or sandwich thins) or as a dip (so so so good with pita chips!). Hard boil some eggs (place eggs in bottom of a pot and cover with cold water. Boil gently for 20 minutes. When finished, drain and add cold water and ice cubes and let them sit a little bit to cool off. I usually boil them way ahead of time, like the day before to make sure they're completely cooled.). Peel and mash the eggs with a fork. Add lots of mayo, a little prepared mustard and a little more sweet relish, all to taste.
9. Tuna salad: Like the egg salad, good on sandwiches or as a dip for crackers. Drain canned tuna and add mayo and sweet relish to taste. On a sandwich, we top it off with prepared mustard.
10. Wraps: My mom made these for my lunches when I was still in school. Take a tortilla, spread cream cheese on it (plain or any flavor you would like), and top with lunchmeat, lettuce, sliced tomato, and ranch dressing. It's a nice break from sandwiches, and there are so many combinations you can make! Change up the lunchmeat, the cream cheese flavors, they even have fancy flavored tortillas you can experiment with!
What are some quick, easy meal ideas you have? I love trying new things and getting new ideas. Leave me a message with some of your favorite meals!
Quick and Easy Snack Ideas
Sometimes I find myself staring blankly into my cupboard, wishing for something tasty but unable to come up with any snackage ideas. I finally sat down and made a list of snack ideas, which now hangs on my fridge.
1. Sliced apples dipped in peanut butter (works really well with Granny Smith apples)
2. String cheese and crackers (Triscuits are our cracker of choice)
3. Beef jerky and string cheese
4. Tortilla chips and salsa (sometimes I'll melt cheese on the chips first...can you tell we like cheese? :) )
5. Triscuits with melted cheese. Sometimes we add lunchmeat and/or Frank's hot sauce.
6. Peanuts or almonds with string cheese
7. Crackers and hummus
9. Egg or tuna salad on crackers
10. Crackers with cream cheese spread on them (or pretzel thins with cream cheese. mmm......).
11. Yogurt with dark chocolate chips mixed in
12. Celery sticks with cream cheese or peanut butter spread on them (this is the only way I will eat celery).
13. Bowl of cereal. This is my favorite thing to eat right before going to bed.
Ingredients I Keep On Hand
And easy meal ideas from those ingredients
I googled "ingredients to keep on hand" and several variations of that after I moved out of my parents' house a few years ago. I never really found anything that worked for me. So here is my list of food that I've found is handy to have around for impromptu meals. I've also included meals I make from those ingredients
Food I keep on hand:
1. Whole wheat pasta (in various shapes and forms- rotini, penne, spaghetti, egg noodles, etc.)
2. Jars of pasta sauce
3. Frozen veggies (we usually have peas, broccoli, carrots, and spinach)
4. Canned black beans
5. Shredded cheddar cheese
6. Tortilla chips
8. Frozen chicken tenderloins
9. Chicken flavored Better than Bouillon (or canned chicken broth)
10. Ramen noodle soup
11. Grated parmesan cheese
12. Canned diced tomatoes
13. Jiffy biscuit mix
17. Turkey bacon
18. Cream of whatever soup (I don't actually keep this on hand, but I really need to. There have been several occasions that would have come in handy).
19. Lunchmeat (usually turkey) from the deli
20. Canned tuna
Some of the meals I make from these ingredients:
1. Pasta with sauce and veggies (either mix the veggies in, like broccoli, or serve them on the side)
3. Rice or pasta with stir-fry veggies (sometimes with chicken)
4. Parmesan chicken and pasta
6. Breakfast for dinner- eggs, pancakes, and bacon
7. A chicken and rice dish with the cream of whatever soup
8. Egg or tuna salad
9. Jazz up some ramen noodle soup by adding veggies (like peas and carrots) and eggs (scramble raw egg in a coffee cup and pour into the boiling water with the noodles)
The Versatility of Lunchmeat
I like to keep either turkey or ham lunchmeat on hand. There are so many things you can do with it! It's a quick way to add meat to meals. Sometimes I really wanna add meat but don't have the time or patience it takes to cook it. There's so much more you can do with it besides make a sandwich out of it.
1. Cut it up and add it to scrambled eggs or an omelette
2. Cut it up and add it to a salad, which is a quick way to turn a side dish into a main course.
3. Make your box mac n cheese into a meal: add cooked peas and diced lunchmeat to prepared mac n cheese.
4. Put diced lunchmeat on top of a baked potato, along with cheese, butter and ranch for a loaded baked potato
5. Put it in a tortilla with cream cheese, lettuce, tomato, and ranch for a delicious wrap
6. Roll it up in a croissant with some cheese and bake according to directions on the croissant can
7. Cut it up and serve it with sliced cheese and crackers for your own version of Lunchables
8. Top tortilla chips or Triscuits with cheese and lunchmeat and microwave until cheese melts for a quick snack
9. For a party appetizer, put lunchmeat and cream cheese in a tortilla and roll it up. Slice it up for lunchmeat spirals.
Parmesan Chicken and Pasta
In, like, 30 minutes
1 lb fettuccine
10 chicken tenderloins, defrosted
1/2 cup parmesan
pinch red pepper
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/4 cup white cooking wine
Chicken*: In a large skillet, cook chicken in olive oil until fully cooked. Pour 1/4 cup of white wine and 1/4 cup parmesan over chicken and let simmer 10 minutes. Cut chicken into 1 in cubes and mix in with pasta.
Pasta: Cook pasta according to directions on package. Drain pasta, return to pot. Mix pasta with 1/4 cup parmesan, pinch of red pepper, garlic powder, salt, and pepper.
*Sometimes, if I'm feeling extra lazy, I'll cook my chicken in the oven. Check the package your tenders (or whatever cut you use) for oven temperature and cooking times. Place the chicken in a casserole dish with some olive oil and sprinkle salt, pepper, garlic powder, and Parmesan cheese on top (I don't measure it. Just a little sprinkle of each spice and then a buttload of Parmesan). Bake for as long as the package tells you to, then cut the chicken into cubes and mix in with the pasta. Or serve the pasta on the side. It's delicious either way.
Edamame scrambled eggs
Super easy. And super delicious.
I really, really, really like edamame. This is a quick and easy breakfast. If you don't like edamame (which is a darn shame), you can substitute it with broccoli or spinach, I guess. But you're really missing out.
1 tsp olive oil
1/4 cup frozen, shelled edamame
Dash onion powder
Dash garlic powder
Handful of cheddar cheese
Rinse the frozen edamame under cool water to thaw. Heat the olive oil in a pan and add edamame to it. Cook for about 8 minutes or so until mostly cooked through. Add the two eggs to the pan and scramble with a spatula. Add your onion powder, garlic powder, and pepper. When the eggs have just finished cooking, top with cheese. Cook until cheese is melted.
A Delicious Parfait
Everyone loves parfait!
I came up with this one night when I was craving ice cream and didn't have any in the house. This definitely satisfied my sweet tooth!
1 cup plain yogurt (Greek yogurt is awesome possum!)
1/4 cup frozen mixed berries (or a frozen fruit of your choice)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp sugar
Dark chocolate chips
Rinse the frozen berries under cool water to thaw. Set aside. In a bowl mix the yogurt, vanilla extract, and sugar. Stir in the berries and sprinkle with the dark chocolate chips. Enjoy! (And repeat, if you need more like I did)
Serves 1. You wouldn't be able to share it anyway.
Sauteed Green Beans
Just like momma used to make 'em! Well, maybe not your mom, but my mom anyway.
These make a great side dish (perhaps for that chicken and pasta recipe at the top of this lens?).
2 cups frozen green beans
2 tbsp butter
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
1 tsp Better than Bouillon, chicken flavor
Boil the green beans in water for half the amount of time their package calls for. Drain. Heat butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add green beans after butter has melted. Add garlic powder, onion powder, and Better than Bouillon. Stir frequently with spatula until cooked thoroughly, about 7 minutes or so.
I am always looking up new recipes to try. But I have yet to follow one 100% as written. I usually find I don't have all the ingredients, or I don't like one or two of the ingredients, or it takes way more effort than I'm willing to put into it. So I modify it to fit my needs. This is one such recipe.
I stumbled across Alton Brown's recipe for guacamole a couple months ago. My family used to watch his show when I was younger, and I think he's great. Unfortunately, I did not have all the ingredients I needed to make his recipe. So here is the original version, if you would like to try it (I'm sure it's great as-is: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/gua... and below you'll find my take on it.
Serves one. I just make it for myself, sadly my husband is not an avocado fan.
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp ground cumin
a dash of cayenne (Alton calls for 1/2 tsp, which makes it way too spicy for me. So add as much or as little as you like)
Half of a tomato, diced and seeded
1/2 tsp garlic powder
Wash, peel, and mash the avocado*. Mix in the lemon juice and all the spices. Then mix in the diced tomatoes. I eat it right away, or you can let it chill first then serve it.
*The first time I made this the avocado was too hard to mash. So instead I diced it up, then added the lemon juice, spices, and tomatoes. It's more like an avocado salad that way, but still tasty.
Chicken Noodle Soup
I have come up with the easiest chicken noodle soup recipe ever. I use chicken flavored Better than Bouillon, but you can use any chicken broth of your choice. This recipe serves two people.
6 or 7 chicken tenderloins, defrosted
1 cup frozen peas
1 cup frozen sliced carrots
6 cups chicken broth of choice
8 oz whole wheat egg noodles
Place chicken in an oven safe dish and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook chicken according to package directions. When you have 10 or so minutes left on the chicken, bring 6 cups of broth to a boil. Add frozen peas, frozen sliced carrots, and whole wheat egg noodles to the broth. Reduce heat and boil for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. When the chicken is done cooking, let it cool for a couple minutes and cut it into squares. Add to the broth and voila! Chicken noodle soup!
Wraps are so quick and easy to prepare, and are a great way to get out of the lunchtime sandwich rut. I usually just use plain flour tortillas, but they have all kinds of fun flavors you could use as well! Keep checking back here for new wrap ideas!
1. Two slices of turkey lunchmeat, a handful of fresh baby spinach, and a drizzle of ranch dressing.
2. BLT wraps. A couple slices of bacon, some lettuce, and two tomato slices. Use cream cheese, ranch, or mayo for the dressing. (But prob'ly not all three...)
3. Buffalo chicken wraps. Use chicken lunchmeat, cooked chicken tenderloins, or the precooked strips of chicken you can buy. Add lettuce and a drizzle of hot sauce and ranch dressing.
4. Veggie wraps. Spread plain cream cheese (or flavored, if you prefer) on a tortilla and add fresh baby spinach, tomato slices, cucumber slices, diced avocado, and any of your other fave veggies. Raw yellow squash or zucchini would also be delicious!
Have any favorite wrap recipes? Let me know in the comment section below!
Easy Ranch Chicken and Roasted Veggies
Every so often, I become obsessed with a certain meal or food I've discovered (or rediscovered, in this case). We will eat this meal/food as often as two or three times a week, until eventually my husband and I become sick of it. Right now, it's roasted vegetables. I've been rotating between roasted butternut squash, broccoli, and carrots. I am in love with them!
This recipe is so easy. It takes less than ten minutes to throw together, then you just let it bake in the oven. This has been great since my recent return to school. Dinner cooks while I slave away at doing homework.
Easy Ranch Chicken and Roasted Veggies (serves 2):
4 or 5 frozen chicken tenderloins
Olive oil or melted butter (about 3 or 4 tablespoons)
Fresh butternut squash (diced), fresh or frozen broccoli, fresh or frozen sliced carrots, or any vegetable you desire!
One half package of Ranch dressing mix
Preheat oven to 375 degrees (or whatever your chicken calls for).
Put the chicken in a 9 x 13 glass baking dish. Pour 2 tablespoons of butter or oil over them.
Put the vegetables in a mixing bowl with the rest of the oil or butter. Mix with a spoon, then pour into same baking dish as the chicken.
Sprinkle ranch dressing over all of it.
Cook for 35 minutes, or according to the directions on the package of chicken.
Voila! A quick, easy, and super delicious dinner with very little effort! (Can you see why I like it so much?) For a heartier meal, you can also add diced potatoes to the pan, or make mashed potatoes on the stove top like I do. But really, it's a great meal as-is.
Mexican Spaghetti Squash Casserole
First, you'll need the taco seasoning from this recipe: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/taco-seasoning-i/deta... This is, hands down, the best taco seasoning I have ever had. I only make one change. I use 1/8 tsp of chili powder instead of a whole tablespoon. It is realllllllllllllllly spicy with a whole tablespoon. Of course, use as much or as little chili powder as you would like.
1/2 of the taco seasoning you just made
1/2 of a medium spaghetti squash, with the seeds removed
1 can of black beans, drained
1 tomato, diced
1 cup of shredded cheddar cheese
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Place the spaghetti squash half and place it facedown in a glass, oven safe dish. Fill dish with about 1/4" of water. Place in preheated oven and bake for 30 minutes.
3. Remove squash from oven, and let sit to cool. Turn the oven temperature down to 375.
4. This is when I make the taco seasoning, dice the tomato, and shred the cheese. Then I mix all of those ingredients plus the beans in a large bowl.
5. Once the squash has cooled enough for you to handle it, scrape the squash out with a fork and place in the bowl with the rest of the ingredients.
6. Place everything in a casserole dish, and bake 20-30 minutes.
7. Voila! Delicioso! (Which is not Spanish, but still what you'll be tempted to yell out when you taste this dish.)
Mexican Chicken and Pasta Casserole
This recipe is a result of me craving that homemade taco seasoning one night. I pored through my refrigerator and cupboard, trying desperately to find something I could put it on or in. I did not have much to work with. I found chicken and pasta, so I thought I might try some sort of casserole. I could not find any recipes online that matched the contents of my cupboard, so I decided to wing it and hoped that it would at least be edible. It was more than just edible...it was delicious!
1 large chicken breast
6 oz pasta (I used rotini)
1 can diced tomatoes, undrained
Taco seasoning (recipe can be found here: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/taco-seasoning-i/deta... I only use 1/8 tsp of chili powder, however.)
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
Crushed tortilla chips ( I love the hint of lime ones)
1. Cook chicken breast according to directions on bag.
2. Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to the directions on the box.
3. Drain pasta and mix with 1 tbs of olive oil.
4. When cool, dice chicken. Set oven to 375 degrees.
5. In a bowl, combine the pasta, chicken, diced tomatoes and sauce, cheese, and taco seasoning. Pour into a 8x13 casserole dish.
6. Bake for 10 minutes.
7. Cover the casserole with the crushed tortilla chips, and bake for an additional 5 minutes.