Your Back-Pocket Easy Meals - "Big Bang for Buck"

Do you (or did you, at a very busy point in your life) have recipes you return to when you’re short on time but want something homecooked? Not talking haute cuisine, but rather how you really eat when you don’t have a lot of time for food prep but want to avoid takeout. Are there “shortcut” ingredients or techniques you turn to to shorten cook time or streamline ingredient lists? Old favorites that everyone loves that give you a lot of proverbial “bang” (deliciousness) for your “buck” (whether money or time)?

As a toddler parent who loves to cook but has a lot of competing demands, I’m asking for your go-to weeknight recipes, family favorites, and the dishes you make when you are short on time, energy, and maybe inspiration. Give me your old reliable or “more than the sum of their parts” recipes and meal ideas! Ingredient lists or recipe links are great, too.



Stir-fried whatever with oyster sauce over rice. Takes very little time and even less thought.


Open faced sandwich, hot or cold. Or, Something that I can run thru a toaster oven purchased at TJs. . And, the whole idea behind container foods (prep’d food ready to roll) is the luxury of pulling out fixins from frig or freezer.

And when all else fails, I make a meal from good bread, cheese, sliced meats, jarred pickled veg and a cold drink.

Rather than a recipe, unless its straight up leftovers, quick around here is not recipe driven.


Mixing and matching prepared food and home cooking works for us. My get-out-of-jail-free card is that I’ll buy a prepared main, such as a container of prepared meatballs, so that I can focus on prepping and cooking fresh vegetables and/or salad on weeknights. So using the meatball example we’d get a pizza, a protein + veg meal, and a pasta meal out of the same purchase by adding lots of vegetables.

The reason is that in summer we buy a Farm (CSA) share that keeps the fridge loaded with fresh veggies that demand attention. Great topic, @ChristinaM!


A few we like:

Miso-teriyaki glazed salmon from Dinner a Love Story blog

Bone-in pork chops dusted with fennel and braised with blanched kale and marinara sauce (adapted from Dinner a Love Story)

Fish nugget (TJ’s) tacos and cilantro slaw

Roasted cauliflower and soyrizo tacos

Crock-pot taco chicken thigh and refried bean tostadas

Thai curry over cauliflower rice

Grilled protein and veg

Cuban bowls - rotisserie chicken or leftover pulled pork, black beans, avocado, sour cream, tomatoes, sometimes cucumber, and hot sauce over rice cooked with olive oil and salt

Mapo tofu (not recently)

Chicken tikka masala with green beans simmered in the (jarred but good) sauce, cauliflower rice

Buffalo chicken breast over blue cheese slaw with celery

These are more mundane than we used to eat, but often fast overrules.


I made these 2 dishes often…both are from Jamie Oliver.

I ignore rhubarb if they are not in season.

I use rosemary if I don’t have sage at hand. Works good.


Frittata, stir fry, taco bowls. I have also been keeping frozen Bubba Burgers on hand lately for nights when I forget to thaw meat - they cook from frozen in about 5 mins, just enough time to make a side salad.


Scrambled eggs with diced onions and bell pepper, and whatever cheese we have in the 'fridge; with Ore-Ida Tater Tots from the oven.


Those recipes look great. Im less ambitious when time is precious.

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Wow, thats pretty ambitious cooking out of your pocket!

Crockpot pork chili verde (boneless country-style ribs in Trader Joe’s Salsa Verde and Hatch Chili Verde - or skip the Hatch chili one if you want it mild) – I make a big batch and freeze it in portions – makes great tacos or a Mexi bowl along the lines of your Cuban one but with pinto beans, lime crema (sour cream + lime juice), tomatoes and radishes over rice, pickled red onions if I have some.

Hotpot as suggested by Harters on a very long-ago WFD: couple cans of white beans (drained) in a casserole mixed with some strained tomatoes (I use the tomato sauce that comes in 8 oz cans), harissa and both whole grain and Dijon mustard, top with Italian sausages (hot or sweet, your preference) drizzled with a bit of olive oil and into the oven at anywhere from 375 to 425 till the sausages are cooked through, about 25 minutes depending on how big they are. A salad with it is nice but not necessary if you need that time to do laundry instead.

If you have an Instant Pot or pressure cooker, Kenji’s Colombian Chicken on Serious Eats could not be easier or yummier – it is WAY more than the sum of its parts. I use thighs and an extra potato. ETA: also use a box of Pomi diced tomatoes instead of fresh. And you need to count on 20+ minutes for the IP or PC to come up to pressure.


The hands on time isn’t a lot. Yeah, you need some time for the chicken in the oven.

I like the pork verde and chicken stew ideas especially, thanks!

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Ginger scallion lo mein (with some oyster and/or chili sauce. This is not with the thicker noodles often found in American Chinese Lo Mein, but the finer egg noodles that is more common in HK.

Spam fried rice! Lite or turkey spam now a days.

Japanese “hamburg” - OK, these aren’t really quick, but when I make them, I make a big batch and freeze them. Excellent for just grabbing out of the freezer and cooking for dinner when there is no time.

I always make rice for the next few days so cooked rice is almost always in my fridge.

Lemon thyme roasted chicken thighs

Pan seared salmon with ochazuke. The ochazuke is just rice again, with some is the seasoned “tea” packs that you can get at the markets.

For greens, I eat a ton of Chinese leafy greens, so it’s easy to stir fry or blanche and serve with oyster sauce.

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Giada’s Chicken Cacciatore

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I got ingredients to make this this week. And I even have Colombian black mint and pepper pastes to mess around with in the dish. Yum!

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When it’s cool enough to use the oven I really loved this sheet pan meal with kale and coconut- although i just use the entire bunch of kale and leave out the siracha

There’s also the one pot kale and quinoa that’s a good stovetop hands off thing, use whatever sturdy greens. I swap in olives or capers instead of the cheese and just use whatever nuts i have on hand

As you can tell from WFD i’ll make about anything into a (potentially weird) salad, but something like a greek salad with purchased dolmas and good feta is easy.
salad nicoise is a good one, especially if you have the hard boiled eggs done ahead of time and use small potatoes that cook quickly


Pretty much what you see on wfd . Alot of chicken cooked in the pan . Just changing the starch and vegetable. There is no decent fish where I live . Lazy and tasty .

Very cool - new to me

The pilaf definitely appeals! I made the sheet pan dish once but changed up the marinade and pre-blanched the kale - ended up being more laborious but good.