Low-Effort 5-Ingredient Dinners, Because Pandemic Burnout Is Real
These 21 simple dishes are great to make when your inspiration has left the building. Casseroles, meatballs, breakfast for dinner — here’s what to cook when you can’t cook no more.
Photograph by Olga Ivanova
It’s been a long pandemic. And while we’ve all had different experiences — not everyone has spent the last 14 months making dinner Every. Single. Night — it’s true that the entire globe has devoted more time to preparing food at home than any other year in recent history. That’s a whole lot of homemade dinners.
Now there have been plusses: Sourdough starter has become its own form of currency, with social media boasting beautiful homemade loaves; jaded New Yorkers started growing tiny scallion gardens on their windowsills; and home cooks (which includes almost everyone now) have expanded their repertoires and added new techniques to their culinary arsenals. Kitchen confidence is high.
But it’s also hard to stare into the fridge night after night, trying to sort out what to make for dinner yet again. Enthusiasm starts to wear thin when the months blur into one another, take-out costs add up, and the layers of grief — for lost loved ones, lost jobs and opportunities, lost time with the people we love the most — pile up like heavy blankets, making it hard to find that joie de vivre in the kitchen we had before.
But as the great writer Samuel Beckett once noted: “I can’t go on, I’ll go on.” We still have to eat every night, and the consistency of mealtimes helps provide structure in this weird, uncertain period of history. And the truth is, the time we most need a good meal is when we’re most burned out.
Dinner must go on, and so must we cooks, with ladles at the ready. So for this last stretch (dear God, I hope so) before our society returns to "normal," take this collection of clever and satisfying 5-ingredient recipes and embrace self-care: Make yourself the lovely dinner you deserve, and keep going. Share leftovers with cash-strapped neighbors and nearby friends and family because as every cook knows, cooking is ultimately about love. And we all need a little more love right now — especially if it tastes delicious.
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A meal does not have to be a culinary masterpiece in order to get the job done. The easy recipes below offer comfort — and are delicious in a flash.
The brilliance of this low-stress five ingredient dish is that poaching chicken breasts in the marinara guarantees tender breasts that are also packed with flavor — plus you’ve already got a sauce built in! Served with a little rice, pasta, couscous, or quinoa, it’s a full meal, fast.
This recipe has six ingredients, but to be fair one of them is hamburger buns. These turkey burgers draw inspiration from India: Curry paste (feel free to substitute curry powder) delivers bright flavor in the meat, and the secret sauce (okay, it’s yogurt mixed with mango chutney) has both tang and sweetness to ensure every bite is luscious.
Who doesn’t love a toasty, cheesy meatball sandwich? While the meatballs heat up in the marinara, the hoagie rolls get toasted, and then the assembled sandwiches are baked just enough to melt the cheese and crisp up the edges of the rolls. Any sort of meatball will do, and with a little sauce served on the side? Heaven in under a half-hour.
Put down that icy box in the freezer aisle and step into the warm embrace of fresh-tasting personal pizza pies you made yourself. And there’s no waiting for dough to rise: Purchased naan means no rolling, no tossing … just lovely cheesy pizza.
Martha Stewart keeps it real as she elevates a packet of ramen in this quick and satisfying Asian-inspired dish. The addition of sriracha, soy sauce, scallions, and peanut butter take this budget living staple to the next level. Peanut noodles, anyone?
You deserve a delightful meal especially when you’re running on fumes, and the truth is: Eating well doesn’t have to be complicated. A handful of good ingredients treated simply can be as lovely as a restaurant dish. Light a candle and serve one of these simple recipes on your prettiest plate; you’re worth it.
You can almost smell the briny sea as you have a date night with yourself (and anyone else in your home) with these luscious sea scallops and crisp-tender asparagus. The beurre-blanc-inspired sauce brings the ingredient list to six, but it’s worth it for the mere half-hour it takes to create this fine (home) dining dinner.
Cooking fish in foil is a great way to dip your toe in the waters of fish cookery, with decidedly elegant results. The sealed packet ensures the fish won’t dry out in its sauna of flavors, and with this flexible cooking technique you can substitute almost any other fish of similar thickness — try haddock, cod, tilapia, or salmon. You could add cherry tomatoes, thinly sliced fennel, or pencil-thin asparagus to the packets for an instant side. Best of all, clean-up is as simple as balling up the foil and throwing it in the recycle bin.
This steak takes about 10 minutes to cook and then is coated with an intriguing glaze of pomegranate molasses, garlic, and mint as it rests. Sliced and served over baby greens, it’s a satisfying warm weather meal (and makes great leftovers for steak sandwiches). Look for a California tri-tip cut (also called Santa Maria), or substitute skirt steak.
Lemon slices tiled atop the fish add bright flavor and roast up beautifully, while butter spread over each fillet adds a touch of richness and helps the salmon stay moist in the oven. A squeeze of lemon at the end adds a tart acidity to this quick and simple yet tasteful dish.
Do the planet and your budget a favor with these satisfying vegetarian dinner ideas that are both easy and appealing for the whole family.
This baked pasta dish can be on the table in a half hour, and is a comfort food hug for your belly. Pick your favorite tortellini and tastiest jar of marinara, add pre-shredded cheese and grated Parmesan for a crispy topping, and bake up an almost-instant meal.
Put on your favorite Cuban album and get ready to eat before the record ends. This clever soup uses salsa to deliver flavor and punch, so you save time and get to dictate your desired heat level. Black beans deliver depth of flavor and make it easy to customize: a dash of cumin or pinch of smoked paprika, a smattering of cilantro on top — the choice is yours.
This cozy Southern Scottish casserole is as much fun to eat as it is to say: Rumble-de-thumps! If you’ve got leftover mashed potatoes, it comes together even faster — a quick sauté of onion and cabbage crisps up the veggies, and your favorite sharp cheddar cheese gives it a pleasing bite as it toasts up in the oven.
This comforting recipe is ridiculously quick to prepare. There is no cheese to be grated, no delicate roux to fuss over — simply stir cheddar cheese soup with a little milk, then mix in traditional marinara sauce and toss with cooked pasta for nearly instant mac and cheese. A sprinkle of Parmesan on top and ta-da! A cozy dinner on the table in under 20 minutes.
Set it and forget it! Do a little prep and let the oven take care of the rest. You might not even need a trip to the grocery store to pull these easy meals off.
Everyone loves a pizza party, and it’s even better when two tasty worlds collide: Pizza in a grilled cheese sandwich? #winning The toppings tucked inside are up to you, and this recipe makes the genius move of using the oven to “grill” all the sandwiches at once, so you’re not a short-order cook stuck at the stove.
Use up the last of that rotisserie chicken in the fridge with these hearty chicken and cheese enchiladas. Purchased enchilada sauce means there’s no cooking involved, so add it to your grocery list, along with Mexican shredded cheese and tortillas. For the ultimate in easy dinner recipes, simply assemble the casserole and pop it in the oven to create a fiesta for your mouth.
Meatballs, marinara, mozzarella, and pizza dough come together to make you a dinner superhero. Grab any cooked meatball you like (use plant-based balls for a meatless main), store-bought dough and in about a half-hour: Oh who’s da bomb? That’s right — you are.
When it seems like the whole world has gone crazy, this retro casserole gets you back into your element with protein and veggies all in one dish — and it’s low-carb, too. A can of cream of chicken soup adds a calming nostalgic touch, and the cheddar cheese inside and on top really ties the dish together.
These delicate rolls call for six ingredients, but they’re worth the extra item: A homemade sausage mixture of ground beef and seasonings, which is surprisingly easy to put together, is encased by puff pastry. They’re easy to make, easy to pick up and enjoy, and easy to freeze and reheat.
This quick casserole takes advantage of several prepared ingredients to help you get dinner on the table pronto: Your favorite red sauce, refrigerated crescent rolls, and an Italian blend of shredded cheeses do most of the work for you. Mangia!
Breakfast for dinner
Everyone’s favorite meal does double duty as a comforting and quick dinner. Perfect for a busy weeknight.
Frittatas are like an upscale crustless quiche, except they make it to the table faster. This one features everyone’s favorite, bacon and eggs, but with an Italian twist thanks to creamy fresh ricotta cheese, grated Parmesan, and handfuls of greens.
These charming, cheese-topped ramekins cook up beautifully as they bake gently in the oven. The marinara sauce gives this hearty breakfast-for-dinner a robust flavor with minimal effort — and if you’d like to keep it to only five ingredients, feel free to use only one cheese.
More quick and easy dishes
Check out these related Yummly articles for more ways to keep the ingredient count low, but the deliciousness high: