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After you get home from a long day at work, the last thing most of us want to do is cook a big meal. You want simple dinner ideas you can make with little-to-no-effort.
Don’t get me wrong–I freaking love cooking. It actually relaxes me. I love coming up with meal ideas and making yummy dinners. BUT some days, I’m tired or rushed and I just don’t feel like cooking.
In my pre-vegan days I would have ended up running through the drive thru. But even if you aren’t following a vegan diet, most of us don’t feel great about opting for the drive thru option, because:
- It costs money (even if you order off the dollar menu)
- It’s kind of gross and greasy
- No one feels good about eating dinner in their car
I mean, there’s a time and place, obviously (like when you’re on an awesome road trip), but Tuesday night when you’ve just had a long day is not ideal. Fast food is the simplest of simple dinner ideas, but it’s also kind of less than awesome.
The other issue with plant-based, or even vegetarian cooking is that it often feels more time consuming. Even healthy-cooking in general feels like it takes more effort. It seems like there’s no “open a box and dump in a pan” solutions (spoiler alert, there definitely ARE, and I’m going to give you some simple dinner ideas that require low effort).
My BFF and her fiance just tried one of those mail-order meal services where they send all the ingredients and you cook up your meal at home. It literally took them hours. Tons of prep time (even with the prepackaged ingredients). Her conclusion was: fun for a weekend date night, but not a good weeknight solution.
So…what ARE some good weeknight simple dinner solutions when you don’t feel like cooking? What should you keep on hand?
Simple Dinner Ideas
1. Soup & Sandwiches
Probably the easiest dinner solutions is soup and sandwiches. There are some easy, pre-made soups out there–like Pacific Foods, Imagine, Amy’s and even Progresso. Open soup, pour in a pan to heat and while it’s warming up, fix a sandwich to go along.
We keep Tofurky slices on hand, pretty much at all times, but if you don’t have any, there are some other awesome sandwich ideas too. Smashed avocado is great with a little lemon pepper. Spread hummus on bread and fill with tomato, spinach or other veggies.
Use vegan cheese sliced on sandwiches to either make grilled cheese, or just non-grilled cheese sandwiches. Sprouted tofu makes a great filling on bread with vegan mayonnaise. Another easy idea is to smash chickpeas and mix them with mayonnaise and lemon pepper for an awesome “mock tuna” filling.
2. Pasta Dinner
Pasta is my go-to simple dinner idea when I can’t think of what to make. We keep a variety of whole wheat pastas on hand, as well as tomato sauce. If you have some crumbles like Beyond Meat or Gardein, add them in as well.
No tomato sauce? You can also make simple pasta dishes using Italian dressing over pasta, or even lemon, vinegar or olive oil. Add some cracked pepper, sea salt, and any veggies you might have on hand. Jarred roasted peppers, olives,, sundried tomatoes, canned beans or artichokes are great options.
3. Fast Taco Bowls
We make taco bowls with veggie crumbles, tortilla chips and a little taco seasoning. If you have avocado on hand, it makes a great topper, as does Sour Supreme, salsa, vegan cheese shreds and frozen corn. Throw in peppers as well.
If you don’t have crumbles, a can of black beans works great! Add in some rice, or microwavable quinoa. You can also make easy taco filling from veggies like cauliflower, mushrooms and more. Taco bowls are just about the easiest of simple dinner ideas and they’re so satisfying!
4. At-Home “Take-Out”
We kept ordering General Tso’s tofu so often, that the Chinese takeout place around the corner recognized our number and knew our order when we called. So I decided I’d better cut back a little and start making my own. First of all, DIY “takeout” is really easy and comes together really fast.
I keep frozen veggies on hand like broccoli, cauliflower and carrots. Sautee them on their own with some teriyaki sauce (I love Soy Vey) OR add some protein with extra firm tofu, or Gardein’s Mandarin Chick’n, or Sweet ‘n’ Sour Porkless Bites. You can also use other chick’n style mock meats like Lite Life or Beyond Meat. Serve over instant rice.
5. Frozen Dinners
Okay, desperate times, right? I’ll be honest, I buy a few instant dinners, like Trader Joe’s, Sweet Earth or Amy’s, to keep on hand in our freezer. I know they aren’t ideal, and probably aren’t super duper healthy, but you know sometimes you gotta do what you’ve gotta do.
I look at it this way–they’re still way cheaper than going out to eat. They come together quickly, and they’re better than eating a bunch of chips, or an energy bar. Sometimes you just feel like a hot dinner and these fit the bill.
Similarly, I often keep a frozen pizza or two on hand. Amy’s makes a cheeseless pizza that’s awesome. They also make a margarita pizza with Daiya that’s good (especially if you have a “frozen pizza” craving).
You can buy pre-made crusts to keep on hand and top with sauce, veggies and cheese if you like, as well. There are several types of plant-based pizzas out there, we found a local brand Cedar Teeth that’s amazing, and available at our local co-op. They make two of our favorite pizzas–Psycho Kaler, and Peanut Gallery (which is a Thai Peanut pizza, believe it or not).
7. Burgers & Fries (baked)
If you haven’t tried the Beyond Meat Beast Burgers yet, OMG–they’re so good. They’re so much better than the sad, dry hockey-puck vegan burgers of the past. Alternatively, Gardein burgers are pretty good, the tried and true Garden Burgers are good, and there are some really great burger solutions out there. Gardein crispy-tenders are also good substitutes for chicken-nuggets or the typical fast-food chicken sandwich.
Have a burger with some oven-ready frozen fries or tots, takes about 15-20 minutes to prepare (maybe less if you opt for chips instead), which is about the time it would take to go to the drive thru. It’s a little healthier and you know what’s in it.
8. Breakfast for Dinner
When all else fails, you can always go with the classic breakfast-for-dinner solution. Scramble up some tofu and have it in a “burrito-style” wrap with beans, cheese or salsa. Have frozen waffles like Van’s along with some Crispy Tenders for “chicken & waffles”.
Make a hot cereal bowl with oatmeal, cream of wheat or another hot grain. Stir in sweet or savory toppings–jam, almond butter, nuts, fruit, or even spinach and cheese. Of course there’s always regular-ol’ cold cereal and almond milk, which happens to be Sam’s go-to dinner on nights when I’m out or working.
Coming up with dinner solutions doesn’t have to be stressful. There are lots of simple dinner ideas you can make using ingredients you probably have right on hand!