Ask My Readers | No-Prep Dinner Ideas

Reader Q&AToday’s reader question comes from Tova. She’s looking for some quick-and-easy dinner ideas, that require virtually no prep time.

My husband has recently started a job where he leaves the house very early and gets home late. While I enjoy cooking, it is more important to me to be able to spend time with my family before everyone is off to bed again.

I am looking for some dinners that I can prepare really quickly and that also doesn’t require that much clean up.

My first reaction to Tova’s question was Use the Slow Cooker!

It’s easy to fall into the rut of only using our slow cookers for cholent, but they are actually an invaluable weekday tool, as well. Throw the ingredients in the cooker in the morning, and come home several hours later to the smells of a delicious dinner.

As far as clean-up, we haven’t had problems getting our slow cookers clean when we soak them overnight. But to make clean-up a real cinch, you can always use the liners that Reynolds makes.

If you’re looking for slow cooker recipes, you might want to check out these posts (in addition to my recipe, there are tons of ideas in the comments section, too).

Thai-ish Chicken in the Slow Cooker

Dairy and Pareve Slow Cooker Recipes

Can you help Tova out with virtually no-prep dinner ideas? Let’s talk quick-n-easy meals in the comments section!

Do you have a question about budgeting, couponing, menu planning or anything else? Please send me an email – I love hearing from my readers!


  1. We do a lot of cooking ahead – at night after the kids go to sleep, or on Sundays. We soak & then cook a few varieties of beans, a pound of rice, and a pound of quinoa, and put them in the freezer in small containers, so we just need to take them out and defrost for recipes. We also cook and freeze pasta & mac&cheese by the pound ahead of time for the kids. When we have more time, we cook stews & chili in large batches and freeze in smaller containers, so we only have to do one big cooking day and there’s enough pre-made food to last for nearly a month. We cook a lot of beans because we’re vegetarians, but it’s very practical from a budget standpoint, plus veg. only dishes stay good in the freezer longer than meat. Even if you eat meat, you can always defrost a vegetable based dish and quickly throw some sauteed ground beef/turkey or baked chicken breast in it. I’m a big fan of cook ahead & freeze.

  2. About once a week in warmer months, I have what I call a “cold plate” for my family. Everything is prepped and in the fridge hours in advance, and everyone enjoys it.
    I serve, family style, the following: tuna salad, sliced tomatoes/carrot sticks, lettuce,gefilte fish (bought on sale before the holidays and served year round) with horseradish, hard boiled eggs, pasta salad from a box bought on sale, fresh fruit, crackers. Simple, easy and everyone can find something they like to eat, even my picky ones. Leftovers served for lunch.

  3. Karen Rubin Brown says

    There is a Pinterest site that has recipes that you can pre-prep and freeze and then just dump into the CrockPot.

  4. Amelia Schmidt says

    What about making things like lasagna, pasta sauce, etc ahead of time and freeze it? Then when you need them, all you have to do is pull them out and heat them up.

    Also, I get home from work after my husband, so I like to make dinners for the week on Sunday, so all my husband has to do is pull it out and reheat. A lot of recipes can work that way.

  5. I brought a pasta salad to a party last night that was yummy, easy, and cheap to prepare. Best of all, you can add your own ingredients based on your family’s preferences.

    I used Wacky Mac tri colored pasta, cooked it and ran it under cold water. I added pitted olives, roasted red peppers and fresh broccoli, all prepped while the pasta was cooking. I tossed it with a half a bottle of Italian dressing and it chilled all day so the flavors could absorb.

    If you want to add a protein, canned tuna or salmon wold mix well with it. Or use a ravioli as your pasta.

  6. I do two things: 1) I cook after the kids go to sleep, because I’ve found that when I pick them up after work, they want (and deserve) my attention, and trying to cook then was very stressful. 2) I cook food for two nights in a row. We all like leftovers and this turns cooking (which I LOVE doing but takes time–we rarely eat in restaurants, since I really like to cook) into an every other night chore, rather than every night.

    Also, scrambled eggs, toast, and cut up veggies are a very quick, cheap, easy meal. Good luck!

  7. My kids are picky eaters, so it can be hard to find meals we will all eat. We often have breakfast for dinner. Scrambled egg and toast, waffles, pancakes… all served with a side of cut up veggies and fruit. I mix the dry ingredients the night before, set up he frying pan or whatever else I need. I boost the health and protein in waffles and pancakes by adding eggs and yogurt or cottage cheese to the recipe. (I also add things like flax seed, wheat germ, oat bran… but not everyone is into that.) Super easy and fun!

  8. If you google, “once a month cooking” or “freezer meals”. Tons and tons of inspiration. I always use some sort of cheat item, like premade or frozen item in each meal. Like, I make my own marinara sauce, pizza dough, refried beans and marinades in big batches then freeze them. Some things we eat around here are, crock pot butternut rissotto, swet and spicy salmon with rice and steamed broccoli(think rice cooker). Oven chicken n rice Crock pot honey chicken with stir fry.(sorry we eat a lot of rice 🙂 and Pizza every thursday. Also anytime I’m making soup or a meat dish, I try to double it and freeze half for a day I’m just not in the mood to do anything!

  9. Gator Pam says

    For me, even a hot fish meal is quick. Whether pan sauteed, baked, or grilled, fish rarely takes longer than ten minutes cooking time.

    Put together some fish tacos, or fish filets with your favorite quick sides, and you’re good to go.

  10. You can always poach a salmon fillet and serve it over a Caesar Salad. Another meal is to get a grill pan (I bought one for my electric range). You can season boneless, skinless chicken breasts and grill them in 15 min. Serve it with steamed veggies and french fries, and everyone is happy. Same goes for hamburgers on the grill pan. Good luck!

  11. I’ve found pasta meals to be very quick, especially if you boil the noodles the night before. Then all it takes is some milk and cheese (and some garlic and salt), either in the microwave or on the stove, and my kids are happy! Not gourmet, but good. Or some jarred pasta sauce and some cheese on top, and again, I just pop it in the microwave in a big microwaveable dish. Even if you prefer to be more fancy, it doesn’t take that much extra time to throw in a few fresh veggies, or a protein on top. Fresh fruit and veggies are quick sides, or frozen veggies, or even a salad doesn’t take too long to throw together while the pasta is warming up. Or, I will make a vege chili out of morningstar farms crumbles either in the microwave or on the stove), and serve it with chips or crackers and cheese on top. And nothing is faster than leftovers – I cook a lot for Shabbos when I have more time to cook, knowing that I will have plenty for during the week.

  12. A quick Mexican meal: soft tortillas layered with (canned) vegetarian refried beans and cheddar cheese, then microwaved or baked in the oven until warm. Top with items like: shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes, salsa, olives, taco sauce, etc.

  13. Dina Zelcer says

    A friend told me about an idea that she got online to make burritos with mexican rice, black beans, cheese and cilantro. When you are in a pinch, just pop them in the oven for 20 minutes and its an instant nutritious meal. (really yummy with sour cream) They have become a big hit in our house.

  14. Dina Zelcer says

    Just realized, I left out that we make a huge batch of the burritos and freeze them.

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