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Simple Meals for the Time Starved Professional

I've just finished university and I'm just about to start work. I've gone from having a lot of time to prepare meals to having close to no time at all. While in college, I could spend a lot of time experimenting with cooking techniques and trying out different recipes, and boy did I learn a lot.

Now, I just want to get home and have something healthy, filling and simple to eat.

Do any of you know any healthy, simple meals that can be prepared in under 20 minutes?

I have a steamer, a sous-vide machine, a small slow cooker, a microwave, and a stove.

I've looked at once a month / once a week cooking, but it seems a bit extreme for me.

I'll start:

Four ingredient Chili
1x Package of Ground Beef
1x Can of Kidney Beans
1x Can of Stewed Tomatoes
1x Packet of chili spice
Step 1. Open Everything, Drain excess liquid, Dump into Pot, Bring to Boil
Garnish with whatever you have on hand (sour cream, nachoes, etc.)

Four ingredient Chicken Pot Pie
1x leftover BBQ Chicken (The rotisserie ones they sell at the supermarket)
1x frozen pie crust
1x can of cream of chicken soup
1x can of mixed vegetables (don't bother draining it)
Step 1. Tear up the chicken into small chunks and bring to a boil in a dutch oven with the cream of chicken soup and mixed vegetables
Step 2. Bake Crust on top.

Do any of you have simple recipes like these ones?

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    1. I *always* kept a bag of frozen Chinese vegetables and a bag of individually frozen boneless, skinless chicken breasts in my freezer.

      Start some rice, and by the time the rice is done, you have stir-fry.

      Not top-level gourmet, but simple, fast, and healthy.

      And pasta. LOTS of pasta.

      1. I've really liked Jacques Pepin's "Fast Food my Way" and "More Fast Food my Way" as good cookbooks that have gotten me out of my after work rut. You can view the episodes online here: http://www.kqed.org/food/jacquespepin/ (scroll down a bit).

        One of the recipes that is in his book but not on the website is this one http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/as... It's a big Favorite in my house and so simple. It's mostly done in the oven so you can sit in front of the TV and enjoy a glass of something while it's baking.

        I also really enjoyed his almond cake as a fast dessert.

        2 Replies
        1. re: cosmogrrl

          That Pepin shrimp recipe looks terrific, especially for this thread. Must try soon. Thanks.

          1. re: Bada Bing

            I use about 1.5 times the mushrooms he calls for because we love mushrooms so much!

        2. Don't forget about Rachel Ray's 30 minute meals, and that other fake Rachel Ray lady's 5 ingredient fixes (I can never remember her name).

          Also, really easy, drop a beef roast over some sliced onions and garlic in your slow cooker in the morning. Season it with salt and pepper. Turn to low, and when you come home you have some tasty, tender beef.

          1. Congratulations on this new phase of life!

            Alas, it's never easy to accomplish this balancing act between speed and real tastiness/variety. And in the first months at a new job (new place, too?), it can be exhausting at the end of the workday.

            When I was in your position, I actually found myself taking my time to cook, because I found that cooking worked for me like a kind of decompression and meditation. Some of my friends couldn't believe that I'd spend an hour or more putting together dinner for myself. But I just knew that microwaving a frozen dinner, while faster, was not something that would help my quality of life much.

            But that's me and my schedule. Taking your challenge as stated, I think that learning to work with leftovers can help a lot. Also, it's helpful to plan a bit ahead where possible (say, put a handful of frozen shrimp in the fridge the night before, maybe even if you're not sure whether the shrimp will be eaten straight up, or as part of a pasta or rice dish, or in an Asian stir fry...)

            About leftovers, for example, when I make rice at all, I generally make twice what I need, because leftover rice is actually called for in a fried rice a day or two down the road. Thaw a few shrimps or other protein chunks, spoon out some Thai chili paste, slice some peppers and onions, get an egg or two ready to crack, and you're well on your way to a fried rice in less than 30 minutes.

            I've also heard that salad fans can save lots of time by prewashing and even precutting several days worth of salad basics for storage in the fridge. Then they just vary the salads with stuff on hand each day (rotisserie chicken, ham chunks, hard-boiled eggs, turkey slices...)

            1. Congratulations on your new station in life. If you have a grill available then simple dishes like grilled fish or chicken breasts, or hamburger, are easily prepared in under 30 minutes. Serve with a salad or steamed vegetables, and some rice or potato, & you have dinner.

              Alternately to meals that can be prepared in 20-30 minutes, assuming that I'm not famished when I get home, I like meals that are ready in about 1 hour, but only take about 5 minutes of prep, and then cook themselves while I put my feet up to relax for a while. Things like meat loaf or baked chicken thighs.

              And, in follow-up to Bada Bing's comments on salads, in the summer one of our favorite fast meals is salade nicoise. Prepare the green beans and potatoes in vinaigrette the night before, as well as hard-boiling a couple of eggs, and the whole thing comes together in about 15 minutes the next day.

              1. I'm actually serious about the following:

                1. Boil water
                2. Put grain item in water
                3. Put an optional can of something (like beans or tomato) in water
                4. Put herbs/spices in water
                5. Chop stuff up (Garlic, onions, etc.)
                6. Put protein and chopped stuff in water
                7. Microwave some frozen vegetable
                8. Put vegetables in water (which should be almost gone by now) along with optional sauces
                9. Finish with stuff (olive olive, lemon, etc.)

                I do something like the above at least a few times a week.

                1. One of my favorite easy meals is to thoroughly douse a thick salmon steak with store-bought fresh salsa and bake for about 25 minutes at 400. Microwave a baking potato while the oven is preheating and then stick it in the oven with the fish.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: pasuga

                    This reminded me of my quick salmon filet (not steak) for weeknight dinners.

                    1. Pour a bit of olive oil onto plate or shallow baking pan, and season with Kosher salt & pepper. Place salmon filet in oil, turn to coat, and let sit for about 5-10 minutes.

                    2. Meanwhile start some rice or potatoes. I have an easy rice pilaf recipe that takes about 20 minutes, that I usually make.

                    3. Place salmon filet, skin side down on broiling pan, and place under hot broiler for about 8 minutes. No need to turn it.

                    4. make some sort of green vegetable or salad. The fastest is to steam brocolli or asparagus as they take so little time to prepare.

                    5. Serve fish with lemon wedges.

                    1. re: pasuga

                      don't laugh -- this sounds kinda weird, but it's good.

                      Spread a salmon steak or filet with mayonnaise (mayo, please - Miracle whip makes it taste weird) - sprinkle lightly with dill and black pepper. Pop it into the toaster oven at 350.

                      Gives you time to go change clothes, steam some broccoli, and make some rice or a potato.


                    2. Omelets. I use anything that's on hand. I have them for any meal of the day. A tiny bit of something that you wouldn't bother with can go with a couple of other things and make a nice little omelet.

                      Your slowcooker is your friend. There's just the two of us so I always get several meals from one cooking. If I do Latino flavors, then some beans, salsa, cheese in a tortilla and I have a dinner.

                      1. I actually like to cook on sunday. i cook a steak or london broil and then throughout the week use it in many different ways. Steak salad one night, steak quesadillas another, pasta with steak etc. I just cook the steak with salt and pepper, then I can combine sauces to make whatever I want with it. Works pretty well for quick evening dinners or lunches.

                        1. My go to meal when I only have 20 minutes and want something balanced and flavorful is a Thai-style red curry. I slice up an onion and saute it in a good amount of vegetable oil with red curry paste (I always have Mae Ploy brand in the fridge). When the curry paste is fragrant, in goes a sliced vegetable (carrots, broccoli, cabbage, bok choy, whatever you like) and cook for a minute or two, then add your protein of choice (cubed firm tofu, chicken, shrimp, even ground pork will work). Then add a can of coconut milk, fish sauce and brown sugar to taste, a little water if it seems too thick and cook until the protein and veggies are done to your liking. Season to taste with salt and pepper and garnish with chopped cilantro or thinly sliced green onions and lime wedges. I buy frozen brown rice at Trader Joe's and microwave one of the bags (~3 minutes) at the end. The bag has enough rice for 2 people. The current issue of Fine Cooking has an article with lots of variations but the one I just described is one I have been doing for years and it never lets me down.

                          1. Here's Marcella Hazan's spaghetti carbonara recipe.


                            I make it for two. You could do for one or MW leftovers. I generally use bacon because I have it on hand. All the other ingredients are on hand also so it's a real go-to.