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12 Super Fast, Cheap and Easy Main Dishes

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Rose Mary's mother and all of her aunts are great southern cooks. She likes to think she's not so bad herself.

One of my dearest friends frequently asks me for ideas for fast and easy main dishes. She is Hispanic, and is often curious about what I am cooking, because to her, it is very different from anything she might prepare. She’s always busy: working, babysitting her grandchildren, visiting and caring for elderly friends, and who knows what else. Makes me tired thinking about it all. So when she asks me for recipe ideas, I try to think of simple and tasty dishes that are quick and easy to prepare.

These recipes have only 3 or 5 ingredients, and are enough to serve 4 people when served with a vegetable, soup or salad. They are easy to double if you have big eaters, a larger family, or want to forgo the side dish.

Turkey Tetrazini

Turkey Tetrazini

I think you’ll find these recipes are super simple, have a quick prep time, are inexpensive, and taste good. Many of them are from my youth. My parents worked shift work, and my mom would keep some of these ingredients on hand so that I could cook the family dinner. So if I could cook these dishes as a teen, I think most teens and even tweens could do it too. To those who are anxious about cooking and think that they can’t cook, I say relax and give these super easy recipes a try. I’m throwing out this ‘give it a try’ challenge to college students, bachelors and brides too. For the accomplished but busy cooks, I throw you a lifeline. My mom often said the worst thing about cooking was deciding what to cook.

Rice Dishes

These 2 rice dishes are super fast to prepare if you have leftover rice or cook your rice ahead of time. Plan ahead. At our house, when we cook rice, we usually cook enough to make both the tuna and roast beef rice dishes. When we prepare a good old Southern style meal of cubed steak with rice and gravy, we cook extra rice for another meal later.

Tuna and Rice

Simple and tasty meal, made from rice, cream soup and tuna

Simple and tasty meal, made from rice, cream soup and tuna

Tuna and Rice

Ingredients

  • 1 can cream of chicken soup
  • ¼ can or less water, just to rinse can
  • 1 large can of tuna or 2 small cans, drained
  • 4 cups cooked rice

Instructions

  1. Pour soup and water into saucepan.
  2. Add drained tuna to soup.
  3. Heat on medium heat until moderately warm.
  4. Add in cooked rice.
  5. Heat until thoroughly warm.

Variations

  • Use other favorite cream soup.
  • Try with a can of chicken, turkey or ham instead of tuna.

Roast Beef and Rice

One of my sister's favorite dishes, made with canned roast beef with gravy, tomato soup and rice.

One of my sister's favorite dishes, made with canned roast beef with gravy, tomato soup and rice.

Roast Beef and Rice

Ingredients

  • 1 can tomato soup
  • ¼ can or less water, just to rinse
  • 1 can roast beef
  • 4 cups cooked rice

Instructions

  1. Pour soup and water into saucepan.
  2. Add roast beef and its juice or gravy.
  3. Heat on medium heat until moderately warm.
  4. Add in cooked rice.
  5. Heat until thoroughly warm.

Casseroles

Some people consider “casserole” a dirty word and fear an unrecognizable blob of mystery ingredients. Hopefully these will be a pleasant surprise.

Tuna Casserole

Tuna Casserole with saltine crackers and cheese

Tuna Casserole with saltine crackers and cheese

Cousin Hal's Favorite Tuna Casserole

Ingredients

  • 2 cans of cream of chicken soup
  • ½ can water or milk
  • 1 large or 2 small cans of tuna, drained
  • 1 sleeve saltine crackers
  • 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

Instructions

  1. Drain tuna and combine with cream soup and water or milk in a bowl.
  2. In a greased casserole dish, approximately 9” X 11”, smear 2-3 rounded tablespoons of soup mixture on the bottom of the dish.
  3. Layer 1: Arrange a layer of crackers 3 across X 4 down. Spread about 1/3 of tuna and soup mixture over crackers. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese.
  4. Layer 2: Repeat crackers, then tuna and soup mixture. Sprinkle about 1/2 cup cheddar.
  5. Layer 3: Repeat crackers and tuna and soup layers.
  6. Bake in preheated 350 degree oven until thoroughly warm, about 30 minutes.
  7. Remove from oven and top with remaining 1 cup cheese. Return to oven for 10 minutes.

Variations

  • Use any favorite cream soup.
  • Use any favorite cheese.

Tater Tot Casserole

Tator Tot Casserole

Tator Tot Casserole

Tater Tot Casserole

Again, a little planning makes for a super quick prep. Brown hamburger ahead of time. When we brown ground beef for a specific recipe at our house, we often cook extra to put in the freezer for Hamburger Helper, to make spaghetti sauce or to jazz up a pizza later.

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Ingredients

  • 2 cans of cream of chicken soup
  • 1/2 can water
  • 2 lb ground beef, browned and drained
  • 1 bag of frozen tater tots

Instructions

  1. Mix soup and drained browned ground beef.
  2. Spread in the bottom of a greased 11” X 13” casserole dish.
  3. Top casserole with a layer of tater tots.
  4. Bake in preheated 350 degree oven until thoroughly warm, about 40 minutes.

Variations

  • Use any favorite cream soup.
  • Top with cheese.
  • Add a bag of frozen mixed vegetables to the ground beef and soup mixture.

Pasta Dishes

If you know you’re going to be pinched for time all week, cook pasta on the weekend. Pasta microwaves very well. For health reasons, we no longer microwave at our house. We just stir the refrigerated pasta into the sauce and warm until thoroughly heated.

Spaghetti

Ingredients

  • 1.5 lbs of ground beef, browned and drained
  • 2 cans or jars (24 oz each) of your favorite spaghetti sauce
  • 1 lb of spaghetti noodles, cooked and drained

Instructions

  1. Combine ground beef with sauce in large saucepan or in skillet.
  2. Cover and simmer, heating thoroughly. I prefer to simmer at least an hour, until the hamburger texture changes.
  3. Serve over hot pasta.

Variations

  • Brown onions, peppers and/or garlic with ground beef.
  • Use ½ lb ground beef and ½ lb ground pork or Italian sausage.
  • Purchase frozen Italian meatballs. Simmer meatballs in favorite spaghetti sauce for about 45-60 minutes.
  • Serve over spiral pasta or other favorite pasta.

Turkey Tetrazzini

Turkey Tetrazzini

Turkey Tetrazzini

Turkey Tetrazzini


1 large or 2 small cans of cream of chicken soup

1 can milk

1 large can of turkey, with juice

1 lb of linguini, cooked and drained


1. Pour soup, milk and turkey into large saucepan or skillet.

2. Cover and simmer. Heat thoroughly.

3. Serve over hot pasta.


Variations:

Brown onions and mushrooms and add to soup and meat mixture.

Add a small can of corn for texture, and a half can of English peas.

Use a can of chicken instead of turkey.

Serve over other favorite pasta.


Making Turkey Tetrazzini

Tuna, Peas, Mac & Cheese

Quick and easy meal made with tuna, English peas, and Kraft Macaroni and Cheese

Quick and easy meal made with tuna, English peas, and Kraft Macaroni and Cheese

Tuna Peas Mac and Cheese

 

2 boxes spiral pasta and cheese

1/3 c milk

1 large or 2 small cans tuna

1 can tiny Llessur English peas

 

1.  Cook macaroni, drain. 

2.  Pour tuna and peas with juices into a pan and heat, then drain. 

3.  Prepare cheese sauce in pan with milk, whisking constantly. 

4.  Add pasta to sauce, coating pasta well. 

5.  Combine all ingredients in pan and heat together. 

 

Teriyaki Noodles.  Just add beef strips.

Teriyaki Noodles. Just add beef strips.

Teriyaki Beef and Noodles

 

2 packages Lipton Asian Sides Teriyaki Noodles

1 ½ lbs lean beef round steak

 

1. Slice the beef into thin strips. This is easier if partially frozen.

2. Brown beef strips in skillet. Add oil as needed.

2. Prepare noodles according to package directions.

3. Combine meat and noodles in skillet.

 

Soup and Sandwich

Soup and sandwich is a classic, satisfying meal. There are countless choices, but here are a couple quick and easy ones.

Campbell's Tomato Soup with 1/3 can milk, 1/3 can chicken broth, and 1/2 cup LaMadeline's Tomato Basil Soup.  Great with a scoop of rice too.

Campbell's Tomato Soup with 1/3 can milk, 1/3 can chicken broth, and 1/2 cup LaMadeline's Tomato Basil Soup. Great with a scoop of rice too.

Grilled Pimento Cheese, grilled in coconut oil

Grilled Pimento Cheese, grilled in coconut oil

Tomato Soup with Rice and Sandwich

Ingredients

1 large can of tomato soup

¾ soup can milk

2 cups cooked rice

Lean Pockets or Hot Pockers hot sandwiches

Instructions

1. Pour soup and milk into saucepan.

2. Heat on medium heat until hot, careful not to scorch.

3. Serve soup with cooked rice on top.

4. Prepare hot sandwich according to package directions.

5. Serve soup with hot sandwich.

Variations:

Try soup with crushed saltines on top, my dad’s favorite! Or try with croutons.

For a real treat, buy a large jar of LaMadeline’s Tomato Basil Soup from the restaurant or available at some large grocery chains, like HEB in Texas.

Serve with grilled cheese, or other hot sandwich. Schwan’s makes toaster poptart-style cheese, ham and cheese, or bacon, ham and cheese versions that are good.

Meatball Sandwich

Meatball Sandwich made with frozen Schwan's Italian Meatballs simmered in Hunts Garlic and Herb Spaghetti Sauce

Meatball Sandwich made with frozen Schwan's Italian Meatballs simmered in Hunts Garlic and Herb Spaghetti Sauce

Meatball Sandwich

 

1 small bag or ½ large bag frozen Italian meatballs

1 large can spaghetti sauce

1 package hoagie or other hotdog-like buns

2 cups of mozzarella cheese

 

1.  Cook meatballs in spaghetti sauce in crockpot 6-10 hours. 

2.  Heat buns if desired. 

3.  Place 5-8 meatballs on bun.  Add sauce. 

4.  Top with cheese. 

 

The Big Arsed Salad

The Big Salad with kalamata olives and ham.  Also good with sunflower seeds.

The Big Salad with kalamata olives and ham. Also good with sunflower seeds.

Salad and Potatoes

The Big Salad

So I broke the 3 to 5 ingredient rule here, but try it and you’ll forgive me. I copied this recipe from an old colleague, Dr. Chris, and made it even better. On the hot Texas summer nights when we don’t want to use the stove, we make this salad at our house. We make individual portions in these relatively huge bowls. We call it The Big Arsed Salad. It was a by-name request at many of my covered dish luncheons at work. I took all the ingredients and put it together on site.


2 bags chopped hearts of romaine, or 3 heads

1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, halved

1 large sweet onion, cut in rings, then in 1 inch pieces

Athenos Garlic and Herb Feta Cheese

Kalamata olives

Chopped deli ham

1 or 2 packs Good Seasons Dressing Mix, Garlic Herb or Cheese Garlic

Balsamic vinegar

Olive oil

Sunflower seeds


1. Prepare dressing with really good quality olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

2. You can make 1 giant salad. The advantage to making individual salads is everyone can decide how much tomato, onion etc. they want. Do it self-serve buffet style.

3. Add tomatoes, onions, feta, olives, and meat as desired to chopped lettuce.

4. Pour dressing as desired. Combine well.

5. Top salad with sunflower seeds if desired.


Variations:

Use any deli meat or combination such as ham, chicken, or turkey.

Use sliced or rotisserie chicken.

Use a mixture of salad greens such as romaine, baby spinach, field mix, spring mix or herb mix.


Chili Cheese Baked Potato

Chili Cheese Potato

Chili Cheese Potato

Loaded baked potato with butter, sour cream, cheese, bacon bits, and scallions

Loaded baked potato with butter, sour cream, cheese, bacon bits, and scallions

Boiled potato, mashed, then topped with chili and cheese

Boiled potato, mashed, then topped with chili and cheese

Baked Potato


Potato with Chili and Cheese

A favorite version of a classic.


4 large potatoes

2 cans of chili, we like Wolfe’s with no beans

2 cups of cheese


1. Pour chili over potato.

2. Cover with cheese.


Variations:

We peel, cut up and cook potatoes ahead of time, then heat and mash.

Top with chopped onion, sour cream, or plain yogurt.


Summary

I hope I’ve inspired you to try a few of my fast, easy and inexpensive main dishes to build your meal around. I love great cooking, and spending time in the kitchen nursing a great dish, but sometimes life just gets in the way of our greater cooking aspirations. We don’t have to succumb to fast food or carry out. Whether a new cook, or experienced but busy cook, you can still have a tasty meal at home.

© 2009 rmcrayne

Comments

Edwin Alcantara from California on November 02, 2019:

Thanks. Can't wait to try one of these since I often have little time to cook.

Nat Zen on November 14, 2018:

Great Hub! Thank you for these very straightforward recipes!

Ramona from Arkansas on September 21, 2018:

These are great ideas for quick meals.

cashmere from India on August 25, 2012:

Bookmarking this one till I try out all the meals. :)

sweetguide from River side on February 24, 2012:

Great recipe hub, I 'll try some of it -

The Macs from Peoria, IL on January 21, 2012:

This is great! I love quick and easy recipes.

Mirah on November 30, 2011:

wow!!!now i can use the recipes for our HELE activity!...we need to make main dishes in less than 30 minutes and these recipes will be a great help :)

WordGirl on November 15, 2011:

Gross. How could anyone call mixing a bunch of cans and packages together cooking? And you're worried about your microwave being unhealthy?

Recipe Gal on August 24, 2011:

Wow! That is a lot of easy recipes! Thanks for the ideas :)

rmcrayne (author) from San Antonio Texas on August 21, 2011:

Thanks jmartin. I also have hubs on Fast, Cheap, and Easy Casseroles, and Fast Cheap, and Easy Pasta recipes. Good luck.

jmartin1344 from Royal Oak, Michigan on August 21, 2011:

Great hub, awesome recipes. I'm a tuna fan and there was a few of those. I just moved into a new apartment by myself and am going to struggle a bit in the kitchen and financially! ha.... so I'll definitely refer back to this hub when I get hungry!

cowtowngirl77 on August 09, 2011:

Thanks for these good recipes.

saif113sb on July 24, 2011:

Very very nice and great information Hub. The baked potato chili and cheese sounds great. Why didn't I think of that. Thanks for the recipes!

rmcrayne (author) from San Antonio Texas on March 27, 2011:

Thanks for reading and commenting toknowinfo. And thanks for the rate up.

toknowinfo on March 12, 2011:

Great ideas for a quick fix it meal. Rated up and useful. Thanks for sharing.

rmcrayne (author) from San Antonio Texas on February 08, 2011:

Thanks for visiting janesix. What's not to love about a good meatball hero, right?!

janesix on February 06, 2011:

I love meatball sandwiches:)

rmcrayne (author) from San Antonio Texas on November 23, 2010:

Thanks Dave. So what did you try?

Dave Sibole from Leesburg, Oh on November 20, 2010:

I was just hub hopping when I found this. Gonna use one tonight. Thanks a bunch. Voted up and useful.

rmcrayne (author) from San Antonio Texas on October 27, 2010:

Thanks so much myster!ous for visiting and commenting.

rmcrayne (author) from San Antonio Texas on October 14, 2010:

Thanks wordscribe. My mom always says she doesn't mind cooking nearly as much as trying to figure out what to cook!

Elsie Nelson from Pacific Northwest, USA on October 10, 2010:

I am making 2 of these dinners this week, the meatball sandwiches and the baked potatoes. Thanks for the ideas... I think my kids will love 'em.

rmcrayne (author) from San Antonio Texas on August 02, 2010:

yyn1221 great point. We seldom have extended power outages in my neighborhood, probably because we're on the same grid as the medical center. Recently however, we were without power a couple hours and one of my best friends was out for over 24 hrs! Be prepared, right?

yyn1221 from China on July 31, 2010:

Even though I like to cook 'slow food' -- and use a lot of fresh ingredients, these are very good ideas for quick meals and especially for ingredients to keep in the pantry for emergencies like power outages. Most of them are quick to prepare even with little time and little fuel expended.

rmcrayne (author) from San Antonio Texas on June 05, 2010:

Thanks for visiting and commenting oceans.

Paula from The Midwest, USA on May 30, 2010:

Thanks for sharing your easy recipes with us. They will come in handy at times for sure. Life gets so busy, but people still need to eat every day.

trish1048 on May 30, 2010:

Oh ok. Well, I'm liking most of these and will sure try them out.

Thanks for sharing :)

rmcrayne (author) from San Antonio Texas on May 29, 2010:

Rochelle, I'm so glad you found some of these selections "value added".