Family dinner

A family making dinner together (Photo by Jimmy Dean on Unsplash)

There are many differing viewpoints on dinner these days. Long gone, it seems, are the endless nights of casseroles, Tex-Mex crunchy tacos, or classic American dinner staples like meatloaf. Instead, more and more Americans are opting out of an evening meal altogether, replacing it with a light snack or perhaps a dessert. Additionally, lifestyle diets like intermittent fasting eschew evening meals. For those who are still craving a solid weeknight dinner, our list of the best easy dinner ideas might inspire you to get back to the kitchen.

But after a long, stressful day of work, cooking dinner can seem like another grueling chore at the end of the day. With that in mind, a new survey finds one-third of Americans can whip together an “ultra-fast” dinner in 10 minutes or less. With a well-stocked pantry and a handful of fresh ingredients, many potential meals can be made with minimal effort. The best easy dinner ideas are exactly that: a starting point for culinary experimentation that home cooks can fine-tune to their liking.  We scoured the web across 10 expert sources that helped us discover tasty trend-forward dishes that can be prepared easily and with time to spare. Let us know your favorite easy dinner ideas in the comments below!

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A woman looking into a microwave
A woman looking into a microwave (Photo by Pixel-Shot on Shutterstock)

The List: Best Easy Dinner Ideas, According to Home Cooks

1. Chicken Stir Fry

Boneless chicken and a bag of frozen veggies is all it takes to whip up a delicious weeknight stir-fry. Bottled condiments and sauces can elevate this humble dish to suit your personal tastes. Using the readily available ingredients and enhancing them with soy sauce, ginger, and brown sugar, result in a tasty dish that you’ll want to serve over and over— and it takes about 10 minutes, Southern Living raves.

The beauty of chicken stir-fry is its simplicity. It allows you to whip up a delicious meal in no time, praises delish. Feel free to use any recipe as a base and customize it with your favorite ingredients to create your own perfect chicken stir-fry version.

Craving a quick and satisfying dinner solution? Downshiftology names this dish as the ultimate answer for hassle-free weeknight meals. Packed with tender chicken and vibrant vegetables it is a perfect choice for busy families.

2. Alfredo Sauce Pasta

a plate of food on a wooden table
Chicken Alfredo Pasta (Photo by Engin Akyurt on Unsplash)

In the United States, Alfredo pasta is usually dressed with a velvety white cheese sauce made with Parmesan, Romano, or other Italian-style cheeses. Popular mix-ins include chicken, shrimp, and mushrooms. Taste of Home says Alfredo pasta is a game-changer for busy weeknights. They claim the sauce is incredibly creamy, packed with cheese flavor, and surprisingly quick to prepare. In fact, according to them, the hardest part might be waiting for your pasta to cook, as the sauce itself comes together in a flash!

A classic rendition with penne pasta focuses on the key ingredients – butter, garlic, flour, milk, and Parmesan cheese – emphasizing the importance of getting the proportions right, according to Tasty. This is perfect for those who appreciate comfort food classics.

And it doesn’t have to be a heavy meal, either. An even healthier version includes a secret ingredient: cooked cauliflower, explains Love & Lemons. Blended into the sauce, the cauliflower creates a creamy and velvety texture that rivals traditional cream-based sauces. Love & Lemons assures you that the cauliflower flavor goes undetected, allowing you to enjoy a lighter version of this beloved dish.

3. Frozen Gnocchi

stainless steel fork on white ceramic bowl
Gnocchi in a bowl (Photo by Zoe on Unsplash)

Gnocchi might seem intimidating for inexperienced cooks, but they are as simple as they are tasty. First a quick bath in some boiling salted water, then a toss in some sauce, and dinner is ready in less than 15 minutes. A clever hack for preparing gnocchi, saving you time and effort in the kitchen is to simply toss your gnocchi with your favorite vegetables, spices, and a drizzle of oil, and then throw it all on a sheet pan for baking (The Pioneer Woman).

Gnocchi is great for busy weeknights and can be prepared in just 10 minutes, adds Country Living. The beauty lies in its simplicity – all you need are a few pantry staples like gnocchi, frozen spinach, cream, cheese, and some basic spices. Despite its ease of preparation, this recipe delivers a restaurant-worthy dish perfect for a date night in.

Southern Living details a tasty looking one-pot minestrone-inspired soup with gnocchi that’s ready to enjoy in just 30 minutes! The recipe relies on readily available ingredients like ground beef, refrigerated gnocchi (eliminating the need to pre-boil), fresh spinach, and whole plum tomatoes. A sprinkle of Parmesan cheese before serving adds the perfect finishing touch.

4. Spaghetti with a Twist

Someone cooking spaghetti
Someone cooking spaghetti (Photo credit: Unsplash+ in collaboration with Getty Images)

Lots of folks love a spaghetti dinner! With as few as two ingredients, dinner can be ready in under 15 minutes. Delish recommends a taco-flavored spin on this classic dish. It combines all your favorite taco ingredients like ground beef, spices, and your preferred toppings with the familiar comfort of spaghetti noodles. Everything gets cooked in a single pot, eliminating the need for multiple pans and minimizing cleanup. Sounds like something straight out of “iCarly,” am I right?

You can also pot it and leave it with a great slow cooker variation, according to Southern Living. The recipe prioritizes simplicity with just eight ingredients, it doesn’t compromise on taste. The addition of ground beef, onion, and spices creates a homemade flavor that surpasses simply using jarred sauce.

Looking for a lighter and faster way to prepare a chicken parmesan spaghetti recipe? Ditch the breading! Simply season the chicken breasts with salt, pepper, and your preferred dried herbs before cooking them in a skillet, writes Taste of Home. Another time-saving hack involves using pre-made convenience items. Simply grab your favorite brand of frozen breaded chicken breasts and toss them in the air fryer while the pasta cooks.

5. Shredded BBQ Sauce Chicken

Platters of pulled chicken BBQ sandwiches
Platters of pulled chicken BBQ sandwiches (Photo by Christopher Luther on Unsplash)

Chicken and lip-smacking BBQ sauce are a fantastic combination no matter how you arrange them. From sandwiches to wraps and even salads, BBQ sauce chicken is always stick-to-your-ribs delicious. Here’s the exciting part: Tasty shares that it can easily be made in the slow cooker, cooking for typically a few hours. But it’s as easy as combining the ingredients and letting them cook while you go about your day.

Delish shares its sweet and tangy sandwich recipe that is topped with creamy coleslaw: simply toss the ingredients in the slow cooker and let it work its magic. The end result is juicy, flavorful pulled chicken that’s perfect for sandwiches, tacos, or however you like to enjoy it.

Craving delicious BBQ chicken sandwiches without the wait? Rachel Ray’s BBQ Chicken Sandwich comes highly recommended by Food Network. The recipe suggests poaching the chicken in a flavorful broth made with chicken stock and beer, instead of grilling the chicken breasts. Once cooked, the chicken is easily shredded and tossed in a homemade sauce. The recipe emphasizes a simple sauce, using minimal ingredients and prep work.

6. Lemon Chicken

Grilled lemon chicken
Grilled lemon chicken (Photo by Mark DeYoung on Unsplash)

Combining lemon with chicken and herbs creates a simpledinner that also leaves versatile leftovers. There are many variations of lemon chicken that will keep dinner interesting. You can harness all the delicious flavors of Greek chicken but in a streamlined way, according to Downshiftology. No need to worry about extra sides – whip up some flavorful lemon herb rice to perfectly complement your chicken dish.

Tempt your taste buds with Taste of Home’s Lemon Mushroom Chicken recipe. It takes boneless, skinless chicken breasts and incorporates lemon juice, and rich, savory mushrooms, creating a well-rounded and satisfying flavor profile.

Creamy Lemon Chicken Piccata is a delicious weeknight meal and takes just 30 minutes from start to finish based on the recipe on Ahead of Thyme. The dish features boneless, skinless chicken breasts, capers, and a light lemon sauce.

7. Salmon Fillets

four raw fish meat
Sheet pan salmon and asparagus (Photo by Christine Siracusa on Unsplash)

Weeknight salmon is a favorite in many American homes. Typically sold as boneless fillets, salmon is easy to prepare even for inexperienced cooks. Honey-Soy Glazed Salmon with a Sheet-Pan Shortcut is simple and easy to prep based on a recipe on Southern Living. The star of the show is a flavorful honey-soy sauce glaze that elevates the salmon to a whole new level of deliciousness. After a quick 10-minute broil, you’re rewarded with a healthy and appetizing salmon dish that’s perfect for a satisfying weeknight meal.

Busy weeknights don’t have to mean sacrificing a delicious and healthy home-cooked meal. The beauty of sheet-pan salmon lies in its convenience, shares Taste of Home. You can prep all the ingredients ahead of time. When you’re ready, simply throw everything on a sheet pan and let the oven work its magic. If you don’t have rosemary on hand, feel free to use another fresh herb like thyme or oregano.

The team at The Pioneer Woman loves to use the air fryer for succulent salmon. The salmon cooks in a mere 10 minutes, ensuring the fish comes out perfectly flaky and tender every single time. Air-fried salmon pairs well with various side dishes like rice, vegetables, or a fresh salad, allowing you to create a complete and satisfying meal.

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About Alan Corona

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3 Comments

  1. joe mama says:

    You have to pay if want any recipes

  2. Kelly Powers says:

    So many great options here! I rely on tacos a lot. I also love a quick broiled salmon during the week. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Faith A Coleman says:

    These are going into my go-to recipes. Thanks.