Easy Weeknight Dinners (and Kat’s Top Five Lazy Dinners)

Crockpot Kahlua Pork, originally uploaded to Flickr by Chung Chu.For busy women, preparing dinner all too often falls into the “takeout” category. (I’ll admit it: I totally lived off Seamless Web during my law firm years.) But preparing your own meals at home can be so much better — not only do you know exactly what’s in the dinner, it’s almost always cheaper and healthier to make it yourself. We’ve talked about how the crockpot is amazing for quick, easy dinners, my best tips on how to freeze food without a vacuum sealer, as well as great grab-and-go foods for snacking and lunches, but we haven’t totally hit on Reader K’s question before:

I’m starting my first biglaw job next week and I’m looking for a few easy workweek dinner ideas. My husband and I try to avoid eating takeout more than 1X per week, but I’m not sure how I’m going to manage cooking dinner every night with my new schedule. Do you have any advice for making quick and healthy meals during the week?

I can’t wait to hear what readers will say!  I know we’ve talked about the crockpot before, but I really do have to stress how great it is — you prepare food in the morning when you still have energy and the best intentions, and you come home to a dinner that’s usually ready to be served up.  (And crockpot liners make clean-up super easy, too.) I have a few other ideas for easy weeknight dinners, and I’ll also list some of my absolute easiest recipes below — I’m a totally lazy cook!  (Pictured.)

Oh, I’ll mention a few other ideas for easy and healthy dinners:

– Cook for a month (or two months, or three months) in advance.  We did this about a month after the baby (why not before, I have no idea).  We spent one weekend making about 8 different recipes (some of them doubled) and then freezing them all so that all we had to do was pull something out of the freezer in the morning.  It was an intense weekend of chopping and cooking and checking recipes (and I think we had both crockpots going full blast the whole time, as well as some stuff on the stove) — but if memory serves we got 24 nights of dinners out of it, and it really was great to just pull stuff out of the freezer.  There are blogs and books about this if you’re interested; we just chose 8 recipes that used some of the same ingredients.

– Sign up for a meal-planning service.  There was just a NYT article about this — for a fee you can sign up for different services that will plan your meals for you based on goals (low carb, low fat, healthy, vegan, etc), what’s in season, and sometimes even what products are on sale locally.  I haven’t signed up for any of them yet, but I am intrigued.

– Do some prep work in advance.  Anything you can do the night before — pulling ingredients out of the cupboard, measuring spices, opening cans, etc., can all make it that much easier to will yourself to cook when you get home.  (It’s also a great way to get other people in the house involved — my husband probably cooks more than I do because I’ll ask him to open some cans before he leaves in the morning, and he’ll end up putting the entire recipe together.)  Pre-mixed spice rubs are also a great way to save time (whether made by yourself or purchased) — we frequently will eat white fish with spicy cajun spices on it, or roasted chicken with creole spices — all you really have to do is just put the spices on and cook it.

– Get takeout — but try to be healthier.  There’s nothing wrong with takeout, but you don’t want it to involve a fast-food restaurant too often.  Swinging by a deli or grocery store to pick up things like grilled or roasted chicken, marinated vegetables, salad fixings — that’s all really easy.  Even getting a fresh baguette and a fancy cheese or two can be cheaper and healthier than having a full dinner a restaurant.

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OK, without further ado, my absolute easiest 5 recipes.

Chicken Tacos (Crockpot)

  1. Place chicken breasts in crockpot (frozen or unfrozen — if frozen, just cook for 1 hour on high at the beginning).
  2. Dump half jar of salsa in. Maybe add a can of black beans (rinse them well).
  3. Cook for 6-8 hours on low.  For dinner, eat as tacos, quesadillas, or just as meat for the salad.  (Use the leftover salsa for the meal.)

Beef Bolognese (Crockpot)

  1. Brown ground beef or turkey on the stove. I’m a fan of Trader Joe’s 95% lean ground beef.
  2. Dump meat in crockpot. Add frozen onions if you like.
  3. Dump jar of spaghetti sauce on top.
  4. Cook for 6-8 hours on low.
  5. 30 minutes before serving, add bag of frozen broccoli.
  6. Serve with pasta.

Roasted Chicken (Crockpot)

  1. Wash chicken. Remove bag of giblets and other yucky things.
  2. Pat/dump spice rub on top.  (I’m a fan of this Creole mix — it’s also amazing with broiled shrimp — but you can purchase them also.)
  3. Dump chicken in crockpot, possibly with frozen onions.
  4. Cook 6-8 hours on low.

Creole Salmon (Oven)

  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Put salmon on aluminum foil. (I’m lately a fan of Verlasso salmon from Fresh Direct.)
  3. Dump Potlatch rub on top.  (I got this blend from my mother and it’s especially for salmon, so we’ve used this one instead of our own blend.)
  4. Add parbaked wheat rolls and possibly an ear of corn.
  5. Cook at 350 for 30 minutes.

 Pulled Pork (Crockpot) (from WebMD)

  1. Dump pork tenderloins (about 1.5 pounds) in crockpot.
  2. Add 1/4 teaspoons of garlic and pepper, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt.
  3. Dump bag of frozen onions inside.
  4. Add 3/4 cup of jar of barbecue sauce (your choice).
  5. Add 1/2 cup of beer (non-alcoholic if you have it, or light beer).
  6. Cook for 6-8 hours, serve with fresh wheat rolls.

Readers, which are your favorite tricks for eating healthy dinners?  Share some of your easiest recipes with us!

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Comments

  1. I made my favorite easy crockpot recipe yesterday:
    http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/thai-style-pork-stew-10000000354826/

  2. Once/twice a month during the weekend when it is more quiet – I’ll make soup from scratch and freeze in individual servings (using some of Kat’s tips from the earlier post on freezing.) The actual prep work usually doesn’t take more than 10-15 minutes, and then the soup putters for an hour/two hours while I do chores around the house.

    Then there is usually a bit of blitzing the vegetables involved from my side, before I turn it off and let it cool enough to put into freezer bags and freeze flatly on a tray in the freezer.

    Overall, I estimate that I spend 20-40 minutes of active work per soup (I try to have two soups on at the same time in different pots, to be more effective, so some of that time might overlap between the soups). And I get anywhere from 4 servings to 8 from each recipe.

    Freezing the soups have been excellent for me – I get healthy, warm food, when I come home late from work – and all that’s involved at that stage is nuking it in the microwave in a bowl for 4-6 minutes.

    • Two of the easy recipes I love and will make again:
      http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/7003/carrot-and-coriander-soup
      http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/1443/carrot-and-cheddar-soup-with-toast-soldiers (I add a bit of cayenne pepper here to get a kick)

    • Anon for this ? :

      If you freeze the soup flat – how do you reheat it in a bowl in the microwave?

      • I’ve done this, but I have big, wide bowls, so it’s easy. I don’t want to speak for Anne, tho. ;o)

      • Since it is flat, and thin, it is easy to break into pieces for putting in a bowl. But the bags are also one-serving sized so they fit into my bowls fairly easy

    • applesandcheddar :

      I make soup/stew from scratch often (my go to ingredients are canned tomatoes, lentils, rice, and whatever veggies I have around) and I freeze portions in muffin tins. Pop the “muffins” out when frozen and throw in ziplock bags. Easy to throw in a mug or bowl to microwave 1-3 for a meal depending on how hungry I am.

      • I do a similar method with stock and ice cube trays. If I have a lots of extra chicken stock, I’ll freeze it into cube form. Then, when I’m cooking I can throw in a cube or two for flavor.

        Never thought of a bigger version for serving portions, applesandcheddar – that’s genius!

      • What a great idea! “Soup muffins” are now on my to-do list.

      • In House Lobbyist :

        I love muffin tins too for freezing single servings of chili, taco meat and soup.

    • I do this too, and I typically bring the frozen soups for lunch. I use old yogurt containers for freezing, which are slightly wider at the mouth so it’s easy to pop the soups out and into a microwaveable bowl. My favorite recipes are from this website (in a tab in the left window) — all vegetarian and all delicious!

      http://www.arts.cornell.edu/zeus/

      • Yum! Temple of Zeus soup is the best! I had no idea the recipes were online.

      • Cornellian :

        OMG TEMPLE OF ZEUS SO GOOOOOOOODDD. looks we have more cornellians!

        • These recipes do look amazing (but I’d have to do the math to reduce the amounts fromt he 3-5 gallons the recipes make, bah humbug).

          I recently did college visits with my son; he loves Ithaca but preferred IC to Cornell (which, given his freshman year grades woud be reach anyway) — but he’s kind of a foodie, this might convince him to apply to Cornell after all.

          • The reducing the recipe part is annoying, I usually just guess a bit on the quantities and adjust the spices/salt as needed at the end. Some of the recipes are very similar to the soups at the Moosewood, so even if he goes to IC he can still enjoy some tasty soup!

          • My son is at Ithaca and loves it; I went to Cornell and had to get past my snobby “the other school in Ithaca” thing but the thing is it’s been great for him. (But I still love the Cornell campus myself… But it’s not for everyone)

          • Thanks, Michelle. And N., Moosewood is one of the reasons I’d rather see him in Ithaca than some other places for college!

        • Anonymous :

          Statler garden bisque!!!!!! I make it all the time.

      • One of the things about Cornell that I miss most is getting Temple of Zeus soup for lunch. Cheap, made fresh every day, and always something different… sigh. My campus food choices now are very sad in comparison.

  3. We use a meal planning service and it has been a total lifesaver. Our main problem wasn’t so much lack of time (although that did play a part) as it was a lack of dinner inspiration. eMeals totally solved that problem for us, plus we opted for the meal-for-two plan which was perfect because we weren’t making massive amounts of food every night that we couldn’t finish.

    • I signed up for emeals too using a groupon and I love it! Love that they present basic recipes. I find that even if I don’t make what they list for the week, at least it gets my mind thinking of different things to make/recipes to google.

      Some staples for the week are chicken wraps (made with rotisserie or frozen breaded chicken then baked), whole wheat pasta with a salad and in the winter – a big batch of chili with extra for the freezer.
      Love hearing everyone else’s ideas!

      Also, loving Pinterest for inspiration. Sometimes just seeing the recipes broken down into picture-steps, makes it seem do-able.

  4. I love a whole chicken in the crockpot – literally wash the chicken; dump in salt, pepper and garlic; cook until I come home. Then I can use the chicken meat to do whatever I want with it. Chicken and pasta, casseroles, enchiladas, over a green salad, chicken salad sandwich, the possibilities are endless.

    I’m going to try your beef bolognese recipe – that sounds like a winner.

  5. Cornellian :

    Do most people eat meat for dinner everynight? One of my favorite combinations is chickpeas, spinach, spices (cumin, garlic), and coconut milk. From there you can add what you have around… tomatoes… maybe chicken… dried tomatoes… fresh veggies, etc.

    • I’m a vegetarian, so obviously I don’t eat meat, but what you are making sounds like a modification of one of my favorite Indian dishes, Chana Masala. There’s a ton of recipes out there, and I’ve found that it still tastes great even when I don’t have one of the spices on hand or I don’t have time to thoroughly caramelize the onions or whatnot. I’m big in general on modifying based on what I have/don’t have.

      • Cornellian :

        Yeah, that is a skill a roommate taught me and one that makes cooking at home so much less expensive.

        This is actually the original recipe that I’ve memorized and modified repeatedly: http://www.thekitchn.com/recipe-braised-coconut-spinach-chickpeas-with-lemon-164551 Sort of like chana masala, but more…. dicey, maybe? less soupy.

        I eat meat probably once a month, which i realize is anomalous, but I didn’t realize most female meat eaters ate that much meat.

        • I would eat meat more rarely, but my husband really wants/needs meat. Also, we’re on a low-carb diet for some health issues, so a lot of things I would normally eat meatless are off the table.

        • Anastasia :

          I could do with a lot less meat (counting poultry as “meat” too), but my husband would rebel. I try to do at least one meatless dinner per week, and one fish. I also generally don’t eat meat at lunch (unless I’m having supper leftovers).

        • Cornellian, was it you who first posted this recipe some time ago? We love it in our vegetarian/vegan household, I’ve made it a few times since I found it here, including for recent dinner guests.

          Here’s a 12-hour crockpot recipe that I just tried and really liked, tastes more sophisticated than most. I would recommend soaking the lentils overnight before tossing them in, or cooking on high for the first couple of hours — even after 12 hours on low the lentils were still kind of crunchy.

          http://allrecipes.com/recipe/mushroom-lentil-barley-stew/detail.aspx

          Our fast dinners are along the lines of the veggies-protein-carbs-sauce all thrown together variety that someone mentioned below. Recent examples: 1) fake chicken (would work with real stuff), stir-fried asparagus and other vegs., bottled general tso’s sauce mixed w/peanut butter and water and cooked for a couple of minutes, all dumped over rice (TJ’s has several great frozen varieties) or rice noodles; 2) black beans, corn and zucchini with a sauce of vegan creamer, chili powder, chopped chiles and tomatoes (you could leave out the creamer) all mixed together with fusilli, ready in the time it takes the pasta to cook.

          • Forgot to post a warning on the mushroom/barley/lentil recipe: if you make it, cut the pepper to 1/2 to 1 tsp — the 2 tsp. it calls for is kind of insane. But otherwise the recipe is awesome

          • Cornellian :

            I think it was me. I LOVE this recipe. I have more or less given up on dry beans, even though they’re cheaper because I can NEVER remember to soak them the night before. Once I did soak them, and my dog ate half of them before I woke up. Canned beans it is.

          • Lentils and beans cook much faster in alkaline water than in acidic water. I always cook my beans for an hour or so first in water with a pinch of baking soda; I cook lentils for 20 mins first in water with a pinch of baking soda. Then you can add them to the rest of the pot and they will not be crunchy.

          • Cornellian, thanks for the warning – I cannot imagine how sick one of my dogs would get eating a bunch of pre-soaking beans.

            And Sutemi, thanks for the hint, and the chemistry lesson.

        • My son coined the term “vegawarian” for people who are “aware” that eating less meat is a good thing but are not vegetarian. As a vegawarian, I eat no meat at least one day per week, never for breakfast, and seldom for lunch.

    • applesandcheddar :

      I’m not a vegetarian, but my SO and I only eat meat when we eat out – no meat comes into our kitchen. It’s cheaper, healthier, and easier/faster to prepare.

    • I don’t eat meat at every meal, which is a habit I think I picked up in college. I will cook chicken a few times a week, but that gets divided up between meals (so, 1 chicken breast might be in a dinner and leftovers for lunch another day). I probably have 3-4 meatless meals a week. I also rarely cook red meat at home (maybe once every 2 months?), so that’s something I save for eating out. I figure since I don’t have a grill, a burger or steak from a restaurant is going to be much tastier than an at home version :)

    • MaggieLizer :

      I’ve stopped eating meat as much as I used to out of necessity. I always freeze my meats, which means I have to take it out the night before or in the morning to let it thaw. But of course then I can’t refreeze it if I something happens at work and I can’t use it for a few days. I’ve had to throw out too much meat because it’s spoiled waiting for me to have a chance to cook it, so I just don’t usually eat meat unless it’s really slow at work. I do a lot of soyrizo or tofu or chickpeas.

  6. Anne Shirley :

    I haven’t found the crock pot useful at all. Most recipes call for max 8 hours, when I’m gone 12, and make way too much food for me. Ditto on freezing stuff- thawing too quickly tends to diminish quality, and taking it slow overnight in the fridge has lead to too many days of oops-thawed that but went out with friends.

    I’m a big fan of simplicity in the week. Pasta with eggs poached in spicy tomato sauce, pasta with shrimp and broccoli, cous cous with peas, pine nuts, and Parmesan, even sardines on toast. When I am home with time to cook (for me, by 7:45) I swing by my corner store and get whatever veggie that looks good, some chicken, and get creative with it.

    • I was gone for 11 hours yesterday. My recipe was for 8 hours. It was fine.

      • Cornellian :

        Yeah. I’ll often put it on high for two hours when I leave in the morning, and even if it calls for 6 hours low heat, 2 hours high plus 8 hours of incubating seems to be fine.

    • We got a programmable crock pot that automatically switches to warm for several hours – I think 4-6 – after the recipe is done. It is pretty awesome.

    • I have a very basic model of crock pot – not programmable at all. So only use it on weekends, when I can babysit it a bit. That said, I have found it useful for making large quantities of things like corned beef, pulled pork and brisket, which I can divide and freeze for weekday meals.

    • downstream :

      I have a timer-less crock and I have had excellent results with a light timer (the kind you use to turn your lights on and off while you’re on vacation to fool burglars). I would just use frozen meat and then set the crock to click on 3 hrs after you leave. And you can set it to click off 8 hrs later, so if you get stuck or something your food is not just slowly cooking away.

      • Downstream, can you elaborate on this? ie. where you buy this “light timer” and what brand, etc. I am a little unclear about it but really want to take your idea (!) b/c the programmable crockpots are pretty expensive and it seems wasteful to buy one when I already have two perfectly functioning “simple” crockpots.

        • Anonymous :

          just go to any hardware store (or maybe even a drugstore) and ask for a timer that you can plug a lamp or other electrical device into. You just plug it into the outlet, and plug the crockpot into it.

          • and the light timer becomes the timer for the crockpot. You can set it to ‘turn on’ the electricity to the crock pot at a certain time, and turn it off at a certain time.

            Have to say, I never thought of that before, downstream, that is seriously brills.

      • PinkKeyboard :

        This is brilliant! I have a crockpot from approx. 1978 because the modern ones run too hot (boo to food safety) so I like to incubate my bacteria filled food but a timer would be very useful. I’m gone for approx 12-13 hours and the husband isn’t very good at remembering on either end.

    • Eh, I put my crockpot on low every time – 10 hours minimum that I’m gone. Food survives and it cooks just the same.

    • Thaw in the fridge, then you can use it the next day if not that night.

  7. Do people really cook every night (the original question says “not sure how I’m going to manage cooking dinner every night”)? Or do they consider heating up left overs cooking–I wouldn’t consider popping something in the microwave or oven to heat up as cooking, since to me cooking = prepping and assembling the meal.

    For easy weeknight meals, I’ll plan to eat two things all week and just alternate left overs. For example, this week we have soup and nachos, so I made soup and bread on Sunday night (with plans to have it for dinner on Tuesday and Thursday as well) and Monday night I made all the fixings for nachos (cooked meat and beans, chopped tomatoes, and shredded the cheese) so all I have to do is pull everything out and assemble the nachos each night (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday).

    • I have no idea how people cook every night. I’m a weekend-cooker, week-reheater. If I do cook during the week, I have to make it the path of least resistance and get that stuff all planned out on the weekend. If it’s 5 p.m. on a weeknight, and I’m trying to figure out what to cook, I’ve already lost the battle.

    • I cook most every night and take the leftovers to work the following day. Granted, I cook in really small portions (2-3 servings), so I’m sure I could easily double the recipe and cook less often. I find cooking really therapeutic, even on the days I get home at 9pm, so that’s why I do it. I also have a set of “quick meals” for nights when all I can manage is to warm up some soup and throw together a quick salad.

    • Kontraktor :

      We cook almost every night. Sometimes it’s reheating leftovers, but we are probably making new dishes 4-6 nights a week on average. If we want to go out, we plan that into our grocery buying so we don’t waste food. Cooking each night really isn’t too bad- we find it’s sort of relaxing to do and it’s something nice we can do together. Clean up is annoying, but we try to keep week night meals on the simpler side so that dishes are really just putting things in the dish washer.

    • Frou Frou :

      Yep. Except for Thursdays. That’s leftover night. We also eat out once or twice on the weekend.

  8. All of these suggestions are great. I too have this problem. I, like Kat, make lots of things in the crock pot – my new favorite book is a slow cooker Indian book that makes PLENTY of food: http://www.amazon.com/The-Indian-Slow-Cooker-Authentic/dp/1572841117/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1349198088&sr=8-1&keywords=slow+cooker+indian A bean dish from that + a minute cup of rice = perfection.

    I also eat a lot on my own – my husband works later 2x/week – and I get home starving. Breakfast for dinner (eggs, toast, etc.) is my favorite. Easily doubled. And so much fun. Who has time for eggs in the morning, but for dinner it’s PERFECT.

    And, instead of takeout, I do a lot of healthier things from the supermarket. I don’t eat meat and there is a GREAT vegetarian substitute that tastes almost (almost) like Gen. Tso’s chicken. I can’t remember the brand, but it’s under 10 minutes in a pan. Stir fry up some veg and it’s a meal. I also love the minute rice cups – 1 serving of rice in these cute microwave cups and it’s 1 minute in the microwave.

    HOWEVER – Kat mentioned this briefly, but what about you HUSBAND cooking or pitching in? My husband is also busy and because of our work schedules I tend to do most of the cooking BUT we also cook on the weekends together. No one said only women have to deal with cooking?! My husband and I have often spent Sundays cooking for the week and it’s a wonderful activity. And if I’m tired and he’s tired, we just eat leftovers.

    And, if you don’t live in NYC, (or even if you do) invest in a second freezer. That plus costco membership is a lifesaver.

    • Is your husband a vegetarian too? Mine is not, and he’s also quite picky, so we only have a handful of recipes that we both eat. Otherwise, we make different things (i.e., I cook, and he heats up a frozen packaged dinner).

      • He’s not but we don’t eat much meat at home for a variety of reasons (we keep kosher, I do 60% of the cooking and didn’t grow up eating lots of red meat and can really only cook chicken and if my husband wants meat he can cook it his damn self). He’s open to lots of meat substitutes and meat-free choices. Sometimes we just sit at the table and eat different pre-packaged dinners since he loves fish and I don’t.

  9. Research, Not Law :

    Make a double batch whenever you cook and freeze half. Being open to some easy prep additions really opens up the freezer meal options, so you’re not limited to lasagna.

    MEAL PLAN. We didn’t do it until having our second child and are kicking ourselves. A half hour of planning on the weekend means only one grocery trip a week and no more what-are-we-going-to-eat panics at 5 pm. It saves us time and money. It also makes it easy to do prep work on the weekends or lighter work nights or arrange meals to transform leftovers another night.

    Cooks’s Illustrated “Slow Cooker Revolution” is a great resource for crockpot meals that use real ingredients. Unlike their usual recipes, the book contains many “easy prep” recipes that are genuinely quick and easy. We’ve made at least a dozen of them and all have been spot-on. (We’ve made some of the more involved recipes on weekends, and they were well worth it.)

    • I have started meal planning recently and it has made a world of difference. I was tired of repeated trips to the grocery store and too much takeout as a backup option. I have been browsing recipes on Friday, shopping on Saturday morning, then cooking on Saturday and Sunday. That gets me set for the week really well.

      • My husband and I have meal planned since we’ve been married. I honestly can’t imagine doing it any other way. I also plan meals that have leftovers, so I eat that for lunch. We’re to the point that if we can’t go to the grocery store on Sunday, we’re all screwed up for the week.

    • Meal planning! I hate eating the same thing 2 nights in a row, so I plan to use ingredients in a new way later in the week – e.g. chicken breasts with rice and roasted tomatoes Monday, then use the leftover chicken and rice in enchiladas on Tuesday and use the leftover roasted tomatoes with other veggies in a quinoa salad for lunch at work. I’m gluten-free, so I have to plan essentially all my lunches as well as dinners. You guys are inspiring me to do a better job cooking ahead on the weekends, too!

      Also, Cooking Light and Real Simple are good sources for recipe inspiration for me as I’m meal planning.

  10. Fish is a really simple, quick, relatively healthy option. This weekend, we made sole with a little lemon juice, paprika, salt and melted butter. Delicious and ready in 20 minutes. Roasted potatoes and roasted asparagus were the sides. We love our slow cooker but also enjoy recipes that you just stick in the oven.

    • Confessions :

      How did you cook the sole?

      • Sorry, I forgot to add that part! We just put it in the oven at 375 for 15-20 minutes. For the asparagus, I drizzle olive oil over it, add salt and pepper, and stick in the oven for 20 minutes. The potatoes had salt, pepper and olive oil as well. We had to cook them longer (trying to get them nice and crispy!).

        • Confessions :

          Errr I posted this below, but I meant to reply to you, not start a new post.

          Thanks.

          For the potatoes I find that steaming them first in the microwave with a ziplock steamer bag works great prior to roasting them in the oven. This way all of your dinner is ready at the same time.

      • Kontraktor :

        You can easily pan fry thin fish like sole, snapper, tilapia, etc. VERY quick. Season with whatever spices you like, put in the pan with a bit of oil or butter, and cook until done, flipping once (maybe 3 minutes a side? it might even be quicker depending on how thin the fish is). We pan cook fish a lot on the week nights, especially since our local fish market often has snapper or cod for like $3/lb.

    • My favorite thing to do with fish is to wrap it in parchment paper with lemon, a splash of olive oil, and whatever herbs I have lying around. (And sometimes things like cherry tomatoes if they’re available.) Quick, easy, and foolproof and amazing over rice.

    • How long do you keep fish? If I buy groceries on Saturday, could I cook the fish on Thursday? I thought it had a 3 day shelf life and since I buy on Saturday but often don’t cook until Tuesday or Wednesday it was always off the table.

      • I would not trust fish in the fridge that long. Fish filets freeze well though and don’t take long to defrost.

  11. Some favorites:

    Chicken breasts or (unbreaded) strips, topped with pesto sauce (from a jar), cover with foil, and bake until done (usually about 25 minutes on 350). Then, add provolone cheese and pop back in the oven to melt the cheese. You can easily make 1-2 portions or you can make a lot and have leftovers. We usually serve with brown rice, fruit and a vegetable we steam in the ziplock steamer bags.

    Chicken breasts, topped with barbeque sauce and bacon (raw). Throw in 8 oz of sliced raw mushrooms. Cover with foil and bake until done (usually about 25 minutes on 350). Then, add cheese and pop back in the oven to melt the cheese. You can easily make 1-2 portions or you can make a lot and have leftovers. We usually serve with brown rice, fruit and a vegetable we steam in the ziplock steamer bags.

    Brown up some andouille sausage. Slice and toss in crock pot with red beans which have soaked over night and then been rinsed off. Cook on low all day. Serve over rice. (I make a pot of brown rice on the weekend and we eat on it all week.) Warm, cheap, flavorful, and yummy!

    For any flaky white fish, put it in a casserole and cover with a can of green enchilada sauce. Throw in some asparagus spears. Bake until done (depends on fish). We serve with brown rice and fruit.

    Besides making rice on the weekend, we also hard boil 4-6 eggs. They are nice to have for salad and they make easy snacks or breakfasts.

    A pork loin is awesome in the crock pot. We usually cut ours into thick slices/chunks and then cover with a jar of mango-habanero salsa. Add water as needed to make sure all the meat is covered. Cook on low all day. Serve with rice, fruit, and steamed veggies. This smells so good to come home to!

  12. I thought this was going to be a post on truly, truly lazy meal ideas, and I got excited to share my favorites:

    – Quesadilla with TJ’s Black Bean Dip, cheese, and flour or corn tortilla (whichever you have in the fridge without mold on it). Cook in a skillet like a grilled cheese sandwich.

    – “Fried rice” – This is good with leftover rice from last night’s takeout. Scramble an egg until it’s 1/2 cooked, then throw in whatever cooked rice you have on hand and cook it til the egg is done and the rice is a little golden. Then stir in some TJ’s Sesame Soy Ginger Vinaigrette. Bonus tasty points if you have sriracha to top it with at the end.

    – Baked potato! Bake a potato. Top it with whatever you can find. Cheese, canned baked beans, canned chili, greek yogurt, butter…

    – “Chilaquiles” – Scramble an egg. Push it to one side of the pan and throw in red salsa. Crunch up a bunch of tortilla chips in your hand and add them to the salsa. Stir it all together with the eggs until the salsa/chips are warm. If you are fancy, you can dollop Greek yogurt on the top.

    – Grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup. If you don’t have bread (because who does?), see if you have a non-moldy tortilla you can use instead.

    – Cheese. Just eat cheese. Bonus points for crackers. Double bonus points for a sliced apple.

    • Your post made me laugh out loud. I would so cook like this if I didn’t have a husband to cook for. Well that, and the fact that I really do love cooking (sometimes.) I would eat cheese and good french bread every day, forever if I could.

      • When I visited Paris in college, I only ate bread and cheese for lunch (and I guess some fruit here and there). Partly because restaurants were way out of my budget, but also because when else in my life would I have access to such quality basics?

      • Research, Not Law :

        Triple bonus points for carrot.

        This is how I ate as a single gal. Miss it sometimes. Two of my favorites were lentils (precooked and stored in the fridge) with vinaigrette and baby spinach, purple cabbage, and blue cheese.

        Anon, I did the same when I was studying in France!

      • Ha ha! I DO “cook” like this!

        Unrelated TJ: the first time I clicked on “reply”, I ended up in the Coffee Break thread instead! Turns out it’e because the left arrows leading to the previous post overlapped the “reply” link. Kat, I really, really hate just about everything about your new format….

        • That’s the second time today I’ve heard someone say that — what browser are you using? I know on my iPad the arrows overlap way too much of the content, but on my browser (Firefox 15) there’s no overlap at all. Alternately, could someone send me a screenshot of what it looks like when you try to reply?

          Sorry, guys — working on the issues.

        • You’re very thick skinned, Kat. I admire you.

    • Cornellian :

      this is grad school eating, I’d say.

    • Anastasia :

      lol, if my grocery store day gets derailed and/or my husband is out of town, I definitely eat cheese for dinner. I also am a big fan of toaster oven quesadillas – put a tortilla in the toaster oven. Put sliced cheese on top. Fold it in half and eat — bonus, you can put the tortilla directly on the toaster oven rack, so there’s nothing to clean! (Sometimes I add sandwich meat, although that’s less quesadilla-ish.)

    • I had cheese and crackers for dinner the other night… No shame…

      • sing it, sister!

      • Add some sausage or prosciutto and it’s your very own charcuterie, which people pay big bucks for in restaurants. Seriously, I think a meal of very good bread, some cheese and maybe meat, maybe some pickles, a small salad, some fruit, is a totally legit meal. Oh, and don’t forget the wine!

        I am intrigued by the salsa + eggs + tortilla chip dish. It reminds me of matzoh brei, which I’ve only read about, and seems to involve butter + eggs + matzoh. I need to try making both of these.

        • Agreed! Fresh mozzarella + prosciutto paired with some chopped raw veggies or whatever is in the fridge is also one of my favorites!

    • This is how I “cook”. My husband is home before me and a better cook, so he makes most of our meals that require actual cooking. My 5 year old knows the difference and when I ask him what he wants for dinner, these are the things I “cook” for him:
      Eggs & toast
      Oatmeal with various mix-ins like peanut butter or yogurt
      French toast
      Soup (from a can) and grilled cheese
      Peanut butter and Jelly
      Hummus, pita & veggies
      Ham, turkey or whatever lunchmeat we have sandwich
      Stir fry – chicken, brocolli & teriyaki sauce
      English muffin, bagel or french bread pizza

      By the time I get home from work there is not enough time to prep a
      meal that involves the actual oven, unless it’s frozen pizza. Plus we don’t have AC so we don’t use the oven all summer, and when we bought our last house we didn’t find out until after we bought it that the oven didn’t work – so we are in the habit now of just using the stovetop, microwave & toaster for 90% of our meals.

    • You are definitely my kind of cook.

    • You know what? I love to cook, but I would say that I eat scrambled eggs with frozen chopped peppers, wrapped in a tortilla, at least two or three times a week, EVERY week, for dinner. It’s quick it’s easy, it’s cheap, and provides satiety without needing the hundreds of extra calories from takeout when I just don’t have time to cook or the patience to plan. I see no shame in this and kind of love it.

  13. laura holt :

    I’ll be honest, I don’t cook – there are so many things I would rather do with my extremely limited free time. We usually go out to restaurants Fri, Sat, Sun and the rest of the days eat take-out, leftovers, and frozen meals that just have to be popped in the oven or microwave (Trader Joe’s has some good ones). I usually eat reasonably healthy (fish, etc) for a couple of our meals out and we get healthy-ish take-out (salads, hummus from Mediterranean places, etc) pretty regularly too so I don’t think our diet is that terrible. Its not like we eat McDonalds every night. To the extent I’ve gained weight since starting at my firm I’m pretty sure its from lack of exercise and lack of sleep, not my eating habits. If you are super committed to eating healthy and are working in Biglaw I would look into personal chef services – it sounds ridiculouly extravagent but I know some colleagues who do it and it isn’t as expensive as you might think. One of them told me she pays around $400 a week for 3 meals a day, 6 days a week for her and her husband…I think that works out to something like $11 a meal. And the upside to that is they can tailor all of your meals to any allergies or give you meals that fit with a specific diet. In my opinion, one of the keys to surviving this job is to hire out any service that you can that will free up more of your time.

    • Besides the unspecified fat content of eating out, salt is going to be the major difference in eating out and eating at home, even with “healthy” vegetarian and pescetarian meals. Frozen dinners can have a lot of salt as well. This is critical to pay attention to if high bp runs in our families, esp with the high-stress jobs many of us have.

      As for weight gain/loss – I’m going to give my highly scientific expert opinion that 78.495102% of it is due to food. Exercise is important for strength and muscle growth but the actual reduction and accumulation of body mass is mainly food dependent.

      • I gained weight after law school, and I think I ate more crappy take out, fast food and bar food in law school. I think in law school I was so busy running around I was eating less overall (e.g. apple and luna bar for lunch or soup and doritios (hello sodium) dinner, and now that I sit at a desk all day basically doing doc review I’m bored and hungry all the time.

      • laura holt :

        Agreed that low fat/calorie doesn’t necessarily mean healthy, but for me, sodium is not a big concern – I have low blood pressure and when I have bothered to keep track of my sodium content in the past it was very low (lower than the average recommended amount). Granted, I cooked more at home at the time but based on what I know about the frozen dinners & restaurant meals I eat, my sodium intake isn’t crazy high (I live in CA so all chain restaurants have to put nutritional info on the menus and some non-chain restaurants do it anyway). Trader Joe’s frozen meals are pretty good for sodium content compared to the typical ones you find at the regular grocery store.

        Also I think it varies a lot from person to person whether diet or exercise affects your body more. I have friends who religiously work out 2 hours a day and yet have to stick to a strict diet to avoid weight gain. But for me, when I’m exercising, even a moderate amount, I can eat whatever I want and not gain any weight but as soon as I stop exercising I get puffy. I also think stress and lack of sleep affect it a lot for me (although that may be due to increased eating…when you are up for 24 hours in a row you are definitely going to eat more than you otherwise would in a 24-hour period). I also drink a TON of water and because of how much water I drink, I don’t have a huge appetite so I don’t think I consume that many calories. I also don’t drink soda or alcohol or other beverages that have a ton of calories so pretty much all the calories I get are from food.

        Anyway, to each their own, but at this point in my life I feel like my diet is healthy enough and I value my time more than having a slightly healthier lifestyle, given that I am young, otherwise healthy, and not responsible for anyone else. I’m sure my dietary habits will change if/when I am pregnant.

  14. Cornellian :

    Related TJ: I used to cook with a crockpot a lot, and didn’t replace it after my recent move because my new tiny kitchenette is open to the rest of the house, and I’m quite certain my idiot dog will countersurf and knock the crockpot all over the kitchen/living room before eating the contents. Does anyone have any ideas?

    I’ve thought of buying a dutch oven instead and putting it in the oven when I leave, but that seems like a lot more cleaning, and my oven isn’t full-sized. I’ve also considered putting the crockpot somewhere with a door (ie my bathroom or closet, I guess?) but that is not ideal. Does anyone slowcook without a crockpot?

    • Dutch Ovens are the original slow cookers…but I’m more comfortable leaving a crockpot plugged in than an oven on if I’m gone, so that takes some of the convenience away for me.

      • Cornellian :

        Same, but isn’t the idea of dutch ovens that even when the coals were dying down they would hold lots of heat? I wonder if I could get a small one that would fit inside my oven, then just turn off the gas when I leave and hope that the insulation of the pot and the oven would be sufficient to keep things moving along. I don’t eat meat at home, so I think at worst food would be tough.. not food poisoning-inducing.

        • The food will not continue to cook for long without the oven on. It would have to be mostly done before you left the house for this method to have any chance of success.

    • Brooklyn, Esq. :

      I’m sorry that I can’t offer advice, but…the idea of your dog countersurfing (great word!) and knocking over a crockpot is hilarious.

    • This is really silly, but how about putting the whole crock pot in the oven (which you would leave off, naturally) and just running the cord out?

    • Could you put your crockpot in the sink (maybe on a cutting board in the sink if it’s not level). That way if he did make a mess at least its not all over the place. You could also try running a bungee cord through the lid handle and on to the heat safe handles of the cockpot so he couldn’t get the lid off. i might try this on a day i could babysit it first and make sure you don’t melt the cords.

      • This made me laugh. We used to have to bungee cord our cabinets shut when we left our house because of our basset hound. She would raid the pantry, and countertops, and table tops, and basically anything that may have food.

      • Cornellian :

        I’ve thought about this, but he’s 5’4 on his hind legs and would just knock the whoel thing off the counter, I’m pretty su re.

    • Research, Not Law :

      A French oven isn’t any more cleaning, but I’m a nervous nellie about leaving the oven on while I’m away. If we’re home, we almost always use a French oven instead of a crockpot. It’s actually nicer because you can brown your meat on the stovetop first.

      I would put it in the bathroom and close door. The tub might be a nice place for it.

  15. I like baked chicken in all shapes and sizes… preheat oven to 350 degrees, cut boneless, skinless chicken breast in half, but them in a oven save dish, and pour over it whatever sounds good – Italian dressing, honey and mustard mixed together, butter and garlic, Parmesan, tomato sauce – I could continue this list forever, leave it in for 30 to 40 minutes and make rice, or a salad on the side. I have the advantage that my husband rarely gets tired of that type of chicken, though.

  16. Confessions :

    My favorite easy recipe – Enchilada Caserole:

    Store bought rotisserie chicken shredded
    I large can Las Palmas enchilda sauce
    shredded cheese
    Optional (olives, onions, tomoatoes)
    Tortiallas

    Use a 13×9 cake pan or 8 in cake pan (depending on whether you are using the whole chicken or not)

    Dip the uncooked tortillas in the enchilda sauce
    layer the tortillas on the bottom of the pan
    add a layer of chicken
    add a layer of chicken
    add optional indgrients (I usually skip these)
    add a couple extra spoons of sauce
    Repeat another layer
    Top layer will be tortillas, cheese, and a couple spoons of sauce

    Bake for 30 min at 350 (if you like the top layer a little crispier bake for 45 min.)

    Great for leftovers also!!!

  17. I’ve started splurging on fresh but pre-peeled garlic that my grocery store sells in the produce section. It’s not the pre-minced stuff that I don’t think tastes as good, but you just have to stick it in the garlic press. I feel like a liberated woman! It has saved me so much time. It’s more expensive but totally worth it.

    • I splurge on frozen cubes of garlic, basil, and cilantro. They have them at Trader Joe’s (but they’re not Trader Joe’s brand, I think they’re Dorot).

      • +5bajillion – the frozen cubes are amazing. It tastes just as good as fresh, bc it really is just fresh garlic and a little water to freeze it.

    • SF Bay Associate :

      If you just cut off the root end of the garlic and then smash the whole clove with the side of your knife, the peel comes right off.

    • No Problem :

      Secret garlic peeling trick: put one clove on the counter/cutting board, lay large chef’s knife/cleaver across the top, flat side down. Slam your fist down on top of the flat side of the knife. It usually slightly crushes or breaks the garlic but also loosens up the peel so you can just rip it right off. Way easier and more fun than trying to peel garlic by hand. Just make sure the knife is sufficiently wide so you don’t risk cutting your hand if you slam slightly off center.

      • SF Bay Associate :

        Jinx, No Problem :)! I never knew there was another way to peel garlic.

    • An addendum to the flat-of-a-knife method – if you run the garlic under water before or after smashing it, the peel comes off even easier.

      If you ever need to peel a lot of garlic, there is a great way to do it in about 30 seconds with 2 metal bowls. (like below) It’s loud, but effective.

  18. We do salads a lot, usually a combination of salad greens, a cheese, fruit, and nuts (spinach, mandarin oranges, goat cheese, almonds; or mesclun greens, dried cranberries, goat cheese, walnuts, etc.) with some crusty bread. We also do pasta or couscous – mix in veggies + cheese or meat + some herbs = an ok dinner

    I also like a lot of the recipes from Real Simple ( the “Quick & Easy” ones), they rely too much on packaged/canned ingredients, which I try to avoid, but some are tasty AND quick & easy.

    • I was wondering when someone was going to mention salads. We keep all the following on hand regularly and then just mix and match:

      * bags of cleaned spinach or salad greens
      * red bell peppers
      * cucumbers
      * tomatoes
      * avocados
      * tuna
      * hard boiled eggs
      * dates
      * asparagus
      * hearts of palm

      Dressing: in a jar, mix half olive oil and half balsamic or raspberry vinegar. Shake. If you want, add some mustard.

  19. Sydney Bristow :

    I’m not any help on the actual question here, but this relates back to discussions we’ve had about the division of housework. I moved in with my boyfriend a few months ago and one of the things we did was talk about splitting up the chores. He works regular hours and I tend to work 60-70+ per week, plus I’m a horrible cook. Our deal is that he makes dinner most nights and I do the dishes. I also bake on the weekends, but that is more because I love to do it than an explicit part of our agreement. Doing the dishes means that if I’m exhausted one night, I don’t have to do anything and can just do them the next day. He tends to get things from Fresh Express that don’t really require preparation and just have to be heated in the oven. We also eat a lot of pasta dishes because they are easy. If he isn’t feeling up to cooking one night, we typically get takeout, but that only really happens about once a week. This arrangement works really well for both of us.

    If you have Fresh Direct in your city, I’d check it out. To us at least, the price is worth it for the convenience and a lot of their meals that you just pop into the oven are really good. We are having wasabi-crusted salmon tonight, which is always delicious. The Parmesan crusted chicken breasts, quiche, and macaroni are also great.

    • Cornellian :

      Yeah, freshdirect can be great. It’s great for getting heavier things delivered in a truck once every few weeks… that way I can carry produce home without milk, peanut butter, beer, and 5 lbs of flour threatening to smush everything/disconnect my shoulder.

  20. I make a variation of your beef bolognese..to up the ante on flavor I use italian sausages instead of just plain ground beef. I’ve used turkey sausage to cut down on fat. It’s a quick meal that still gets raves. Oh and I don’t use a crock pot, just do it all int he skillet and go…by the itme I”ve browned the meat, it only takes a few more minutes to warm up the jar sauce.

    I also do minor prep work ahead of time, especially with meat. I buy extra chicken, pork or beef when it’s on sale portion out for the two of us, and insert marinades before freezing. That way it flavors as it thaws, and I don’t have to do much other than pull it out of the fridge. And this way it feels fresh every time because I just toss in different flavors into each bag. Word to the wise – LABEL. I forgot once,and it was impossible to tell what it was by smelling after it was frozen…it made choosing sides quite interesting until I worked through those. Rice was my default…goes with most things.

  21. I tend to take a protein, a vegetable, a grain, and a sauce and throw them all in a bowl together (e.g., shrimp, apsaragus, pasta, and pesto, or chicken, broccoli, brown rice, and stir fry sauce). This also works well for lunches since most of these things can be kept in the freezer (I cook up a bunch of rice and freeze it in individual servings so I can just toss a lump of rice into a tupperware in the morning and go.) We also tend to do lots of salads to use up whatever is in the fridge.

  22. We have a large stock of microweable Indian meals. We have lots of different options, they’re a great source of vegetarian protein, they keep in the pantry (limited fridge/freezer space), and we get them for 99 cents at an Indian grocery store. Super easy dinner is 1 packet food plus rice/couscous/quinoa.

    The frozen stir fry veggies from Costco are great, although our freezer space is definitely the limiting factor on how much we can use frozen veggies. It’s nice to have a stir fry with a bunch of different veggies without having to buy and prep the fresh veggies (and risk them spoiling before you eat them).

    For fresh veggies, we try to do much of the prep over the weekend. If we’re making omelettes for breakfast with mushrooms, we’ll wash and chop all the mushrooms, and that makes it so much easier to use them to make dinner after work.

  23. Leadership Books? :

    Threadjack – My younger brother is a fairly new basketball coach at the collegiate level and I am looking for a book to give him for his upcoming birthday that is a mixture of a leadership book/how to deal with workplace (booster/school) politics. It doesn’t have to be about basketball – I’m wanting to really focus on how he can “play the game,” so to speak, and get ahead. Maybe a male version of NGDGTCO? Any advice would be appreciated. Thanks in advance!

    • What about Coach K’s books? Your brother would probably enjoy them unless he hates Duke or something.

      • Leadership Books? :

        Haha! Should have mentioned that – he’s a big UNC fan, so while he respects Coach K, he is not a fan. :)

    • LadyEnginerd :

      What about Coach Wooden’s book? (Coach Wooden’s Leadership Game Plan For Success)

  24. I Do Not Like the Cone of Shame :

    STRATEGY 1: LOVE YOUR FREEZER. I like to cook something really grand on Sunday night, saving leftovers for Monday night and lunch – and freeze the rest in 1-potion containers. Over several weeks you amass a nice variety in your freezer – just grab a few and defrost in the fridge for a day or two, then pop in the microwave for dinner. Add some sides like salad, bread, pre-cooked brown rice, frozen vegetables, pasta noodles, couscous – whatever you can fix while the dinner is heating in the microwave, maybe sip a glass of wine, and voila, instant yummy dinner.

    I have had great luck with recipes from Cooking Light (and sometimes Real Simple) – soups, chilis, pasta sauces work really well for this method, but even random leftovers like grilled meats, Chinese, whatever. If you like the kind of rice that takes 40-50 minutes to cook, then make a big batch and freeze in separate containers. Also, smaller portions frozen work well for lunch.

    Over time, invest in some of the glass freezer-to-microwave containers – Container Store has some nice ones from Anchor – I use 14oz rectangular for entrees and 1 cup ones for rice. Klip-It containers work well for your lunch bag (Plastic BPA-Free).

    STRATEGY 2: THROW SOMETHING IN THE OVEN AND WALK AWAY – Another option is to quickly throw some stuff in a baking dish, throw in the oven for 30-40 minutes, do other stuff around your house, and voila, instant dinner. This works really well with chicken and salmon with vegetables- any recipe that mentions “roasted” or “baked” is fair game for this. I do a lot of chicken, salmon, pre-chopped veggies, topped with olive oil, herbs, jarred pesto sauce or canned chopped tomatoes. I’m loving this recipe from Real Simple: Roasted Chicken, Leeks and Apples – very fall – http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/roasted-chicken-apples-leeks-10000001841361/

    STRATEGY 3 – TRADER JOES – If you happen to have Trader Joes in your area, they have a great selection of bagged frozen foods you can whip up quickly, and this is a few notches above the typical frozen meals. This works well for nights where you have no plan. Lately I have been loving their Teriyaki Chicken – microwave for 5 minutes, add some veggies and couscous, and you have a steaming bowl of chicken, rice and veggies that took 5-7 minutes to prepare total, and it’s somewhat low calorie.

    • Confessions :

      On the TJ BBQ terriyaki chicken I like to cook it over the stove in a frying pan to make the chicken a little crispy. Just spray the pan with non-stick spray and heat for 10 minutes add the sauce packets and continue to heat for another 5 minutes. By the time my rice is done, the chicken is also done.

      • Motoko Kusanagi :

        Another fan of the TJ BBQ Teriyaki Chicken for nights when we are in a pinch for a quick dinner.

        I highly recommend adding TJ’s frozen Pork Gyoza to round out this meal :)

  25. I will frequently do an omelette night, with quinoa and a microwaved frozen or steamed fresh veg on the side. Quinoa is a whole grain, but cooks far more quickly than brown rice (although on that subject I am so grateful that Minute Brown Rice is now readily available).

    Another quick, cheap, healthy dish is quesadillas with refried beans (canned refried beans are a new staple in my pantry – the Mexican brands are lower in sodium than the mass market ones). Just take whole wheat tortillas, spread them with refried beans, sprinkle with cheese, add veggies if you want. then fry them in a pan or bake them in the oven.

  26. We go to the grocery store and farmer’s market on Sunday morning and do all of our cooking when we get home so that we have less than 15 minutes of work to do on weeknights. This means that we’ll make pasta sauce, prep vegetables for stirfrys, prebake pizza, make soup, bake a casserole, etc. We usually make 3 dinners (each eaten twice and one eaten 3 times), a gigantic bach of something for lunch (this week, spelt salad with white beans and artichoke hearts) and I bake cookies or brownies. We’ve gotten super-efficient after doing this for six years, so we are usually done by 1 p.m.

    • This is awesome!!! I love my farmers market too — but I generally like to cook during the week so I’m not quite at your (admirable! amazing!) level.

  27. Midwest CPA :

    Here is how I went from never cooking at home to cooking from home 90% of the time:

    1. Get on pinterest and pin recipes that sounded good/had easy prep.
    2. Upload recipes to Plan to eat . com to begin meal planning.
    3. Plan my meals weekly (allowing for leftovers).
    4. Print off the shopping list from the website and go to the store.
    5. Have a few “go-to” recipes that I ALWAYS have the ingredients for, in case I don’t have time to get to the store.
    6. Eat crockpot recipes as much as I can during busy weeks or have the meat thawed out so it takes me just a few minutes to throw everything together when I get home.

    I recommend a crockpot with a timer that switches to warm once the alloted time (4, 6, 8 or 10) hours is over. Last night I came home to a beef roast with carrots, potatoes and onions smelling delicious. Tonight, I will heat up some BBQ roast beef for dinner and put what I have left back in the crockpot (with more veggies and water) to make some soup for tomorrow.

  28. Confessions :

    Thanks.

    For the potatoes I find that steaming them first in the microwave with a ziplock steamer bag works great prior to roasting them in the oven. This way all of your dinner is ready at the same time.

  29. Crockpot questions:

    My crockpot switches to “warm” once it’s done with its cook cycle (I think max cook time is maybe 6 or 8 hours). Is it safe to leave food on the “warm” setting for two or three hours?

    Also, if a recipe says to cook for 2-3 hours, but you leave it in the crockpot for 8 or 9 hours, will it be okay? Or, nasty moosh? Thoughts?

    • I think it’s safe to leave something on warm for a few hours. For weeknights, I skip those quick (2-3 hour) crockpot recipes because they tend to get dried out and gross.

      Also, I think Kat mentioned the Crock Pot liners. In addition to being awesome for cleanup, I think they insulate the food a little bit, which buys you some extra time before food texture becomes questionable.

  30. Omigosh, i second all the Trader Joe’s recommendations. Actually my lunches are almost 99% Trader Joe’s, i pick up frozen or fresh meals (salads) on Sunday for the whole week.

    And, Cone of Shame, I love how you broke it up into strategies, brilliant! ;o) I basically do a variation of this but never thought of it like that.

    my quick dinner plan:

    1- On the weekends, or Monday night, I make a double batch of either Quinoa or brown rice in my rice cooker. Then that goes in a huge pyrex in my fridge, and it lasts me through the week.

    2- I get bags of frozen chicken breasts from trader joe’s. Every couple of days, I throw 2-3 of them in the oven when i get home and in about 40 minutes they are done. I put them in the fridge, and i have chicken ready to eat for a couple of days.

    3- I keep my fridge and freezer stocked w/ veggies (my favorite is the “Fajita onions and bell peppers” that are grilled and pre-sliced, again, from TJ’s) and throw a bunch of frozen veggies in a saucepan, with a cube of frozen chopped garlic (TJ’s) and/or fresh veggies if i have them (+salt/pepper). When the veggies are almost ready, I throw in a big scoop of the quinoa/rice and some of the chicken till it’s all heated through. Then I add a bit of balsalmic vinegar sometimes, and grate some parmesan on top: Done.

    I can throw those together in about 20 minutes and that’s kind of my go-to dinner.

    I can sub it with pasta for a more italian thing. Or, when I’m feeling really crazy, make a peanut sauce, and do all of this over udon noodles or rice for an asian theme.

    – Also, I make enough of this for two meals, so i can have the leftovers either for lunch the next day, or for dinner the next night if I know it will be a long night.

    Backup Plan: I keep my freezer stocked with those same bagged meals Cone of Silence mentioned above, and when I really am starving and have no time, i can whip those up in a few minutes, and throw some chicken in there, if they don’t already have it.

    you can also buy “Just Chicken” in the frozen section of TJ’s which is pre-grilled, pre-cut strips of chicken, which is even quicker to just heat up and throw over pasta or rice. But it is more expensive in the long run.

  31. I have a book recommendation for this purpose – An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace by Tamar Adler is absolutely wonderful and basically completely changed the way I cook. It’s not a recipe book per se, though there are recipes. But what it mostly is is just a description of what she does in the kitchen and why, and it really teaches you how to take ingredients and put them together in quick, simple, and delicious ways. It’s organized thematically but in quirky ways – there’s a chapter on rice, a chapter on beans, a chapter on fermented things (bread, cheese, beer, wine), and chapters on what to cook when your pantry is almost bare or when you don’t feel like cooking. It’s also beautifully and lyrically written, and more than anything else, really inspired me to get into the kitchen.

  32. Going off some of the comments, what’s your favorite stuff to buy at Trader Joe’s? We’re getting one near us and I’d love to know what people like to buy there and how they use them for quick meals. Thanks!

    • um, you can look at my comment above ;o)

      But:
      -frozen cubes of garlic/basil/cilantro (so quick and saves time on cleanup)
      -frozen chicken breasts or thighs – every couple days bake 3-4 in the oven, then in the fridge, they are ready to use for the next couple of days
      – frozen prepared veggies: the Fajita onions and peppers is genius, bc it means i never even have to chop up onions: saving me time and cleanup
      -frozen veggies: green beans, peas, broccoli to throw in all my meals
      -for real backup: they have frozen bags of rice that cook in 3 minutes. Great staple to have in my freezer in case I get home late and starving and have forgotten to go shopping
      -frozen bagged meals (mushroom alfredo, bbq chicken, chicken serenada, there are some great fish meals with sauce included you can just pop in the oven)
      -both in the fresh section and the frozen section, they have “just chicken” which is pre-cooked, sliced up chicken breast. Again, great for the truly last minute, omg i have to eat right now nights

      hmmmm, think that’s it, but i’ll check back if i think of other things. enjoy TJ’s!!! It very quickly becomes an addiction :o)

      • Thanks for the suggestions! :) yeah, we’ve heard from friends that it can become quite addictive.

      • I Do Not Like the Cone of Shame :

        I go there maybe once a month and stock up on items I like better at TJs than at other stores. I second what Zora recommends and add:

        – Their inexpensive wine selection is out of this world. Of course, there’s the Two Buck Chuck (of which the chardonnay is a great weeknight wine for drinking and cooking). But they also have a great selection of $4-$10 wines.
        – Freezer – they have these little mini ice cream drumsticks? 70 calories each. Nom Nom Nom. Challenge is sticking to 1 or 2.
        – TJ is my #1 choice for milk, eggs, cheese, things like hummus and tzatziki – all better and cheaper than Whole Foods and other stores in my town.
        – If you like Greek Yogurt, TJs, has the best nonfat greek yogurt. And I buy all kinds of brands and have settled on TJs.
        – TJ’s nut selection is truly the bomb. Cheap, good, perfect.
        – They have a vast and good cereal and cracker selection, and it’s good, not wierd and generic brand tasting..
        – I have had great luck with all of their bottled sauces and condiments – especially pesto, marimara sauce, olive oil.
        – In the produce refridgerator, their low calorie Cilantro dressing is my new fave.
        – Oddly enough, I read rave reviews about their moisturizing hair conditioner, and have been buying it for the last 2 years.
        – Their vitamins are good and inexpensive.

        All that said, I find TJ’s great for staples. And they have the same stuff, all the time, at the same prices, so it’s predictable. But TJ’s is not perfect, and it’s not the place to go to when you have a recipe with some obscure ingredients. Baking is hit or miss. Produce, Fresh Meats and Poultry – okay for some things but the selection is wierd.

    • I am a banana. :

      Frozen steel cut oatmeal. Easy breakfast. I like adding in pecans and dried cherries or the dried berry mix.
      Frozen palak paneer + garlic naan is good for truly lazy nights, as are the mushroom fettuccine nests.
      Lunch salads.
      Tea selection.
      Green curry sauce in a jar. Great way to make chicken more interesting.
      Single serving TJ’s brand greek yogurts.

      I’ve stopped buying bread from them, because it always seems to get moldy after about three days.

  33. Here are some of my ideas —

    Things to freeze:
    homemade pesto freezes really well. I make a huge batch, and put a few spoonfuls into mini zip lock bags, and freeze. To thaw, drop the bag in a cup of hot water while your pasta is cooking. For the last three summers, I’ve done this with three or four big bunches of basil, and have made enough pesto to last me through the winter.

    Homemade soup. I love butternut squash soup, sweet potato soup, and potato leek. Tons of recipes avaiable online for different variations. I typically double or triple the batch, and portion it out in the freezer, making a variety of one portion and two portion size containers, so my husband and I have them for dinner or for quick lunches – soup is portable when frozen, just thaw at the office. (I run 1 quart and 1/2 quart yogurt containers through the dishwasher and freeze in those)

    If I make homemade pasta sauce, I double or triple the batch and freeze that.

    another idea for a make ahead meal that doesn’t involve the freezer. On the weekend, slice up some eggplant, zucchini and peppers. Toss in a little olive oil and vinegar, and either grill or roast at a high heat for a while. Store in the fridge. They are great to layer on sandwiches or use as a cold side salad with some grilled chicken or a quick burger. I really like to put them on pita and top with some yogurt, feta, and diced tomato.

    Quick dinners

    Tortellini soup – I saute an onion, add a 1 quart container of chicken broth and bring to a boil. Add one package of tortelli (I like Trader Joes spinach tortellini), and some chopped escarole or swiss chard. Cook for 5 minutes.

    I love Trader Joes fat free refried beans. They are amazing. I keep a couple cans handy at all times. They are great for quesadillas and tacos. I also buy sopes at the Mexican grocery and freeze them. When I need a quick dinner, I toast a couple sopes, microwave the beans, and fry up some eggs. pile the beans and egg on the sope, top with whatever is in the fridge – diced tomato or red pepper, salsa, gauc, avocado, etc.

  34. Shout-out to Happy Herbivore’s Meal Plans for any newbie vegetarian/vegans out there. She gives you everything you need for a week – recipes, shopping list, suggested snacks, calorie counts, etc. I haven’t used the family plans but the individual plans are a great transition tool. She uses seasonal ingredients as well so I have one or two from each season to keep ingredients fresh and cheap.

    I’m sure non-herbies could incorporate meat into her recipes, but you really do not need them.

    The PepperPlate app is also a great resource once you have uploaded your go-to recipes. Helps you plan meals/portion sizes/shopping lists.

  35. Am I the only one who thinks the tradeoff of spending a whole weekend cooking for 24 crockpot meals is not worth it? I would need a bigger payoff to spend a whole weekend cooking!

    • harriet the spy :

      Totally agree. I’ve tried this before and I get bored. For me, a good weeknight dinner doesn’t involve the freezer or the crockpot – it’s something I can literally cook from start to finish after dinner. For example: grilled chicken, rice, and broccoli. If I’m feeling fancy, I’ll saute the chicken and make a pan sauce. But I’d much rather eat this (or some variation of it) than freezer food.

    • Anonymous :

      ditto. Crockpots are not a regular-use thing for me.

      I’m much rather saute a thin chicken breast (10 mins), then deglaze the pan with whatever I’m cooking, throw it on top of rice or salad. 20 minute dinner.

    • Tired Squared :

      I’m with you on that one! I like to make 20-30 minute meals (enchiladas, stir fries, etc) during the week. Something about freezer food just doesn’t give me the same enjoyment!

    • I agree, except I find that it is worth it to make and freeze components of meals instead of whole meals – that way, when they come out of the freezer you can quickly incorporate them into a new meal and they taste fresh. Beans freeze well, and taste great defrosted (freeze them in their broth), as do things like bolognese sauce.

      • Oh, and I’ll also make stuff for lunch during the week and freeze it; that’s on the theory that nothing I eat for a workweek lunch is going to be all that good unless I spend more money than I’m willing to spend on a day-to-day basic.

    • Yeah, I don’t think I’d ever spend a whole weekend cooking. I’ll often spend Sunday afternoons cooking though.

      I love to cook homemade meals (and there are tons of great ideas listed here I’m excited to try!) When I’m short on time or energy, I’ll make something super simple like eggs on toast or a wrap with hummus, salad greens, and whatever veggies I have on hand. I actually got that idea from corporette and I always feel super healthy when I eat a wrap. It’s like a salad in burrito form.

      I also like to use my foreman grill every once in a while. Chicken always cooks perfectly on it! Toss a little bbq sauce on it and warm up some frozen corn in the microwave and you’ve got a filling, tasty meal that you didn’t have to plan ahead of time.

  36. I took a page from my college’s dining services department: I made up a 4 week rotating menu, keeping in mind how we actually eat (a few nights per week vegetarian, a few nights per week that have to be 15 minutes or less). It took a few hours to figure out, but now I only go grocery shopping once a week and still feel like I’m getting some healthy variety in my diet.

    Being honest: I haven’t had a lot of success with crockpot meals, unless I make them on a Sunday afternoon. I like burgers because they’re fast to put together. I also do frozen shrimp (fast to defrost), chicken sausage or canned clams with pasta and crushed tomatoes. Soups made with rotisserie chicken (chicken noodle, white chili, etc) are also great because they’re filling and can be reheated if some gets stuck at work late. Don’t sleep on quinoa and whole wheat couscous: both very easy sides with chicken or fish.

    As for recipes, I like Prevention Magazines special recipe issues. Most only call for a handful of ingredients and can be made in less than 20 minutes. I also like Cooks Country 30 minute meals/cook books, but they’re a little more “work” after a long day.

  37. Anne Shirley :

    Oh also when I am feeling motivated, I really like The Pleasures of Cooking for One. Elegant French inspired dishes in mini size- like souffle for one! It was a break up gift from I guy a used to cook for . . .

    • Wow. I hope he didn’t break up with you by gifting the book. That just seems so… indirect?

      It sounds like a really nice cookbook though! One of the downsides of cooking for one is definitely the difficulty of adapting fancier recipes for single servings (or eating the same thing all week).

  38. I despise the Crock Pot. I find that most of the time, you still have to do a lot of prep beforehand, and the meat is generally overcooked by the time you get home. I only use my slow cooker for queso at parties. Seriously.

    Seafood is a good bet for weeknight. Simple scallops or fish seared in a hot pan + an easy sauteed or roasted veg is a quick and easy weeknight meal.

    Also, try making something on Sunday night that you can eat in different ways throughout the week. For example, make a pork roast on Sunday, and eat it as a roast with vegetables that day. Then have tacos the next day or a hash the day after that.

    Soup is also a good item. You can make a big pot on Sunday and then continue to eat it during the week or freeze leftovers if you’re bored.

    Also, stir-fries! Prep is the hardest part. Lots of chopping, but you can make it easy by using easy to cut vegetables like broccoli, carrots, or snow/snap peas. Cook time is a matter of minutes.

  39. This takes meal planning to an extreme, but with a young family (including a toddler who has diminished prep time greatly), it’s working for me right now. Each night has a ‘theme,’ which makes it super easy to pick out a recipe on the weekend that fills the need and just get to the store already.

    Sunday: Usually a nicer meal with more prep time (bonus if leftovers can be used later in the week)
    Monday: Meatless Meal – usually omelets and English muffins
    Tuesday: Ethnic meal – usually Italian, Mexican or Greek
    Wednesday: Either leftovers, grilling or soup
    Thursday: Pasta – try to go meatless and add lots of veggies
    Friday: Pizza – either homemade or hitting up a nearby grocery store for their $5 Friday special, which is actually quite tasty
    Saturday: Either a lazy meal or go out for dinner

    I actually enjoy cooking but my toddler wants to eat RIGHT NOW when we get home, so prep time has to be short and sweet. DH and I try to alternate who cooks and who cleans up. Oh, and we both refuse to cook a separate meal for the kiddo — I do not have time for that sh*t — so he’s gotten very good at accepting what we give him, for the most part.

  40. Love this topic. I’m not a big fan of crockpottery because I really hate planning ahead, and I don’t think that I’d enjoy cooking weeks or months ahead, but I would say to definitely plan for leftovers and focus on things that reheat well – stir-frys, pasta & meat sauce, chili, soup are big hits in our house, and you can easily make enough to eat it several times a week.

    For quick and easy, though, here are a few (And, bonus if they don’t require planning ahead w/r/t ingredients)

    * Rachel Ray’s Macaroni & Cheese (food network site, I think that she has a couple but they’re pretty similar); we cook bacon and use the fat instead of butter)

    * Pasta Carbonara (again, Rachel Ray and food network site, though I’ve tried other recipes that are similarly easy) – it’s just eggs, pasta, bacon, parm cheese, and garlic; what’s not to love?

    * Sweet & Sour Chicken – don’t have a recipe per se, but mine’s pretty much chicken breast, which can start still partially frozen, soy sauce, vinegar, canned pineapple, spices, whatever veggies we have around, rice. Easy, no planning ahead.

    * Frittata – eggs & whatever veggies

    * Pasta with Beans and Sausage – Rachel Ray, again, I think it’s Grandpa Emanual’s (sp?) Pasta, again, really simple and freezer/canned good friendly

    * Salad with poached egg on top – my go-to when my husband’s not home and the weather is warm. Requires some planning to make sure that I have salad ingredients, but not too much. Whatever you like, and a vinagrette.

    * Pasta with beans and greens, or soup of beans and greens – a go-to when husband’s not home and it’s too cold for salad. My recipe comes from cook’s illustrated, but it’s simple, brown pasta, garilc, white beans, greens (yes, I use frozen – spinach, mustard greens, or turnip greens), red pepper flakes, bacon. If I don’t want pasta, I can pretty much whip up the same thing in a soup by adding some chicken broth – very warm and satisfying, great leftovers, too.

    * Corn Soup – I just kind of free-hand this, but a few cans of corn, chicken broth, milk/cream, seasoning, cook it all together then puree part of it (save some whole kernels), then melt in some cheese or put it on top, top with sour cream and whatever meat you have around (bacon, chicken, sausage)

    I usually add a side of frozen veggies with some kosher salt and bacon fat. It really is easier to do any of those than it is to get take out, most of the time, IMO.

    (I haven’t watched Rachel Ray in years, but for some reason, we used to have 30 minute meals on constantly, before she got really big. These, along with a number of others, are the ones that have stayed around and been done over and over again.)

  41. I bought a meal planning service called the Fresh 20 and I cook and eat what they say. Its great, and I waste far less food. Last night was a baked chicken thing with lemon and rosemary and roasted potato/carrot thing. It didn’t even sound that great but my kids loved it. Now I don’t have to think and plan. Each week they give me the shopping list. Even if we eat out once or twice a week (its only 5 meals) it still works out. I highly recommend it.

  42. research lawyer in SV :

    All of this! Plan the week’s meals, shop once, use the slow cooker and/or prep the time consuming parts on the weekend, cook once and freeze half (or more if it’s a sauce), make things that can be used in different ways so it’s not the same “thing” every night, The Cook’s Illustrated Slow Cooker book is great. For really simple recipes try 3 Ingredient Slow Cooker recipes ( http://www.amazon.com/3-Ingredient-Slow-Cooker-Recipes-Memorable/dp/1592331807).

    I have variations for many of the recipes so it’s not always the same. My basic pulled pork recipe is 3 pounds of pork shoulder, and a scant cup of liquid, cook for 9-11 house on low. Want Hawaiian pulled porK? Add some sliced onions to the bottom, and use broth, pink Hawaiian salt on the top and liquid smoke. Want Chile Verde? Use some tomatillo salsa, lime juice and chopped onion. Want BBQ pulled pork? Use a cup of your favorite BBQ sauce. 3 pounds of pulled pork sounds like a lot but it can be used a number of ways – traditional meal with meat and 2 veg, sandwiches on a soft roll, in quesadillas, on a spinach salad, added to risotto with some butternut squash, etc.

    Other tricks include cooking things in small multiple quantities. Meatloaf muffins cook very quickly in a standard muffin pan and freeze well. Serving size is easy ( 1 for my 5 year old, 2 for me, 3 for my husband) and they freeze really well in a zip lock. Potatoes au gratin can be done in a bit over 30 minutes in a ramekin or muffin pan. Slice potatoes very thin, layer with shredded cheese, pour a tablespoon of heavy cream over it and back at 350. Variation – use sweet potatoes and smoked cheddar cheese.

    And for those who think it’s not worth it to “cook all weekend” , I’ll just say that once you have a freezer full of home cooked goodness because you cooked in larger quantities, you don’t cook all weekend. You cook some and pull some from the freezer. I have a small magnetic white board on my freezer that lists the “meals” so when I plan for the week I can look at the list instead of standing there with the freezer door open trying to figure out what I can pull out.

  43. Diana Barry :

    Huh. We eat differently than a lot of posters here. I usually make a lot of veggies and a salad, and a meat and a rice/bread/starch. We eat chinese/thai/vietnamese food a lot more often also.

    • Diana Barry :

      Hit post too soon. HOWEVER, there are plenty of times when we eat a bunch of veggies, dip or boursin, and some crackers and call it good. (DH will also eat some frozen sausages on the nights we do this.)

      • Diana Barry :

        I mean that I MAKE chinese/thai/vietnamese, not that we get take-out all the time. Sheesh.

        • Oh. I was about to say, “Us too!” But in my case, it’s that we order (well, I order) Thai, Vietnamese and Chinese delivery all the time . . . .

    • Kontraktor :

      This is how we cook too. I always try to make sure we are eating a protein, veg, and a little starch/grain at each meal.

  44. Related: I want to plug Ziplist.com. It lets you snip recipes off of any page on the internet and add them to your personal box and/or shopping list. It also has a new meal planning feature where you can lay out your recipes for the week, and a shopping list app that automatically sorts the items by section of the store. There’s definitely some bugs in the system (the app displays recipes in your box really poorly, for example), but I love having a button to capture any recipe I want from Pinterest, and I love having the shopping list in one easy to access place.

  45. 2L (formerly 1L) :

    So. Early 20’s law-student here.

    I keep hearing about this “meal planning” thing, but am not sure how it is actually done. What do you do? Write down what you want to make, how much ingredients are needed and then what you’ll do with the leftovers?

    Thanks, grown women. I really appreciate it. So much about this site has taught me allllll about this adulthood business.

    • Kontraktor :

      Yes, we decide what meals we want to make for the week and then get groceries (once a week) for what we need. We will try to take into account extra ingredients- for example, if we make something that only requires half a can of beans, we will try to figure out another recipe that uses the other half of a can or have the same thing twice. Another example of this is tortillas. So we don’t waste a whole lot, we might have quesedillas one night and turkey wraps, using extra turkey from the lunch meat we bought, another night.

      If we want to eat out during the week, we just plan for that and buy food for one less meal. It cuts down on waste.

      We try to focus on things we can easily make/buy for two- so things like individual pieces of meat, rolls, bulk bin veggies. That way, we can plan exactly how many of each thing we need (ex., 4 chicken breasts from the meat counter because we are having chicken 2 nights, 2 handfuls of greenbeans because they are a size one night, 8 rolls because we want 2 for 4 nights, etc.). For sides like rice/grain, we just buy bags as we run out and use only 1 cup at a time. We really don’t do too much stocking up (save on things like oil, spices, a few random condiments, etc.) so we can cut down on waste and plan at the beginning of the week for only what we want to eat.

      • sigh, i really wish i could do that, my mom plans out a whole week of meals, but i can just. not. think. that. far. ahead. Too ADD, I guess. ;o)

        • Kontraktor :

          To be fair, my husband thinks it’s a bit OCD sometimes and will be like… but can’t we have fish on Tuesday, and I will be like NO because if we eat the fish on Tuesday, we will use too much of some other ingredient we were planning to use Thursday, etc.

          It also doesn’t help that his schedule is really erratic so we could plan for a week’s worth of dinners and have him be gone 3/5 nights. So, in that sense, I wish we maybe planned less and kept more on hand for those sorts of unexpected changes.

          • no, it makes a lot of sense to plan ahead, I really wish I could but it’s tooo much woorrkkkk. Hurts my brain ;o) I sometimes have to throw some food away and I hate it when I do that, of course, i’m only cooking for myself, so even when i do it it’s not very much food, but still. I feel guilty.

        • Zora, my husband and I often feel the same way as you about it being too much work, even though we’ve done it enough times to know how much it helps during the week. Our latest experiment is to write down a list of our favorite meals – the front of the page is combinations of proteins/ starch/ vegetables or easy meals that don’t need recipes, and the back of the page is some of our favorite recipes and referencs to cookbook pages. When we’re ready to meal plan, we consult that list, pull out what we want to make that week, and make the grocery list. We’re both ADD, and we would create a lot of work by going through cookbooks and creating new projects for ourselves. The list of meals to choose from keeps us focused, and we only consult our cookbooks when we’re feeling inspired to try something new.

    • On Sunday morning, I pull out some cookbooks, and pick out what we’re going to cook that week. I look through my fridge and pantry to see what ingredients I have on hand (and sometimes the meal selection is driven by the ingredients we have on hand if I am trying to use up something before it goes bad). I make a shopping list with the ingredients I don’t already have, then I go and buy them. As I noted in my post above, for my husband, toddler and me, I plan two dinners that can each be eaten twice, one dinner that will be eaten three times, and a lunch that my husband and I will eat all week.

    • Research, Not Law :

      On Saturday, we plan the week’s meals. We pick based on what we have that needs to be used up, our mood, and the week’s schedule. Sometimes we are feeling frisky and just dive into the unused sections of cookbooks. We do some planning around ingredients (a couple of meals that call for cilantro to use up the whole batch, for example) but don’t stress over it since it usually works out on its own. Many people do it on Sunday after they see the newspaper coupons, but we don’t coupon and Saturday is easier for our shopping schedule.

      Then we go shopping for everything. Occasionally there are items that we need to buy the day-of, but nearly everything gets bought on one day. Sometimes we make decisions at the store (ie, we planned for a “vegetable” but decide once we see what’s available or the flat iron steaks don’t look good so we switch to the nice pork chops on special), but usually it’s a quick and orderly trip.

      If you want my type-A response: I have a piece of paper where I have one line for each day on the top. I write in the meals as we decide and list the ingredients we need to buy at the bottom of the paper. Then the top part with the menu goes on the fridge and the bottom part with the grocery list comes to the store with us. We save the menus to use for inspiration in later weeks.

      • I do something similar. I usually eat salad and something for lunch so I have a stash of frozen meals at work or will bring leftovers so that doesn’t require much planning. Then I look at our week’s schedule and plan for for all but one of the nights we’ll be home for dinner because inevitably we’ll get invited out for dinner or have to work late and I hate wasting food. I have a white board where I write in dinner plans for a main and a side or that we’re going out. I do an inventory of the pantry and fridge and write down what we need on a shopping list.

        I try to shop on Sunday for the week. While shopping I may change my mind on a side but I try to stick to the main since I’ve already done the work of writing down everything needed for a week’s worth of food, more or less.

        We also have a stockpile of canned soup, noodles from the Asian market and usually frozen tortellini and pesto cubes so if plans get derailed, we can still whip up something to eat without having to leave home.

        I will also say that my husband rarely has an opinion about what we eat as long as it doesn’t involve his off-limits foods so I’ll run my meal plan by him after I’ve completed it but I no longer consult him while trying to plan because he rarely has suggestions. As long as he has veto power, he’s happy.

  46. Not a fan of crock pot cooking, but my “go to” meals are often:

    1. Soup or baked pasta dishes prepared over the weekend

    2. Tacos or kimchi quesadillas

    3. BLTs (with veggie bacon)

    4. Breakfast for dinner (pancakes, waffles, frittata, etc.

    5. Pasta with veggies (last night was shells, goat cheese and some swiss chard)

  47. Kontraktor :

    Salads and sandwiches make great quick weeknight dinners. I have a few hot sandwiches I like to throw together in a pinch: grilled cheese with a few different kinds of cheese/tomato/whatever deli meat in the fridge, sausage sandwiches with sauteed cabbage/mustard/cheese, BLTs (w/avacado to beef up and often soy bacon to make healthier), tuna salad with white beans/tomatos/olive oil/herbs. Add a lightly dressed lettuce salad (drizzle olive oil and acid of choice right over lettuce and mix), some chips or a cut up piece of fruit if you are really hungry, and you have a nice dinner.

    Cold salads are also nice because they don’t take too long to prepare. Just the time it takes to chop a few things, rinse, mix, and you’re done. I sometimes like to make a piece of garlic or cheese toast with a salad just to make the meal feel more substantial (plus sometimes you just need a little something hot by the day’s end).

    Also, if you have a grill, it is one of the quickest and easiest ways to make a meal. The mess stays mostly outside, you can easily cook in small portions, there isn’t too much prep work, and the high heat of the grill cuts down cooking time.

  48. Here is how I make ‘mix-n-match’ meals for a week – fresh, fast, healthy

    Cook an entire bag of brown rice over the weekend. Also, make a box or two of your favorite pasta. Both will store for about 2 weeks in the fridge.

    Marinade 2-3 meats, put them in the fridge. They will store for about a week.

    To make a meal, use some of the rice or pasta, add sauce. Cook the meat (10-15 minutes). Make a veggie, or a salad.

    • applesandcheddar :

      FYI, you shouldn’t keep cooked rice that long. Cooked rice goes rancid after about 3-4 days. Brown rice is especially susceptible.

      • I’m not sure this is universally true. I find cooked white basmati rice and short-grain white rice are fine for 1-2 weeks in the fridge. I don’t often make brown rice, though.

  49. Okay. I feel obligated to say something for the good of humanity. Tacos by dumping a jar of salsa over chicken? Is this what passes for Mexican food in the great north? My brain is freezing up trying to contemplate eating such a thing.

    • Diana Barry :

      I agree. I do live in the “great north”, but I don’t ever make salsa + chicken and call it tacos. :)

    • Yes, it does. We apologize. This is why we love visiting Not the North, so that we can enjoy real food.

    • Research, Not Law :

      I associate this with the midwest, no?

      While I also find it offensive to my foodie sensibilities, I admit I’ve had weeks where I’ve considered it.

    • Alanna of Trebond :

      I have to admit, about 90% of the recipes here have made my amazed as to why anyone would bother writing them down.

      • +1. These are all basically variations on Hamburger Helper. Add some meat to a jar of goo!

    • I wouldn’t call it tacos, but one of my favorite meals growing up was when my mom would take a cut up chicken, dump salsa over it, and cook it in the crock pot for a while, then serve over rice. Yum!

      Darn, now I want that! (My husband’s not a salsa fan, and it seems like too long a project for just me, so I never make it. But I might just!)

      • Huh. Maybe I need to try this. I dunno. I’m highly suspicious of jarred salsa unless it’s stirred into melted velveeta.

        • I will cop to eating jarred salsa and velveeta with a spoon for dinner on occasion. If you add a protein (sausage? shredded chicken?) it is a complete meal :)

        • We have a local restaurant here (in the southwest for what it’s worth) that sells its jarred salsa that is really good!

    • Kontraktor :

      What exactly would you call meat + sauce/toppings wrapped up in a tortilla then? Just because a preparation of food is simple or not the fanciest doesn’t suddenly mean it ceases to become what it is. Must such a category of food use heirloom pork, organic avacados from a farmer’s market, and mole made with 30 different spices in order to be considered a ‘taco’?

      Also I sort of find the mid-west hate somewhat ridiculous… I’ve met plenty of people in CA, NYC, DC, and all over who have what I would consider to be pretty bad tastes re food. One of the best places I’ve eaten at in the recent past was in Des Moies, Iowa. Pretty sure that there are good foods and people with ‘strange’ eating habits just about everywhere.

      • Midwest Expat :

        +1

      • Midwestern City :

        I agree. Isn’t this poster from Texas? Like one of the fattest, unhealthiest states in the country?
        http://www.businessinsider.com/unhealthiest-states-in-america-2011-12?op=1

        • I think you guys are replying to my comment– I can’t really tell.

          I am from Texas, Midwestern City! I too have read that we are one of the fattest states in the country, although I have no idea what that has to do with my comment or jarred salsa or the propriety of same on tacos. Perhaps you’ll explain?

          Kontraktor: as to my objections re the alleged–nay, purported— “tacos” in question. Oh girl, if you think fresh pico and some homemade salsa on a corn tortilla + meat + maybe some other things like cilantro/onions and a squeeze of lime is the same as Pace picante sauce, we have a lot of work to do. Tacos are serious business, and they do not involve jarred salsa!! (At least, not any kind I have had.) Yes, I am putting my foot down re tacos, and I don’t care how many of you clutch your pearls. Do your worst, taco infidels!

          • Saying that these are both “tacos” does not mean she thinks they are “the same”.

            You can get tuna in a can at CVS, and you can get tuna at the best sushi restaurant in the world. Are you saying that if I don’t think these are “the same”, I am not allowed to call them both “tuna”?

      • As someone who lives in Des Moines, I really want to know where you ate this great meal.

        • Kontraktor :

          I believe it was the Flying Mango. We really enjoyed it! The beer selection was good and we thought the food was nicely made, just upscale enough that the higher prices seemed worth it, different from what we could get in our regular area, and just a fun and fresh place to eat. We drove cross country recently and stopped in Des Moines for a night and ate there- it was definitely probably the best meal of our road trip and one of the more memorable meals I’ve had in the past few months (especially at that price point).

          • I LOVE Flying Mango – it is frequently billed as the best “hidden gem” in DSM, but every time I go there, there is a long wait (no doubt due to the size), so I’m pretty sure the secret is out. So glad you enjoyed it!

  50. I do a very fast soup many nights – sort of an adult take on ramen. Start with low-sodium chicken broth (I like the TJ’s cardboard box kind), bring it to a boil with a dash of red pepper flakes and a couple whole (but peeled) garlic cloves (I fish those out later), and throw in some combination of the following:

    Pasta (usually frozen tortellini or small dried pasta)
    Frozen veggies (peas, corn, spinach, and broccoli all work well, but really, anything you like should work)
    Canned tomatoes / tomato paste
    Canned white beans
    Leftover meat, if I have any in the fridge
    Several handfulls of seafood from the TJ’s frozen seafood blend
    Salt / pepper / dried herbs

    I usually only put two or three of those ingredients in at a time, so for me, it’s not really a kitchen-sink sort of soup, but I suppose it could be. I particularly like the tomato/bean/chicken and pasta/spinach/ extra garlic combinations. And it all comes together very, very quickly – if I put the broth on right when I walk in the door, it’s boiling by the time I’ve changed out of work clothes and fed the cat, and the remaining ingredients take 5-10 minutes depending on what I use.

  51. Is that you Sandra Lee? :

    All of these recipes basically involve adding meat to some prepared foods. The “cheaper and healthier” usually comes from combining *ingredients* to make a dish. I was also struck by the total absence of fresh produce, and vegetables in general, in any of these meals. There is more to home cooking than “dumping” sh*t into a casserole.

    • I agree that some of the suggestions are somewhat Sandra Lee -ish. But I also know that when you and your spouse both work 10-12 hour days, plus have commutes, it’s difficult to cook well balanced meals from scratch every single night. Dinner salads are great, but I don’t want to eat them every night, especially in the winter when produce selections are somewhat blah.

      A few convenience meals are not bad, if they are balanced with more wholesome meals that are not dependent on overly processed, packaged food the rest of the week.

    • SF Bay Associate :

      I’m surprised by the extensive use of processed/canned/jarred/dried/frozen food. Chicken + a jar of salsa? Canned pineapple? Frozen onions? Soup mix? Could it really be that people don’t have access to fresh vegetables and fruits elsewhere in the country? Or is that just not part of the food culture there and people just aren’t interested in fresh, whole ingredients? I’m pretty baffled, to be honest. Then again, my dinners often aren’t that elaborate either. Last night was (organic free range) scrambled eggs with (artisan heirloom grain local bakery) bread and (homemade organic) jam and a salad of (local, dry farmed, organic) tomatoes, (fresh, organic) basil, and (real, italian) parmesano reggiano, followed by (organic seascape) strawberries and (heirloom crane) melon. Each week we make pasta with sauteed/grilled veggies that we picked up from the farmers’ market and eat that for several days. We do lots of very very simple meals made with really nice ingredients. Apparently I can never move from California, nor quit my job so I can afford the fancy ingredients.

      Also, get the glasslock tupperware from Costco – they are microwave safe since they are glass, not plastic, and dishwasher safe. They don’t stain like plastic does, either. Ours are two years old and still going strong.

      • This does not sound like the SF Bay Associate that I remember (who commented earlier about eating cereal for dinner b/c she’s been traveling and the pantry is bare).

        • SF Bay Associate :

          Yes, still me. I am truly baffled by the processed food mentioned here. When we don’t have time to grocery shop on the weekends, cereal is a regular “entree” for dinner, which is why traveling to a wedding over a weekend can be really rough on us. We didn’t get to grocery shop last weekend because of a wedding, so Sunday’s dinner was cereal. DH rescued us last night by bringing home some staples from the farmers’ market next to his office he picked up on his lunch break. Odds are we’ll have the same thing for dinner tonight.

          • Kontraktor :

            I love food and cooking and the promotion of pure/whole foods and all that. But when I think about the eating habits of others (mostly with regard to the processed and convenience foods), I try to think about how a) a lot of people don’t know any better since it’s the sort of food they have grown up on and come to enjoy so they see the consumption of it as normal and fine, b) ingredients really can be expensive and in short supply in some areas, and c) a little ‘processed’ food now and again really isn’t a bad thing, especially when you consider that you’re probably always going to have to settle for some degree of processing in your food somewhere, so it can be hard to draw the line and somewhat arbitrary in terms of deciding what is ‘okay’ and what is ‘not okay.’

            I try to approach home cooking by using as many whole ingredients as I can, but we don’t really deem it a priority to buy heirloom or organic or artisan or ‘fancy’ things like you desribe. I don’t think that makes me or others less concerned about what we eat. Whole foods can be eaten without being organic/heirloom/artisan/etc.

            Also, not sure where you have lived, but I spent some time with my husband in a small small town in Mississippi where the only place to get groceries was a Wal Mart. They definitely did not have fresh pineapple, and they certainly were not carrying heirloom or organic anything. We were lucky if we could even find 85-15 ground beef (I usually use 90-10 at worse but usually try to get 96-4). Most of it was 70-30 (not kidding). So… for some people, I sadly do think it is an access issue. Of course it is a chicken-egg problem… is there no access because there is no demand? Or is there no demand because there is no access?

            Ultimately I just think food issues are not so cut and dry. I guess this is why Michelle Obama and others are working to change food policy/food attitudes and the like so more people can have access to better choices and tastes/demand can start changing.

          • I agree with your broader points, SFBA, but you do realize that breakfast cereal is about as “processed” as food can be, right? Most grains don’t grow in the shape of flakes, “chex,” or O’s. Even organic ones.

          • SF Bay Associate :

            I’ve never lived anywhere outside CA, Kontraktor. I’ve lived in a bubble my whole life and I’m honestly and genuinely curious and confused about the food differences I’m seeing here. I never saw a Walmart until college. And you’re absolutely right that whole foods don’t have to be fancy to be wholesome. I do think that whole ingredients are by and large more healthful than not-whole ones, and organic is not necessarily better, though my understanding is that it is better for the “dirty dozen” of produce.

            And very true, well, most breakfast cereal is processed to a degree. My favorite cereal is McCann’s steel cut oats. I like granola and Kashi too, and Kashi is definitely processed to a degree. You make a good point.

      • Having lived in California (and Oregon) and elsewhere, I can assure you, you shouldn’t leave California/the West Coast. I mean, don’t get me wrong, you can get fresh whole ingredients elsewhere, and sometimes – e.g., in season – they’re even convenient. But the prices are atrocious and the availability is so, so much less. If the equivalent of Berkeley Bowl or even Portland’s New Seasons opened up here in D.C., I would die of happiness, but it’s just not the way of things. Instead, your choices in the city are (a) crazy expensive farmers markets, (b) crazy expensive Whole Foods, and (c) fairly expensive normal supermarkets with limited selection of the kind of ingredients you mention.

      • Well, the title of the post was “Easy Weeknight Dinners” . There are many nights/days when I do lots of cooking and cook with lots of fresh ingredients from the farmers market. The “Easy Meal strategies” i listed above with lots of frozen ingredients are my fall back for when im having a terrible week or getting home so late, I am too tired to cook well, or when I haven’t had time to shop and I dont have any good fresh ingredients. I keep my freezer stocked with these things so i can easily pull them out and throw together a meal in <20 minutes, and be eating before I pass out from hunger.

        In another life, those would have been the nights I got takeout, but its much healthier and cheaper for me to toss some stuff from the freezer in a pan with some grains and have a quick meal ready.

        If this post was "What do you like to cook when you have time" i would have had a very different response.

      • I’ve read that frozen veggies are supposed to retain nutrients better than what you buy fresh at most grocers, so just a note that relying on frozen veg isn’t bad…

        On the whole, I think the fact that people are cooking at home is more important than whether they’re cooking with canned/frozen veggies as opposed to fresh, using short-cut ingredients like soup mix or salsa, etc. The NYT had this fantastic article several years ago about how waistlines correlate most directly with whether you do your own cooking– not socioeconomic status, etc.

      • I am surprised.... :

        …that people’s reactions to this have not been harsher, SF Bay Associate. I don’t know if you intended to be judgy (I doubt it), but just so you know, this came off as extremely judgemental and healthier-than-thou towards people who eat more processed/prepared/non-organic foods. Also, as has already been mentioned, it does not have to be fancy to be healthy. The same meal that you described, without all the fancy parenthetical modifiers, would have been healthy as well.

        Please take the time to appreciate what you have. You are fortunate to be able to afford the foods you do, to have access to them and to have been exposed to healthy eating somewhere along the way. If you feel so strongly that people should not be eating processed foods, perhaps you should donate your time or money to one of the many organizations that seeks to educate people about nutrition / provide them with things they may not otherwise have access to.

        I am not trying to be rude. I just thought you should know that this may not have conveyed your intended tone (and this is coming from someone who has access to the same things that you do and is very grateful for her good fortune).

        • +1. SFBA, normally I enjoy your posts, but the one above came across as very smug. And I am a dedicated patron of certified farmer’s markets and eat an organic vegetarian diet.

          • SF Bay Associate :

            I am sorry. I didn’t mean to offend anyone, and I wasn’t intending to be smug. I do realize I am privileged (“Apparently I can never move from California, nor quit my job so I can afford the fancy ingredients”) but I guess I didn’t realize how privileged… the idea that these foods which are so readily accessible here are not accessible elsewhere is truly surprising to me. I guess I figured the “California is Shangri-la” thing to just be baseless hype, so I figured the rest of the country actually had ready access to these foods too.

            I agree it doesn’t have to be fancy to be healthy (“And you’re absolutely right that whole foods don’t have to be fancy to be wholesome.”). I was trying to make the point that “fast” doesn’t necessarily require processed food or expensive food. Maybe “fancy” eggs, bread, tomatoes, and basil are expensive at farmers’ markets elsewhere?? None of those foods were expensive here, where in-season produce at farmers’ markets is about the same price as most supermarkets, or sometimes less. Using simple high-quality ingredients can be as satisfying as and less expensive than a meal made with ingredients I would consider more “glamorous” and inherently expensive, like meat or seafood. Eggs are cheaper than ground beef. I should have explained myself better. I can see how I gave a bad impression (and may still), and I regret that.

            I think it is a pity that my critics are anonymous. If you want to be critical of me, I wish you would offer it with your usual handle. I think we can all be “virtual friends” without avoiding honest criticism of each other. Criticism is more impactful when it comes from a friend than a stranger.

          • Not to pile on, but I had the same reaction — and I am an organic-vegetarian-San Franciscan who shops at Rainbow Grocery and farmers’ markets. I think attitudes like this are the reason that many healthy-eating proponents are given a bad name: They come across as sanctimonious and out of touch with the restraints on time and money that many people face when dealing with cooking. People who are cooking at home rather than getting take-out are doing a great thing for themselves, even if they’re eating canned vegetables rather than organic tomatoes. Also, I am not sure what about the fact that tomatoes are dry farmed and bread is heirloom artisan grain makes those things superior. Tastier, maybe; healthier, not sure (though I believe organic is healthier). I would also personally eat a dinner of canned vegetables before I’d have cereal — oatmeal or Kashi aren’t bad for you, necessarily, but they are nutritionally one-dimensional compared to veggies, even canned or frozen ones.

          • Maybe “fancy” eggs, bread, tomatoes, and basil are expensive at farmers’ markets elsewhere??

            Not to pile on, but just for explanatory purposes: absolutely they’re expensive. At my local DC farmer’s market, eggs are $5/dozen (so more than twice what you’d pay at the supermarket; the heirloom tomatoes are probably $3-$4/lb, depending on what part of the season. Could be more. Bread is minimum $5 for a smallish loaf, and trust me – the quality is not nearly as high as what you’d buy in the Bay Area. Okay, the basil you can get for a supermarket-comparable price. But yeah, it’s doable for me as a well-paid single person, but even I feel the pinch.

          • Diana Barry :

            SF Bay, I agree with you re: non-processed foods. Although we do pay more for stuff here in the northeast!

      • harriet the spy :

        1) California is different. I just moved back to the Bay Area after 16 years on the East Coast, so take it from one who knows: your access to excellent produce at reasonable prices far outstrips most of the rest of the country. The culture, the economy, and the climate of the Bay Area all support heirloom/artisinal/organic/seasonal/local/etc. food in a really unique way.

        2) Julie Powell wrote a terrific, trenchant op-ed on this exact issue for the NY Times many years ago – but it was so good I’ve remembered it. I hope others find it equally thought-provoking. My favorite part is this:

        “What makes the snobbery of the organic movement more insidious is that it equates privilege not only with good taste, but also with good ethics. Eat wild Brazil nuts and save the rainforest. Buy more expensive organic fruit for your children and fight the national epidemic of childhood obesity. Support a local farmer and give economic power to responsible stewards of sustainable agriculture. There’s nothing wrong with any of these choices, but they do require time and money.

        When you wed money to decency, you come perilously close to equating penury with immorality. The milk at Whole Foods is hormone-free; the milk at Western Beef is presumably full of the stuff – and substantially less expensive. The chicken at Whole Foods is organic and cage-free; the chicken at Western Beef is not. Is the woman who buys her children’s food at the place where they take her food stamps therefore a bad mother?”

        http://www.nytimes.com/2005/07/22/opinion/22powell_cm.html?pagewanted=all

        • It’s not just a matter of cost. I usually work until 8 and one day durin the weekend. As much as I’d like to wander around the farmer’s market, that’s just not going to happen. I try to limit processed foods but do rely on frozen veggies. They significantly cut down prep time, don’t rot and are still just as nutritious.

      • hellskitchen :

        I don’t know SF Bay Associate, unless you personally visited the farm where the organic eggs came from and made sure the chickens were truly happy and roaming freely or that the berries in the homemade jam in fact were grown facing the sun, you aren’t really eating local/fresh/organic to the extent that you can. (Kidding, but your email made me think of the Portlandia spoof on farm-to-table eating)

        • SF Bay Associate :

          Oh dear… I actually have visited the farm where those eggs came from, though DH didn’t go to the farm to get the eggs this time. Chickens were walking around. It seemed like a nice place. And I picked the berries myself and can vouch for their sun access :). Sounds like I need to watch Portlandia and laugh at myself.

          • hellskitchen :

            Ha ha! It’s a bit over the top but you might love it. To your original post though, out here in New York, there are lots of farmer’s markets and they are affordable but I just found out that the one I go to uses an Integrated Pest Management system which is mostly organic but uses pesticides selectively when needed. This is a downer… but if I had to choose between this and organic produce from the supermarket which is definitely not local, I don’t know which one would win. So yeah, farmers’ markets are not the same everywhere

      • I am a banana. :

        I use lots of frozen veggies because they don’t go bad. There are nights where I thought I’d be home to cook and am not, or days where I find out I’m going to be last minute travelling for a few days thanks to work. I love eating the kinds of things you describe, but I have bought and wasted them before. Food waste is more concerning to me than the minimal nutritional value I’m losing by eating (GASP!) frozen asparagus.

        -Lifelong Californian

      • girl in the stix :

        Try living in a small town, with one large chain grocery story that caters to “recreationists” —the campers, golfers, tourists from someplace else searching vainly for the nearest Starbucks–the nearest decent shopping 60-150 miles away over mountain passes that aren’t fun in the winter. Since the grocery store’s nearest competition is 30 miles away and a member of the same chain, the produce is routinely mediocre at best. Fresh fish? forget it, even though there are world class fish markets 90 miles away. Yes we do have a bakery (donuts and white bread mainly) and a family-owned meat market that we rush to get to before they close (5/6 p.m.). Having access to good food is a blessing.

  52. We do a beef roast in the crockpot (the crockpot works pretty good for us). Beef Roast, pack of onion soup mix and a cup of water. We usually get two meals out of this: first day its beef, veggies and mashed potattoes. The next day we make sandwiches with slices of cabot horshradish cheese on crusty bread.

  53. For all of you people who eat fish during the week, are you buying it fresh or eating frozen fish?

    My problem with seafood is that I don’t like frozen seafood. I’ve read on consumerist.org and in a few other places that Trader Joes and a few other companies take serious liberities with how they label the fish, and it’s often just some sketchy breed of catfish from halfway around the globe using farming methods that result in a lot of pollution.

    Can anyone recommend any not gross brands of frozen seafood? I would like to eat more fish, but I can’t get to the store multiple times a week, and I just cannot force TJs fish down my throat.

    • Kontraktor :

      We buy fresh on Sunday and usually eat the fish by Tuesday, Wednesday at the latest. If we want fish later in the week, we just stop by the market on the night we want to cook it.

      Do you have an Asian market near you? The best fish selection around us comes from our local 99 Ranch. They have tons of non-packaged fish in their fish counter, including about 15 types of whole fish they will butcher for you, scallops, salmon, quite a few different kinds of thin white fish, shell fish, and many expensive meaty fishes (sea bass, swordfish, etc.) that usually aren’t more than $12 or $13/lb. I’ve seen similar selection at Korean markets.

    • Kontraktor :

      Also, shrimp is apparently one of the only types of fish you can eat from a frozen bag and not suffer too much in quality. I have read this in various places. So, it could be worth it to look into buying a large bag of frozen shrimp and making dishes from there, using only what you need at one time. I buy shrimp in small portions from the counter (probably in most cases it’s been frozen and thawed) and make a ton of super quick dishes: shrimp w chili sauce/pineapple salsa, shrimp w lemon/garlic butter and wine sauce, toss into a pasta primavera with veggies, can use as a topping for salad with tomato/avacado/hearts of palm/red onion… tons of quick possibilities.

    • For whatever it’s worth, with the exception of a few ultra-fancy restaurant that air lift it in and folks that live right on the shore, it’s nearly impossible to get actual fresh (never frozen) seafood. Most of it is frozen on or right off the boat and thawed when they sell it at the counter. So, even if you think that you’re eating it “fresh” from the seafood counter, you’re probably not (It may suffer less handling, though, than the stuff sold frozen).

      • Kontraktor :

        I think that is the differentiator. Fish sold in bags/packs may get additional processing or ingredients to increase shelf life. Plus those fishes might have been frozen for a lot longer, vs. counter fish which was frozen for shipping but thawed upon delivery, hence it is meant to be sold and eaten quickly. As I previously said though, apparently frozen shrimp can do pretty well staying frozen for a very long time so I’ve read it is recommended (especially from a cost stand point) to just buy a giant bag.

        • I think if you pay up for quality, frozen fish can be fine (like Costco’s wild caught salmon for example).

          A friend of mine catches and flash-freezes his own fish. It stays good for a year, so I don’t think the extra processing is a requirement for shelf life. I tried it after many months in the freezer, and it was as good as “fresh” fish from the grocery store.

          • Kontraktor :

            Quality is probably key then. Maybe it is an issue of just checking ingredients to make sure there is nothing else added, buying from ‘better’ stores to better ensure the bag hasn’t been sitting around forever, trying different types of fish to see what you like, and slow thawing in the fridge.Also, I don’t think it’s that weird that your friend’s home done frozen fish is better than a random low end store brand. I think that doing something fresh, individually, and with a lot of care can yield better results than cheap mass production. Kind of like how a lot of people’s homemade jam/preserves are better than even a good store brand. :)

  54. I am confused as to why the beef bolognese with jarred sauce requires a crockpot and 6-8 hours of cooking. I am also really, really confused by frozen onions… just, why? Onions aren’t particularly perishable, and don’t require more than a minute of prep to peel and chop. But I am from California, so the dining habits of the great midwest are sometimes mysterious to me.

    Fastest/easiest meals I do are usually pasta/noodles, either Asian or Italian, with pan-fried chicken breasts or pork chops (those thin little pork chops cook super fast) and lots of veggies thrown in (artichoke hearts and tomatoes for Italian, broccoli, onions/garlic/shallots, bellpeppers and greens for either, green beans and eggplant for Asian). Although I admit we also keep a Costco-size package of sausages in the freezer for emergency last-minute dinners. Someone gave me the cookbook Robin Rescues Dinner (I think she has a tv show?) which has lots of ideas for quick meals, although I rarely use the recipes exactly.

    • layered bob :

      onions make me cry, even when my knives are super sharp. and then I have to wash the knife and the cutting board. and yes, those are really, really small obstacles, but when I have 0 energy, having already-diced onions in the freezer is often the difference between cooking and takeout.

    • Midwest Expat :

      I thought Kat was a New Yorker? Not exactly the “great Midwest.”

    • sometimes i don’t have fresh onions because i didnt get a chance to shop. And sometimes, I am just starving, so yes, chopping multiple vegetables is too time consuming and it is a lifesaver to have a few things i can pull out of the freezer and throw together dinner in less time than it would take a pizza to get delivered to my house.

      Also, this is not me, but some people are just not cooks, they are not good at it and don’t enjoy it. That doesn’t necessarily mean there’s anything wrong with them. And I don’t know if you meant it that way, but your comment about the ‘mysterious’ habits of the ‘great Midwest’ sounds really condescending.

    • Is that you Sandra Lee? :

      I think the “recipes” posted by Kat and in the comments make it clear that no region has a monopoly on dismal eating. I was making a similar point above… and for the record, I’m in Chicago. We have vegetables. You can care about what goes in your body even if you don’t have access to all the bounty of California.

  55. I got a programmable rice cooker recently – it’s awesome. Put rice and water in before you go to work, set timer, rice is ready at dinner. Do this with some crock pot meat and/or veggies and you’ve got dinner waiting for you.

    My other tip is flavored olive oil. I like garlic olive oil for a quick saute – expensive but worth it. No chopping of garlic (that’s easy to scorch anyway), and adds flavor to a chicken breast, etc.

  56. What type of crockpot? :

    I’m so intrigued about all the crockpot recipes! I’m totally new to the appliance. For those of you who use them often, what type do you reccommend? Also, what size, 4qt, 6qt? I will be cooking for 2, but like to make large batches and freeze things.

    I’m not adverse to spending a fair amount of money on it, as it seems like something I would use a lot, but don’t want to get something expensive just for the sake of spending money. It seems like a programmable one would be best.

    Williams-Sonoma carries a 7 qt all-clad one. Does that seem like a good option?

    • I did a lot of research before I bought my crock pot, and I ended up buying the one that Cooks Illustrated rated the highest: Crock-Pot 6.5 Quart Slow Cooker. I love it. You can set the time for cooking so you avoid most of the over cooking issues. It’s easy to clean. I made apple sauce using it the other week, and it turned out delicious.

      • What type of crockpot? :

        Thanks!

      • Research, Not Law :

        We have that one also, based on CI’s recommendation. We’ve been very pleased with it. It’s a nice size, functions well.

    • Get a big one with a timer. If you work a lot that will be your lifesaver.

  57. hellskitchen :

    I do a different version of meal planning – sort of a staggered meal planning. I don’t like cooking all weekend and when I come home, I realize I want to eat right away but have some free time after dinner. So on Sunday, I make a couple of big batch meals (curries or stews or lasagna) and then on each weekday, I do a little bit of prep for the next day. On Monday morning, I will soak some chickpeas. On Monday night, I eat the stew from Sunday and after dinner, I will put the chickpeas in a pressure cooker and chop some salad vegetables – cucumbers, tomatoes etc. On Tuesday night, I’ll make 10 minute quinoa, mix in the salad vegetables and have that for dinner. After dinner, I’ll take the cooked chickpeas and make a curry. On Wednesday, I’ll have chickpea curry for dinner and after dinner, start prepping for next day – probably roast some eggplant and bell peppers, remove skins, chop it all and leave it in the refrigerator. On Thursday it takes me 15 minutes at most to make an eggplant spread and toast some pita bread. This approach works for me because if I have to cook for more than 15 minutes after I come home, I’ll probably cave in and order takeout. But it’s easy to do the prep after dinner as long as I break it into small steps and spread it out over the week.

    I use the food I prepare on Sunday for lunch or if I am in no mood to do any cooking on a particular weeknight. I also use a food processor to chop large quantities of onions, radishes etc. and keep them on hand which makes it easy to whip up meals throughout the week.

  58. I’ve tried to love the crockpot, but sadly, I just don’t think it’s for me. I’m not a big casserole type of person, more of a skillet cook. My strategies for making sure I don’t starve:

    1. I cook something good two of the three weekend nights when I have more time
    2. Husband cooks me something most of the other week nights- at least scrambled eggs with a salad, more often something involving meat;
    3. If I get home at 9 and Husband’s not around, I make: scrambled eggs; poached eggs in tomato sauce; bread and cheese; a salad or some quick combination of those things.

    One of the things that has always felt weird to me about the crock is that you can’t taste anything before it goes in or as you’re cooking…which feels very odd. I like to taste constantly and adjust the spices, but with the crock it seems like you just need to follow a recipe and stick to it and hope for the best.

  59. Maine Associate :

    Here is my favorite quick meal: Tuna Noodle. Cook a pound of pasta, like ziti or elbows. While the pasta is cooking, get a microwave casserole dish and spray it with non-stick spray. Put in the casserole dish 1 can of drained tuna, a bag of shredded cheddar cheese, a splash of milk and a can of cream of celery soup (or your favorite cream of something soup). When the pasta is cooked and drained, add to casserole dish and mix well. Cook covered in microwave for 8-10 minutes. You can change up the canned protein by making it chicken, crab or hot dogs (yes I said hot dogs). You can make it a bit healthier by using whole wheat pasta, low-fat cheese and low-fat/fat-free soup.

    • Late to the game but in case anyone who has subscribed cares, I grew up with tuna noodle casserole as a beloved dish — easiest thing in the world — and my mom’s variant added a cup or two of frozen peas and didn’t have any cheese, just tuna, can of cream of celery soup, and we usually used the kind of wide flat egg noodles.

      You can bake it (and add bread crumbs or parmesan to the top) if you want (she usually didn’t), or you can just do it (as I have from college on) the quick and dirty way and mix it all up in the pot once you’ve drained the pasta.

      I also LOVE stuffed cabbage, which my mom only made at St. Patrick’s Day. A few years ago we put our heads together and realized we could make a soup/stew with all the same ingredients (plus another can of tomatoes and maybe a little more broth, and bagged shredded cabbage if you’re really pressed for time and don’t have time to slice it) that gave you the same emotional/flavor satiety but was SOOOO much easier to make.

      Since then I’ve tried “simplifying” a bunch of beloved recipes mostly to good results. For example, stuffed zucchini has become zucchini casserole, with sliced zucchini medallions layered with the rest of the ingredients. Sure, if I have company I will stuff cabbage leaves and core zucchini halves to stuff them with goodness, but when it’s just me or me and the BF and it’s a weeknight, it’s lovely to have familiar flavors with fresh ingredients in minutes not hours. And both freeze pretty well…

      While I’m here, I’ll just throw a quick pitch in for my favorite use of a crockpot – chicken stock. I usually only do 4 days, but Jenny does up to a week. Whatever I don’t use, I either fridge, freeze, or boil down further to make a more concentrated bouillon type substance and freeze that in ice cube trays – or better yet, those silicon muffin tins.

      http://nourishedkitchen.com/perpetual-soup-the-easiest-bone-broth-youll-make/

  60. I cook Real Simple recipes. I find half the battle is chosing what to cook. In some editions they have a grocery list for the entire week prepared and I just order the list off Fresh Direct. That and the crockpot are life savers and I have lost tons of weight since eating more home cooked meals and less eating out.

  61. Hive Mind :

    The second page of the comments is so smug and depressing. Rock on, Kat – with yo’ bad frozen-bag-of-onions self.

  62. Why is reader K making dinner six nights a week? Are her husband’s arms broken?

    • Of Counsel :

      I thought exactly the same thing. Instead of moving straight to resolving the problem, why not try to understand why there is a problem in the first place? Why is she doing all the cooking?

  63. I also did a lot of advance cooking & freezing when we were a “new” family with infants, but have moved away from that because of the reasons above & because frankly there’s way too much going on any given weekend to spend so much time cooking!

    We love Martha’s Great Food Fast cookbook. Some of the recipes can be made even faster if you do some acceptable substitutions. One fave:

    Pasta w/ Sausage and Peppers. SO easy. Use fresh Italian sausage (we do 1/2 pork, 1/2 turkey to make more healthy). Crumble the sausage & saute in a tiny bit of olive oil. Once cooked through, add sliced pre-roasted peppers (available at WH) or the jarred version. Toss with the cooked pasta & about 1/3 c parmesan. Done in the time it takes to cook the pasta.

    Chicken quesadillas. Use pre-cooked chicken breast. Cut into pieces and toss with some liquid smoke & jar of mild green chiles. Kids can assemble – they love this.

    Broccoli pasta. Cut (fresh) broccoli into florets. (Lovely w/ broccoli rabbe but kids tend not to like . . .) Add to the pasta (orrechiette works great) in the last 6-7 minutes of cooking time. In a small saucepan, saute minced garlic, anchovie paste (or minced 1-2 mined anchovies), & minced red chili. Toss together with copious amounts of grated Parm. We modify this for kids by foregoing the chili and adding red pepper flakes to the adult portions. Kids LOVE this dish.

  64. I work full-time as an attorney and have 3 children, plus husband and 2 dogs. I am the only cook in our house, and I like to cook, so it’s pretty much all on me, although my husband will prep sometimes or get things started. I cook dinners most nights of the week. I usually get home between 6:30 and 7:00 and can have dinner on the table most nights by 7:30 (my kids are pre-teen and teens so they can wait). Here’s how I manage:

    1. Meal plan and grocery shop on the weekend. I plan dinners for Sunday through Thursday nights. We usually go out on Fridays and Saturday is either throw-something-together night, takeout, or pick up a piece of fish, cook it simply, and serve with salad.

    2. The crockpot ususally makes an appearance on my counter at least once a week. When I make something in it, I try to double the recipe or make a big batch of whatever it is so I can have leftovers and/or freeze the extras. Some crockpot recipes are better than others — experiment and find a few that your family likes.

    3. I am a huge proponent of prepping (and sometimes even cooking) in the morning before I leave for work. I tend to make pretty quick things during the week. If I can chop an onion and set the pantry ingredients out in the morning (and even put out the cutting board, a knife, and the pan I’ll use), it makes the process much faster when I get home. This morning I made soup that took less than 30 minutes all in and is now in the fridge ready for reheating when I get home.

    4. Plan one night as sandwich, salad, or quesadilla night (or some similar “homemade” quick and appealing meal).

    5. Keep some frozen vegetables on hand for a quick side. I keep frozen peas, edamame, and French green beans on hand.

    Bottom line: have a plan, prep what you can in the morning, work in a crockpot or salad meal once or twice a week and you can master the weeknight meals.

  65. Question #2 :

    For those of you who do stir fry, can you recommend some sauces? The healthiest dinner I do on a weeknight is sautéed vegetables over rice or pasta. Despite liberal use of seasonings, it is bland. When it’s over pasta, I end up putting a little cheese on top, though I don’t love cheese; and when it’s over rice, I end up using way too much soy sauce. Tried Szechuan sauce while cooking the vegetables recently and hated it, which is odd because I like it in Chinese food. Am basically looking for some sauce in which to cook the vegetables so that it isn’t so dry/bland (I’d like it to have the consistency of Chinese takeout) but don’t really want to buy a whole bunch of $5 bottles and learn that I hate them. I generally like mild flavors and salt; I tend not to prefer anything sweet.

    • I think that most restaurant Chinese sauces will have cornstarch or xantham gum or some other thickener in them, and I am a firm believer that the texture of a sauce is almost as important as the flavor of the sauce …. okay, yes, I have texture issues. Anyway, you might experiment with doing something to thicken or emulsify your own concoctions so that they are more pleasing to you. If I’m doing Chinese, I typically saute in sesame oil, and then add soy sauce, ginger, and hot pepper. If you want to add a thickener, you could mix it into broth or a little water and add close to the end and then toss and cook until the extra liquid evaporates and you will have a more “sauce”-y concoction that will hopefully present the flavors you’ve added better.

  66. Ms. Van Squigglebottoms :

    Lawyer & mom here, and I make most of my family’s dinners, so I have thought about this a lot. Here are a list of some of our favorite healthy & quick weeknight dinners (frankly, I often cook like this on weekends too):

    1) Bean burritos – some combo of avocado, tomatoes, shredded lettuce or carrots, spinach, and other veggies – sometimes with some tofu or tempeh – we eat this every week without fail

    2) Curries – The cookbook 30-Minute Vegan’s Taste of the East has some veggie curries that are freshly made (from chili peppers, ginger or galangal, lemongrass, etc. – no paste) and only take 30 minutes – they’re amazing!

    3) Pad Thai – Lots of chopping involved, but after the rice noodles and tofu are cooked (we eat ours meatless), the whole thing comes together in 3 or 4 minutes

    4) Anything from the crockpot. I love the cookbook The Indian Slow Cooker. Most of the recipes call for dry beans that don’t need to be soaked — they just cook while you’re at the office.

    5) Salad and soup – Easy to throw together, particularly with a raw (gazpacho!) or quick-cook soup — or soup from a carton in a pinch.

    6) Breakfast for dinner – I usually try to throw in some veggies somewhere (scramble usually), but if not, then I serve with lots of fresh fruit.

  67. crock pot / slow cooker recipe books
    1 – Fix -it and Forget- It by Dawn Ranck and Phyllis P. Good – everything from french onion soup to vegetable lasagne to a harvey wallbanger cake.
    super easy chicken – 4 frozen chicken breasts – 1 packet italian seaoning mix over chicken – 1 cup chicken stock
    – 8 to 10 hours on low because I always have these ingredients on hand
    2 – Fix- it and forget-it 5-ingredient favorites by Phyllis Good
    there’s a website and several specialty books such as one for diabetics

    My cooking friends gave me a crock pot and the books last christmas since I never thought of cooking as a skill. so I;ve been feeding them.

  68. Of Counsel :

    “…but I’m not sure how I’m going to manage cooking dinner every night with my new schedule. ”

    Is SHE doing all the cooking? That’s problem No. 1.

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  70. WishfulSpirit :

    A rice cooker is a lifesaver. We have one that has a steam food option, and I load the rice and add veggies and steamer-friendly proteins to the top (frozen shrimp works great), set it, go take a relaxing bath, and when I get out, dinner is ready. If you don’t have a rice cooker or don’t want to buy one, try boil-in-the-bag rice and a microwave steamer box.