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Weeknight Crunch: Top Five 20-Minute Meals

The thing that keeps me from eating out more than anything else is an easy, delicious, fast meal. Jason and I will hit that 7:00PM wall where dinner really needs to be on the table like a half hour ago, we’re both hungry, we are both tired from working all day, and I don’t really want to spend an hour in the kitchen making a fill-in-the-blank-overly-ambitious-item-on-my-meal-plan. So we go out to eat. And by the time we’ve let Bob out, crated him, decided where to go, ordered, and gotten our food I realize “wow, that took (at least) a half hour and I could have made fill-in-the-blank-easy-item-on-my-meal-plan in just 20 minutes”. I’ve decided to start stacking the odds in my favor and I make sure to always have the ingredients on hand for the follow 5 meals.The staples of which can be used for other great things like salads or just hang out in the freezer until it’s time to make them.

You’ll notice two big things with these meals.

One: While I try to eat healthy, I see these dinners as a boost to keep me on track to eating at home and cooking our own food, not Ideal dinners for healthy living. So using the microwave (which I try my best to avoid), and canned foods (another usual to avoid) comes into play. 

Two:The fresh weekly items are a regular group of staples I tend to always have because they are pretty much salad ingredients and/or common for other recipes I make each week. So they are eaten often enough to always just keep them around.

One: Spaghetti from a Jar

I know, totally not the most “healthy” meal, but commme-onnnnn, who does really deep down love spaghetti from a jar.  In the Pantry/Freezer:

  • Spaghetti noodles
  • 1 lb Ground Beef/turkey/chicken OR 2lb sautéed veg (mushroom, zucchini, and onions are great)
  • Pre-jarred spaghetti sauce of choice (we vary between the ultra cheap ragu to the super fancy homemade sauce I jar myself)
  • Salad dressing (or oil and vinegar if that’s what you like)

Fresh Weekly: 

  • Salad greens (this week was spinach)
  • Tomato
  • Cheese of choice

All you have to go is boil some noodles, grab your meat/veg of choice, saute it up in a pan, add the sauce and boom, dinner! We round it with a salad (lettuce, tomatoes + whatever cheese is in the house) and toast (whatever bread item is in the house). It feels fancy and put together, and takes about 15 minutes. 

Two: Tacos

(Totally want to try making these homemade tortillas, yum! photo from The Health Seeker’s Kitchen)

This is another lovely meal that tastes great, tacos are my favorite, looks super put together, and takes just 15 minutes to make, maybe 20 depending on the rice.  In the Pantry/Freezer:

Fresh Weekly:

  • Lettuce
  • Cilantro
  • Onions
  • Tomatoes
  • Sour cream
  • Taco sauce
  • Avocado

Start up the spanish rice (I like zatteran’s the best), brown/hydrate your “meat”, add the seasoning and let simmer, chop up the veggies for the filling, and then warm up the refried beans. And that’s it!

Three: Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup

This is probably the fastest and most nostalgic recipe on the list. Love this combo, it’s warm and tasty, and makes me think of sitting at the kitchen counter watching my mom make it when I was a kid. I’ve added the avocado and tomato since living on my own, but the memories are all the same.  In the Pantry:

  • Canned Tomato Soup

Fresh Weekly:

  • Cheese
  • Bread
  • Butter
  • Tomatoes
  • Avocado
This is pretty self explanatory: butter your bread, slice up the cheese, tomatoes, and avocado. Heat up the pan. Start up the tomato soup while it’s heating (I like to whisk in milk vs water). Half of the bread butter side down, layer up the cheese, avocado, and tomato, other half of bread butter side up. Cover and let cook until bottom bread is brown. Flip and repeat. Serve it up and enjoy!

Four: Curried Chicken

This is Jason’s go-to when I’m out of town, that’s how easy and delicious it is! In the Pantry/Freezer:

  • Chicken
  • Curry powder (we get ours from our local co-0p)
  • Walnuts
  • Raisins
  • Honey
  • Rice of choice

Fresh Weekly:

  • Celery or carrots (or both!)
  • Salad stuff

Thaw the chicken ahead of time if you think of it in the morning, place a chicken breast in a bowl of water if you think of it 2 hours before dinner, or use the (least preferred) microwave to thaw it out in a pinch (adds about 15 minutes to total time). I looked for a recipe for how I make it, and couldn’t find it. So what I do is: (1) chop up the chicken so it’s bite sized, (2) heat up a pan with about 1T olive oil in it, (3) toss in the walnuts, raisins, and any veggies, remove the walnuts and raisins still pretty firm, (4) cook the chicken and add about 1T curry powder (to taste), (5) cover it until the chicken is cooked, (6) toss the walnuts and such back in, then dump loads of honey into the mix. Add-ons:If it’s watery I’ll add a little corn starch or arrow root. If I have it, I’ll add a small (4 oz) can of coconut milk. Then I serve it over the rice with a salad in a bowl on the side. If you want (leave me a comment if you do), I can post a better step by step recipe post on it’s own.

Five: Pepper Steak with Rice

This is another oldie but goodie. My mom first got the recipe from our neighbor Deb. I got the recipe from my memory. I’m not sure how true it is to Deb’s version (step in here in the comments Deb if you see this!), but I still make it all the time and LOVE it. Jason’s always impressed. It takes about 20 minutes to make if the meat’s thawed, about 30 if I need to zap it in the microwave.  In the Pantry/Freezer:

  • Round steak
  • Soy sauce
  • Corn starch
  • Canned diced tomatoes (fresh is better)
  • Cracked Pepper
  • Rice of choice

Fresh weekly:

  • Garlic (crushed or diced or crushed and then diced)
  • 2 Green and/or Red bell peppers
  • 1/2 medium Onion (of choice)

Here’s how I make it:Start up the rice first, cut the round steak into bite sized (about 1/2″ wide and 2″ long), saute the garlic, onions and peppers in a little olive oil. Remove from the pan. Cook the beef until it’s just about done, mix together 1/4 cup soy sauce, 1/4 cup hot water, and 1 T corn starch and add to the beef. Let simmer until the sauce thickens, add the veggies back to the mix. Add either 1 Large diced tomato OR one can (drained) diced tomatoes. Serve over the rice.

So now I have to ask, what’s your favorite quick, but delicious and semi healthy meal to make?

Happy cooking! Kristin Roach

7 thoughts on “Weeknight Crunch: Top Five 20-Minute Meals

  1. I make a really fast fish curry with thai curry paste, fish sauce, coconut milk, frozen edamame or peas and canned tuna or frozen catfish fillets.  It only takes a few minutes,even with frozen fish.  If I have time I make white rice, if not I serve it with noodles.

    Thanks for the reminder for the importance of good pantry items.  Think I’ll go update my grocery list.

  2. When my husband and I are hungry and don’t feel like cooking, we do a bean dip.  You use a full can of rinsed black beans, 1/4th cup shredded cheese, 1/4 chopped onion, 1/4-1/2 cup plain yogurt, salt, pepper, and any other spices you feel like including. Then you mix it all up and have with corn chips! It’s so delicious and addicting that it’ll be gone before you know it. :D

  3. 6 days out of the week, carbs, starch, and sugar are off the diet. Beans and veggies are totally on the list though. Most of what I make involves black beans since they’re filling and have a lot of protein. Dinner a few days ago was steamed broccoli and carrots with chopped chicken, black beans, and Penzey’s Bold Taco seasoning all thrown together in a bowl. Super tasty and I wasn’t hungry an hour later. 

    Turkey Chili is another big favorite at my house. 

  4. Thanks for the idea! It inspired me to try out a recipe from Everyday Foods April 2009 for fried rice with an egg cracked over it for dinner tonight! 

  5. That sounds really good! I’m sad to admit I’ve never tasted the wonders of fish curry. I think I’ll have to give this a try next week. I think we have some walleye in the freezer my dad gave to me after the last fishing season. Yum!

  6. Those are both great ideas. I just started being more mindful of my eating today by tracking on LiveStrong. From being so sick I just was eating whatever (or not much at all!). I feel so much better when I clean up my diet and I’m working on resetting my tastebuds again. More whole foods, less processed, less meat, more veg and fruit and beans and yogurt (to help recover from the antibiotics they put me on).

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