If you're like most busy parents, you just don't have time to spend an hour in the kitchen preparing dinner. But before you call for pizza delivery, you might want to take a look at our list of 10 fast, tasty meal ideas. From healthy noodle soups to protein-packed frittatas, we've got something for everyone. The best part? Each meal can be ready in about 15 minutes.
- Anything goes pizzas. Traditional pizza dough requires rising time. Why not try a creative substitute for the crust? You can use tortillas, English muffins, pitas, or even slices of hearty bread. Pop open a can of tomato sauce, dice a few mushrooms and peppers, top with cheese, and bake until bubbly. (Hint: your toaster oven doesn't need to be preheated.) Whip up a salad or steam some vegetables while they're baking.
- Vegetable stir-fry over rice. You can find bags of pre-cut vegetable mixes at the store or use a food processor to quickly dice everything. While heating quick-cook or frozen brown rice, stir-fry your vegetables on high heat until tender-crisp. An Asian stir-fry sauce can add a boost of flavor, or you can keep it basic with garlic and soy sauce.
- Polenta salad. Cut a tube of polenta into 1" rounds and fry each side for 3 minutes, or until golden and crisp. Top with cheese and salsa, and serve with a green salad, beans, or leftover chicken strips.
- Creative quesadillas. The basic ingredients of a quesadilla are cheese and two tortillas, which leaves a whole lot of room for improvisation. Leftover strips of steak? Thinly sliced mushrooms and peppers? Layer them on!
- Real ramen noodle soup. A pot of ramen noodles in good quality stock and lots of veggies will change the way you think about these noodles. Start with real stock, add green onions, sliced mushrooms, chunks of tofu, and edamame. Simmer for a few minutes before adding the noodles. As soon as the noodles are cooked, everything is ready to eat.
- Leftovers as sandwich fillings. Not sure what to do with the meatloaf lingering in your fridge? Many leftovers can be recycled into delicious sandwich fillings. Tuck grilled vegetables with cheese and lettuce into a Mediterranean wrap, or pair hummus with tomatoes and cucumbers for a satisfying sandwich. The possibilities are endless!
- Pasta on an empty fridge. Nothing in your fridge? You can still put together a tasty pasta dish with ingredients in your pantry. Here's one possible combination: whole grain pasta tossed with marinated artichoke hearts, minced garlic, diced tomatoes, olive oil, and parmesan.
- Fried rice. If you have leftover rice in the fridge -- long grain is preferable, but medium grain will work -- you can turn it into this classic Chinese dish in about 10 minutes. In a hot wok, saute sliced green onions and vegetables (frozen peas, carrots, and broccoli are perfect) for a few minutes, then add the rice, turn up the heat, and stir-fry with soy sauce. You can add chunks of firm tofu or scrambled eggs to bump up the protein content.
- Mashed potato soup. Leftover mashed potatoes or instant potato flakes can turn into fast, hearty soups. Saute chopped onions and celery in a soup pot, then add stock to form a simple soup base. Simmer briefly and stir in the mashed potatoes and some milk. Top with crumbled bacon or cheese and serve with a green salad.
- Vegetable frittata. Faster than a quiche and more substantial than an omelet, frittatas are a delicious combination of vegetables, eggs, and cheese. The specifics are up to you -- or the contents of your fridge. You can also add diced ham, sausage, or bacon for extra flavor. Because of their flexibility, frittatas are an excellent last minute choice. Just be sure you have plenty of eggs on hand!
Don't forget about other options for speeding up dinner, like cooking in large batches and freezing the extras, and using pre-made ingredients like frozen ravioli and pasta sauce. With a little creativity, dinner can be fast, healthy, and delicious.