Weeknight Cooking

18 Dinner Recipes That Require No Planning Ahead

May 17, 2017

It's the afternoon and I haven't planned dinner for tonight (or tomorrow, or the night after). That means I want to pick up groceries (a minimal amount!) on my way home and make a meal that does not require I had any sort of plan in mind. I don't want to have to wait for a sauce to reduce; I don't want to be told to start with already-cooked rice; and dear God, I don't want to pull out a slow-cooker.

To the rescue: 18 saving graces! These recipes don't ask that you've done anything to prep in advance. They understand procrastination (and the pressures of real life), and they won't have you counting down the minutes 'til the beans are cooked through.

All you'll have to do is pick up the groceries (or you know, ask someone else to get them on their way home...):

Canned beans? Check. Eggs? Check. Onion, garlic, chili powder, butter? Check, check, check, and check. The corn tortillas? Send a roommate to get those (and some cilantro, too).

Do yourself a favor and buy the roasted red peppers from the grocery store.

Yes please, frozen peas!

I have the same enthusiasm for frozen spinach.

The most involved part of this meal—cooking lentils—is not involved at all. Make extra yogurt-tahini sauce to spread on sandwiches, or use as the base of salad dressings, later in the week.

On the left, Nigella Lawson's linguine, in which you don't even have to cook the mushrooms. The mushrooms! You don't have to cook them! Use whatever shape of pasta hanging out in your cupboard.

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On the right, Alexandra Stafford via Cal Peternell's Vegetable Chow Mein-ish. You do have to cook the vegetables—but they can basically be whatever vegetables you'd like.

It is taking every fiber of my being to not make a rhyme between "curry" and "hurry" right now.

Minced chicken = faster-cooking chicken.

Sesame noodles, the really easy way, and the still-easy-but-slightly-more-involved way. (Buy toasted sesame seeds instead of DIY-ing it, and you'll save 10 to 15 minutes.)

The food processor does all the chopping for you.

Baguette highly recommended.

So you have to let the chicken and tofu marinate for 20 minutes. Do that first, and by the time you're finished prepping the ingredients for the stir-fry, your protein will be rearing to go!

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“I have found the one that i like to cook but anyway thank you for make me aware of food52! I think you are really good and I'm sure you will enjoy it. This is my first time to see this and I hope that i will like it to learn it. I really enjoying this when I saw it.”
— Tawaua

You're five ingredients and 10 or 15 minutes away from supple, spicy salmon.

This article originally ran in May of last year. We're re-upping it in the name of easier weeknight cooking.

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A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • MalamuteMom
  • Tucker Summerville
    Tucker Summerville
  • Gin
  • Audrey
  • Tawaua
I used to work at Food52. I'm probably the person who picked all of the cookie dough out of the cookie dough ice cream.


MalamuteMom September 26, 2018
They all look GREAT to me! I’d eat them all if they were GF. Unfortunately, most of the commercially available GF pastas don’t hold up to a lot of recipes. Those made with corn probably would, but are NOT something I would subject my family to again ;)
Marzena October 26, 2018
Try quinoa pasta, your family will never know is gfree
Tucker S. January 10, 2018
I am looking for salmon bites recipe
Gin January 4, 2018
Are you kidding me! Do people, "REAL PEOPLE" actually eat things like that?
Andrea M. January 10, 2018
Karen S. April 18, 2018
Audrey October 29, 2017
Sorry, but I don't think I would eat any of those meals. Not something that would appeal to me.
Tawaua October 22, 2017
I have found the one that i like to cook but anyway thank you for make me aware of food52! I think you are really good and I'm sure you will enjoy it. This is my first time to see this and I hope that i will like it to learn it. I really enjoying this when I saw it.
Tawaua October 22, 2017
they all look delicious for me and please can you teach me how to cook this
Linda August 8, 2017
I did catch you on the Today show!!! Thanks for making me aware of Food52! I think you have a great idea and I'm sure you will be successful. I have been a home cook and entertainer for many many years and at my age and experience level I am really enjoying cooking intuitively and recipe free. I still use some recipes because I am always trying something new, but mostly use them as a guide. I cook foods in season and locally grown whenever possible which is the way I was raised. When I was a little girl, we couldn't get fresh veggies grown in California in January for example. We looked forward to each new growing season and made dishes based on what was ripe at the time. It was and is a great way to appreciate food. Anyway.... I wish you good luck with your venture and hope that you can help new (and old) cooks along the way!!
Cyndy M. May 19, 2017
I mean, sure, lots of these recipes look great, but to label this piece as "dinner recipes that require no planning" is a bit of a stretch. Do most people keep chorizo, chevre, shitake mushrooms, etc. in their pantries at all times? C'mon. Deliver on your headline.
Martin May 21, 2017
I was thinking of the same... I guess it depends on what Sarah considers planning. For me, I have to buy all these ingredients before even starting.
Andrea M. January 10, 2018
Some people do...
MalamuteMom September 26, 2018
Yes! A lot of people have most of these ingredients on hand when they live in an area where the ingredients are easily available.
Diane T. May 11, 2016
I always keep shrimp and green beans in my freezer, a can of coconut milk in the cupboard and some Thai red curry paste in the 'fridge. With rice, it's easy fixins for Thai shrimp curry.
Karen S. April 18, 2018
The May '18 issue of Cooking Light has an article on using coconut water. Just google: Why You Should Cook with Coconut Water. It has terrific suggestions.
Andrea M. May 10, 2016
Zuni's pasta with preserved tuna is my go-to dinner after a 12 hour working day. I use good tinned tuna. Delicious, easy pantry dinner.
Lula M. May 8, 2016
These look like some nice recipes, but to say they take no planning is a far from accurate. My pantry doesn't regularly contain many of the ingredients required (tahini, chèvre for example). And when a recipe begins with "make the mayonnaise" or suggests an ingredient (Patak's garlic relish) where I had to find a manufacturer's "Store locator" feature on the website... uh... that's some planning.
Lauren K. May 8, 2016
Tahini keeps forever--just buy a jar and store it in the fridge if you don't find yourself using it frequently (although once you own it, you'll probably find yourself using it all. the. time.)! And recipe suggestions of chevre or homemade mayo are easy to work around--just get creative with what you have on hand (greek yogurt + salt? sour cream! or just skip the cheese and add wilted greens). That's when quick, relatively simple recipes are even more fun to make!
Sheron A. May 9, 2016
Try serious eats 2 minute homemade mayo. Almost as easy as opening a jar
Lula M. May 9, 2016
Thanks, I will-but that's not the point. This article is an aggregation of previously published recipes under a catchy, click-bait title. But its curation was lazy.
Sarah J. May 9, 2016
Hi Lula! I'm sorry you were disappointed with the selection, but I hope you find a few recipes from this batch that you want to make! And the group wasn't intended as recipes that require no shopping at all—you'll likely have to stop at the grocery store on the way home, yes—but rather that require minimal wait times and don't ask for day-long marinations or hour-long quick pickling projects.
Kelly L. January 19, 2019
Sarah I think they mean its implied no planning required. I also thought that. Maybe next time be clear planning required but can be quick meals after shopping for required groceries.
creamtea May 5, 2016
Thanks! I came home with no idea of what to make for dinner, saw this and threw together some sesame noodles with seitan after reading this!
aargersi May 5, 2016
OMG the spaghetti squash pad Thai on The Kitchn site - addicted!!! Don't even bother with the tofu, more eggs instead.
My no-plan dinners tend to be gloppy (delicious) piles of stuff, like every veggie in the fridge cooked with some onions and garlic and ginger (which I always have) with pink wine (which I always have) in front of a recorded cooking show (which I always have)
Niknud May 5, 2016
Mark Bittman's Shrimp My Way which in addition to being fast has the added benefit of being delicious! And there's always a good old frittata (or eggy pie as we call it so the five year old will eat it). Also anything that involves couscous or a spaghetti squash (microwaved of course).
Sarah J. May 5, 2016
Ah, to have a microwave!! I want to try that Shrimp My Way, right away!
Niknud May 6, 2016
All the cumin, all the garlic....and all the olive oil. It's great over pasta (if you feel so inclined) or with good crusty break so soak up all the awesome sauce. Plus it takes a grand total of 15 minutes to cook. Winner winner shrimpy dinner.