Simple and easy dinner ideas are always helpful, no matter how much of a meal prep pro we are or how much we love (or don’t love) cooking. I’ve found myself stuck for new ideas a little lately, mostly when my fridge has remained a little bare for a few days (purely due to supermarket avoidance.. which I’m sure even the keenest of cooks are finding themselves doing at times at the moment!). For this reason, I’ve challenged myself to come up with flexible ‘throw together’ meal ideas whereby you can use whatever you have at hand (vegetables, pantry items, proteins, herbs/spices, etc.). For those who are in need of some easy and tasty meal ideas, I’ve listed my current top 4 favourites below.
Pasta with sautéed vegetables, topped with nuts and/or seeds
- A frypan and a saucepan to cook your pasta
- One or a few different vegetables (fresh or frozen)
- Some nuts and/or seeds for the topping
Firstly, fill your saucepan with water and bring to the boil. Then wash and chop your vegetables. Some vegetables with cook quicker than others so try to choose a few that have a similar cooking time (eg. broccoli and zucchini), or just chop vegetables that require more cooking time into smaller pieces (eg. pumpkin into little cubes). With root vegetables such as pumpkin, parsnip or sweet potato, a quick way to cook them in a pan is to grate them so you can do this too (grated pumpkin, when cooked with garlic, tossed through pasta is rather lovely).
Now, once you have your vegetables ready, add a splash of olive to your pan and turn on the heat. If you have garlic and chill (and/or onion) I suggest adding some chopped garlic and/or onion and fresh or dried chilli to your pan and sauté just for a moment. Then add your vegetables and sauté. You might like to add a splash of white wine or water and any herbs you like. If mixing slow and fast cooking vegetables I suggest starting with slow-cooking vegetables (unless they are grated) and cooking for a few minutes before adding your other vegetables. Cook your pasta and once cooked drain and set aside.
Once your vegetables are looking lovely and ready, season and taste, and add your pasta to your pan, tossing to make sure all is warmed through. You may like to add a drizzle of olive oil, cracked pepper, chopped nuts and seeds and mix through or serve your pasta and top your bowl with nuts and seeds.
Here are some nice vegetable combos:
- Tomatoes and zucchini
- Zucchini and broccoli
- Brussel sprouts and zucchini
- Grated pumpkin (cubed or grated) and spinach
- Peas and broccoli (Using frozen is fine)
- Green beans, tomatoes, and zucchini
- Kale and broccoli
- Cauliflower and silverbeet/spinach/kale
Here are some suggested additions:
- Thinly sliced ginger
- Fresh herbs
- Crumbled feta, ricotta or parmesan as an additional topping
Stir-fried vegetables with rice, rice noodles or potato and fried egg
- A fry pan or wok
- Vegetables of your choice
- Oil to fry (olive, canola, peanut, sesame or coconut)
- Rice, rice noodles or potato
- Optional: cashews/peanuts and sesame seeds
Firstly, start cooking your rice (if you’d like to use rice) and if using rice noodles hold off on cooking them. Wash and chop your vegetables, I tend to suggest choosing 2-5 types (below are some nice combination suggestions. Also, if using potato, make sure you cut your potato into little cubes so that it cooks quickly.
Then if you have garlic I’d suggest slicing a clove or two, add a splash of oil to your pan and on low heat fry until just a little golden. If you have ginger and chilli these are brilliant additions; add at the same time as the garlic. Then add your vegetables, a splash of water and if you like sauces for flavour (such as lemon juice, lime juice, soy, sweet chilli sauce, mirin, etc). Note: if you don’t have rice or rice noodles but you do have potatoes, start by cooking these first – let them fry in the pan (and toss here and there), until almost soft before adding other vegetables. Stir and once your vegetables are a little cooked but still a little crunchy turn heat off. Put your vegetables in a bowl and cover to keep them warm.
At this point, if your rice is done, set aside and keep warm. Or, cook your rice noodles. Then, return your pan to the heat (there’s no need to clean your pan, you may, however, need to add a splash of olive oil or butter) and fry an egg or a few. Once your eggs are ready, serve up some rice/noodles, add your vegetables and then your eggs on top. Season with salt and pepper and there you go.
Here are some suggested additions:
- Cashews, peanuts, sesame seeds (these are all divine when added to and tossed through your vegetables)
- A spoonful of kimchi/pickles as a garnish
- Fresh coriander
- Sliced tofu, leftover cold meat sliced or ham thinly and added to the vegetables – add at the end and heat through
- Satay sauce: Make a ‘cheat’ satay sauce and drizzle over the top (mix together peanut butter, a dash of tahini if you like, sweet chilli sauce, a splash of soy, water and lemon/lime juice)
Simple ‘nourish bowl’
Nourish bowls are a great way to use up leftovers such as cooked grains, roasted vegetables, plus they’re so easy to create. They also help us to create balanced meals and include more variety in our day.
- Vegetables (raw and/or cooked, tinned or frozen – really any vegetables you like, leftover roasted vegetables are great)
- A protein or a few (e.g. tinned fish, egg, cheese such as feta, cheddar or goat, meat, tinned legumes, tofu/tempeh, nuts, seeds)
- A lovely grain, bread or starchy vegetable (for nourishment and energy) (e.g. potato/sweet potato, corn, rice, quinoa, couscous, sourdough)
- Seasonings and toppings of your choice (e.g. nuts, seeds, tahini, Greek yoghurt, dukkah, pickles, olives, kimchi, fresh herbs, other condiments you love)
Nourish bowls can be as simple or fancy as you like. I tend to like to keep them very simple, however add flavour, texture variation and depth using toppings. Nuts, seeds and a lovely dressing can turn a simple nourish bowl into an amazing meal.
For a very simple bowl, that doesn’t require any cooking, start by making a lovely raw salad of different coloured vegetables (chopped, grated, sliced). This could be a leafy green, a slaw style salad or a rainbow of all the vegetables you have in the fridge (that don’t require cooking). Dress your salad with a vinegarette or just lemon juice and olive oil and place some in a bowl. Then add a protein or two for example, you might like a few boiled eggs and some feta, or sliced pre-marinated tofu and nuts, or tuna, or leftover roasted meat, or some chickpeas/mixed beans. Then add a side of lovely bread or toast or if you have some leftover cooked grain, heat this up and add to your bowl. To finish, drizzle with a delicious dressing, sprinkle with some seeds, season with salt and pepper and add any other condiments you like. There are so many dressings that work well, a satay style dressing is lovely with eggs and tofu, a tzatziki style dressing is nice with just about anything, and a tahini dressing is lovely with eggs, legumes, tofu, tempeh.
Here are some lovely combos, to provide some ideas:
- Leftover roasted vegetables (including potato/sweet potato), boiled eggs, rocket and baby spinach, a squeeze of lemon over all + lemony yoghurt dressing or a tahini dressing + dukkah
- Brown rice, salmon/tuna and a fresh salad (e/g spinach, avocado, tomato, cucumber, zucchini slithers) + a lemony vinaigrette and pickled onions
- Quinoa/rice, chickpeas/black beans/other beans/lentils, a slaw of grated carrot and beetroot, mint and basil + a yoghurt tahini dressing + sesame seeds
- Roasted sweet potato, black beans, a salsa of tomato, avocado, cucumber, coriander, lime juice and salt and pepper + lemony yoghurt sauce + fresh chilli
- Roasted sweet potato, tofu/tempeh, blanched broccoli, avocado + satay sauce + sesame seeds
- Leftover roasted potato/sweet potato/vegetables, spicy chickpeas (these can be made by tossing chickpeas in oil then spices and roasting until a little crispy), leafy greens tossed in lemon juice and olive oil, avocado + dollops of Greek yoghurt + dukkah + fresh mint leaves
- Quinoa/rice, boiled or fried egg or leftover roast chicken, a salad of leafy greens, raw or steamed broccoli and Brussel sprouts, avocado + satay style dressing + chopped peanuts + coriander
Mixed bean/legume salad (Can be cold or warm)
This would have to be one of THE easiest hearty ‘a meal in itself’ salads.
- A tin of mixed beans (I love the ‘4 bean mix’), but you could also use other legumes
- Cucumber, tomatoes, red onion, all chopped into little pieces
- Herbs: parsley and basil or just one of these
- Dressing: red wine or balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper
Drain and rinse your beans, then throw in a bowl. Add your cucumber, tomatoes, red onion and herbs. Then make a vinaigrette dressing and add to your bowl. Toss, season and taste. This is so simple so you may like to add other ingredients. I love serving this salad in a bowl, with some pita bread and hummus or avocado.
Here are some suggested additions:
- Rocket, baby spinach or watercress
- A dollop of hummus, to serve