It’s back-to-school season, and whatever that means in your life right now, it probably signals a few fewer hours devoted to yourself, to leisure, to biking and swimming, to just plain messing around–in the kitchen and outside it. That means a bit less time some nights to prepare dinner. But it doesn’t mean not eating well! Many of our favorite meals can be thrown together in less than half an hour. Keep your pantry stocked and your cutting board handy, and you won’t have to order takeout–unless you’re really craving it.
Many of our pastas can be made in just the amount of time it takes the water to boil and the penne to become al dente. Stirfry–whether of pasta, rice, or chicken–comes together in the blink of an eye. Seafood, from scallops to flounder, cooks through in minutes. And don’t overlook ramped-up salads, sandwiches, and other no-cook dishes; not turning on the stove or oven is a great way to save time. And when worse comes to worst (aka it’s 9:30pm and there’s nary a stick of linguine in the pantry), make breakfast for dinner: eggs, pancakes, and cereal can usually solve a quarter-lifer’s dinner woes.
**Best Quick Dinners**
1. Sardine Linguine with Sundried Tomatoes and Black Olives.
Don’t let the fishy scent deter you: sardines are healthful, tasty, and available to you at the opening of a can. Just boil some water and you’re in.
2. Vegetarian Pad Thai
Pad Thai is all in the prep, and even that’s pretty damn streamlined. Make this meal in far less time than it takes to call for takeout–especially if you do some of the mincing and dicing in the morning or the night before.
3. Seared Radicchio Salad.
This is a light main course, but don’t be dismayed. As long as you stop on the way home to buy a chunk of good bread, you’ll fill up easily by dunking said bread in the salad’s delicious warm dressing.
4. Chicken and Leek Stirfry with Snowpeas
When you slice chicken breasts super thin, they cook almost instantaneously. Add garlic and ginger, snow peas and leeks, soy sauce and sesame oil, and you’ve got a fast-cooking meal fit for a stirfry queen. If you’ve made rice in advance, simply warm it to serve on the side.
5. Coconut Curry Mussels
Like shrimp (see below), mussels cook up in almost no time. Our super flavored curry-coconut broth makes these mussels a meal you might want to eat every night.
6. Grits with Southwestern Shrimp
Grits (and polenta) almost seem they were invented to save time. Phoebe created this dish to be quick enough to cook at a friend’s house for a potluck, and it translates brilliantly to at-home weeknight dining.
7. Ginger Scallion Noodles
The preparation of these Momofuku-inspired noodles is easy to streamline for a quick dinner. You start the water boiling at the same time that you grate the ginger and chop the scallions; then you let the sauce rest while you make whatever toppings you’ve chosen. Save time to brush your teeth–this sauce is strong!
8. Shrimp and Tomato Orzo
Again with the shrimp! Seafood, especially shellfish, cooks up so quickly it makes another appearance on this list. Our Greek-inspired seafood and pasta dish tastes much heartier than you’d expect from its nearly nonexistent prep and cooking time.
9. Avocado Quesadillas
Mash an avocado and flavor it with lemon and salt; grate some cheese. Fill a tortilla, fold, cook, and voilà: dinner is made. (Nearly all our grilled cheese sandwiches and quesadillas make for rapid, satisfying meals.)
10. Stewed Greens with White Beans
Tuscan peasant fare is not only filling and healthful, it’s also a really quick dinner. To improve your start-to-finish time, use spinach or chard instead of kale–they’re quicker cooking greens.
11. Sweet and Sour Tofu
A reader first turned us on to this tofu, and readers since have found it makes getting vegetarian weeknight dinners oh so much easier. Did we mention it’s a carnivore converter?