When You’re Too Tired to Cook: 5 Throw-Together Dinner Ideas

(Image credit: Emily Han)

More often than not, I have what I call “throw-together dinners.” A few nights a week, I’ll actually plan for a more interesting, involved recipe, but on the other evenings I choose from a rotating list of easy meals that I throw together from ingredients I have on hand. They’re all easy enough to have dinner on the table in about thirty minutes, but different enough to keep things interesting.

I know many people reach for pasta as their “throw-together” dinner. That’s a good choice because it’s speedy and there are so many different ways to prepare it (quick tomato sauce, pesto, tossed with parmesan and chopped herbs). But my personal preference happen to be grains rather than pasta. I usually cook a big pot of grains at the beginning of the week, and then create a few dinners with those grains as the days tick on.

For example, I’ll cook a big pot of farro Sunday evening, and then make a farro bowl with goat cheese and roasted vegetables one night, while another night I might toss the cooked grains into a mushroom soup for a hearty, comforting meal. While my boyfriend and I are not vegetarian, we also don’t cook much meat at home, so most of these ideas happen to be vegetarian although you could certainly toss in leftover chicken, pulled pork or salmon into any of these recipes.

5 Easy Throw-Together Dinners

1. Whole-Grain Bowls: Once you start making whole-grain bowls, you’ll be pleased how many different grain options there are (millet, wild rice, wheat berries, quinoa) and all of the interesting ways you can form a dinner from them. My go-to is whatever grains I’ve cooked and on hand, combined with a large handful of chopped flat-leaf parsley and any other herbs, and a little salty cheese with a runny egg on top. For a heartier dinner, I’ll often toss in some chickpeas or lentils as well.

2. Hearty Burritos: If you have tortillas, beans and cheese on hand, a simple dinner is doable. I often make flat bean and cheese quesadillas and do them in the broiler, and then I top them with lots of fresh lettuce, chopped olives, avocado and sour cream.

3. Panino Sandwiches: You don’t need a special panini maker to make a great panino: you can make them in a regular pan, using a heavy lid to weigh them down (you just won’t get those wonderful grill marks). I keep sliced bread in the freezer for these nights in particular. Simply thaw a few slices, and layer on your favorite pesto or spread, a slice or two of cheese and whatever vegetables or leftover slices of meat you have on hand. Paired with a really simple green salad, this dinner is an all-season favorite.

4. Hearty Salads: I prepare hearty salads in much the same way I do warm grain-bowls, except I start with greens, obviously. A big bowl of greens becomes dinner once I toss in a little crumbled cheese, a few sliced boiled eggs, a smattering of cooked grains (if you’d like), sliced vegetables and fresh herbs. A quick vinaigrette is all you need.

5. Breakfast for Dinner: Always a favorite, breakfast for dinner is the ultimate in throw-together dinners. Make a hearty scramble or frittata and serve with a slice of seedy toast.

What are your favorite throw-together dinners?

(Image: Emily Ho)