Quick & Easy Meal Ideas

Quick & Easy Meal Ideas @MJ's Kitchen | mjskitchen.com


We all have the need for a variety of quick & easy (Q&E) meals to fall back on for those nights when we just don’t have the time or the energy to put together an elaborate or time-consuming meal.  However, because we still want to eat good food that tastes like we did put a lot of effort into it, our quick & easy meals need to be delicious.

Today I’m sharing some of my favorite meals and meal ideas that I’ve been using for many years. They all take less than 45 minutes from start to finish and most take less than 30 minutes. I’ve also included links to some Q&E meals that I have on my list to try. I hope you find a few that you too, can use to make your life a little easier.

Some of the following are recipes while others are simple time saving ideas that allow you to actually take a night off from cooking or to be creative using leftovers and those bits of ingredients that haven’t been designated for another purpose. Let’s start with those.


Time Saving Ideas for Weekday meals

Think ahead and do the time-consuming work on the weekend.

Bowl of Cold Cucumber soup |mjskitchen.com

Make at least one meal that you can eat twice. For example, the leftovers from a big pot of soup or stew only need to be warmed up for a Q&E meal with very little clean-up. Any leftovers from the second round can be frozen or eaten for lunch. Same goes for casseroles, a batch of enchiladas, or a flat of lasagne.

During warmer weather I love to make the Cold Cucumber Soup in the above photo. It goes great with just about any grilled cheese.

Jars of pinto beans and bolita beans | mjskitchen.com

Bolita beans and Pinto Beans

Make a big pot of dried beans. The possibilities here are endless. Once the beans are cooked, they can be used later in the week in soups, casseroles, burritos, tacos, and salads. They can also be used as a side for grilled steak, chicken or pork, enchiladas, or added to rice for beans and rice.  Black beans, pinto beans, and bolita beans are all very versatile and can be used in a variety of dishes.

Grilled Flank Steak with Soy-Port Marinade | mjskitchen.com

Grill a steak, braise a pork roast, or roast a whole chicken. Leftovers from any of these can be added to salads, stir fries, fried rice, sandwiches, casseroles, and of course my favorites – burritos, enchiladas, tacos or tostadas.  This Grilled Flank Steak is fabulous and its leftovers can be turn into something even more fabulous.


Create a Tasty Taco or Tostada

A while back, I attended an open panel discussion with four local chefs about tacos. One of the questions asked was “What are the minimum ingredients for a taco to be called a taco?” The answer was unanimous…”Corn tortilla!” After that, the filling can be just about anything you want. The same goes for tostadas, which are really just flat tacos.

Suggested components for Tacos and Tostadas (Go for a mix of flavors and textures):

Protein – chicken, pulled pork, steak, ground meat, chorizo, fish, shrimp, scrambled egg, tofu

Vegetables/Fruits – tomatoes, onion, greens (e.g., lettuce, cabbage, spinach) avocado, pineapple (for fish or chicken tacos), chile, mango.

Toppings – cheese, sour cream, yogurt, salsa, chile, cilantro, guacamole, olives, raw onion, something pickled, something spicy

Q&E Taco/Tostada Recipes:

Tostada with sausage, egg, chile and feta

Breakfast egg & Sausage Tostada

Healthy Black Bean, Mango, and Guacamole Tacos @Baker by Nature

Shredded Beef Soft Tacos @Kitchen Riff

Chicken Taco @A Plan for Cooking

Chorizo and Spinach Tacos @Spicie Foodie (Don’t leave Spicie Foodie without checking all the other taco recipes she dishes up.  She’s got a lot of winners!)

Black Bean and Avocado Tostada @The Wimpy Vegetarian


Wrap it up in a Burrito

The only things that make a burrito a burrito are the flour tortilla and some type of chile (IMO).  Like the taco, pretty much anything goes for the filling.  For the finish, you can smother the burrito in a red chile or green chile or your favorite enchilada sauce or salsa.  OR… instead of smothering it, just add the chile component to the filling.

Here are some ideas for Q&E burritos:

A vegetarian burrito with pinto beans and sweet peppers, smothered in New Mexico red chile sauce | mjskitchen.com

Fajita-style burritos with leftover beans

Steak Burrito – Leftover grilled steak with sautéed onion and mushrooms, avocado, sour cream, your favorite salsa, and cheese.

Breakfast burrito with scrambled eggs, onion, and chorizo or bacon, smothered with green chile.  You could add potato if you want it a little hardier.

Vegetarian burrito with cooked vegetables such as onion, bell peppers, mushrooms, broccoli, kale or Swiss chard, corn, squash, beans, wrapped in a flour tortilla and smothered in red or green.

20 Minute Healthy Chicken Burrito Recipe @Redefined Mom

Beef and Bean Smothered Burritos @Taste and Tell


One Can Never Go Wrong with Pasta

When the refrigerator crispers are down to little pieces of vegetables unused from other meals, throw together a pasta dish.  You can keep it vegetarian by sautéing a variety of vegetables with garlic and herbs, then making a simple sauce with a little spicy mustard, olive oil, and some pasta water or cream.  Add Parmesan or Pecorino Romano for a little protein.

If you don’t need to keep it vegetarian, then add some leftover meat or a sausage for your protein. I keep chunks of ham and single wrap sausages in the freezer just for pasta meals. Here’s an example of one of these pasta dishes – Fennel Spiced Ham and Mushroom Pasta

An easy pasta dish with leftover ham, mushroom, greens and spices. mjskitchen.com @MJsKitchen

Capellini Pasta with Garlic, Lemon and Fried Egg – This is actually Bobby’s quick & easy pasta dish and one of the dishes he makes when the kitchen is all his.

Spaghetti Carbanaro @Wozz Kitchen Creation 

Cajun Chicken Pasta on the Lighter Side @Gina’s Skinny Recipes

Shrimp Lo Mein [with Gluten-Free Options] @Savoring Today

Creamy Green Chile Chicken Spaghetti @Tortilla and Honey

Ramen Noodles with Spicy Korean Chili Dressing @seasonwithspice

Image courtesy of Season with Spice


Udon or Ramen Noodles with Korean Chili Dressing and Smoked Salmon – This has become one of our regular Q&E meals.  In fact, it’s so easy, that sometimes I’ll make it for lunch.  This noodle dish was adapted from Season with Spice’s ramen noodle recipe.  Sometimes I’ll use ramen noodles but recently I’ve been using the fresh udon noodles that we get at Costo. To make, cook the noodles in chicken broth with one bunch chopped green onion then drain, reserving the broth. Toss the noodles and onion with the Korean chili dressing and about 6 ounces of smoked salmon.  Separate into 2 serving bowls, and top each serving with about ¼ – ½ cup of the reserved broth.  We did adjust the Korean dressing a bit to fit our taste by reducing the vinegar to 1 tsp. and the toasted sesame oil to 2 tsp.  This is an awesome dish with or without the smoked salmon.


The Oh So Versatile Rice Dishes

You can never go wrong with a rice dish.  When I have time, I prefer to use brown rice or a mix of brown and wild rice, but for Q&E, white rice is  the norm because it cooks in half the time.  Here are some Q&E rice dishes.

Thai Green Curry Shrimp

Prawn and Cashew Vindaloo @Ang Sarap   (Serve over rice.)

Mexican Rice Skillet @Life Made Sweeter

Quick Fix Meal: Thai Basil Beef @Crockpot Gourmet

Coconut Lime Chicken Curry and Rice @Fox Valley Foodie

Easy Chicken, Chorizo and Shrimp Paella @Iowa Girl Eats

Beans and Rice – A One Pot Meal  (Below)

Beans and rice made with pintos, andouille sausage, and roasted red chiles. mjskitchen.com

Fried Rice

If you make a meal that calls for rice, make extra rice for a fried rice dish later on in the week. Fried rice really needs to be made with leftover rice.  It is also one of those dishes that allows you to use bits and pieces leftover from another meal, like onion, peppers, carrots, peas, and greens.  You can also add pieces of chicken, pork or beef, or throw in a few shrimp.  From my friend Ray at Wok with Ray, I learn that for a good textured fried rice, you start by separating the rice grains and letting them dry a bit before adding the rice to the dish.  Here’s a link to one of Ray’s fried rice dishes that we love.

Garlic Fried Rice with Bacon  @Wok With Ray (Check out more of Ray’s fried rice and stir fry recipes while you’re there. He’s a great source for Q&E meals!)

Fried Rice with Bacon from Wok with Ray

Image courtesy of WokWithRay.


Italian Sausage Fried Brown Rice Recipe @SpicieFoodie

Szechuan Chicken Fried Rice @Lincy’s Cook Art

Stir Fries

Southwestern Pork Stir Fry with Creamy Polenta

A Healthy Beef Stir fry @The Gingham Apron

Chicken and Green Bean Stir Fry @Roti n Rice (An easy dish with a versatile marinade for the chicken. Just take a look at what you have in your pantry and use it. The plum sauce is a slightly sweet component.  If you don’t have rice wine (e.g., sake, mirin), you can use vermouth or another white wine.

Orange Beef Stir Fry @Rasa Malaysia


Take Those Leftovers and Build a Salad

For most of the salads below you can use leftover meat or beans.

Salad plate with beans, tomatoes, feta, and avocado| mjskitchen.com

Spicy Bean Salad – The beans can be replaced with beef or chicken and you can change the vegetables to match.

Cucumber & Onion Salad with Smoked Salmon 

Chicken Tender Ginger Orange Salad

Flank Steak Salad with Zesty Honey Lemon Vinaigrette  @Learn from Yesterday, Live for today…

Chicken, Bacon and Corn Salad with Honey Line Vinaigrette @Cinnamon-Spice & Everything Nice

Grilled Balsamic Chicken and Avocado Brushetta Salad @Cafe Delites

Grilled Meat and Late Summer Vegetable Salad by Nadalyn


Meat and a Side

During the warmer weather our favorite Q&E is to slap a steak on the grill, saute’ up a few vegetables or make a salad.  While Bobby’s grilling the meat, I’m making the side making this a really easy 30 minute meal!  Below are some of the meat and a side meals that we enjoy.

Sausage braised with cabbage, onions and raisins

Sausage with Cabbage and Onions

Grilled Halibut with Simple Asparagus and Orzo Lemon Salad*

Peppered Lemon Chicken Bites with Curried Brussel Sprouts

Braised Italian Sausage with Vegetables

Baked Pork Loin Chops with Haricot Verts with Corn and Chives @Food & Style

Grilled Flank Steak with Strawberry Coconut and Pinon Salad.

Grilled Lamb Chops with Hot Beans (Green beans with dried chile) @Simply Reem

*This Orzo Lemon Salad recipe makes a large batch; therefore, you can make it on the weekend and eat on it all week.  It’s good hot, cold and room temperature.


Other Quick & Easy Recipe Ideas

Southwestern Style Shrimp and Grits

Shrimp and Grits

One Pan Mexican Quinoa @My Wife Makes

Spicy Kielbasa Tomato and Chili Curry @Curry and Comfort (Love this!)

Kung Pao Mushroom @Yummily Yours

Grilled Lemon Chicken Quinoa Bowls @Ricotta & Radishes

Feta and Sun-Dried Tomato One Pot Chicken @Bam’s Kitchen

Beef and Chorizo Enchiladas with Red Chile Sauce

And for my absolutely all time favorite Q&E meal….

New Mexico Red Chile Enchiladas, but then I think most of you already knew that. 🙂

That’s all I have for now.  Given more time, I could have made this list three to five times longer and eventually it may get that way.  Now that I have it started and posted (thanks to my SIL’s suggestion!), I’ll be adding to it as I find other Q&E meals that just need to be on this list.

Hope you find some recipes that will make life easier and make your mouth happy!



50 Responses to “Quick & Easy Meal Ideas”

  1. Gloria June 6, 2015 at 3:05 am #

    I’m drooling over this lovely collection..everything looks so mouthwatering dear….

    • mj June 11, 2015 at 8:36 pm #

      Thanks Gloria!

  2. Debra June 4, 2015 at 5:09 am #

    Great round up of ideas, MJ. Thanks. I think if I started at the top I could have enough meals for all of the summer nights and beyond.

    • mj June 4, 2015 at 8:04 pm #

      Yep, I think you’re right. Lots of great recipes! Thanks and hope you have a wonderful weekend!

  3. Kelly @ Inspired Edibles June 3, 2015 at 5:21 pm #

    Yes, we sure do need a fresh stock of Q & Es and you know your flank steak reminds me of one of my fave summer meals — just a simple steak w/ salt, pepper & garlic on the grill (although recently, you may appreciate that I’ve been doing an ancho chile/coffee rub version –> cowboy steak! equally easy) thank you for all of these great ideas, you’ve really collected some butes, including your beloved New Mexico Red Chile Enchiladas — yes, indeed, I think I knew that 😀

    • mj June 3, 2015 at 6:01 pm #

      Thanks so much Kelly! Bobby grilled the flank steak last night and we were talking about how it was our favorite cut of beef. Flank has SO much flavor that it’s hard to go wrong. LOVE your cowboy steak seasoning!

  4. Sissi June 3, 2015 at 3:16 pm #

    Whether we work or not, we all need quick & easy ideas from time to time… This post is an excellent idea and such an inspiring source of recipes! Thank you so much for sharing all these ideas. I’m particularly fascinated by your propositions, since, as you know, in spite of our mutual passion for chile and garlic, our cooking differs and my quick meals are completely different!

    • mj June 3, 2015 at 5:59 pm #

      Thanks so much Sissi! It is interesting that we have such a strong love of garlic and chile, but outside of that, our meals are as different as night and day. 🙂

  5. Raymund June 3, 2015 at 1:43 pm #

    This is really handy, specially if I am in a hurry making dinners

    • mj June 3, 2015 at 5:58 pm #

      Thanks Raymund!

  6. the gingham apron June 3, 2015 at 8:53 am #

    Thank you so much for sharing a recipe from our site. We really appreciate it! And what a wonderful compilation of great recipes. Can’t wait to try some.

    • mj June 3, 2015 at 5:56 pm #

      You are most welcome! Thanks for stopping by and I do hope you try some of these ideas.

  7. Bam's Kitchen June 2, 2015 at 1:50 am #

    Oh my goodness this awesome list of recipes out to keep me out of trouble for awhile. Thanks for doing this round up and for including out Feta and Sun Dried Tomato One-Pot Chicken. I guess I better get cracking, I won’t be bored all summer long with this list.

    • mj June 3, 2015 at 5:55 pm #

      Thank you Bobbi and you are most welcome. Thanks for that wonderful chicken dish. Can’t wait to try it over a bed of spinach.

  8. Katerina June 2, 2015 at 12:33 am #

    Such a beautiful collection of recipes! One cannot choose just one!

    • mj June 3, 2015 at 5:54 pm #

      Thanks Katerina!

  9. Renee @ Tortillas and Honey June 1, 2015 at 9:51 am #

    Thanks for sharing my pasta recipe! 🙂 I am always looking for easy and quick meals to make for dinner and you’ve made an excellent list! I’ll be adding some of these to my dinner making! Hope you’re doing well, MJ!

    • mj June 3, 2015 at 5:53 pm #

      You are most welcome Renee! I loved it! Thanks for your comments!

  10. Hotly Spiced May 31, 2015 at 9:15 pm #

    I love meals that can be put together in less than 45 minutes. You have some wonderful family meals here. Love the look of the noodles and the pasta xx

    • mj June 3, 2015 at 5:52 pm #

      Thanks so much Charlie! Season with Spice took the shot of the noodle bowl. Isn’t it marvelous?!

  11. Viviane Bauquet Farre May 31, 2015 at 3:43 pm #

    Fantastic roundup, MJ. Repurposing leftovers while still making tasty, creative meals is something of an art form, and you’re absolutely a master at it!

    • mj May 31, 2015 at 8:11 pm #

      Thanks so much Viviane! Bobby actually calls me the “Queen of Leftovers”. 🙂

  12. Angie@Angie's Recipes May 31, 2015 at 8:05 am #

    What a great selection of recipes! And there are so many recipes that I want to try too. Thanks, MJ, for taking time to do the roundup!

    • mj May 31, 2015 at 8:10 pm #

      You’re most welcome Angie and thanks for dropping by!

  13. Roz @ La Bella Vita Cucina May 31, 2015 at 7:53 am #

    What a great spread of recipe ideas for quick prepping in the kitchen MJ! I see so many that I know that we’d love! Thank you for putting all of these together! WOW!

    • mj May 31, 2015 at 8:10 pm #

      You’re most welcome Roz! Enjoy!

  14. Karen (Back Road Journal) May 31, 2015 at 6:59 am #

    Wow! What a list of easy but great sounding meals.

    • mj May 31, 2015 at 8:09 pm #

      Thanks Karen!

  15. Your SIL May 30, 2015 at 5:41 am #

    Yay!! Finally!! Just in time for my weekly menu preparation! Thanks, MJ!!

    • mj May 30, 2015 at 9:32 am #

      Perfect timing! Thanks for the suggestion for this post! I found some recipes I’m going to be trying.

  16. Kelly - Life Made Sweeter May 30, 2015 at 4:40 am #

    Quick and easy meals are my favorite! Love this delicious collection! Can’t wait to try a few of them! Thanks so much for including me too!

    • mj May 30, 2015 at 9:31 am #

      Thanks Kelly! and thanks for such a great recipe!

  17. Evelyne@cheapethniceatz May 29, 2015 at 1:59 pm #

    Great post with wonderful recipes that one can do fast. I never can have to many of those. I will try a few here for sure. I often make a dish for 4 and rotate them in a week.

    • mj May 30, 2015 at 9:31 am #

      Thanks Evelyne! Like you, I don’t mind eating the same meal twice in one week. That’s the best time saver. Bobby smoked some beef short ribs this past weekend and we had them 3 times this week. 🙂

  18. Carol at Wild Goose Mama May 29, 2015 at 9:43 am #

    What a fab post. I sent myself a reminder email to come back to it and link to some of those recipes. time is short right now. You really did an excellent job of rounding up a variety. I am impressed.

    • mj May 30, 2015 at 9:29 am #

      Thanks so much Carol!! Have a great weekend!

  19. Dedy@Dentist Chef May 29, 2015 at 3:20 am #

    hmm, damn delicious dishes..
    it’s kinda hard to picked one first….

    • mj May 30, 2015 at 9:29 am #

      Thanks Dedy!

  20. Maureen | Orgasmic Chef May 28, 2015 at 11:04 pm #

    I love easy meals, especially when I’ve spent all day making and remaking a dessert and have done nothing about dinner until John says, “What’s for dinner?”

    I always reply that it’s his turn to cook and then we go out.

    Now I have no excuse!

    • mj May 30, 2015 at 9:29 am #

      Ha Ha. I can see this happening in your house. 🙂 Thanks Maureen!

  21. Vicki Bensinger May 28, 2015 at 8:03 pm #

    Each of these dishes sound so good. What a terrific assortment.

    • mj May 30, 2015 at 9:28 am #

      Thanks Vicki!

  22. John@Kitchen Riffs May 28, 2015 at 5:12 pm #

    New Mexico Red Chile Enchiladas are good stuff. 😉 Loads and loads of great ideas here! We often do tacos (and thanks for including a link to our shredded beef soft tacos!). Don’t have cooked beans on hand at the moment, but we usually have those in our freezer (guess I need to make some, huh?). Really useful and fun post — thanks.

    • mj May 30, 2015 at 9:27 am #

      Yes, they are! I can’t get enough of them. 🙂 Sounds like it times to make a pot of beans. But then when is it not that time. 🙂 Thanks John and have a great weekend!

  23. wok with ray May 28, 2015 at 1:05 pm #

    Thank you very much for including the fried rice on the Q&E meals. To be included with all of your delicious dishes, means a lot to me my friend. May you and Bobby have a great weekend ahead. 🙂

    • mj May 30, 2015 at 9:26 am #

      You are most welcome Ray! I did make this fried rice and absolutely loved it so it HAD to be included. 🙂 Have a great weekend!

  24. Jodee Weiland May 28, 2015 at 12:53 pm #

    Thanks so much for including my Flank Steak Salad with Zesty Honey Lemon Vinaigrette in your post. I really appreciate it!

    • mj May 30, 2015 at 9:26 am #

      You are most welcome Jodee! Thanks for a lovely recipe!

  25. Helene D'Souza May 28, 2015 at 9:51 am #

    I am going to checkout the Burrito because it’s something I barely know. I wish I could eat an authentic burrito before making it at home but luckily I can rely on your expertise too and follow your recipe steps MJ. Thanks for compiling this!

    • mj May 30, 2015 at 9:25 am #

      Thanks so much Helene! The burrito is a great place to start. You can always use an Indian flatbread for the flour tortilla.

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