My daughter recently moved into her first apartment and I thought everything was going smoothly until I received the following text:
Oops! Guess I skipped a couple of “How to Live on Your Own” lessons. My own mother must have skipped some too because I remember feeling the same confusion when I moved into my first apartment. Just what do I eat? The meals I remembered my mom making seemed impossibly hard for me to recreate. I didn’t even know how to cook ground beef; the first time I tried to make a burger I caught the kitchen on fire.
Thanks to a book I finally found called Where’s Mom Now that I Need Her (still in print because it’s a classic!), I finally learned to master the grown-up world of meal preparation and stain removal. I still recommend this book for expert “how to live on your own advice,” but I eventually built up a repertoire of easy recipes as a young adult that fit my own personal standards of what makes a gourmet meal. In fact, I frequently make these meals for a quick dinner to this day.
To be considered as an “easy meal” in my rotation, the meal must be:
- Quick. Forget 30 minutes. Ideally, a meal should be ready in less than 15 minutes from start to finish.
- Easy to make. No one wants to have to look up a recipe for every single thing so I like to stick with meals that didn’t require precise amounts.
- Reasonable healthy.
So to help out my daughter, her roommates and any other confused young adults in the world, I’ve dug into my memory and compiled a list of meals that are so simple you don’t even need a recipe to make.
These easy meals are perfect for busy college students who don’t have much time to make elaborate meals. Everything here is quick (except for a few meals which require some time for hands-off simmering and baking). Most take advantage of pantry items that are useful to always have on hand so there’s little, if any, pre-planning at all.
And best of all, everything is filling and tasty. No need to live on fast food!
- Scrambled Eggs and Veggies. Eggs are a great inexpensive high protein choice for any meal. Add a bag of frozen veggies and it’s the perfect meal. Start by sauteing onions and green peppers, then add in diced tomatoes before scrambling the eggs in with the veggies.
- Omelet in a bag. Another great egg choice for any meal. Take two eggs and crack them into a zip-lock bag. (I know!). Squeeze the bag a bit to mix up the eggs and add some onions, peppers, and/or ham. Put the bag into a pot of boiling water and let it sit for 5-10 minutes until the egg has omelet texture.
- Ham and Egg Fried Rice. Scramble two eggs over medium heat in a skillet until almost fully cooked (about 2 minutes). Add chopped ham and 1 cup already cooked rice (either white rice or brown rice work equally well) to still runny eggs. Continue scrambling until fully cooked (about 1 minute). Top with grated cheese and serve. (This is also good with some leftover broccoli added in with the rice.)
- Classic Egg Salad Sandwich. Coarsely chop 2 hard boiled eggs and mix with approximately 2 tablespoons mayonnaise, 1 tablespoon mustard, and salt and pepper to taste. Serve on 2 slices toasted bread.
- Tuna Melt. Toast 2 slices of bread while you mix up water-based tuna and mayonnaise. You can also add cut-up celery and a bit of balsamic vinegar if you’re feeling fancy. Spread your tuna mix on one piece of toast and sprinkle 1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese on the other piece. Toast for 10 minutes or until cheese is melted in a 350-degree oven or toaster oven. When the cheese is melted, assemble your sandwich and enjoy while watching a rerun of your favorite childhood sitcom.
- Tuna Mac and Cheese. Cook boxed macaroni and cheese according to directions. Add a drained can of tuna and frozen broccoli. Stir until mixed. (You may want to thin out the mac and cheese with some additional milk.) Top with shredded cheddar cheese.
- Cheap and Easy Chili. Brown 1 lb ground beef and 1/2 diced onion in a medium-sized pot. Add 1 can of diced tomatoes, 1 can kidney beans, 1 can tomato sauce, 1 1/2 teaspoon chili powder. Simmer for one hour or until it seems done enough and you just can’t wait anymore. Top with shredded cheese and tortilla chips.
- Guacamole and Tomato Sandwich. The perfect summer sandwich. The trick to making this into a meal and not just a sandwich is to use some really good sourdough bread. You can use any sturdy bread for this, but be aware that regular white bread might collapse under the weight of the ingredients. Toast the bread, smear on some guacamole and top with a sliced, fresh tomato. Season with salt and pepper and enjoy the awesomeness.
- Kielbasa with Onions and Green Peppers. Slice up a sweet onion (get Vidalia onions if they’re available, otherwise any sweet onion is fine) and one green pepper. Saute in 1 tablespoon olive oil until the onions are soft, then add in 1 sliced Kielbasa sausage and cook until the sausage is warm all the way through (around 5 minutes).
- Lemon Chicken Breasts and Roasted Broccoli. Marinate 1 lb boneless chicken breasts in 1/4 cup olive oil and 1 cup lemon juice with salt and pepper to taste. While the chicken marinates, preheat the oven to 450 degrees and toss fresh broccoli with olive oil, garlic salt, and pepper. When the oven is preheated, roast the broccoli on a cookie sheet for 20 minutes and saute the chicken until no longer pink.
- Sheet Pan Chicken with Sweet Potatoes and Broccoli. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut one sweet potato into small chunks (no need to peel) and cut some broccoli into smaller pieces. Spray a cookie sheet with cooking spray and place sweet potatoes and broccoli on the sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Roast in pre-heated oven for 15 minutes. While the veggies are roasting, cut up 1 chicken breast into smaller, evenly sized pieces. After 15 minutes, add the chicken to the baking sheet and place back in the oven until the chicken is cooked through and no longer pink (approximately 20 minutes). Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and serve.
- Easy Chicken and Rice Casserole. This yummy casserole is so easy to make. All you do is pour the ingredients into a 9×13 casserole dish and bake for a couple of hours. Spray casserole pan with cooking spray. Add 1 cup uncooked instant rice to the bottom of the casserole pan. Arrange cut up chicken breasts on top of the rice. Combine 1 can cream of chicken soup, 1 can cream of mushroom soup, and 1/2 cup milk and stir. Pour soup mixture on top of the chicken. Cover with foil and cook at 325 degrees until chicken is cooked through and rice is tender (approximately 2 hours).
- Crunchy Tuna Casserole. Another easy dump dinner! Simply combine 1 can tuna, 1 bag of frozen peas, 1 can cream of mushroom sauce, and 2 cups cooked egg noodles. Spoon into a 9×13 casserole dish that has been sprayed with cooking spray. Top with crushed potato chips and bake at 375 degrees for approximately 30 minutes or until warm.
- Easy Shepherd’s Pie. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cook ground beef and 1 cut up onion over medium heat until the ground beef is cooked through and the onion is tender. Add one bag of frozen peas and carrots and stir until vegetables are warmed through. Pour meat and veggie mixture into a 9×13 casserole pan. Top with pre-cooked mashed potatoes. Bake for 25 minutes, then add shredded cheese and cook for an additional 10 minutes or cheese is melted.
Pizza and Spaghetti Dishes
- Bagel Pizza. Cut a bagel in half and cover both halves with pizza sauce (or spaghetti sauce, I won’t tell) and add your choice of toppings and shredded cheese. Bake in a 425-degree oven until the cheese is melted – about 5-10 minutes.
- Pizza in a mug. Spray a large microwave-safe mug with cooking spray and layer Ritz Crackers in the mug with pizza sauce and some shredded cheese. Use a fork to mash all the ingredients together. Top with shredded cheese and pepperoni slices. Microwave until the cheese is melted (about 2 minutes). Perfect for a dorm room dinner!
- Mexican Pizza. Just like bagel pizza but with a tortilla base. These are especially delicious if you first spray the tortilla with some olive oil and bake in a 425-degree oven for 5-10 minutes until crisp. You can then add the toppings and pop back into the oven for another 5 minutes or until the cheese is melted for an easy taste treat.
- Spaghetti. Cheap and can be made so quickly. Toss spaghetti noodles in boiling water for about 10 minutes. (Turn down the heat when you put the noodles in so the water doesn’t overflow.) Cook 1 lb ground beef along with minced garlic and diced onions and then add spaghetti sauce and set to simmer for 15-30 minutes. Top with mountains of cheese and enjoy the melty goodness.
- Baked Spaghetti. An easy twist on classic spaghetti! Basically, make spaghetti as previously described but then combine the ingredients into a casserole in the following manner: layer 1/3 of the noodles in the bottom of a casserole dish and then top with 1/3 of the sauce. Continue layering like this for two more rounds and then top with a generous amount of cheese. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes or until the cheese looks nice and melted.
- Easier than You Think Spaghetti Squash. Preheat oven to 375. Using your sharpest knife, cut a spaghetti squash in half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds and then drizzle both halves of the squash with olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste. Place cut-side down on a cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil and cook in a pre-heated oven for about one hour. Scoop out the strands of the squash and eat as is with a little bit of added butter or be super decadent and cover with spaghetti sauce and cheese.
- Pizza Burger. The pizza burger is ground beef seasoned with italian seasonings and cooked in a pie plate so it’s shaped like a pizza. Get it? It’s a burger that’s shaped like a pizza. It’s also incredibly easy and wonderfully delicious. Mix ground beef with salt and pepper to taste and pat into the bottom of a pie plate. Top with tomato slices and grated cheese. Season with Italian Seasoning. Cook at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes. Cut into slices to serve.
- The Humble Veggie Wrap. Filling, delicious and good for you, this sandwich takes just seconds to prepare. Take a tortilla and smear some hummus on it. Top with fresh spinach, sliced avocado and cut up bell peppers.
- Twice Baked Potatoes. A meal in a spud! Cook a baked potato in the oven for an hour at 400 degrees or in the microwave for around 10 minutes. (Be sure and pierce the skin of the potato with a fork before baking so it doesn’t explode!) Let the potato cool for around 10 minutes and then cut it in half and scoop out the inside into a mixing bowl. Add in 1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese, 1/4 cup softened cream cheese, and salt and pepper to taste. Spoon the mixture back into the potato and then bake for 20 minutes at 400. Top with sour cream.
- Easy Black Beans and Rice. Cook rice according to the directions on the box. Cook diced onions and green peppers in a large skillet until tender. Add one can black beans and one can spicy diced tomatoes and heat for an additional 3-5 minutes. Add salt and pepper and serve over the rice.
- Impossibly Easy Zucchini Pie. Combine 1 sliced zucchini with 1 chopped tomato and 1/2 cup chopped onion. Press into the bottom of a pie dish. Stir together 1/3 cup parmesan cheese (the kind that comes in the green can, not the fresh stuff), 2/3 cup Bisquick mix, 3/4 cups milk, 2 eggs, and salt and pepper to taste. Pour the mixture over the zucchini and bake in preheated 400 degree oven for 30 minutes or until a crust has formed.
Slow Cooker Meals
If you have room for a slow cooker, it can be the easiest way to make sure you have a warm and healthy meal waiting for you at dinner time. Slow cooker meals are the perfect option for easy dinners because you just need to dump in the ingredients in the morning and let your dinner simmer throughout the day.
- Easy Pot Roast. In the morning add a 3 pound beef roast, red potatoes, one chopped onion, and 1 can of crushed tomatoes seasoned with basil to your slow cooker. Cook on low for 8 hours and invite your friends because you’ll have plenty.
- Slow Cooker Sausage and Peppers. Add 1 package italian sausage to the slow cooker. Top with 2 chopped bell peppers, 2 chopped onions, and 1/2 cup chicken or beef broth. Cook on low for 8 hours.
- Slow Cooker Chicken Fajitas. Add the following to your slow cooker: 1 pound chicken breast cut into strips, 1 large sliced onions, 1 cup salsa, 2 tablespoons taco seasoning. Cook on low for 1-2 hours. Add 2 or 3 sliced bell peppers to the slow cooker and cook for an additional hour. Serve over rice.
- The Easiest Bar-B-Q Chicken Ever. Combine a cut up whole chicken and 1 bottle of your favorite Bar-B-Q sauce. Cook on low for 8 hours and then serve on hamburger buns. So yummy!
Meals using Rotisserie Chicken
- Rotisserie Chicken with Steamed Broccoli and Rice. Store-bought Rotisserie chicken is the gift that just keeps on giving. Pick one up at your local grocery store and eat it the first day as is with a side of roasted broccoli. (Place the broccoli on a cookie sheet and lightly mist with olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste and then roast for around 20 minutes in the oven at 450 degrees.) Add a serving of rice (follow instructions on the box) and make enough broccoli and rice to use the next day in Rotisserie Chicken Fried Rice.
- Rotisserie Chicken Fried Rice. The perfect way to use up any leftovers from a Rotisserie dinner. Lightly scramble 2 eggs and then remove from the skillet. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil and stir fry 1/2 diced onion, cut up bell peppers and roasted broccoli for 3-4 minutes until vegetables are softened. Add 1 cup cooked rice and 1/4 cup soy sauce and stir-fry until heated through. Stir in the scrambled eggs for one minute and serve.
- Rotisserie Chicken and Bow-Tie Pasta. Another great way to use leftover rotisserie chicken. Prepare half of a box of bow-tie pasta. Drain the pasta and return to the pan with the burner on medium. Add 1 cup shredded chicken, 1/2 bag of frozen peas, and 1/2 jar alfredo pasta sauce. Stir until everything is warm and covered with sauce, about 5 minutes.
- Rotisserie Chicken Burrito Bowl. Prepare rice as directed and then squeeze the juice of 1/2 lime and some finely sliced fresh cilantro into the rice. Add ALL THE VEGGIES: 1/2 can black beans (drained), 1/2 can corn (drained), sliced green and red peppers, 1/2 can diced tomatoes (drained), and shredded romaine lettuce. Top with shredded rotisserie chicken and maybe a bit of shredded cheese and sour cream if you’re feeling indulgent.
- Cauliflower Fried Rice with Rotisserie Chicken. Saute diced onions in 2 tablespoons olive oil until tender and then add the cauliflower rice (see #19). Stir-fry for about 5 minutes before adding 1/2 bag frozen peas and shredded rotisserie chicken. Add 2 tablespoons soy sauce and stir-fry for another 5 minutes. Beat 2 eggs in a bowl and then pour on top. Continue stir frying until the eggs are cooked through.
- Peanut Butter Chicken and Ramen. Prepare ramen with sauce mix as directed. Drain. Mix together 2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter, 2 tablespoons soy sauce, and 1 tablespoon sriracha. Add sauce to prepared ramen along with 1 cup shredded rotisserie chicken.