Quick and Easy 20-Minute Dinners to the Rescue!
Take one thing off your to-do list with these 22 family-friendly, one-pot meals and sheet pan suppers
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Photograph by Olga Ivanova
When it comes to holiday feasts, I’m a go-big-or-go-home kind of person. I start planning weeks in advance: compiling recipes, making shopping lists, plotting out schedules, pre-cooking and freezing whatever I can, even doing trial runs setting the table to ensure I have everything I might need.
If it’s not already obvious, I devote a lot of mental energy to this. Add all the time I spend planning gifts, shopping, and wrapping tends to crowd out the, y’know, everyday stuff. The last thing I want to do while I’m deciding between beef Wellington and classic chicken Parmesan for Christmas Eve is think about a regular ol’ Tuesday night dinner. Which is why this time of year, I take meal planning to the nth degree. I plan out every weeknight between Thanksgiving and Christmas. In 2021, that’s 20 dinners. But of course, the quick and easy weeknight dinners I rely on right now are an ace in the hole no matter the season.
To make it onto my quick and easy meal plan, recipes must meet a few criteria:
First, they must be ready in 20 minutes or less. Yes, it’s arbitrary. But when I’m frazzled because I only planned gifts for seven nights of Hanukkah (we’re a matzo-pizza fam, Jewish and Italian-American, so we celebrate a lot), taking an entire half hour to make dinner feels like too much.
Second, there’s no room for fancy ingredients. If it’s not something I typically keep in my kitchen — or god forbid, it requires a trip to a specialty store — I move on to the next recipe.
And third, it can’t make much of a mess. We don’t own a dishwasher and my NYC galley kitchen is barely big enough for two people, so we’re just not going there. Sheet pan suppers and one-pot meals are key.
Here’s what I’ll be cooking between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Save yourself even more time and borrow my plan — for now, or any busy time of year. Consider it my holiday gift to you. And for a little stocking stuffer, I’m offering up two bonus recipe options. Y’know, in case you don’t want to eat exactly the same thing as my family every night.
Note: The Yummly Meal Planner is available to paid subscribers.
I love gochujang, the Korean chili paste. It’s the secret to this simple, spicy-sweet dish. To honor my no-mess rule, I toss in some nontraditional frozen green beans at the end. That eliminates the need to cook a separate vegetable. One extra thing I will cook: a double-batch of rice in the Instant Pot. Then I’ll have enough to serve with tomorrow night’s curry.
This quick vegan curry is about the simplest one I’ve ever seen. It’s just chickpeas, coconut milk, spinach, and a few pantry spices. Reheat last night’s rice and you’re eating in no time.
This easy, flavor-packed recipe uses two cheats: rotisserie chicken and prepared salsa verde. Simmer for a few minutes with chicken broth and canned beans, and serve with your favorite toppings like avocado, sour cream, and tortilla chips.
Lime juice and plenty of spices season the fish, which goes right onto a sheet pan for a quick spin in the oven. While it’s there, throw together a quick slaw and warm up some tortillas. And just like that, dinner is ready. Don’t even think of making a trip to the fishmonger — this recipe calls for tilapia, which is excellent frozen. (Just thaw in cold water before using.)
A package of tortellini in my freezer is a guaranteed win. In just 20 minutes, it becomes a hearty, tomatoey, veggie-filled soup. Don’t skip the grated Parmesan — and definitely serve it with crusty bread.
Light, crunchy, salty, sweet, spicy, tangy — these easy wraps tick off all my boxes for a weeknight supper during the season of excess. It may look like a lot of ingredients, but you’re mostly measuring pantry items.
Grab a rotisserie chicken, some ripe avocados, and frozen corn, and dinner’s almost ready. I like to serve this easy salad on a bed of greens, with some good bread on the side. Those green onions and lime juice really make the flavors pop.
Store-bought Cajun spice mix is the secret to this easy dinner. You’re just tossing it with shrimp, sausage, chopped vegetables, and olive oil — which means that if Cajun seasoning isn’t your thing, you can swap in your favorite blend. Try chili powder, ras el hanout, berbere, za’atar…
9. Taco Soup
Making the kind of tacos I grew up with — seasoned ground meat, crunchy taco shells, and basic toppings — isn’t exactly hard, but it’s even easier when you turn it into soup. Here, you’re mixing the meat (for me, no packet required, since I like to make my own taco seasoning) with canned tomatoes, corn, and two kinds of beans, then simmering for a few minutes. Serve it with crushed tortilla chips and shredded cheese for the full taco-in-a-bowl experience.
If you’ve never made a one-pot pasta recipe before, prepare to have your mind blown. There’s no waiting for a big pot of water to boil — you just cook the pasta together with a bunch of fresh vegetables and prepared spaghetti sauce. It’s ready in just 20 minutes, and cooking the pasta with the sauce makes the results lusciously creamy.
This time of year, I love it when dinner is more about assembling than cooking. Here you’re taking an assortment of tasty, ready-made items like hummus, tabbouleh, and marinated artichoke hearts, and turning them into a picky eater-friendly special. Make sure to set aside 1/4 cup of hummus to use for tomorrow night’s dressing.
Fast-cooking quinoa is the perfect base for a no-muss, no-fuss bowl dinner. Last night’s hummus gets mixed with a little lime juice for a garlicky, tangy dressing, and you can use some of tonight’s pico de gallo and fresh cilantro with tomorrow’s fajitas, too.
I make sheet pan fajitas at least once a month. This version uses shrimp, which only needs a few minutes to cook through. The run under the broiler is optional, but the char adds tons of flavor.
Chicken Parmesan — complete with pasta — in just 15 minutes? Yes, please. Not only is this version lighter than usual since it skips the frying, it’s absolutely packed with flavor. And again: 15 minutes.
There’s nothing like a quick stir-fry to get a meal on the table quickly. Usually chopping all the elements is the most time-consuming part — which is why beef and broccoli is super-fast. You only have five ingredients that need any prep at all. I’ll make another double-batch of rice and use the rest for tomorrow’s poke bowl.
Usually poke involves raw fish, which would require a trip to the fishmonger for the freshest possible stuff. Swapping in tofu makes this an ingenious option for busy weeknights. Serve it with some of last night’s rice, and there’s no cooking at all.
Traditional pho takes a lot more than 20 minutes, but I’m OK with being untraditional when the results are this tasty. This noodle soup is every bit as comforting and filling as the kind that simmers all day, but doctoring a good-quality, prepared chicken broth instead of starting from scratch saves you a ton of time. Instead of the Thai basil, I go with the regular kind from my local grocery store.
I think of this as a semi-homemade dinner, because it builds on a jar of prepared marinara sauce. All you do is add a little more seasoning, some spinach (frozen works fine), and canned chickpeas, then add blocks of salty feta and bake for a few minutes. Do not serve this without bread — it cries out for dunking.
Juicy chicken sausage gets broiled alongside strips of onion and sweet bell peppers, garlic, and grape tomatoes. Pile it all into crusty rolls and it’s like the best street fair sandwich ever.
When I say this couldn’t be easier, I mean it. While cheese ravioli is bubbling away in a pot of salted water, you’re softening some cherry tomatoes in olive oil. Toss in the ravioli, add fresh basil and grated Parmesan, and dinner is on the table.
This vegetarian recipe is one of my favorite no-brainer dinners. It’s nothing more than canned beans, salsa, vegetable broth, and spices. I like to serve it with lime wedges, diced avocado, and plain Greek yogurt, but it’s fantastic even without the toppings.
22. Pasta Puttanesca
When I have absolutely no idea what to cook for dinner but I don’t want to order in, pasta puttanesca saves me. It turns a handful of pantry staples like canned tomatoes, olives, capers, red pepper flakes, and pasta into a spicy bowl of heaven. In 20 minutes.
Happy holidays, all!
More quick and easy weeknight meals
No matter the season, having a stash of easy weeknight dinner recipes makes life a lot easier.