Our 5 Best Cooking Tricks for Nights When You Just Can’t

published Jan 8, 2024
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Credit: Joe Lingeman

As ambitious as we all try to be in the kitchen, some days really get the best of us. Maybe you lost track of time, realized you’re missing an ingredient (or two) for the dinner you planned to make, or you’re just too tired. There’s a good chance you’ll jump ship, and that’s OK. This is where being a lazy-yet-productive cook in the kitchen comes in handy.

Here at The Kitchn, we value ease just as much as flavor. Meals should not only taste great, but also always be truly worth the effort you put in to make them — especially when you’re making them for others.

Being a lazy, smart cook at home is more about preparation and strategy. To prep, stock up on shortcut ingredients to save yourself a future trip to the store. The strategy: Be kind to yourself, don’t overthink it, and have fun. 

Here, we’ll share some of our favorite tricks and methods so you never have to think twice about what’s for dinner on those nights when you just can’t. Your future self will thank you. 

Credit: James Park

Do some lazy food math.

Many of us struggle with math, and when there’s food involved, the stakes can get high fast. But we’ll keep things super simple. Below are our favorite easy dinner equations truly anyone can solve. 

Credit: Mara Weinraub

Make the freezer your friend.

If you’re only using your freezer at home to store bags of frozen vegetables and ice cube trays, then you’re simply not making the most of its potential. Your freezer is one of the most useful spaces you have at your disposal when it comes to being a “lazy” yet efficient cook. 

We fully recommend embracing the wide world that is your grocery store’s freezer section. Our editors have many faves they’re super pumped to share with you, including frozen pizza, chicken nuggets, dumplings, fish sticks (Assistant Recipe Producer, Jan Valdez, strongly suggests sandwiching them between Hawaiian rolls!), pierogies (specifically Mrs. T’s), and Trader Joe’s meals. (This is just a selection — we could go on all day!)

That said, there’s nothing wrong with saving space for those frozen veggies. At The Kitchn, we’re big stans of frozen peas. Besides throwing some into boxed mac cheese, we like to add them by the handful to instant ramen and canned soup. 

Add a little flair to leftovers.

It’s inevitable that you’ll have your fair share of leftovers kicking around. Rather than dreading having to eat the same thing for more than two days, why not give your leftovers a second life? 

Make fried rice with leftover rice, a fried egg, and some frozen veggies, or whip up sheet pan nachos with leftover cooked ground meat and whatever else you have on hand — it’ll be great no matter what.  

Pull out everything in the fridge that could be considered edible and let the fam choose their own dinner.

Staff Writer, Patty Catalano, swears by this. Instead of putting the pressure on yourself to make dinner, turn it around and let your loved ones choose their own adventure. This is “lazy cooking” at its finest. The best part: You’re also clearing out your fridge at the same time. 

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Styling: Brett Regot

Serve breakfast for dinner, ofc. 

When in doubt, serving breakfast for dinner is a pro move. Senior Recipe Editor, Christine Gallary, is a big proponent of this, advocating for toast and eggs. She isn’t alone. Senior Recipe Editor, Kristina Razon, will often dish up a cheesy omelette along with crispy bacon and call it dinner. 

As long as you have some basics — namely eggs, bread, and a protein like breakfast sausage or Spam — then an extra-delicious meal is always easily within reach. And if you’re still struggling, there’s nothing wrong with pouring yourself a bowl of cereal (we do it too)! 

This is part of How to Be a Lazier Cook, highlighting the super-easy recipes, cooking tricks, and grocery items you need to start off the year a little lazier and a lot more delicious.