When your day just doesn’t go as planned or you simply don’t feel like cooking up a storm, here are four super easy “real food” dinners that can be whipped up in 15 minutes or less. That’s faster than the pizza delivery man. And most of these meals are made from ingredients with a decent shelf life that don’t have to be defrosted or prepared in advance. So if you pick up some of the suggested “items to have on-hand” the next time you’re at the store then you’ll be all set the next time you suddenly need to whip up a super quick wholesome dinner. Please also feel free to share your easy and fast “real food” dinner ideas in the comments below.
- Spaghetti with Sautéed Onion/Veggies
Items to have on-hand:
– Dry organic whole-grain noodles – Look for a 1 or 2-ingredient organic pasta product that contains something like “organic whole durum wheat flour” and maybe “water” (avoid “semolina” because that is the refined version of whole durum wheat)
– Jar of organic spaghetti sauce – Eden Organic “no salt added” spaghetti sauce recommended (pictured)
– Olive oil or butter – For sauteing the veggies
– Onion – I always try to have onions in the house…they have a fairly long shelf life and can be used in so many different recipes
– Fresh (or frozen) organic vegetables – Some veggies that would nicely complement this dish are zucchini, yellow squash, bell peppers, and mushrooms
– Optional items – Freshly grated parmesan cheese, fresh or dried herbs for added flavoring of the sauce
1. Boil pasta according to package directions. Once the water is boiling most noodles take 7 – 10 minutes.
2. While noodles are boiling dice about a quarter of an onion. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil (or butter) in a large sauté pan over medium-low heat and add the onions.
3. While the onions are cooking dice/chop the veggies and add them to the pan with the onions. Turn the heat up to medium and sauté until veggies soften, about 5 – 7 minutes. If you are using frozen veggies heat them up according to package directions or throw them in the pan to defrost/cook.
4. Once the veggies are tender pour the jar of spaghetti sauce into the pan. Spend a few minutes warming up the sauce and then taste test to see if it needs anything else (like salt, pepper, or herbs).
5. Drain the noodles and divvy them up. Pour the veggies/sauce over top and garnish with freshly grated parmesan cheese (if using).
- Scrambled Eggs with Fruit (with Optional Greens and/or Sausage)
Items to have on-hand:
– Eggs – I don’t know about you, but eggs are something I always try to have stocked since there are so many uses…also local, pastured and/or organic eggs are recommended.
– Organic Butter – For cooking the eggs
– Fresh or frozen organic fruit – Any fruit will work
– A whole-grain bread-like item – Anything could complete this meal including whole-wheat sandwich bread (to make toast), whole-grain crackers (like Ak-Mak, Triscuits, or Multiseed), or possibly some homemade whole-grain muffins or biscuits if you happen to have some around
– Optional items – Cheese, jelly (if making toast), kale or spinach, local pastured sausage
1. If using the optional kale or spinach puree it in the blender along with the eggs. I usually figure two eggs per person. If you don’t have greens just crack open and scramble the eggs with a fork. Be sure to season with salt and pepper.
2. Heat a medium sized sauté pan over medium-low heat and add a generous pat of butter. Once the butter has melted pour in the eggs. Let them sit for a few minutes before you start to “scramble” them.
3. While the eggs are cooking make the sausage (if using) according to package directions and toast the bread and chop/wash the fruit. If the fruit is frozen run it under warm water to help it defrost (or blend with other ingredients to make a smoothie).
4. Once the eggs are done all the way through sprinkle cheese on top (if using). Serve with the fruit, toast/crackers, and optional sausage.
- Whole-Wheat Organic Boxed Mac & Cheese with Frozen Peas and Optional Bacon/Hot Dogs (just for the kids…or for the whole family if you are really in a pinch!)
Items to have on-hand:
– Annie’s whole-wheat organic boxed macaroni and cheese (1 – 2 boxes) – There is only ONE variety of Annie’s mac and cheese that even comes close to fitting the real food bill (pictured) so be sure to analyze the options closely!
– Organic frozen peas – There should only be 1-ingredient listed on the bag…avoid frozen veggies that come with sauces/flavorings
– Optional – Organic grass-fed bacon or hot dogs
1. Boil and make the macaroni by following the directions on the box.
2. If using bacon/hot dogs cook according to package directions. When done cooking chop/dice the meat.
3. Once the macaroni is done and the cheese sauce has been mixed in add the frozen peas (no need to defrost them). The frozen peas will simultaneously thaw while they also cool off the macaroni. Mix in the chopped bacon/hot dogs (if using).
- Pizza Toast (or Bagels) with a Side of Raw Veggies
Items to have on-hand:
– Whole-wheat sandwich bread (or bagels)
– Jar of organic pizza/pasta sauce: Eden Organic brand recommended
– Organic cheese: A block of mozzarella is recommended and if unopened will stay fresh for several weeks in the fridge (Avoid the pre-grated stuff because it has a powdery anti-caking additive)
– Raw veggies: Carrots, celery, cucumbers or bell peppers would all be tasty quick side items
– Optional: Freshly grated parmesan cheese (for the pizza), hummus or homemade ranch dip for the veggies
1. Slice the bread/bagels and spread a tablespoon or two of the pizza/pasta sauce on the top. Sprinkle with mozzarella cheese and heat in the oven (or toaster oven) just until the cheese melts and starts to turn brown.
2. While the pizza toast is cooking wash/slice veggies and make dip (if using). When the pizza comes out of the oven top with grated parmesan cheese (if using).
132 thoughts on “Real Food Tips: 4 Super Quick Wholesome Dinners”
I made one of your weeknight quick dinners. Some whole wheat penne, Real butter, milk, freshly grated cheddar. Then I cooked a bag of frozen mixed vegetables, some extra peas, and mixed it in. I also added a can of diced tomatoes rotel, it does have more than 5 ingredients, (7total). There’s an organic version but still has 7 ingredients. Maybe buying just green chilies and just diced tomatoes? However, There is still citric acid and calcium chloride in the organic version. It seems if I split them up, I’m still getting the same ingredients just using two different cans to technically have 5 ingredients per item. I don’t think that’s the point. A little help here please? We love the little kick of the spicy tomatoes and chilies.
You’d be hard-pressed to find canned tomatoes without either calcium chloride or citric acid, especially citric acid. The former is a firming agent and the latter is a preservative. Your body makes citric acid on its own and it’s naturally occurring in many plants; it’s not scary. You can buy it in the store as “sour salt” and it’s used in canning, both home and commercial, to retain color and acidify what’s being canned. This is important to inhibit bacteria and not give you botulism. Calcium chloride is a salt and similarly is naturally occurring in things like limestone; it’s often used to either add salty flavor without increasing sodium content or as a way to make sure your canned foods don’t come out like mush. Either way, the amount added of either of these is really small and the amount in what you actually eat is even smaller.
Chemicals are not inherently scary. I don’t worry about the small amount of chemicals used to make my food safe to eat. I worry about cheap, petroleum-based synthetic additives used to cut corners in manufacturing and are the hallmarks of highly-processed foods. In with canned tomatoes, out with Cheez-Its.
Fried Rice, just cook up some brown rice, scramble an egg, mix it in with some frozen veggies, a little coconut oil and just a drop of soy sauce. Easy quick delicious.
I really love your blog. I recommend it almost weekly to help people stop eating processed food. Hot dogs? Really? Wow, that is the worst. Not eating them would be a “whole” lot better than advice to add them in just because your in a pinch. They are not even good in a desperate situation. Maybe if your hangry because you miss them so much and realize it terrible to eat them but you just have to get it out of your system for a year or so!
We always recommend organic and grass-fed options. Applegate has some great options when it comes to meat. – Nicole
We used the Mac & Cheese idea tonight. My kids like to call it Mac & Cheese with Peas. The rhyming makes it taste better.
We have breakfast food a lot when we don’t have anything else ready. Especially working fulltime and not getting home until after 5pm. Whip up whole grain pancakes and now I have added a little cottage cheese and whatever berries we have on hand in the batter and it not only adds a little protein but taste great. Adding Greek yogurt to the batter is good too.
Awww, my mom used to make pizza toast a lot when we were kids. It was easy, yummy snack. But my mom didn’t use organic version of the ingredients..
For everyone anti-Annie’s, there are other organic mac n cheese brands to buy. There is one Ancient Harvest Quinoa mac n cheese that isn’t bad and is GF & organic. But, I don’t think having Annie’s mac n cheese out of a box and organic beef hot dogs every once in a while is going to kill anyone! Like someone else said, it sure beats ordering a pizza or going through a drive through. And even doing that every once in a while won’t kill you either! All in moderation-if you’re doing majority whole foods/organic, I wouldn’t worry about a splurge here and there. I understand in a perfect world it would be best to boycott all the companies that support GMO’s, but that would be way too limiting and not realistic at all for most families.
Have you tried Tolerant lentil pasta? It’s one ingrediant (lentils :-)) and my kids love it. Throw some pasta sauce and parmasean cheese ans it’s great for the whole family. While it’s expensive (8.99 a box!) my kids happily eat pasta (knowing its beans) and get a ton of protein. Would love to know your thoughts. Thanks!
Hi Elizabeth. I’ve not tried that one but have had several other bean pastas and love them! ~Amy
We do most of these meals regularly on school nights. Another really quick option is an indoor picnic. Usually includes hummus, some kind of nuts, carrots and/or pepper strips, break that can be torn and dipped in the hummus, whatever fruit we have (apples and grapes are the favorites), and cheese cubes. If I don’t have the right kinds of bread, I will pop some popcorn in the microwave using your lunch bag trick.
A couple of our easy meals are:
Frozen soup from our freezer, when we make chili, soups, etc. we usually make a big batch and freeze it for those crazy nights when we need fast food.
We also get quality “lunchmeats” from a local farmer and those can make quick and portable meals paired with some cheese, veggies, fruit, etc.
Shrimp–We get quality frozen shrimp and it takes minutes to run it under water and defrost, I lay it on a baking sheet and toss with olive oil, sea salt and pepper. Roast it for about 8 minutes. I mix up a quick cocktail sauce with organic ketchup or homemade ketchup and a bit of horseradish. Serve with steamed frozen vegetables and we can have dinner on the table in about 15 minutes.
Can you give some suggestions for ‘healthy’ hot dogs?
Hi Rebecca. Lisa sometimes buys Applegate Farms Organic. ~Amy
Are you kidding me with these recipes. These are 5th grade level recipes. Why even post these. These are below basic recipes. Mac n cheese with peas & hot dogs. Really?
The point, as indicated in the title, is that they are super quick dinners that are still wholesome. I think most of us have been in a position where we haven’t planned dinner and everyone is starving and you need to get food on the table. I love to have a good repertoire of ridiculously simple dinners using items I have on hand.
That cracked me with the Annie’s, that is the one I buy and I always put peas in it! It is my daughters favorite. I have been told that it was weird to put peas in it, so thank you for making me not the only one!
I recently discovered a pasta sauce from Mezzetta. It was made from imported tomatoes and seemed safe. Maybe it wasn’t organic. Is that a factor?
Hi Leah. It certainly doesn’t disqualify it as an option. :) It is up to you whether you choose organic or not. The only tomatoes to make the dirty dozen list this year were the cherry variety: http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/. Buying organic does promise certain levels of quality and no artificial colors or ingredients. ~Amy
Thanks so much for these tips. Truly easy dinners – yahoo! Another thing I keep on hand is a jar of pesto. Easy to add to pasta noodles or spread on pita with cheese for pesto pizza. Please keep the ideas coming!!
I’m confused as to why, when you’re promoting real food, you would recommend anyone eating hotdogs? Seems completely out of alignment with your message to me.
Lots of butchers/farms who have grass-fed cows and pigs make their own hot dogs, or “Longaniza” as my local farm calls them. They may not be AS good as an intact slab of meat, but many times better and healthier than most store-bought hotdogs.
…also, hotdogs only happen on occasion in the Leake household. They are not a staple. ~Amy
Instead of canned pizza sauce, I use organic crushed tomatoes and just add my own spices to taste. I can then freeze any leftovers and have pizza sauce handy at anytime. Plus, no added sweeteners or sugars.
An easy alternative to jarred pasta sauce and just as quick is a large can of crushed tomatoes. Add in some italian seasoning and you have pasta sauce without any additives and the best part – no heartburn. It tastes easy and fresh. Whatever jarred sauces I used to used my husband always complained of heartburn – not at all since I started using crushed tomatoes – if I want chunkier sauce I’ll throw in a can of diced tomatoes. Just make sure its the low/no sodium ones and no seasonings. We use this as a pizza sauce too.
Fantastic. This makes me feel less guilty for serving scrambled eggs and fruit for dinner (one of my kids favorite meal!). I make homemade whole wheat waffles in batches and freeze them, then defrost to serve with the eggs on “breakfast for dinner” night.
PS – Thanks for the guidance on the Annie’s!!! My little girl loves it but I was suspicious of the ingredients on several varieties.
I like to make cheater chicken parm on nights where the kids have a lot of homework or projects. Itâ€™s quick to put together and cooks while I assist them with their homework. I keep organic grass fed chicken nuggets on hand along with organic pasta sauce and organic noodles. My boys love pasta night ïŠ
What you need:
1 pkg breaded organic nuggets
2 jars organic spaghetti or marinara sauce (I like to use one of each
Â½ tsp organic oregano
Â½ tsp cumin
2 C organic cheese (I use either mozzarella or ricotta depending on my mood) Separate into 2 cups
1 box organic noodles
What to do:
Preheat your oven to 400*.
Spray casserole dish with your choice of organic oil
Spread an even layer of sauce to coat the bottom of the dish. Then add a layer of chicken and another layer of pasta. Cover the chicken and noodles well with another layer of pasta sauce. Next add your layer of 1 cup of cheese of choice. Repeat with remaining chicken and noodles. Make sure to cover well with sauce as the sauce will be helping your noodles to cook ïŠ. Cover and bake for 50 minutes. At the end of the 50 minutes I will add a heavy layer of mozzarella cheese and parmesan cheese and bake for another 10 minutes uncovered. Happy eating.
This is something I haven’t seen before. It sounds good. Do you have to boil the noodles first or put them in the dish uncooked?
I’m the same way- come the end of the day, there are many days that I’m just not feeling it.
I’ve found that if I make the plan to make about 10 dinners on a Sunday- usually they are all crockpot means thrown together into a ziploc bag. I freeze them all, then I have at least 10 “when I just don’t feel like it” dinners OR when we’ve got stuff going on and I’m not going to be home to cook, but going out is just not an option.
It’s been very, very helpful!
You ladies are awesome! Of course you probably already know that! LOL. Thank you for the great ideas!
Great article. I would like to see more like this! really helpful.
We have a family of 7 and homeschool. My husband is working 7 days a week right now, usually 10 hr shifts. By the time dinner comes, some days “it just ain’t happenin’!” We have seen too many nights of all our local restaurants. We hate ourselves for it, but no, no matter if someone else on here can whip up homemade mac and cheese in 15 minutes, it just ain’t happenin’ here! I can’t even tell you how much I appreciate this truly easy list. I’d love about 20 more ideas. (That are truly easy. Not requiring prior prep, or heroic “It only takes so long to make it from scratch!” That’s not the point of THIS article!!! I can make a lot from scratch, and we do. But we get soooo tired and burned out, and we don’t want to make ANYTHING from scratch when we’re that tired. THANK YOU so much for this sooooo desperately needed post!!! PLEASE add more! I know they’re easy ideas. I can handle the “tough stuff” on my own. I need easy. Truly easy. My wallet and our stomachs thank you
My fave is chicken and salsa in the crockpot all day. By dinner time it shreds and can be tacos, burritos, nachos, or add beans, corn, tomatoes, and some chicken broth and call it tortilla soup. Never gets old!!
We often make hamburger, rice and salsa wraps.
1cup instant rice (we’ve been substituting with leftover steamed brown rice)
Brown hamburger, add water and salsa, bring to a boil, add rice and take off heat, cover.
Ready in 5 minutes.
Serve on your favorite wraps with sour cream, cheese, veggies etc.
We double the above recipe for our family of 5 and then the kids take it for a couple of days for lunch. (Without the wrap)
We also homeschooled our children and we both worked. What saved us from take out and restaurants were two things: a 6week menu plan and the crockpot or our big 20 qt electric roaster you can use as a crockpot. I shopped every Saturday morning (usually coming from work) and while I napped, the kids would prep the veggies and meat for the week and either place in the freezer or fridge. We had each of the kids make a list of 7 each of their favorite breakfast, lunch and dinners and snacks and I would make the list for myself and my hubby. We would go over the lists and mark out what was repeated; from there we made up six weeks of menu plans with 1 day each week designated to a take out or restaurant dinner. If, on that weeks plan, we didn’t “feel like” eating what was that days meals, we substituted another day on the plan knowing that we would make the blah meals sometime that week. It not only saved time and $$$, but a lot of angst about what to make that day.
When my four kids were growing up, it was not so much that I didn’t want to cook anything on those kind of nights, it was that I didn’t want to cook anything at all and deal with cleaning up a kitchen!
I make stove top mac n cheese from scratch- it really can be very quick. Start your water boiling for whatever pasta you plan to use… then in a separate pot, melt 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat. To that, whisk in 1 1/2 tablespoons of flour (whatever kind you want). Stir it up well, and let it sizzle and lightly brown, for just a minute. Then add a little mustard powder- about 1/2 teaspoon. Then whisk in 1 cup of milk. (I have never tried this with almond milk- only organic dairy milk or lactose free milk). Stir it, until all the flour mixture (roux) is incorporated. This will start to thicken slowly, continue stirring fairly often. Once it has thickened up, add about 1-1 1/2 cups of your favorite sharp cheese- obviously, you can use whatever cheese you want- and you can do blends, too! The cheese will melt quickly, remove it from the heat so it doesn’t burn. Then, once you have drained your pasta, stir the cheese sauce in, and presto- homemade mac ‘n’ cheese. My kids won’t even eat box mac n cheese… they prefer this any day. And if you like breadcrumbs, or like the crispiness that baking can give it, you could always throw it in a baking dish, in the oven, and do that- It still comes out great! :)
We make our mac from scratch too, but I don’t actually use any flour (or mustard as I am deathly allergic to the stuff); it’s just cheese, milk, and sometimes butter. I’ve done it with almond milk many times before, the only catch is that you have to add more cheese to it to get the right consistency. Lately, we’ve been using heavy whipping cream and cheese only. Since butter is essentially made from heavy whipping cream, you don’t need to add it. Yes, cheese and HWC only is a huge calorie and fat bomb, but man, does it ever taste good :-) I don’t really measure it out anymore, just kind of eyeball it, but I’d say I use about 1/3 cup of HWC and 1-1.5 cups of cheese (my husband likes to use more, lol).
Kelly, that sounds really good!!! I use heavy cream to make alfredo sauce! And it is delish! :)
I follow that same recipe for mac & cheese you posted but every time I add the cheese it curdles and gets really grainy. Do you have any suggestions on what I could be doing wrong?
I usually bake mine in the oven as well and add bread crumbs.
I know exactly what you are talking about! :) That was why when my kids asked me to make mac n cheese when they were little, I was hesitant- because I was afraid of that texture!
Are you grating your own cheese? I think sometimes the pre-grated, while it’s super convenient, causes texture issues. You can also try adding other types of cheese besides cheddar. Monteray Jack and Colby can make a smoother texture if you mix it with the cheddar. After I bake mine it seems more “dry”, but it still tastes good- I don’t bake mine often, to be honest. I have one kiddo that doesn’t like breadcrumbs/ crunchy pasta, so I normally serve it straight out of the pot. I whisk mine really often, and as soon as the milk is thickened, I pull it off the burner to stir in the cheese. Oh- and try not to let your milk come to a hard boil.
There are certain brands of cheese I like- Cabot is my favorite. I know it isn’t organic, but where we live it’s hard to find organic. And to me, their “Seriously Sharp” is my go to for mac n cheese…
I don’t know if any of that will help? Good luck, and if anyone else has any suggestions, I hope they jump in!! :)
I’ve heard adding an acid, like vinegar, keeps the cheese from curdling.
on the pasta sauce, we don’t even buy it anymore, when tomatos are in season I make my own fresh, rest of the year I just use 2 cans of crushed tomatos, only ingriedent in them is TOMATOS, I then add my own seasonings, and veggies (onions, peppers etc) Its the only way my kids will eat spaghetti, they don’t like the other sauces, their too salty.
I don’t really buy pasta sauce anymore either! I make a bolognese version that uses ground meat; I tend to throw whatever veggies might be ready to turn into it as well so that we don’t waste anything. It makes a lot for our family, so we eat half the night I make it, and I end up freezing the other half or using it to make what we call pizza bread later in the week. Pizza bread: you slice a ciabatta loaf in half and toast it in the oven for a few minutes while you heat up the sauce. Then spread the sauce on top, sprinkle some cheese, and broil it up. With pre-made sauce, whether homemade or jarred, it takes no more than 15 minutes from start to finish to make pizza bread, and it’s sooo much fancier and yummier than regular pizza!
We have 4 kids, so we try and not waste much either, my hubby at lunch was commenting on how our pasta sauce NEVER tastes the same, and its because we use what we have already to add into it so to not waste anything, we always have ground meat in it (from our own pigs or cows) and then it could be any combo of. mushrooms, onions, peppers, squash/zuchinni, carrots, etc We make our “homemade” pizza on tortillas, cause we like the thin crust over a lot of dough, but the ciabatta version sounds yum.
Great ideas! Thank you!
One of our go-to meals is “Sloppy Joses”. In olive oil, brown ground chicken or turkey (our local butcher will grind in the morning before they grind the ground beef for the day). Add a container of homemade salsa and simmer until thickened.
2. in sandwiches made with toasted whole grain bread,
3. mixed with leftover rice,
4. over roasted spaghetti squash,
5. with tortilla chips and eat it like a dip
6. mixed with leftover rice and stuffed in bell pepper halves & covered with cheese & a dollop of sour cream.
We sometimes make a 3lb batch; then the extra meat/salsa mixture is frozen in individual portion containers for easy lunches.
We made some homemade salsa this summer with fresh tomatoes & peppers and froze it in portion-sized containers specifically for these meals. If we run out, we will make some from tomatoes that I buy and allow to ripen on the counter or even canned tomatoes with minimal processing. If using canned tomatoes, the salsa can still have other fresh ingredients– peppers, garlic, onions, cilantro, etc. But, a favorite brand (organic recommended) works great too.
“Egg McMuffins” are my go to fast meal. Whole wheat English muffins last in the freezer, and I usually have eggs and cheese on hand. My daughter would be shocked if she ever had the McD’s version…..
For the Annies, I add in frozen cauliflower chopped up. It vanishes in the sauce so the kids only see the peas they know they like.
I will NEVER buy Annie’s again!! I found meal worms in the box!!!! :(
Those are great idea. Our dinner shortcut is avocado on whole grain bread and raw cut vegetables – usually cucumbers, tomatoes and red peppers. Just spread avocado on bread, add salt and freshly ground back pepper and the dinner is ready.
A meal we call “haystacks” organic corn tortilla chips smothered with organic baked beans and cheese, lettuce, tomato, pineapple, sour cream and any other veggies we have on hand. Fast and so delicious!!
I, for one, love Annie’s mac and cheese. I can pronounce all of the ingredients and I don’t feel badly feeding it to my kids upon occasion. I don’t even use the organic. Such a rebel.
“Such a rebel.” LOL
I second that Mary! Annie’s is a great alternative to the other boxed mac n cheese that has dye and preservatives. I also use milk, butter and organic cheese and make an easy sauce but I don’t mind serving Annie’s once in a while either!
I’m loving all of this information! I’m trying to revamp my family into being more healthy. There are so many great ideas here. I’ve been going crazy with reading so much, but I can now come here and get the information I need! :)
We have a few favorite quick meals…
One is fried rice. We saute whatever veggies we have on hand, usually broccoli, carrots, zucchini and then frozen peas and corn (or just frozen veggies if you are short on time!). Then we add leftover rice, and soy sauce. You can beef it up with leftover chicken or an egg or two but many times we just eat it without either of those.
Another is a just leftover rice, black beans, salsa all put in a bowl together and stuck in the microwave until it is warm and then adding shredded cheese as soon as it is out, which melts and makes it really yummy!
We also make quesadillas a lot. Depending on how we are feeling we do just cheese and whole wheat tortillas (Garden of Eatin brand with only 5 ingredients). Other times we add chicken or black beans, shredded carrots or shredded zucchini.
And many times on Sunday nights we eat stove top popped popcorn with a little salt with smoothies (yogurt, frozen bananas, frozen blueberries or strawberries), veggies sticks, cheese slices, and other finger food we can think of!