Also, please note my use of the word premade to refer to food that you already have in your fridge or freezer. "Leftover" sounds like nobody wanted to eat that food the first time around, so now it's on for a repeat. "Premade" reminds you that you're smart and efficient. Because everybody loves your delicious [chili, hummus, salsa, pulled pork, grilled chicken, whatever], you made extra and carefully stored it for just such a time as this. You deserve a pat on the back from your future self!
The AssumptionsDespite the chaos, you have access to a reasonably functional kitchen, including a microwave, freezer, oven, and stove.
Even as you scramble, you have a few basic kitchen tools, including a skillet, pasta pot, and baking tray.
Under normal circumstances, you can cook a number of basic meals without panicking.
The Rules!Everything needed for the meal can be easily kept in the house for two weeks or longer. Frozen items, pantry items, and long-lasting fruits and veggies are all fair game.
The entire meal takes 10 minutes maximum of hands-on preparation.
The foods are reasonably family friendly (including deconstructed preparations that allow picky eaters to skip things they don't want).
What's For Dinner?!?!
- Frozen Dinner. If you've made a meal and frozen it in advance for a rainy day, you are ahead of the game. You can feel smug. You've got my permission. Also, I'm sure your grocery store sells a variety of pizzas, entrees, and sides, all conveniently frozen for you to heat and eat. Find a few of those you like and keep them in your freezer where they will save your sanity for a lot cheaper than ordering take-out. You can feel smug about that, too. No worries.
- Pasta. Serve with a jar of sauce, frozen peas, and possibly even frozen meatballs. Cook the pasta in boiling water. Heat everything else on the stove top or in the microwave. If you make meatballs, you can choose to heat them in the sauce to save a dish or heat them separately for meat or tomato haters.
- Baked potato bar. Wash the potatoes, stab them a couple of times with a fork, put them in the oven at 400 degrees for about an hour. (Yes, you have to start an hour before dinner, but if you hustle, you can wash and stab 10 lbs of potatoes in about 4 minutes) Serve with any combination of sour cream, plain yogurt, frozen broccoli, bacon bits, pre-cooked bacon, store bought or premade chili, and/or olives. If you've got herbs growing like weeds in your back yard, wash them and put them on the table with a pair of scissors to snip over individual potatoes. So fancy!
- Tuna Salad. Basic tuna salad for 3 to 5 sandwiches (depending how you spread it) is 1 can tuna, 1-3 tbsp mayonnaise, 1 tsp mustard, 1/4 cup each minced onions and celery if you've got time, salt and pepper to taste. Make sandwiches on bread, wraps with flour tortillas, tuna melts (spread tuna salad on one slice of bread, top with cheese, toast under the broiler or in the toaster oven until hot and bubbly), or tuna noodles (mix a double batch of tuna salad with 1 lb of hot or cold pasta). Serve with a raw vegetable.
- Quesadillas. Put a flour tortilla on a griddle or skillet, top with pre-sliced or pre-shredded cheese, top with another flour tortilla. When the cheese is melted, flip it over to make sure the whole thing is hot. Serve with any combination of store bought or premade salsa, canned beans (black or refried), sour cream, plain yogurt, and/or premade meat shredded or sliced. Lettuce or cilantro are nice, but don't fit rule #1.
- Taco Bowls, nachos, or taco salads. This is almost exactly the same thing as quesadillas, only you get to skip the griddle or skillet part. Assemble bowls or plates according to individual preferences. Use any combination of corn tortillas cut in strips, tortilla chips, frozen corn, store bought or premade salsa, canned beans (black or refried), sour cream, plain yogurt, shredded or sliced meat heated through, premade sweet potatoes, and/or cheese. Again, lettuce or cilantro are nice, but don't fit rule #1.
- Garlicky Greens and Sausage. Put a tablespoon of oil in a hot skillet. Smash one clove of garlic and toss it in the oil, or use the equivalent of jarred garlic, and cook just until it starts to smell good. Add whole or sliced fully-cooked sausage (kielbasa, polish sausage, etc) and a package of frozen greens (every supermarket has spinach, but yours might also have kale, collards, turnip greens, or something else fancy). Serve with bread, cornbread, or rice.
- Muffins, cheese, and fruit. If you use a mix, muffins will take 3 minutes to assemble and 20 to bake. If you refuse to use a package mix, muffins will take 10 minutes to assemble and 20 to bake. My kids think fruit is fancier if you cut it up.
- Mediterranean Platter. Serve any combination of olives, cheese, raw vegetables cut into spears or bite-sized pieces, store bought or premade hummus, pita bread, pita chips, sliced bread, premade grilled meat, boiled eggs, fully cooked sausage slices, or frozen meatballs heated in a skillet.
- Scrambled eggs. For starch, serve toast or frozen hashbrowns browned in a skillet or heated in the oven. Raw veggies or salsa are also good sides.
- French toast. Serve with applesauce, canned peaches, or frozen berries.
- Fried eggs and Accouterments. If you've got tiny bits left of delicious premade casserole, stew, soup, cooked vegetable, or grain-based dishes, heat them up and top with fried eggs. Shirred eggs are a similar sort of thing: heat up dribs and drabs of whatever, put them in ramekins (or coffee cups), crack an egg into each cup, top with a smidge of butter and salt, and bake at 375 for 10 to 20 minutes (depending on how you like your eggs done).
- Ramen noodles. Splurge on the dollar-a-package ones if that makes you happy. Add any combination of frozen broccoli, frozen peas, hard boiled egg, nori, or premade meat.
- Nourish Bowls. This is a concept, not a recipe. A nourish bowl (also called a mighty bowl, Buddah bowl, power bowl, or rice bowl) is a scoop of grain, a vegetable or two, a protein source, and a sauce. There are a billion combinations, so if you Google around you will either be inspired or overwhelmed. Build around what you keep in your pantry. White rice, quinoa, couscous, bulgur, buckwheat groats, teff, and amaranth are all quick cooking grains, but no grains really need babysitting. If you've got time before dinner (or if you know tonight is going to be a disaster by 9 AM) throw your long-cooking whole grain in a pot ASAP, and you'll be most of the way to dinner before dinner time. Five random ideas to get you started:
- Kraut Bowl- millet, shredded cabbage and carrot (or coleslaw mix without the dressing), kielbasa, honey-mustard dressing.
- Thai Curry Bowl- rice, frozen mixed veggies, premade or canned chicken, coconut milk, red curry paste.
- Peanut Bowl- quinoa, carrot coins, frozen bell peppers, chopped peanuts, peanut sauce.
- Pink and Green Bowl- bulgur, frozen greens, pickled beets, canned garbanzo beans, green goddess or yogurt dressing.
- Amore Bowl- teff, roasted red peppers, red onion, chopped almonds, pesto.
What am I missing? What are your favorite ultra-fast dinners?