Quicker Than Take Away Meals
Reducing Waste

Quicker than Take Away: Pantry Meals in a Hurry

“Quicker than Take Away” might be overstating it – then again, maybe not. When life takes over, its dinner time and cooking a meal seems beyond what is possible, most of us are spoilt for take away options – and most are even home delivered.

You know I’m all about doing what’s possible and not turning ourselves inside out to meet some arbitrary goal but, waste-wise, nutrition-wise and budget-wise, there are a lot of reasons to avoid take away food when we can. With a little bit of pre-thought, we can have some options at our fingertips that might be even faster than looking up the menu, calling in the order, and driving to the restaurant to pick up your meal.

Although I menu plan, I still try to have a small repertoire of ‘quicker than take away’ meals that can be made in little time with food that I tend to keep on hand so that we don’t resort to take away when time is short – well, not too often anyway.

Of course, this is exactly the time when leftovers or ‘freezer meals’ are a great option but sometimes even those supplies are run down. And while there’s nothing wrong with a toasted sandwich or boiled egg for dinner, here’s some other ideas for ‘quicker than take away’ meals to prepare.

From the pantry

These recipes can be made with things that have a pretty long shelf life in the pantry or fridge, are staples that we pretty much always have on hand or use up bits and pieces often left in the fridge.

Red Lentil Dahl

A quick and easy meal from pantry basics when Indian take away is calling your name.

Ingredients:

1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (more if you like it spicy)
2 Tbsp oil
1 brown onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 cup red lentils, rinsed
400g tinned diced tomatoes
1 cup water
Salt
Pepper

Method:
  • Heat spices in a saucepan until fragrant.
  • Add oil to the pan and then the onion and garlic. Cook until the onion starts to brown.
  • Add the lentils, tomatoes and water. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  • Cover and simmer for about 20 minutes until the lentils are tender. Stir regularly and add more water if necessary to obtain the desired consistency.
  • Serve with whatever you have on hand such as rice, a potato, even a tortilla plus some yoghurt and/or mango chutney.
Photo by Keri Iiwi on Unsplash

Easy Tomato Sauce on Pasta

A basic tomato sauce for pasta can be changed up by adding ingredients that you have on hand such as sun-dried tomatoes and grated vegetables.

You can also disguise it as a different meal by making it into an oven bake!

Ingredients:

400g pasta
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 brown onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
400g tinned diced tomatoes
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp chilli flakes (optional)
20 kalamata olives (optional)
Parmesan (or other) cheese

Method:
  • Cook the pasta in a pot of boiling water.
  • While the pasta is cooking, heat the oil in a frypan and cook the onion and garlic until the onion starts to brown.
  • Add the tomatoes, herbs, chilli and olives (if using) and allow to simmer and reduce for about 10 minutes. Add a little water if necessary.
  • Serve over the pasta with grated cheese.

Fritters

Fritters of any kind are a fabulous, quick meal. They can be made with all sorts of things you might find languishing in your crisper, freezer or pantry. Tinned tuna and frozen corn are a great combo. You could also use grated veggies or the leftovers from a Sunday roast. A little goes a long way in fritters.

Served with a salad made of whatever you have on hand, and you have a complete meal. We especially love tuna and/or corn fritters with a fresh avocado, tomato and coriander salsa but these ingredients are not always available without prior planning. Often just some sweet chilli sauce does the job.

Ingredients:

2 cups self raising flour
2 eggs
1 cup milk
Salt and pepper
1-2 cups vegetables and/or meat, chopped
Oil for frying

Suggested additions:
  • Tinned or frozen corn (adding some pureed or ‘creamed’ corn distributes the sweet corn flavour throughout the whole fritter)
  • Frozen peas or other vegetables
  • Diced capsicum or kale
  • Grated zucchini or carrot
  • Cooked diced pumpkin, kumera or potato
  • Tinned beans or chickpeas
  • Tinned tuna or salmon
  • Diced cooked meat
  • Bacon
  • Caramelised onion
  • Grated cheese
Method:
  • Place the flour in a large bowl and make a well in the centre.
  • Whisk together eggs and milk in another bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  • Gradually whisk the egg and milk mixture into the flour to form a smooth batter.
  • Add the vegetables and/or meat and stir to combine.
  • Heat oil over medium heat in a frypan and add tablespoonfuls of batter. Cook on each side until crisp and golden.
  • Cook the fritters in batches and transfer cooked fritters to a plate in a warm oven to keep warm until ready to eat.
  • Serve with yoghurt, salsa or sauces and a garden salad

Tuna Mornay

This tasty tuna mornay sauce can be served on top of rice or with pasta and is another good topping for a jacket potato. It is also just fine dolloped on top of florets of cauliflower or broccoli.

For the chopped vegetables, you can use the lonely carrot left in the bottom of the crisper or any frozen vegetables you have on hand. It is particularly good with peas and/or corn.

Ingredients:

40g butter
1 onion, finely diced
1 cup chopped vegetables
1 tsp mustard or mustard powder
40g plain flour
400mL milk
1 cup tasty cheese, grated
425g tin tuna, drained
Salt and pepper to taste

Method:
  • Melt butter in a saucepan and cook onion and vegetables until softened.
  • Add the mustard and flour and stir into vegetables. Cook gently for a minute.
  • Gradually add the milk, stirring well at each addition to eliminate any lumps.
  • Stir in the cheese and allow it to melt through the sauce.
  • Add the tuna and gently stir into the sauce. Allow some chunks to remain.
  • Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  • Optional: To serve with pasta, add cooked pasta to the sauce, transfer into an ovenproof dish, top with a little extra grated cheese and cook in a moderate oven until the cheese on top has melted and browned.
Photo by Rawpixel.com on Pexels

Kidney Bean Chilli

A Mexican meal on rice, tortillas or potatoes if you happen to have them on hand. Substitute any beans that you have in the pantry and, if you like, throw in some diced or grated vegetables such as zucchini, carrot and capsicum when you cook the onion.

Ingredients:

1 Tbsp oil
1 onion, finely diced
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground oregano
1/2 tsp chilli powder (or to taste)
400g tinned diced tomatoes
400g tin red kidney beans
Rice, potatoes or tortillas to serve
Grated cheese to serve

Method:
  • Heat oil in large frying pan and add onion and garlic. Cook until onion is translucent.
  • Add the herbs and spices and cook for about a minute until fragrant.
  • Add the tomatoes and kidney beans and simmer until the sauce has reduced.
  • Serve with rice, on a baked jacket potato or in tortillas topped with grated cheese.

If you have done a little pre-prep

I generally keep a few things on hand that I make from scratch pretty regularly. Usually I make an extra quantity when we’re having them for dinner so I can have them on hand when I need something quick and easy for dinner – and for when the picky eaters reject my evening offering.

Pesto

Based on a Stephanie Alexander recipe is my go-to pesto recipe. With some cooked dried pasta, it is a quick meal made in (almost) no time.

Ingredients:

Large bunch fresh basil
1/4 cup pinenuts
1 clove garlic, quartered
1/2 cup olive oil
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup or more parmesan cheese, grated

Method:
  • Remove basil leaves from stems and place in food processor with pinenuts, garlic, oil and salt.
  • Process until no large lumps remain.
  • Add the parmesan cheese and mix in the food processor.

Individual pizzas

I like to keep pre-prepared pizza dough in the freezer in individual pizza sized lumps. They can be thawed topped with whatever is on hand to make a meal from ‘nothing’. I like to keep mozzarella cheese in the fridge for these occasions but any cheese will do in a pinch.

This is the pizza dough recipe I have used for many years. It makes enough for 8 individual sized pizzas. I do everything in my mix master which makes the process quick and un-messy. The mixing and kneading can, however, be done by hand as it traditionally was.

Ingredients:

2 tsp dried yeast
1/2 tsp sugar
1 1/3 cup hot tap water
4 cups plain flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup olive oil

Method:
  • Whisk together the yeast, sugar and hot water in a large bowl. Allow to stand for about 10 minutes until the yeast activates and a froth has formed on the top of the mixture.
  • Add the flour, salt and olive oil and mix until the ingredients come together.
  • Knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes with the dough hook in the mix master and about 10 minutes by hand.
  • Give the mixing bowl a wipe out and return the dough to the bowl. Many people suggest oiling the bowl but I don’t find this necessary.
  • Cover with a clean, damp tea towel and leave in a warm spot to rise. I allow at least an hour for this and, especially in the Canberra winter, I pop a warm wheat pack underneath the bowl to get it started.
  • The dough will double in size. When it has, ‘knock’ it down and divide into eight equal pieces. Use immediately or freeze in an airtight container, separating the pieces with baking paper and allowing space for the dough to expand somewhat.

I hope you find some meals here that you can sub in once in a while when it just seems easier to holler for Ubereats. I do believe that these are ‘quicker than takeaway meals’.

What are your ‘Quicker Than Take Away’ meal ideas?

Do you have more ideas? I’d love to hear your go-to dish when you are short on time but don’t want take away. Please post it in the comments below.

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