It’s 5:00 pm; you’re tired; and you’re hungry. The last thing you want to do is go to the grocery store. Great news – Here are 21 easy meals that make use of what you already have at home. An added bonus: You can use these “clean up” meals to use up any bits of food that are in your fridge, resulting in less food waste and more money in your pocket (hooray). Happy Eating!
1. Pasta Extra-Ordinarre
Pasta is a great vehicle for all things veggie. A pasta dinner can be as simple as tomato sauce and cheese. Or you can skip the sauce all together and sauté some veggies with garlic (or onion) in olive oil. Have some leftover wine? Add a splash. Or you can make midnight spaghetti, which is essentially just pasta + sautéed chopped garlic, olive oil, red pepper flakes and some parmesan. Buon Appetito.
2. Quiche, Fritatta, or a Scramble
Here’s a quick dinner that’s high in protein and veggies and low on prep. To make it, just open your fridge to see what odds and ends need using up and then cook or sauté them for a few minutes before adding in the eggs and either baking in a pastry pie shell (quiche), covering and baking on the stove (fritatta), or scrambling on a pan in the oven (scramble). These dishes don’t have to be vegetable-centric. You can cook up leftover meat (sausages, deli meats cut up) or crumble some cheese to really give the dish a great flavor. You can also add some diced potatoes (bake them for 20 minutes first) for the “carb” portion of a complete meal.
Nothing says easy weeknight dinner quite like a salad. No cooking is required and you can make these refreshing meals savory or sweet. Here are a few ideas:
- Almost Dessert: If you’ve got spinach and butter lettuce, you can add some nuts, cheese, and fresh fruit for a tasty treat. Top with olive oil and balsamic.
- Better than Iceberg: Pack some nutrients into your dinner by shredding kale and tossing it with Ceasar’s salad dressing – Bonus: This version of a caesar’s salad will stay crisp in the fridge overnight (just add the croutons when you’re ready to serve it. Croutons will get soggy in the fridge).
- The Kitchen Sink (aka “Chef’s Salad”): Throw whatever cheese, meat, eggs, and/or veggies you’ve got into the salad and top with a dressing of your choice (ranch? blue cheese?).
- Nicoise-ish Salad: Have tuna and some leftover cooked veggies? Combine them together in a nicoise salad. Bon Appetite!
- Bagged salads – Add additional veggies (avocado, grilled veggies) and proteins (cooked meat, hardboiled egg, beans, sunflower seeds, and/or tree nuts) to make it a meal.
4. Soup (and it’s cousin Stew)
Making a soup is cheap and easy. Simply grab whatever vegetables you have on hand, along with some cooked beans and broth, and simmer until done. If you don’t have broth, you can always add in a whole carrot, onion, and several stems of celery (along with salt) to flavor the contents.
For stew, start by browning the meat in some olive oil in a pot. Add diced onion, carrot, and celery. Once those are fragrant, add the remaining vegetables and broth and simmer until the meat is tender and fully cooked. (Note: this is also a great slow cooker recipe)
5. Stir Fry
Enjoy the flavors of a favorite take out meal without actually having to go out.
How to hack it: Heat some oil over medium/medium-high in a large pan or wok. Cook bite-sized pieces of chicken or beef and add in whatever veggies you have on hand. Finish with some stir fry, teriyaki, or other Asian-inspired cooking sauce. Cook some rice at the same time to make it a meal.
6. Fried Rice
Another take-out substitute that is a great way to use up leftover cooked. rice. I will admit that somehow my husband is much, much better at cooking this than I am, so I won’t provide specific suggestions here other than to google it and find a recipe that you can loosely follow given the ingredients you have in your pantry.
7. Breakfast (for dinner)
Who says eggs and pancakes or french toast can only be enjoyed in the morning? Same goes for yogurt parfaits, and – in a real bind – cereal. Sure, breakfast-for-dinner is usually not high in vegetables (at least not in the U.S.), but it is easy to make and will probably be a fun meal every now and then. Besides, you can stock up on veggies at the store tomorrow to compensate nurtitionally the following night.
8. Euro “Picnic” Dinner
Fresh or dried fruits, bread, cheese, a rotisserie chicken (or deli meat), and a salad always remind me of a trip I took to Paris with some college friends since that is what we had for dinner one night. It was so simple and delicious. No cooking required and it goes nicely with a glass of wine.
9. Loaded Baked Potatoes
Step one: Bake some potatoes. Step two: throw on whatever you’ve got on hand (diced) and bake until its are cooked through. Broccoli and cheddar are always great toppers.
10. Gringo Quesadillas and Burritos
Have some large tortillas and meat, scrambled eggs, or cheese in your house? Then you’ve got the basics for quesadillas and burritos. Add in whatever veggies you have on hand (olives? bell peppers? jalapeños? squash? avocado?) and you’ve got dinner made. Sure, it may not be authentic Mexican food, but then again, I did warn you it’s the “gringo” version.
So easy a grade schooler can do it, assuming you have bread and some fillings. Here are a few easy ideas:
- Veggie – Start with some kind of savory vegetarian spread (hummus? guacamole? baba ganoush?) and add on cheese (optional), leafy greens (lettuce, spinach), and veggies (either fresh, roasted, or pickled). Done and done.
- Peanut Butter and Jully – Seriously, world’s easiest sandwich.
- Way more options – Channel your inner deli for sandwich inspiration.
Who says sliced bread gets to have all the fun? You can do the same as above just with lavash, tortillas, or whatever large, flexible carbohydrate you’ve got on hand. You can even make this shishi by wrapping some fun veggie-fruit combos together, like cream cheese, arugula, and strawberries.
13. Appetizer Plate
Do what American restaurants do and create an assortment of appetizers for dinner. This may not be the healthiest option (mozzarella sticks, I’m looking at you), but it will be dinner. Some ideas include chicken tenders, quesadillas, jalapeño poppers, etc.
14. Pizza and “Pizza”
Do you have a pizza in the freezer? Great, go use it. If you don’t, you can DIY one by combining water, flour, yeast, olive oil, and salt to make dough (assuming you have time to let the dough rise). Or, you can make “pizza” by adding some type of Italian sauce (pizza, pesto, tomato, cream) to bread (bagels, or crackers) and topping with shredded parmesan, mozzarella, or other Italian cheese.
Add whatever toppings you want and bake until done.
Purists will say you need to have Aroborio (or some other Italian short-grain rice like Carnaroli, Vialone, Nano, and Baldo) to make this dish, and while it does taste much, much better with those varieties, if you are in a pinch, you can go ahead and sub another type of short-grain rice. What’s great about risotto is that you can use parmesan, butter, and/or cream along with vegetables to make a truly great dish. My favorite veggies to use in risotto are mushrooms, peas, and/or asparagus, but there are some truly great, simple-yet-fancy risotto recipes out there (like this one that uses pumpkin puree) so feel free to google – and try out – risotto recipes to your heart’s content.
I love this easy, Israeli recipe. If you want an “authentic” version, google a recipe for it. My version includes sautéing chopped onion and/or garlic, bell peppers, diced tomato, and a little tomato paste together in some olive oil. I season with salt, pepper, paprika, and whatever else I feel like for about 15-20 minutes. While that is cooking, I poach or soft boil some eggs and serve together (make sure yokes are somewhat runny for maximum deliciousness. Serve with polenta or toast with melted cheese for a wow meal.
17. Gringo Tacos
Did you know you don’t need taco shells or tortillas to make tacos? It’s true – you can “wrap” taco fillings with a lettuce leaf (Butter or Romaine work best). Or, you can go “old skool” and make tacos the traditional way – with a small soft tortilla or a hard taco shell.
There are limitless ways to fill a taco, so I’ll just mention a few here:
- Fish taco – Bake some fish for the filling, add shredded cabbage, sour cream (optional) or guacamole (optional). Season with salt and a squeeze of lime.
- Ground meat – Sauté diced onion or garlic with ground beef, turkey, or chicken, a little tomato paste, and some cumin, paprkia, and chili powder. Add any veggies you like (sautéed bell peppers? peas? sliced olives?) and season with salt and pepper.
- Shredded meat – Shred or slice cooked chicken breast or a steak and season with taco seasoning or a combo of cumin, paprika, chili powder, and powdered onion. Add salsa, lime, and diced onion and enjoy.
- Vegetarian – Lentils, diced sautéed squash, and/or mushrooms work great here. Season as you see fit.
18. Hippie Hash Browns
Cook up some hash browns, add cheese, black beans, avocado or veggies, salsa (optional), and a poached egg. Yum and done!
19. Gringo Curry
Have coconut milk, curry powder, veggies, and meat? You’ve got curry. Add a serving of rice on the side and boom: yummy, hearty dinner.
20. Loaded Nachos
Do you have tortilla chips and cheddar cheese? Do you have anything else (olives, sour cream, avocado, beans, guacamole, salsa, tomatoes, etc.)? Then you’ve got loaded nachos. Put the tortilla chips in a pan with cheese and bake until the cheese melts. Add toppings and voila! Dinner.
21. Not-Quite-Shepard’s Pie
If you’ve got mashed potatoes and some meat and veggies on hand, you can make a meal that is kind of like shepherd’s pie. Just sauté some diced onions, carrot, and celery with ground meat or diced veggies. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and any spices you like Pour in a greased baking dish, and add cover with a layer of mashed potatoes. Bake until the mashed potatoes are cooked through.
I hope these suggestions have got you thinking about leftovers – whether half a carrot or a bowl of cooked rice – in a new way.
What’s your favorite mid-week meal that uses up the food you have on hand? Post it in the comments!