You’ve spent hours toiling at your desk, ticked a torrent of tasks off your to-do list, and finally arrived home. But before you can relax on the sofa with a glass of wine, there’s one more thing to take care of: dinner. It’s the busy woman’s dilemma. Do you give in to temptation and speed-dial takeout or muster the energy to whip up a healthy homemade meal?
To find a simple solution, we turned to seven skilled foodies to discover their go-to recipe on busy weeknights. In other words, this is what gourmands cook when they can’t be bothered to cook. Here, they reveal the super easy meals that take minutes to make with items that are probably already in your pantry. Put down the takeout menu—these cheat recipes are the weeknight solution you’ve been looking for.
The Foodie: Ever since she was awarded a blue ribbon at the Utah State Fair for her homemade snickerdoodles in fourth grade, Heidi Larson has known the culinary world was for her. Now, the blogger behind Foodie Crush specializes in creating fresh, seasonally inspired, simple recipes.
The Recipe: “I would have to say that my gnocchi with pomodoro sauce is a definite fave. Once the sauce sets to simmer, the hands-on cooking time is manageable for weeknights,” Larson tells MyDomaine. If you’ve been eating pasta on repeat, she says this is a handy variation “since it only takes a few minutes to cook and rarely, if ever, becomes overcooked in the sauce when baked.” Translation: It’s pretty much foolproof.
The Pro Tip: It might be easy, but Larson says there’s one aspect of this recipe you shouldn’t overlook. “[Don’t] miss flavoring the heated olive oil by steeping the herbs in it first until they become crisp. This step sets the flavor tone for the entire dish.”
The Foodie: New Zealand foodie Sarah Tuck has one simple mantra when it comes to formulating recipes for From the Kitchen: “Real food for real people.”
The Recipe: Smoked salmon pizza with capers and dill might sound fancy, but that’s just a front, says Tuck. “Midweek I make this using bought thin pizza bases, so it is literally on the table in 12 minutes.” The preparation process is equally straightforward: “I just load the topping on while the oven is heating,” muses Tuck. If you’re feeling a little guilty about the pizza toppings, she recommends serving it with a simple rocket salad with extra-virgin olive oil and white balsamic dressing.
The Pro Tip: “It is super important to heat the trays in the oven to ensure a crispy base—and don’t be tempted to take it out of the oven too early. A little bit of golden crunch is what you want!”
The Foodie: Healthy and easy can go hand in hand, says Ontario foodie Laura Wright of The First Mess. Her blog is chock-full of natural, plant-based recipes that won’t lead to a post-meal pang of guilt.
The Recipe: Searching for a recipe that doesn’t require a trip to the store? Wright’s seven-spice chickpea stew with tomato and coconut is it. “This meal comes together in 20 minutes with things that I always have in my pantry, like canned tomatoes, chickpeas, and coconut milk. It’s hearty, vegan, and healthy.”
The Pro Tip: Balance this hearty meal with side servings. “I like to serve this with a starchy side like polenta, or something similar to soak up all the stewy goodness. A little handful of greens on the side never hurt either,” she says.
The Foodies: High school best friends Whitney Tingle and Danielle DuBoise are the masterminds behind Sakara life, an organic meal delivery program that serves up chef-prepared nourishing recipes that taste as good as they look.
The Recipe: If you overindulged at lunch, this light carrot ribbon salad with “parmesan” edamame is the answer. “This salad is quick and easy with minimal ingredients, but it’s also clean, nutrient dense, and nourishing. The carrots are filled with antioxidants, the edamame is a great source of plant-based protein, and the miso paste has a little probiotic love for your gut microflora.” The soul sisters top the salad with their sesame ginger plum dressing for the finishing touch.
The Pro Tip: “To give it a little extra heft, serve this salad over kale leaves that have been massaged with lemon, olive oil, and a dash of salt to soften the leaves up a bit, and roughly chopped.”
The Foodie: Every recipe of Dana Shultz’s Minimalist Baker adhere to three simple rules: They have to contain 10 ingredients or fewer, use one piece of cookware, and take no more than 30 minutes to prepare.
The Recipe: Shultz names the quick and wholesome quinoa chickpea buddha bowl as her top pick. “This is our go-to meal when we’re craving a hearty, healthy dish that's easy to whip together! It’s a versatile dish, and we almost always have these ingredients on hand!” she says. Bonus: “It also makes great leftovers and is a crowd pleaser.” Boost it with extra seasonal veggies or pepitas for an added crunch.
The Pro Tip: “Try cooking your own chickpeas instead of using canned! Not only are they more flavorful and tender, but with our quick soak method, they’re even easier,” says Shultz. Game? Follow her simple steps: “Add rinsed, uncooked chickpeas to a large pot, and cover with two inches of water. Bring to a boil over high heat, boil for one minute, then turn off heat, cover, and let soak for one hour.”
The Foodie: Half Baked Harvest’s Tieghan Gerard says food is her creative outlet and turns to cozy comfort food on chaotic weeknights.
The Recipe: Craving comfort food? “I love making this creamy pasta on busy nights,” says Gerard of her one-pot creamy French onion pasta bake. “It’s such a comforting, fast, and delicious meal! The recipe also calls for easy pantry staples like pasta, onions, and chicken broth.” Never precious in the kitchen, she says that some ingredients can be easily substituted, too. “It includes fancy gruyère cheese, but when I don’t have that on hand, I’ll simply use whatever cheese I do have. Oh, and we can’t forget to add a little wine!
If I don’t have wine on hand, chicken broth works too.”
The Pro Tip: “Since this is such a hearty meal, I love serving this pasta with a simple side salad, and okay, some toasty bread too,” she says. “[It’s the] perfect fall and winter kind of meal.”
The Foodie: Trained natural-food chef Jodi Moreno believes the best meals don’t just taste great—they make you look and feel better. She creates nutritious, healthy, and wholesome recipes on her website, What’s Cooking Good Looking.
The Recipe: Moreno’s crispy skinned sweet potato and avocado mash might look gourmet, but she assures us it’s surprisingly easy to whip up. “Sweet potatoes tend to be my go-to for busy weeknights because they are so tasty, healthy, filling, and all you have to do it pop them into the oven. This version is my favorite, though, because it combines so many of my favorite ingredients,” she says.
The Pro Tip: Change up the sides and experiment with different condiments. “This recipe is so versatile. As along as you have an egg and some greens, it is a complete meal,” says Moreno. “I love chimichurri, but if you don’t have that handy or don’t want to make it from scratch, you can swap out the sauce for anything that you have in your fridge, such as pesto, hot sauce, or even BBQ sauce.”
The Foodie: Gaby Dalkin is the brains behind the Californian food blog What’s Gaby Cooking. Her homemade recipes are a celebration of the Californian lifestyle—healthy and balanced with a few treats tossed in for good measure.
The Recipe: “Mexican corn and quinoa salad makes an appearance at our home at least once a week,” says Dalkin. “It’s easy, healthy, and it doubles as lunch the next day, so I’m taking care of a few meals at once. Plus, it has avocado, and that’s really what life is all about!”
The Pro Tip: This is the ultimate versatile meal to batch make. “You can serve this as a main course or a side dish or a salad. If it’s the star of the show and you’re looking for a little more protein, I grab a rotisserie chicken from Whole Foods and shred up a chicken breast to mix into the salad.”
This post was originally published on September 13, 2016, and has since been updated.