Does the idea of a 15 minute dinner sound completely impossible? Or like the best it could conceivably be is a microwaved afterthought? Well, these truly easy dinner recipe ideas prove both doubts to be unfounded.
Some Technicalities & Caveats
The amount of time it takes to do any given task varies on who is doing it and under what conditions—but in general, this collection of easy recipes adheres to some ground rules and guidelines:
- They don’t require a ton of chopping (at least not by hand), because not everyone’s knife skills are so well honed.
- They don’t involve making several separate components, because you literally don’t have time for that.
- They don’t depend on special equipment, and yes, that includes the Instant Pot.
- They take full advantage of store-bought shortcuts, like pre-made pizza dough and store-bought sauces. (There are, however, several options that don’t call for anything beyond standard pantry staples, in case you aren’t planning on a store run before you eat.)
- They often utilize leftovers you may have laying around (but again, not all of them require these convenient components, so you’ll find something you can pull off below, no matter what).
Related Reading: Easy One-Pot Meals to Minimize Kitchen Mess
Active Time vs Total Time
Far too many 15 minute recipes actually take way longer once you factor in passive time—like 30 minutes to boil pasta water (not so bad, really, especially if you can prep the rest while it’s coming to temp), or four hours to marinate chicken (yeah, right). For the most part, I’ve tried to avoid those hidden time sucks, or provide hacks for speeding them up where possible, but sometimes you just can’t get around preheating the oven.
Easy 15 Minute Dinner Recipes
Now, on to the actual cooking! Plus, plenty of suggestions for adapting almost all of these ideas depending on your particular circumstances:
Open up a can of beans, crack an egg, and combine them with shredded cheese in a breakfast-for-dinner taco that takes well to tweaks of all sorts. Add jarred salsa or leftover cooked veggies if you have them; swap Greek yogurt for sour cream if that’s what you’ve got; pile on pickled onions if some are hanging out in the fridge; ditto leftover ground beef, shredded chicken, or chorizo. Get our Egg Taco recipe.
Lodge Chef Collection Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet, $39.95 at Sur La Table
A good skillet is a true kitchen workhorse.
Streamlined Stir Fry
Stir fries are fast cooking for sure, but it can take a staggering amount of time to actually prepare all the ingredients, especially if a lot of veggies are involved. One way to get around that is to cave and buy pre-chopped vegetables at the store (fresh or frozen)—or just stick to something like snow peas, which need very minimal prep.
As for protein, ground chicken or pork will cook quickly and won’t need to be sliced or diced. Shrimp is also a good choice if it’s already peeled and deveined. Or buy pre-sliced steak from the store.
If you have a rice cooker, you can let that make the side for you—but to stick to the strict(ish) 15-minute rule, other options include nuking frozen cauliflower rice or adding quick-cooking noodles to the pan (like yakisoba noodles, rice vermicelli, or even ramen noodles). For noodles you need to cook or soften in hot water, if you have an electric kettle, that’s usually much faster than boiling water on the stove.
Nachos are, in my opinion, a totally acceptable dinner, especially on a Friday. You can pile on whatever leftover meat you have, or even use canned chili (doctored just a bit if the taste is underwhelming) to make things more substantial. If you don’t have any of that, a well-drained can of beans by itself will do nicely. If you want more veggies—which really makes it feel like a meal—add fresh or canned corn kernels, jarred roasted peppers roughly torn to pieces, sliced onions or scallions, and chopped tomatoes.
If you’re out of tortilla chips, stack a few flour or corn tortillas in a pile, use a pizza cutter to slice them into chip-size wedges, and bake before you build your nachos. This will take a little longer, but it won’t feel like too much work. You can even microwave the homemade chips (and then the nachos) if you don’t want to turn on the oven.
Nordic Ware Naturals Sheetcake Pan with Lid, $22.80 at Walmart
A sheet pan is another indispensable kitchen item.
Related Reading: 11 Easy Sheet Pan Dinner Recipes
Scrambled Eggs with Extras
A quick dish of scrambled eggs is a beautifully blank canvas for you to transform into your own edible masterpiece. Use time-saving frozen spinach and ground beef for a Joe’s Special, as seen above. Or add a chunk of cream cheese to enrich your scramble and wrap the finished eggs in a silky, salty blanket of prosciutto:
Toss a simple salad to serve on the side and it’s like you teleported to a fancy French bistro. The effect is only slightly diminished if you use a slice of deli ham.
Calling this pho may feel wrong, but eating it feels so right. It does depend on pre-cooked poultry, whether that’s from a rotisserie chicken you picked up or leftovers from a homemade roasted chicken. Pre-cleaned shrimp work here too; you can cook them right in the hot broth. You can soften the vermicelli noodles that way too (just be sure to only use the amount you’ll eat that day and add them right at the end since they only need a few minutes to cook). You can also swap in ramen noodles if that’s what you have in the pantry. Definitely best with a big pile of fresh herbs and sliced scallions.
Fried Rice with Leftover Protein and Veg
If you love fried rice (who doesn’t?), make it a habit to cook extra grains any time you have rice as a side dish and you’ll be assured of a quick, delicious dinner a day or two down the road. Literally any kind of rice will work; even leftover whole grains can be prepared in the same manner. And even if you don’t have much in the way of already-cooked protein or veggies on hand to mix in, a simple sauce and a fried egg are all you really need. Kimchi and bacon don’t hurt. Ditto chili oil. Frozen peas and carrots are easy nutrition-boosters to toss in too.
Even if you use store-bought pizza dough, you’re looking at a 30 minute wait time to let it relax at room temp before you can even shape your crust. Using pita, naan, or other (pre-made) flatbread is a quicker route to pizza for dinner. Top it with whatever you like—jarred sauce, shredded mozz, pepperoni, and olives; fig jam and blue cheese; store-bought pesto and thinly sliced tomatoes or zucchini—and pop it in the oven til golden. This is but one excellent reason to stock some elevated pantry staples at all times.
There’s nothing wrong with a sandwich for dinner, but you may want something a little less pedestrian than what passes muster at lunch. This one strikes a perfect balance between simple and sophisticated—but if you don’t have any fancy French cheese, use swiss and spread the bread generously with salted butter for a similar effect. (That’s my go-to beach picnic sandwich but I’ll happily eat it standing at the kitchen counter any Tuesday night.) A salad on the side is a welcome bit of green.
Another easy way to amp up sandwiches and make them dinner-worthy is to whip up a quick spread, like our Sundried Tomato Ricotta Spread, or a cheater’s aioli (i.e., minced garlic mixed into mayo, preferably with fresh herbs along for the ride).
It’s also well worth keeping some crusty rolls in your freezer for when the fancy sandwich urge strikes; thaw them on reduced power in the microwave (check often since times and temp settings vary) and give them a quick toast if you like.
Salads are well suited to quick dinners too, but I get that the prospect can seem…uninspiring. Our guide to troubleshooting salad will help you get a handle on how to make them exciting again—namely, by thinking about the interplay of texture and flavor at every level—and then you can riff based on what you have in your fridge and cupboards. One summery option is this simple mix of greens, seafood, and a dairy-free, creamy dressing that you blend while the shrimp briefly marinate.
As we’ve established, shrimp cook really quickly—and buying them peeled and deveined will save you significant time. But if they’re still frozen when you get a craving, quick-thaw them under running cold water for about five minutes, then pat them dry.
This is a slice and serve meal at its best. Peak-season peaches paired with creamy mozzarella or burrata, torn basil for a spicy, herbal bite, and an easy vinaigrette are summer perfection on the plate. Add some bread for swiping up the fruity juices as they mingle with the dressing and you’ll be very happy. And plenty full. Get Joanna Gaines’ Peach Caprese Salad recipe.
Header image by Chowhound