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Dinner for busy people

You get home around 7pm. What to eat, what to make?
You are sick of that chinese take out and pizza. You want something made at home but something that can be made in less than 29 mins..(to make Rachael Ray jealous). Your chicken is solid frozen.
What's the first thing that comes into your mind?

For us, we do a lot of fish in the can and bread.
Creamy cheese and nice bread with wine. (Luckly, bread defrosts quickly)
Instant noodle dishes- ramen
Frozen dinner from Trader's Joe..love that orange chicken.

I need more ideas.

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  1. Check out the What's For Dinner threads. A lot of us have busy day jobs that leave us little time in the evening for dinner so we share our helpful hints and and quick recipes on a daily basis. To be sure, there is a lot of tuna or cheese and salume at my house, but last night I made grilled tilapia and scallions with soy butter and pickled radishes in less than 20 minutes. Tonight I will probably make pork cracklins with cucumber salad in about the same amount of time with pork belly I pre-cooked earlier in the week. Quesadillas with chicken breast are another recent, easy meal that comes to mind.

    1. Fish tacos are easy and quick. You can use frozen "fried" fish filets, put them in the oven, make a quick coleslaw, heat some corn tortillas, open and heat a can of pinto beans for the side, and dinner is on the table in about 20 minutes. Or make vegetarian nachos - corn chips topped with canned refried beans, rinsed; canned black beans, canned chiles, and shredded cheese. Pop in the oven and while it's heating, make some pico de gallo (chop fresh tomatoes, onions, cilantro, and chiles, toss with lime juice and some salt) to top them.

      1. You don't mention whether you enjoy cooking. I try to cook something over the weekend like stews, chili, soups and roasts of some kind that will allow me to eat it again over the course of the week, or that I can use for some other meal purpose. I.E. roast chicken, roast beef or pork with which I can make burritos. Making food at home is always healthier than takeout or processed frozen & usually cheaper. The night before I always think about tomorrow's supper. I some times defrost fish overnight and bake when I get home from work. Fresh or defrosted salmon fillets in an oiled pie pan topped with lemon, butter, salt and pepper and dried dill roasted at 400 for 15 mins. is usually a quick way to get supper on the table, accompanied by nuked frozen peas and maybe ramen, orzo, etc. is pretty quick. A supermarket rotisserie chicken can often be enough for two people twice in a week, and I'm not above using canned gravy. It take some planning and shopping ahead, but I do think you eat better. Hope this helps.

        1 Reply
        1. re: noodlepoodle

          Amen NoodlePoodle - you nailed it. Sometimes you get home at 7 and sometimes work, traffic or other BS keeps you out much later. Plan ahead. Right now I have leftovers in the frig that are microwave (almost) ready and then a back up of tortillas w/ beans to assemble if necessary.

          I try to keep a back up of pasta ready ingredients in the pantry and clean out the frig of items that need to be eaten like fresh produce. My last two (almost always in the house options) are breakfast for dinner be it eggs and toast or cereal . . .although I just checked the cupboards and the frig - I'm out of cereal and milk DM!

          I know that meal planning helps but I can get overwhelmed and hungry too, Monica! I have a memory of coming home really late from work and being so famished that I went straight to the frig. . . . I actually left my truck keys in there. Imagine for a minute what I looked like the next morning when I was scrambling around to try and find them!

        2. I can make maple poached salmon from frozen fillets in that amount of time. Some snow peas and rice make dinner. I also make a lot of noodle soups from heavily doctored stocks with frozen or fresh noodles thrown in at the end, with an egg or two. But mostly I depend on meals cooked and frozen over the weekend.

          1. Sound like the idea for dinner needs to take place as a first order of business in your day. Planning dinner and preparing it at the same time, unless you're working with left overs, is a recipe for disaster.
            Pasta and anything are always possibilities. Sauces for pasta can be created from any meat, fish or poultry imaginable.
            Fresh vegetables take only minutes to prepare.
            Cube steaks cook in just a few minutes (even if they're frozen)
            You can prepare some dishes ahead of time, freeze them until the day you intend to use them and then, night before, move them from the freezer to the fridge section. They'll have plenty of time to thaw enough for the next evening's meal.
            Flour or corn tortillas make a good foundation and you can cook a potato in the microwave in about eight minutes, top it with chili, cheese, sour cream, bacon, chive, etc., etc., - EZ fixins.

            1. Lamb chops are easily doable in that time - good with couscous. If you brine pork tenderloin or prepare a rub or marinade for it, it can easily be done in half an hour. Sear it and finish in the oven.

              Seafood dishes including seared scallops with a white wine sauce or grilled shrimp satay, for example, are quick and easy. Heck, so are steamed mussels!

              1. A few of my favorite weeknight meals: (pasta is easy)

                Pasta with cauliflower: while pasta cooking, saute some bacon or pancetta till crispy. remove from pan and saute a head of cauliflower till carmelized and brown in spots. Once pasta is cooked, toss with cauliflower, bacon and sprinkle breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese.

                Pasta and brussel sprouts: saute sliced brussel sprouts and pine nuts, toss with pasta and parmesan. Add some of the cooking water to make a sauce.

                Artichoke hearts sauteed with lemon and pasta.

                Sauteed onions, beaten egg, 1/2 cup parsley and 1/4 cup parmesan tossed with hot pasta.

                Pasta, goat cheese and roasted red peppers

                Sauteed onions, tossed with raw kale and topped with goat cheese and balsamic vinegar makes a good side salad in the winter as well. In the summer I'll do arugula, red onion and parmesan shreds.

                1. You can thaw boneless meats pretty fast in the microwave, or by submerging in a plastic bag in warm water (cooking it promptly thereafter obviates and risk of bacterial growth). I am in that position right now - a thick boneless pork chop is taking a warm bath. Since it might still be frozen in the middle, I will slice it and stir-fry it. That doesn't require Asian seasonings - I intend to use onion, cider, and mustard. I have a sweet potato baking in the microwave. It will be cubed and added to the pan once the meat is cooked. I always have frozen vegetables to microwave, or fresh ones to steam, to complete this type of meal. Sometimes I just add the frozen vegetables to the meat near the end of cooking, and pour the whole thing over whatever starch I am making.

                  Another quick adaptation of a stuffed chicken breast is to slice bacon into bite-sized pieces, render in a skillet, add chicken breast sliced into tenders, and when almost cooked through, some flavored cream cheese - chive/onion or garden vegetable. Stir to incorporate into the pan juices for a luscious sauce. Over rice or mashed potato.

                  1. Taco salad is quick. nachos are too

                    1. I agree that a little planning goes a long way. I try (although it doesn't always happen) to take out tomorrow's protein from the freezer when I am preparing tonight's dinner. There are a lot of nights I need a quick meal (for 5) before the kids & husband go off to activities. Tonight was pan seared pork chops served with a sauce of lemon, honey, garlic, & soy which is quickly cooked ( 3 min or so) in the pan after taking out the chops. A side of buttered noodles (kid favorite) & a steamed veg, and we have a meal in about 20 min. Not gourmet, but not a can of soup, either (which isn't the worst thing in the world).
                      My quick meals all pretty much are similar - an easy protein cooked in the saute pan, either noodles or couscous, and steamed veg. Since I have other nights I can spend more time cooking, these nights are interspersed with more lengthy & elaborate meals. When I do cook stews, soups, meatballs, etc, I put half in the freezer for another night. If I remember to take that out to thaw the night before, it makes for a quick meal another time.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: elfcook

                        You could saute some chopped onion and garlic in olive oil (or for a real treat, bacon drippings) until beginning to brown....add in some chopped kale (2 cups? it cooks down quite a bit)...saute for a few minutes and then add a generous sprinkle of apple cider vinegar...saute til absorbed...sprinkle on some red pepper flakes.....then add 1/2 can of garbanzo beans and let it heat through. Serve over basmati rice for a pretty darned good meatless meal for 2 people.

                      2. Fish in a can, bread, and cheese . . . a woman after my own heart. We have had a few hectic weeks here that absented me from my usual kitchen hours, and I found myself falling back on, and reminded of, a few quick favorites.

                        Refried black beans. I have a small rice cooker, and that gets put on first. I mix the beans with the rice, and either fry eggs to serve over, or roll the mixture in tortillas. Either way, there is cheese, sour cream, tomatoes, hot sauce, and a side salad involved.

                        Breakfast for dinner. This week I was prompted to make a frittata. So easy, and quick. Sautee your vegetables, add your egg (and cheese, if you like), and finish under the broiler or in the oven. Eggs are so fast and versatile.

                        Someone else mentioned fish tacos. When I make these at home, I don't do the batter and fry thing. I'm thirty-seven, and live at my desk; I have to pick and choose what I batter and fry. ;) I just use a spicy rub for the fish and bake. Cool slightly, and break apart into a cilantro dressing (tone of recipes online, and all of them easy), and spoon the mix into the corn tortillas that you've warmed in the microwave (with a damp paper towel) for a mere thirty or so seconds. We like shredded cabbage in ours. And frozen fish fillets can be baked without thawing, but you'll have a better result if you toss them in the fridge the night before.

                        You mentioned instant ramen. Tonight, our schedule went awry again, and I am caving in to my love of spicy peanut noodles. I use instant ramen for the noodles (drained noodles, sans flavor packet), with steamed broccoli, and a simple salad.

                        Two nights ago, the boyfriend assured me that I make the best grilled sandwiches he's ever eaten. He was eating a tuna melt at the time. I default to rye for most of my sandwiches, and use mayo instead of butter if there is meat or tomatoes involved.

                        And, from me to CH for the second time this week, this is one of our favorite quick pasta recipes: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/gi...

                        But, as some others have pointed out, if you have a free day in which you can spend two or three hours in the kitchen, you can make things that are easily incorporated in dishes throughout the week. A roast chicken, or hunk of pork, just gives and gives.

                        1. As several of the other posters have said, a little planning ahead will go a long way. I plan my meals for the week, write them down and shop from my planned menu. I also try to cook at least something ahead on my days off, and that is often soup. I also like to double up when I am making something freezer friendly, and freeze one. ( some recent things I've done this with are meatballs, meatloaf and lasagna.) While I'm not crazy about most meals in the slow cooker (they all pretty much come out the same, it seems to me) I do use my slow cooker to cook chicken for shredding, which can be made into chicken enchiladas, tacos, quesadillas and Chinese chicken salad, to name a few things. I also agree that there are lots of quick pasta dishes that are good. My mom found me this cookbook at a garage sale, called "Desperation Dinners" (the authors also have a blog, called "Kitchen Scoop"....which has lots of great advice for how to stock your pantry, as well as recipes, many of which take 20 minutes or less. Again, the secret seems to be planning and preparation. I actually can make a home made pizza (with store bought whole wheat pizza dough) in less time than it takes to have one delivered. Read Chowhound...lots of great ideas here:)

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: sunflwrsdh

                            Kitchen Scoop is a great website - thanks!

                          2. I usually find having good, fresh ingredients in the fridge means I can usually rustle up something delicious without too much effort and thought.

                            A pot of mussels is quick and easy. About 2lbs of mussels per person. Sautee a couple of leeks, some shallots and celery in some butter (and oil to prevent the butter from burning) in a large pan. When it's all softened and slightly sweet (about 8-10 minutes) add in the mussels and a cup or so of dry white wine. Put the lid on the pot and about 8 minutes later you have fantastic mussels in a lovely winey broth - crusty bread really makes it good.

                            Duck breasts are so quick and easy to sear. They taste amazing and are fantastic served with a leafy salad of baby spinach. I like it dressed with some caramalised balsamic vinegar.

                            I also like to make cheats soups with pre-made stock when I'm busy. Whether you buy it or make it yourself and freeze it, having it on hand means you are only ever a few quick steps away from a great soup. Last week I made a very quick soup with some celery, fresh corn sliced off the cob, potato, bacon, chicken thigh and store bought stock. A bit of leftover cream made it decadent and probably took about 20 minutes to make. Got to love a cheats soup when you're on the go.

                            I believe there's no shame in taking short cuts when you're busy, but I am also a firm believer that good quality ingredients really make the most of it. I don't know if you can get it in the US, but Delicious Magazine (Australian) released a book called 'Faking It'. All the recipes are fantastic ways of getting great food on the table with a mininum of fuss and utilising some of those shortcuts that make the whole process easier. They have loads of different sections and about 5 recipes to each section. It's my bible when I'm working long, obscure shifts, but still want to eat good food.

                            1. I work weird hours and every-day meals are just for me. Some days I will spend hours cooking, but most weeknights I start really wanting my dinner while I'm still on the tube, so it has to be fast once I get home.

                              My favourite fast dinners:

                              Ramen or pho - I don't use the 'instant' ramen noodles that come with flavour sachets, but dried wheat or rice noodles from asian supermarkets - I like to think I'm being healthier not getting the ones made of/pre-fried in oil, but I sure make up for it in volume. I use miso paste or a combination of seasonings for my soup or stock, sear some chicken fillets, shred some greens and mushrooms and I'm good to go in about 20 minutes.

                              Pasta - the time it takes to cook in the pan is plenty of time to throw together a sauce. I fry mushrooms and diced baby eggplant (I feel that the smaller ones don't need the salting process, so I get them for the 'must eat immediately' nights), onions and garlic, throw in some canned tomatoes and any herbs I have lying around. Or it gets the butter, parmesan, chilli and lemon treatment. Or mix it with a bit of light cream cheese, some of the cooking water, herbs and any other flavour adders.

                              Couscous - I make it up using stock instead of water and shred herbs into it, then serve it under stir-fried greens (broccoli, asparagus, green beans) with shrimp or spicy tofu. The benefit is the absorption cooking - no watching the pot, adjusting the heat etc.

                              The worlds fastest red curry - make red curry paste (or buy a tub) and keep it in the fridge. The paste is the time-consuming part of a curry, when you already have it done the meal is ready in 25 minutes.

                              Make a salad the actual dinner - I'll buy mixed salad bags (I know they aren't all that great, but for one person that wants variety without buying four types of leaves they are very welcome) and top with pumpkin and sunflower seeds, red pepper, grilled halloumi and dress with a very quick olive oil, balsamic and lemon mix.

                              Stir-fries - either with ready-to-cook egg noodles, or just vegetables and a protein when I'm trying to reduce my carb dependency. My cupboard is always stocked with soy, duck sauce, mirin, ginger, garlic, palm sugar, fish sauce, oyster sauce, sambal etc thanks to my constant attempts to recreate dishes 'just like the one I had at....thai/japanese/malaysian restaurant' and reduce my takeaway spend.

                              And when all else fails....scrambled eggs, a nice peice of grainy toast and some wilted spinach.

                              1. +1 to all the posts suggesting batch cooking on your days off - things like chilli and meat sauces are a godsend if you're too hungry to go to the shops on your way home. I always make sure I have a veriety of starches (rices, pasta, coucous) in the cupboard to mix it up a tiny bit. I also like to make big batches of brown rice to freeze, which can then be steamed to heat them up. The temptation is to fall back on quick-to-cook white carbs when in a hurry, so this is a good way to be a little healthier.

                                Also taking things out of the freezer the night before, or in the morning, is a great habit to get into. I'm not yet in the habit, so post-it notes on the fridge door help.

                                I try always to have cherry tomatoes, frozen peas, a few cheeses, bacon and eggs, in the fridge, which can be made into pasta sauces or omelettes/frittata along with whatever else is in the fridge.

                                Stir fries and thai curries are also a great idea, espcially if you have some frozen rice to heat up. I also like to keep frozen prawns handy, as these can be chucked in from frozen (well, I'm still alive!) A housemate at uni used to put whole frozen chicken breasts or blocks of frozen mice into sauces to defrost, which I think is somewhat less advisable!

                                EDIT: Mince, not mice, obviously. I think food poisoning would have been the least of her worries had she been eating frozen mice.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: gembellina

                                  No, thank you for that typo! It seriously made my day :)

                                2. 1. High quality corned beef hash with perfect over easy eggs on top.
                                  2. Campbells delux soup for one (not condensed). Your favorite rice box (a not highly flavored one). Make the rice while soup is heating, ladle soup on top of rice.
                                  3. Buttered noodles nicely seasoned. "Any can of" tuna/salmon/crab/ham/turkey/chicken/shrimp.
                                  Mixed with cracker crumbs-egg-dehy onions and garlic-cream-a bit shredded celery-s&p. Form into patties and pan butter fry. Take out of pan & tighten up the "pan butter" contents to form sauce with either milk-broth-water-wine. Patties go over noodles drizzled with a bit of the sauce.

                                  I highly agree with gembellinas ideas.
                                  To me you're asking for easy quick to fix meals.
                                  Like gembellina, there are always starch fixings in pantry.
                                  Also have tubes of frozen bread products like garlic bread-bread sticks-crescent rolls-buttermilk biscuits-flakey dinner rolls on hand to open and bake off.

                                  A. If I can take out a zipper bag of chili from freezer, let it thaw,
                                  then heat it up while spaghetti noodles are boiling, top spag
                                  with chili then shredded cheddar or mozzo you're set.

                                  Same with individual zipper bags of stew or pieces of lasagna
                                  or green bean casserole, all that you've previously made and put in freezer.

                                  B. Toast up garlic bread for the lasag while it's steaming to heat up, lasag placed on hot garlic bread with parm sprinkled on top.

                                  C. Split in half dinner rolls toasted for the heating up stew which is placed on top then a dollop of sour
                                  cream.

                                  D. Flakey buttermilk biscuits for ladling the green bean casserole over. Place shredded cheese and bacon
                                  bits on top = dinner.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: iL Divo

                                    You steam leftover lasagna? Doesn't that play havoc with the textures of the pasta and the cheese? If I didn't freeze it this way, I transfer it to an ovenproof container, cover with foil and reheat. My lasagna is Hazan's green one and it's a labor of love. I wouldn't want to compromise it.

                                  2. The 1st step is to take that chicken out of the freezer before you leave work in the morning -- i.e., a variant on other's advice to plan ahead. If it is boneless, there are all sorts of dishes that you can make in under 1/2 hour either in a sautee pan or on the grill with boneless chicken breasts.

                                    My husband & I make dinner at home about 80% of all weeknights, and we rarely are at home before 7 pm. We do not do elaborate menu planning (or cooking) in advance, but before we walk out the door we do agree on what we want to have for dinner in terms of what meat/proteins needs to be defrosted. I shop once over the weekend and make sure that we have a good assortment of meats and fish in the freezer, fresh vegetables in the fridge, and pantry items. On the way home we figure the exact dish that we plan to prepare. By the time we walk in the door, we are pretty much ready to start cooking. We usually eat within 45 minutes of cooking.

                                    If you want specific recipes, let me know.

                                    1. Keeping your fridge, freezer and pantry stocked is essential. You have to keep some "back up plan" meals in stock.

                                      I make sure I always have the following: pasta noodles; jarred pasta sauce; Marie Callendar pot pies; rice; boxed rice , boxed mac and cheese; peanut butter; a 1 lb chub of ground beef; frozen cooked chicken; progresso soups; bacon; sausage; eggs; milk; bread; canned chicken and beef broth/stock; beef and chicken base; frozen italian, chorizo, kielbasa and andouille sausage; fish sticks; tator tots; hash browns; frozen veggies of all kinds especially peas.

                                      If I have that stuff, I can always throw something together. And I still get take out more than I should.

                                      When I make a meatloaf, I make two. I for the freezer. I know a meatloaf still takes 60 - 90 minutes but having it ready to thaw and bake is somehow comforting. I try to keep steaks and fish in the freezer too. Steak is the ultimate fast food.

                                      I don't live on most of this stuff but it is available as a back up to fresh cooked meals. I can always cook breakfast or pasta or a pilaf.

                                      Finally, another critical factor is keeping your dishwasher empty and running the dishwasher fairly often. If you don't, dirty dishes and pans will accumulate and you won't want to or be able to cook even if you have something to cook.

                                      1. The plan/cook ahead suggestions are all good ones, and the subject of many a post, but are really NOT what the OP is asking for.

                                        Another one that can be done in a half hour is mac and cheese, as long as you don't bake it. It's not a bad idea to freeze baggies of sauteed butttered breadcrumbs. which can then be sprinkled atop this or any other faux casserole and broiled for a minute. If I have stale unsweetened cereal, or stale crackers, I crush and brown them too.

                                        Pasta carbonara is quick, too. Bacon or pancetta eggs, and parmesan are staples here, but in a pinch I have diced and sauteed kielbasa, which was a tasty substitute.

                                        To get a pasta dish on the table quickly, you need to use the lesser amount of water method which is the subject of several posts. 2-3 quarts is enough for a pound of pasta, I prefer the no-boil method: bring lightly salted water to a boil, stir in the pasta, cover, shut off the heat. Add 2-3 minutes to the package cooking directions. Good idea to stir once after 5 minutes, but not absolutely essential. No boilovers, and it takes less time to bring a smaller volume of water to a boil.

                                        1. Parallel panic: community of ten friars and the cook doesn't show up. Half hour to go. Start a pot of Kokuho rose rice. Partially defrost boneless chicken breasts in the microwave. While that is happening, slice onion and a bit of fresh garlic and sweet peppers . While these are sauteeing in a bit of oil in a Wok, dice the chicken.Remove the onions and garlic and saute the chicken. Add back the vegetables and whatever you want to season it with: maybe soy sauce, or rice wine vinegar or whatever. Add some greens if you like (bok choy, brocolli florets or whatever or maybe some fresh basil). Finish with some coconut milk if you like or leave as is. WHen rice is done, serve it forth. Alternatively, quick cook some noodles. Heat some broth and put the chicken and vegetables in the broth and add the drained noodles when done. Slurp to your heart's delight.

                                          1. Lots of good suggestions here; I'll add a couple of mine....pound out cube, sirloin or steak of your choice: season & stuff with sauteed spinach (fresh or frozen) mushrooms, onions & garlic...add your choice of cheese or not. Stuff & roll up jellyroll style: saute in a bit of olive oil until desired doneness. You could make these up the night before or just prep the meat and finish after work. They take about 8 minutes to cook while you make a "baked" potato in the microwave and a salad. If you want to get fancy, make a quick pan sauce with a bit of red wine, beef stock and a pat of butter. Dinner.

                                            Buy those rice pouches (Lipton, etc) Use stock and a few veggies in the mix then when it starts to simmer, toss in boneless chicken, beef, pork or seafood. Put the lid on, turn down to low and cook using the package directions. Less than 20 min, you'll be eating.

                                            1. Why had I, in my single guy-dom, never been exposed to pressure cookers before? I finally invested in a good one a few weeks ago, and now I'm banging out beautiful soups and stews in less than 29 minutes, much less. And I'm only just beginning to cook under pressure!

                                              Tonight is a case in point. I tend to be a daily shopper (a Whole $$ is nearby) and I'd thought that a Portuguese Stew would be nice. Picked up the ingredients in more time (due to shopping during rush hour) than it took me totally to cook the darn thing.

                                              Just chopped and dropped into the pressure cooker: chunked linguiça, whole baby new potatoes, thinly sliced onion, pimentón, chopped garlic, rinsed canned kidney beans, squeezed out whole tomatoes, washed and chopped kale. Added S&P, a little pepper flake, chicken stock, some juice from the canned tomatoes, couple of dashes of red wine vinegar. Sealed pressure cooker, brought it up to low pressure for 6 minutes, then done. Done in 20 minutes! Awesome result.

                                              I'm eating some very interesting and tasty meals that I never would have tried after a long workday if I had not a pressure cooker.