The Burned-Out Cook

12 Easy Little Meal Ideas for the Burned-Out Cook

updated May 15, 2020
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Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: CC Buckley/Kitchn

All the prepping of the breakfasts, the lunches, the dinners, the snacks, the 4:23 a.m. can’t-sleeps, the 10:37 a.m. why-am-I-hungry-agains feels like … a lot. So what’s a person to do when you still need to eat but you just can’t anymore? Here’s how Kitchn editors manage to make really good meals with really low effort.

Toast Is Your Best Friend That Always Texts You Back

Toast is an absolutely acceptable, if not winning, meal. In the very real, very frequent moments when I just can’t lately, avocado toast topped with a fried egg has been my saving grace (no, I do not feel bad about sounding #basic). Really, though, put beans (or even just hummus) on toast, slather cottage cheese or ricotta on toast and pile it with leftover roasted vegetables, melt cheese on top on toast. Use bread as a vehicle for whatever you have in the fridge and you can’t fail. —Sheela Prakash, Senior Contributing Food Editor

Credit: Leela Cyd

Jammy Eggs Save Your Leftovers

Yes, you can eat soft-boiled eggs at every meal. Getting enough protein into my daughter has always been a challenge, and we finally discovered that she loves soft-boiled eggs. We’ve had them for breakfast with hash browns, for lunch as part of a snack plate, and for dinner in bowls of ramen. I’m now the master of a 6 1/2-minute egg, and am still amazed at how they go with everything, including leftovers. —Christine Gallary, Food Editor-at-Large

Credit: Christine Han/Kitchn; Food Stylist: CC Buckley/Kitchn

Anything Can Be a Sandwich If You Dream It

I’ve kept a loaf of sliced white bread on hand for quick, fuss-free dinners for weeks now. Last night I put roasted chicken thighs between two pieces of white bread with a smearing of hummus and sliced tomatoes. And this morning I put a fried egg between two slices of bread for a quick breakfast. There’s nothing you can’t turn into a sandwich; it has become my new go-to for easy meals. —Jesse Szewczyk, Studio Food Editor

Credit: joe lingeman

No-Brainer Dinners Will Save You 

I can’t take credit for this meal planning advice (it came from my friend Kendra at the Lazy Genius Collective), but I love it so much that I’d consider it as my next tattoo. Think of those no-brainer, crowd-pleasing dinners that your family loves and make sure you have ingredients on hand for them. Maybe, like mine, your family loves hot dogs, or maybe you’ve got a Trader Joe’s Miracle Meal you usually pull out in ultra-busy seasons. There’s no shame in planning for burn-out and grocery shopping accordingly. —Meghan Splawn, Associate Food Editor

Get a recipe: Easy Chili Dogs

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Rice Only Needs Something Green + Something Spicy

While a plain bowl of rice is not very inspiring, I am extremely enthused to eat rice when just a couple of other things are thrown in. I love to quickly sauté some greens (kale, spinach) and toss them into rice with some chile crisp or harissa. And maybe some yogurt to mellow it out a bit. Plus, I always make extra rice so that I can fry it with some scallions and egg a few days later. —Carey Polis, Interim Executive Editor

Credit: Joe Lingeman

A Can of Beans = Très Gourmet

The other day I sautéed diced onion with some chili flakes, a can of cannellini beans, a cube of pesto that we had in the freezer and served it over a piece of toast sprinkled with a lot of Parm. It took 15 minutes to make and was so good that I honestly would make it for Ina Garten if she showed up at my house with absolutely zero notice. —Lauren Masur, Staff Writer

Get a recipe: Marinated White Beans

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Pre-Shredded Slaw Is a Power Move

Having a bag of slaw (either cabbage or broccoli) has been such a dinner savior lately. It becomes an instant side when I don’t know what to serve with dinner, a crunchy topping for tacos and burrito bowls, my answer for no-prep stir-fries, and an easy way to bulk up basic tuna salad. —Kelli Foster, Associate Food Editor

Get a recipe: Easy Taco Slaw

Credit: Lauren Volo

Tortillas Are the Solution to All the Dinner Things

I always have multiple packages of Siete Foods cassava flour tortillas in my fridge or freezer. They’re perfectly pliable after a short stint in a pan on the stove, and they’ve been the base of many quesadillas, tacos (with canned beans), and, my favorite, skillet pizzas that have sustained me lately. —Lauren Kodiak, Managing Editor

Credit: Shelly Westerhausen

Chickpeas Will Never Fail You

On Sundays, I cook a batch of chickpeas in my Instant Pot and use them for almost every meal throughout the week. I toss them with spinach and a can of tuna for a quick salad, fry them up for stew, and even smash them on toast using this recipe (which is my go-to lunch staple). Who knew chickpeas are the Meryl Streep of legumes? Such range! —Sholeen Darmarwala, Commerce Editor

Credit: Ghazalle Badiozamani; Food Styling: Pearl Jones

Slow Cooker Chili Is a Great Excuse to Eat More Cheese

If I have any sort of foresight that I will not want to cook for dinner, I make a big batch of vegetarian slow cooker chili. All you really need to do is throw some canned beans, canned tomatoes, some spices, and maybe a diced pepper or two (the only prep work) into your slow cooker. It’s hard to mess up, it lasts me for days, and it’s a great excuse to eat more cheese. —Arie Knutson, Features Director

Credit: Jesse Szewczyk

Salad Dressing Is for … Everything

Whenever I make salad dressing — whether it’s a Sunday or a Thursday — I make enough to last a week. On nights where the most I can muster is boiling tortellini or reheating pizza, I know I can round out dinner with a side salad without any extra work. If you’re not a leafy greens person, you can use it to flavor roasted veggies or perk up canned beans. —Grace Elkus, Deputy Food Editor

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: CC Buckley/Kitchn

Going Easy on Yourself Is Always an Option

Don’t get caught up in the idea that dinner has to be a major affair. An egg in the hole has saved me more times than I can count. And my family is always down to eat boxed pasta with Rao’s sauce. —Amelia Rampe, Studio Food Editor