Cooking vs Arranging: Why Ariel is better at not cooking than Megan

The simplest lunch
This was a lunch I ate last week. It took less than 5 minutes.

You all know I don't cook, right? In my house, my husband Andreas does most of the cooking, vacillating between elaborate terrines and simple stir-fries. But whatever we eat, chances are very good that I had nothing to do with cooking it.

Last night, however, I cooked. Well, that's the thing: I didn't really cook. I prepared. Most of my cooking involves melting stuff or boiling stuff, and then artfully arranging stuff. Last night I actually baked stuff. Yes, I poked three potatoes with a fork, and put them in the oven. FOR AN HOUR! Thanks to my excellent fork-poking, the potatoes did not explode their skins in the oven.

Then, I diced half a tomato, some green pepper, and green onion. Then I boiled two pieces of corn. Then I put the potatoes on a plate, cut them open and put butter and the veggies on them with grated cheese. Corn went on plates, and just to make it fancy, I sliced a couple thin spikes of green pepper and arranged it carefully. Oh, and we each got half a pear sprinkled with cinnamon.

And that was it. Potato, corn, pear. But with some artful green pepper arranged on top! Unlike my parents (the people who tried to entice a child by calling lentil stew "poop soup") or Andreas ("it all looks the same in your stomach") I'm a big fan of the food always looking good. When it's pretty, it conveys the love.

This distinction between cooking and preparing is one that always comes up when I talk to Megan about her inability to cook. I'm always like, Bitch, I don't cook either! That still doesn't mean you have to eat frozen pizzas for every meal!

Like most Americans, Megan defaults to packaged food… while my hippie parents with their poop soup taught me to default to cutting up produce and cheese and setting them on a plate. Megan's food might taste better, but my food is infinitely cheaper and definitely healthier.

Sometimes my meals are literally what you see in the photo above: cheese melted on toast, microwaved frozen veggies, sliced fruit, string cheese. It's simple, it's healthy, I can prepare it in less than 5 minutes. Some day I'll convince Megan that she doesn't need to learn to cook: she just needs to learn to arrange.

So, in the interest of teaching Megan to ARRANGE, what are your favorite whole food meals that taste great? If it takes more than 5 minutes or has more than 5 ingredients, I'm giving it the side-eye.

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  1. Totally Megan-simple recipe thanks to lack of groceries while trapped in an ice storm yesterday.

    Take one of those low-carb wrap things (or not low carb, just needs to be plain), and put 2 T. of peanut butter on it. Core and slice an apple, arrange it in a pretty circular pattern. Drizzle a t. of honey over the top. Can be eaten plain, or toasted in the oven at 350 for 5-10 minutes or so.

    First comment on Offbeat Home, and of course it's about food. -sigh-

    15 agree
    • And this is the difference between arranging and cooking. If it had been me, it would have been the same wrap, with peanut butter and honey smeared on, and rolled up into a log for easy one hand eatings. We eat the same thing camping half the time because it's so fast and high energy.

      How have I not thought of putting an apple on this yet? I don't know. But it will now happen tomorrow.

      3 agree
    • I do the same thing with the peanut butter and tortilla, but instead of apples and honey, I put dark chocolate chips in it, put it in the toaster oven until the chocolate melts, and roll it up into a little burrito. Apples and honey is probably a bit healthier, but the chocolate is what gets my kid to eat it, lol.

      4 agree
  2. Do hard boiled eggs count? I mean they take more than 5 minutes initially, but then you just keep them in your fridge and they're ready for instant-lunch. Egg + lettuce + bread = sandwich. Maybe throw on leftover salsa if you're feeling fancy.

    13 agree
    • Hard boiled eggs are one of my staples, too. And then tuna + pineapple (yum!), quinoa + any leftovers, and sweet potatoes covered in almost anything.

      2 agree
      • At Trader Joe's, you can buy a bag of eggs, already boiled and shelled! Only thing required is placement.

        1 agrees
        • Those are the best things ever, because I am too lazy to boil them myself, and too unskilled to peel them! I mainly chop them up to put in salad, or put them in meatloaf.

          My sister buys them too; we call them Lazy Eggs. πŸ˜›

      • I loooooove boiled eggs! I like to make up some quick deviled eggs and a salad and that's about perfect.

    • My current favorite snack is making hard boiled eggs & cutting them in half, taking out the yolks & replacing them with hummus. All hail our benevolent overlord Pinterest for teaching me the easiest, best snack of all time.

      4 agree
        • I know it's wasteful but… Not a damn thing. I toss them. The yolks were always my least favorite part of boiled eggs.

          3 agree
          • It may sound weird, but there are some DELICIOUS cookie recipes that use hard boiled egg yolks. They give the cookies a unique, silky, rich texture.
            Well this is definitely not in the "arranging" folder thou πŸ˜‰

            3 agree
        • You could mash them up into mayo based salads, like a potato salad, tuna salad or chicken salad. Egg-y potato salad with green apples was always my favourite, and tuna & egg salad has become a favourite at my house.

          2 agree
  3. My favorite hack: Dry Parsley. I put that on absolutely everything just before serving and bam! instant fancyness.

    (In the summer, switch to a leaf or two of basil. And for desert, a leaf of mint.)

    8 agree
  4. My husband and I always have taco Monday because we never feel like making anything fancy or elaborate at the beginning of the week. In an effort to be healthier, we've been ditching the tortilla though, so it's taco salad Mondays now. Just put a bunch of lettuce on a plate (we get the pre-washed stuff in the box because we hate cutting up lettuce), throw some canned black beans (heated up for a few minutes) on top, shredded cheese, tomatoes and avocado. Done.

    9 agree
    • One time on vacation, it was the last day and we were pretty much out of food, so my aunt designed "gringo tacos" out of whatever we had left, which is basically taco salad but with saltine crackers crumbled up in the bottom instead of chips/taco shells. We had ground beef and some taco seasoning and lettuce, cheese, sour cream… whatever other toppings you want πŸ™‚ We continued to eat them the rest of my childhood… I should make them for my husband… Dinner ideas! πŸ˜‰

    • Have you ever used a lettuce leaf as the tortilla? A friend got me onto this recently and it is really fresh and tasty- never again shall I use a taco shell…

      3 agree
      • I also enjoy asian style lettuce wraps. Stir fry some veggies and meat or tofu or edamame or whatever with a little soy sauce, honey, chile sauce, and rice wine vinegar and then wrap a few table spoons of filling in the leaf. Butter lettuce works best for this.

        5 agree
        • I love these, such a great meal – messy and sensual too. Sometimes it's so fun to eat with your hands, and it's fun to build your own wraps. It reminds me a little of "build your own tacos/pizzas" which was something we did a lot as kids πŸ™‚

      • Been eating what we call 'lettuce tacos' for years.. It started when hubs and I figured out that carbs make our asses fat, and I tended to demand Mexican food at least once a week.
        We generally use large romaine leaves but butter lettuce leaves work great too.

        1 agrees
  5. Burritos. Refried beans from a can, cheese, left-over rice if you have it, roll in a tortilla and nuke for a minute. If you're feeling ambitious, make 3 or 4 more to use up the beans and roll in wax paper and freeze them in a ziplock bag. So easy. So good. So much cheaper than buying individual ones at $2.50 a pop.

    6 agree
    • Related recipe: if you roll these types of fillings or leftover vegetables or meat in corn tortillas and bake them in enchilada sauce and some extra cheese on top, it's a a fancy dinner for company. Only 5 minutes of work, but this recipe does require about 40 minutes of waiting (oven on 350).

      3 agree
  6. Crackers (my current favorite are nut-thins), cream cheese, maybe a sprinkle of seasoned salt or cayenne pepper if you are feeling spicy, maybe a slice of cucumber or red pepper for color and crunch on top. Also delicious with a smear of pepper jelly.

    In my post-college summer, my first time living alone, I'd slice up some kielbasa, microwave it for a minute (pan-fry if you are so inclined), cube up some cheddar cheese, and grab some pickles, and eat everything dipped in grainy mustard. A hard boiled egg would be good sliced on the side, too.

    3 agree
    • The first of your recipes we don't even construct; we just put all the pieces on a plate, dips/spreads in bowls, and call that "Build Your Own CanapΓ© dinner." Base, couple spreads, couple toppings, and voila.

      The second is called Pickle Plate in my house :). Pickles, various cheeses, and either pre-cooked meats or canned fish (like the sardines or kippered herring in a can), maybe a spread of some kind, maybe some crackers if we have some. That's one of my favorite date-night dinners, it's very sensual and because it's a communal dish that we serve basically our next bite into our hands, it feels very… bonding-y.

      Just, you know, if you wanted some names for them.

      My partner learned early on that I have general names for things. Taco night might not even be tacos, and the toppings vary. Spaghetti may or may not have noodles, if I decide to make it with kale strips, though it always has fresh mozz or I'm very sad. Pickle plate has pickles & cheese, but what flavors & formats that comes in, who knows? Stir fry could be anything though it's usually East Asian influenced. If it's stir fry with noodles, it's noodle bowl and good luck guessing ahead of time what I'm putting in it, though there's a better-than-even chance that it's going to be vinegary and covered in sesame seeds–there's not even a guarantee what kind of noodles it will be!–if we're out of soba noodles I just use spaghetti.

      So, yeah, we have names for things, but that doesn't actually answer the question of what's in it, really. They're just general ideas, flavor profiles, and prep or plating methods.

      2 agree
  7. My husband refuses to eat my favourite 5 minute meals because he doesn't consider them meals or doesn't eat what's in them (i. e. leaf vegetables, eggs, mayonnaise, vinaigrette, etc.)

    Ex :
    – Cottage cheese with fruits. Add a slice of whole grain bread and you're golden.
    – Feta cheese "melted" on whole-grain bread with tomato slices, pepper and olive oil. Add sundry chopped veggies on the side and voilΓ !
    – tomatoes + avocado + goat cheese + bread –> toaster over –> emulsified pesto (pesto with a mayonnaise texture you can find at the grocery store) = heaven! (even better if you can scrounge up somme nuts to sprinkle in too)
    – Oignon, bell pepper, salsa and egg cooked scrambled eggs style in a tortilla for an egg burrito

    *sigh* how I wish I could have these for supper…

    2 agree
    • My favorite summer lunch is a whole tomato, cut up and salted, with a scoop of cottage cheese on the top. But it is essential that the tomato be very ripe and flavorful, hence it's a summer-only lunch.

      8 agree
      • All we eat in the summer is freshly cut up tomato and cucumber, with a bit of salt….if only winter tomatoes would taste half as good…

        2 agree
    • My dad calls that second one an open-faced grilled cheese. And I had the first for breakfast today!

  8. Avocado + hot sauce (+ Lawry's seasoned salt, optionally). BUHBAM best afternoon snack ever.

    Wine.

    Fresh fruit + old fashioned oatmeal + kefir + almond milk + overnight in the fridge. Cool, delicious, high-protein breakfast.

    Eggs.

    Apple + unsweetened organic peanut butter.

    Wine.

    Wine.

    10 agree
    • I use barbecue sauce on my avocado, not hot sauce, but the principle is the same. And you can either dip it with tortilla chips or make a burger out of it. Yum!

      1 agrees
    • Why have I never thought of avocado+ hot sauce?! Those are literally my two favorite things ever. Now I'll be dreaming of an avocado drowning in Cholula hot sauce all day…

      4 agree
    • Avocado and hot sauce would be amazing! I tend to take out the stone and fill the hole with either mayonnaise or Thousand Island Dressing.
      Apple is also good when you mix the peanut butter with cinnamon and natural yogurt.

      • I drizzle balsamic vinegar in the hole and just eat that with a spoon.

        2 agree
    • I pick up salad shrimp, and make an avocado shrimp salad. Rinse the shrimp under warm-cool water until thawed, dry sort of, mix with mayo (so optional) or your favorite vinaigrette & hot sauce. Halve the avocado, pop off the skin and seed, put half into a bowl & top with shrimp. Toss a couple tomato wedges in for a nice side–by the time I've finished the rest there's usually a little dressing in the bowl, and I can scrape the bowl clean with the tomato wedges so not a drop goes to waste.

  9. Bag of mixed frozen veggies; boiling water from kettle; couple teaspoons powdered stock/stockcube = vegetable soup (cook for maybe 15 mins). This is, er, arranging things in a pan? or is it already too complicated?

    Then once you have mastered the art of emptying a bag of frozen veg into a pan and boiling it, you can get fancy with e.g. rice, mini-pasta for bulk, a can of drained beans or chickpeas for protein, and tomato puree or spice paste or pesto from a jar for more flavour. Still on your table in less than 20 mins. It might not be arranging, strictly speaking, but you can't dignify this with the term cooking!

    3 agree
    • My life changed for the better when I learned that modern frozen veggies are considered almost as nutritious as fresh veg. For people (cough Megan cough) who get anxious about produce going bad before they can eat it, frozen veggies make it a "no more excuses" situation!

      19 agree
      • Also they require a lot less chopping, trimming, and dicing!

        4 agree
      • Plus these days, there's lots of variety. I recommend roasting frozen cubed squash with just a little olive oil and salt. Roast on 450 for 30 minutes, stir once halfway through cooking. I generally leave the kitchen for the first 15 minutes and during the second 15 minutes, I'll cook some frozen green beans (3 minutes in the microwave with a little water or on the stove, dropped into boiling water) and maybe heat up some chickpeas (toss with a little Indian simmer sauce or Korean barbecue sauce during cooking for extra oomph).

        2 agree
      • My dinner last night:

        Boil water
        Throw in noodles, frozen peas, frozen broccoli
        Drain
        Top with butter
        EAT

        1 agrees
    • I do this, too, but since I'm extra lazy I just throw it in my crock pot and leave it on while I'm in classes all day. Boom, instant, no-cook dinner, ready straight when I'm home.

      2 agree
        • I just toss a little baking soda into the crock with a pot of hot water, and by morning it rinses clean without effort. Unless I've charred the crap out of something that was originally supposed to be chili. That took two days & three batches of soaking water to get clean.

          1 agrees
    • Most of my go-to easy meals include frozen mixed veggies. I like a rice and veggie mix: Boil 2 cups of water in a pan, add a dab of butter and 1 cup of rice, turn down heat and let it simmer for 20 minutes until the rice is fluffy. Maybe ten minutes before the rice is done, I dump a cup of frozen veggies on top so that they'll steam on top of the rice. Once the rice is done, I stir everything together and now it's like a rice pilaf, kinda. Oh, sometimes I put a couple of cubes of chicken bouillon in the water for flavor.

  10. One of my absolute favorite no-effort meals is Japanese-style soup. You can make store bought chicken stock taste awesome by boiling it with garlic, onions, mushrooms, all of which come pre-sliced in the produce section, along with some soy sauce. Then add some frozen meat tortellini and, once it's cooked, ladle it into bowls with some raw baby spinach. The heat of the soup wilts the spinach without making it too soggy. That's it! Maybe grate on a little Parmesan and enjoy.

    7 agree
  11. Chop up potatoes, onions, bell peppers and put them into a baking dish. Add oil and a little salt, get your hands in there to make sure everything is coated. If you're feeling fancy, add half a packet of onion soup mix powder instead of salt (ok that's not really a whole food – oops). Bake in the oven till everything is cooked. For carnivores, you can also add sausage, either cut into bits ahead of time or cooked whole and cut up afterwards (but be warned they're dang hot if you cut them up afterwards).

    3 agree
    • Oh! I like to chop up potatoes, onions, and HAM and do the same thing. A little oil, a little seasoning. Cook until delicious.

  12. My default meal since childhood has been Brie cheese with grapes (I even took it for snack time because apparently I was a child cheese snob) it made up a good 75% of my meals in college too. I have also since upgraded to pouring honey on it and possibly almonds. Grab some crackers and you're in business

    5 agree
    • Bake some Brie in the oven with brown sugar. Dip a cracker in it and top with a slice of a green apple. It's my new favorite "fancy" snack.

      1 agrees
      • You can kick that up another notch by baking the brie with a handful of chopped nuts and a teaspoon of whisky (I use Crown Royal because Canada). Makes a good thing great πŸ™‚

        2 agree
    • OOH I do that "meal" all the time!!! It was actually a staple for me during college — talk about a weird time to be a cheese snob. My college friends used to come over for "brie meals" all the time. But my grapes were in the form of champagne. That's nutritious, right?

      6 agree
    • Do a Google image search for "ploughman's lunch". Traditionally cheese, chutney, and bread, but basically a plate of cold finger foods. Zero cooking involved. Bonus: no utensils to clean.

      This is what I eat pretty much every day – with variations of granola, yogurt, nuts, maybe a veggie wrap (avocado, spinach, tomato, mushroom, cukes, and pepperjack rolled in a tortilla = SO GOOD!). If I turn on an appliance, it's to fry an egg, bake a potato, or boil water for quinoa, rice, or tea. Or bake chocolate chip cookies. πŸ™‚

      5 agree
  13. I love the freezer veggies intended for microwaving! Freezer food usually bums me out so hard, but I have nothing but love for the ability to have steamed broccoli in less than three minutes total.
    I also love my steamer pot. Because I'm clumsy, having a steamer pot makes steamed veggies (and to keep it real, steamed hot dogs) incredibly easy (steamer baskets and those weird circle things always lead to disaster with me.) A little shredded parm and some cracked pepper on top of some steamed veggies? Y'all, that looks culinary as fuck.

    7 agree
  14. This is exactly how I serve meals. Every. Single. Night.

    Step 1: Prepare in the simplest possible way (raw, pan-fried, broiled, whatever)
    Step 2: Put on a plate in an aesthetically pleasing manner.
    Step 3: ?????
    Step 4: PROFIT!

    Seriously though, this is my cooking tip for anyone that tells me they don't cook. Cooking doesn't have to mean elaborate recipes and four-dish meals every night. Keep it really simple: two or three veg, prepared minimally (steamed is fastest/tastiest), a bit of protein, whether it be beans, fish, meat, whatevs – broiled or cooked in a pan, maybe some rice (throw it in a rice cooker! you can't go wrong) or bread. Done! Have fruit for dessert! You don't have to make elaborate courses for it to count.

    11 agree
  15. Cover a plain chicken breast in pesto sauce, top with sliced tomato and mozzarella slices. Bake till the chicken in cooked through. Bam. That's my my-husband-isnt-home-to-feed-me meal.

    Steam-in-bag edamame covered in parmesan.

    Can of black beans, can of corn, can of Rotel, cubed avocado…combine and keep in the fridge. It works with cheese as a quesadilla, with chips as a dip, baked with cheese as nachos. Sometimes I toss it in canned soup to bulk it up.

    3 agree
    • Ooo! That sounds similar to my oh-crap-I-forgot-about-dinner dinner, only I dump a can of crushed tomato on top of the chicken instead of pesto.

  16. Chop up some fresh vegetables (broccoli, carrots, etc.), put out some olives if you have any, and serve with hummus – instant lunch or snack! I bring this to work all the time – I actually just leave a container of hummus in the work fridge, and when I don't feel like making a "real" lunch, I just toss an assortment of whatever raw veggies we have in the house into my backpack and I am good to go.

    4 agree
  17. Chunk of cheese, hunk of French bread, apple slices, and a few almonds.

    Ramen and half its seasoning packet in a bowl with a handful of frozen veggies and a little bit of sesame seed oil. Pour boiling water over it and let it absorb/steam, then chop up a boiled egg over it when it's ready.

    5 agree
  18. My favourite lunch hack, courtesy of Chef at Home's Micheal Smith:
    Open tin of sardines and leaving them in the tin, spread. grainy mustard over top of them. Sprinkle sprouts on top and drizzle with olive oil. Finish with freshly ground pepper.

    I wish I could find the video where he makes this – I just love how how he prepares it right in the tin and makes it look so appealing.

    http://www.foodnetwork.ca/recipe/smoked-sardines/6852/#1DrpWrVBu5B0It4F.99

  19. Veggies and crackers dipped in hummus.

    Takes more time but is simple: bake a sweet potato. Sautee kale, garlic, and canned white beans. Stuff in potato. Sprinkle with salt and red pepper flakes.

    And I totally eat popcorn as a meal all the time.

    7 agree
  20. Oh man, I am big on lunches like this. If we are lacking in leftovers, I put some fresh veggies, a few crackers and a pile of hummus on a plate (this is even ridiculously easier if we can get our shit together and prep a container of fresh veggies each week). So simple, so pretty, and so nutritious. Also, a fried egg, a piece of toast and some veggies go a long way, too. For suppers, cook up some grains, roast some veggies, mix the two and dump on some kind of sauce (mmm, peanutty ones are good).

  21. I love arranging assortments of food! Days when I don't have school are usually the best because I can chop up some veggies, grab the tub of humus, and go to town.

    I remember most of my meals growing up were like this. It was nice because we always felt like we were having snack time or just grazing all day. I was never hungry though! I remember making lunches and dinners that were just the things we had around the house. Let's share a bag of popcorn, chopped veggies, and split last night's left overs. Then there are apples in the fridge for dessert. As long as it is arranged nicely: boom. Insta-meal.

  22. We buy naan at Costco and top it with cheese and tomatoes or a spoonful of pesto or leftover spaghetti sauce and whatever veggies are lying around for 5 minute pizzas. It's infinitely more delicious than a frozen pizza, better for you, and faster than most.

    I'm also a big fan of a baguette cut in half, topped with sliced tomato, fresh basil, olive oil, and mozzarella toasted in the oven. Fancy sandwich faster than a pb&j.

    5 agree
  23. Toast, smeared with avocado, topped with a fried egg, sprinkled with black pepper. Maybe sprinkle on some goat cheese if you want to be fancy.

    Tortellini/ravioli (so, okay, takes longer than 5 minutes, but you're just boiling water), lightly coated in olive oil and poppy seeds.

    Mango (chopped), black beans, avocado (chopped-ish), cilantro, limed onions, +/- chickpeas, +/- chopped jalepenos. This is our go-to potluck dish — easy and quick, SO PRETTY (purpley-black + green + yellow), absolutely delicious. Salsa that eats like lunch.

    Sliced pears with goat cheese, dried cranberries, chopped pistachios, and drizzled honey.

    Caprese: tomatoes, mozzarella, basil, olive oil. All sorts of ways to put 'em together, all of them fantastically tasty.

    3 agree
  24. Count me among the hummus enthusiasts! Spread it on pita bread, crackers, and/or veggies and you have a filling meal. You can put the hummus and veggies IN the pitas to make a pocket sandwich, but that level of fanciness is optional.

    I also love microwaved baked potatoes topped with broccoli (fresh or frozen) and black beans (fresh or canned). Add some butter, cheese, hot sauce, and/or red pepper and you're in for deliciousness. Using a sweet potato is equally tasty and more nutritious.

    A less-healthy variation is to cook frozen hashbrowns, broccoli, and black beans all together in a skillet to make a hash. Adding eggs, cheese, peppers, or bacon is optional.

    Veggie fried rice is also soooo easy. Just put cooked rice (dry, old leftovers work best) in a skillet along with a bag of frozen mixed veggies, an egg or two, and some sauce (soy or hot). It looks pretty and impressive despite its simplicity; my relatives are blown away every time I bring it to the family Christmas chow-mien feast.

    And let's not forget breakfast for dinner: oatmeal, cereal, or pancakes with a side of fruit or jam. Add an egg if you want to get fancy.

    2 agree
  25. Quesadillas. tortillas and cheese. fry pan or microwave. your call. Cover that Mofo with lots of salsa (which is VEGETABLES) and you are In there like swimwear.
    Nuke in a few wedges of tomato or pepper if you want to get fancy.
    If you're making dinner instead of lunch, melt a boullion cube in some water and dunk youir quesadilla in it. Soup and a sandwich. BOOM. DONE.

    For another smoosh-it-together dish: Asian tuna salad. chop up a can of water chestnuts. Stir into a can of tuna. shake in dried chives (or chopped fresh) cover it with soy sauce and sriracha, and sesame oil if you have it. eat with spoon or stuff in a tortilla with some crunchy on-hand veggies. Mayo is an optional stir in if you want a little creaminess and cohesiveness, and I've been known to add cashews.

    1 agrees
  26. Ha! Love it. This is totally my cooking style too – I'm going to have to steal that term of "arranging." If we are having what I deem to be a more "elaborately" prepared meal, my husband does it. But I'm the queen of pasta, fried eggs, cheese plates and baking/microwaving anything that comes frozen from Trader Joe's πŸ™‚

  27. This borders on "simple cooking" but….

    Throw some chicken (I use boneless breasts and thighs) in a crockpot with a can or two of chicken broth, cook until done and shred with a fork. Now you have shredded chicken for ALL THE MEALS.

    For example:
    shredded chicken + shredded cheese + tortilla + toppings of choice = quesadilla
    chicken + lettuce + avocado + apple + honey mustard dressing = dinner salad
    chicken + can of green chilis + can of corn + frozen peppers + white beans + chicken broth + cumin = chili
    chicken + tomato sauce + provolone + spaghetti noodles + parmesan = "healthy chicken parm"

    8 agree
  28. Oh, and I totally forgot my infamous ploughman's lunch. 2-5 lunches (depending on number and heartiness eaters) Buy a loaf of Italian bread, a head of lettuce, 2 apples, a bottle of Caesar dressing and an 8 oz brick of cheddar or other semi-hard cheese. (A Salami is a nice optional addition for meat-eaters) Transfer Caesar to a wide-mouth container, like a jar or a Tupperware cuppie.
    To serve: Lay it out in front of you. Bring a sharp knife (I always carry my Swiss) Cut chunks of food off of the main hunks. Dunk into salad dressing as desired. Eat. It's simple and yet feels super fancy.

    3 agree
  29. At least once a month my partner and I have a "graze," where we buy some nice bread, a little salami or capicola from the nice market, and then just pull everything out of the fridge that needs eating: cheese, fruit, avocado, carrots/veggies, crackers/bread/wraps, condiments, pickled beets, jam, really anything. Then we stand over the counter and cram it all in our mouths going "oh god it's so good."

    11 agree
  30. Rice has been mentioned in passing, but I have to say that a rice cooker has been my savior so many times when I'm too tired for real cooking. I'll sometimes eat it just plain, but most of the time I'll dress it up with pantry items. For instance:
    -Cooked rice + lemon juice + drizzle of olive oil + capers = feels fancy as hell
    -Cooked rice + soy sauce + sesame seeds + (maybe some ground ginger or sriracha) = yeah, I'd eat this forever
    -Cooked rice + seasoned rice vinegar (sushi vinegar) + shredded seaweed + pickled ginger + sesame seeds = am I a lazy sushi genius???? (Can also add veggies to this to make it actually a meal and not just carbs and condiments)

    I also like throwing a spoonful of salsa in the rice cooker with my dry rice and water and pretending like that's a real meal. Could even put beans right in as it cooks for a complete meal!

    Seriously — if you are lazy, buy a rice cooker. I am not a fan of one-use kitchen tools, but it's so great for preparing rice and quinoa in the easiest way possible.

    7 agree
    • Brown rice, tablespoon of lemon juice, and teaspoon of sea salt. Boom. I'm vegan, but I've heard it's good with fish (they make microwavable fish, did you know that?).

      2 agree
    • Rice + fried egg(s) + hot sauce + greens if you have them = a balanced, super easy meal (and my favorite while I was pregnant)

      1 agrees
      • This is absolutely fantastic. Sometimes I do sesame seeds, sesame oil, and/or soy sauce instead of or in addition to hot sauce. And sometimes it's leftover vegetables (I'm a big fan of cooking more than I need of something that I can use as an ingredient in another recipe the next day).

    • Yep, my best "arranging" is a rice (or cous cous… or pasta… or quinoa…) salad!

      Cook your carbs, let them cool. And then mix in… anything!

      My favourites would be tomato, pesto, cucumber and bits of cheese, but when it come to rice/pasta salad THERE ARE NO RULES.

  31. SANDWICHES!!! Sandwiches are basically "arranging" food, imho, and can be SO MUCH MORE than those sad baloney or turkey sandwiches on soggy bread you remember from elementary school lunch. I used to hate them, now they're my preferred method for using all the "extra" food I have in the house, or when I want something filling and nutritious with zero effort. See also: Dagwood. I'll take the Alton Brown category approach:

    Encasing device (bread, wrap, crackers, bagel, rice cakes, KrispyKremes, etc.)
    Condiment for flavor and wetness (mayo, mustard, sriracha, Frank's, guacamole, salsa, greek yogurt, jam or marmalade, cream cheese, pasta sauce, any combo of the above)
    Main Soft Component, generally protein, up to three (lunch meat, cheese, beans, nut butters, nutella (yes, it's a main and not a condiment, no judging), eggs (hard boiled, fried, or scrambled), chicken breast, fish fillet, shrimp, you get the idea)
    Crunchy supporting actors, generally vegetation based, as many as you can fit (lettuce tomato onion, sprouts, potato chips, apples, asparagus, corn, Funyuns, pickles/pickled veggies, broccoli, carrots, peppers (hot or not), pears, sliced grapes, etc)

    Slap that thing together. Feeling fancy? Throw it in the toaster oven for a few minutes, or use you trusty George Foreman as an impromptu panini press. Or two frying pans. Or heck, ONE frying pan. On the stove. With heat, generally. Don't have some component? Deconstruct what you DO have on a plate (ala Ariel's example) and eat, preferably with tea, preferably with nicknames like Ms. Mumsy and Sir Pennington-Livingston-Wellington-Pouffs.

    6 agree
  32. Kickin' it old school with ants on a log… minus the ants. I always keep peanut butter in stock because it's a) yummy b) contains decent protein c) doesn't spoil quickly d) requires no cooking. It goes well with celery, apples, crackers, toast… or just scooped straight out the jar.

    Another easy and healthy one I like is hummus with veggies. My favorite is black bean hummus followed by spicy red pepper. Just whip it out and dip away. Blamo!

    5 agree
    • What is ants on a log?
      Is this some American childhood thing that never made it to England?

      3 agree
    • Pretty much the only "cooking" that my husband asks me to do are apples covered in peanut butter. It's like a gluten-free pbj!

      • I saw an "apple dip" somewhere that mixed peanut butter, greek yogurt, and honey together. Not sure if those things are gluten-free, but that combo is delicious!

    • I sub in chopped dates for the raisins on some of my logs and save them for desert. I also like to have some carrot sticks or bell pepper strips on the side if I've got time.

  33. I just made a simple salad yesterday that was so pretty I posted it on Facebook. Lettuce, mini bell peppers, grape tomatoes, avocado & a can of tuna, topped with (Newman's Own) sesame ginger dressing. Veggies, protein, fiber, and it's hard to mess up the presentation. I only sliced the peppers and of course the avocado, and opened the tuna. So colorful! I've also been known to just eat the avocado with the sesame ginger dressing.

    1 agrees
  34. Scrambled eggs, greens (kale/bok choi/etc.) wilted with soy sauce, toast – BAM, you got a meal goin'.

  35. Yes yes yes yes to this post! I was thinking of writing up and submitting something similar and you beat me to it. I call my style of eating "picnic" as in I usually grab foods that are ready to eat with minimal prep and toss them on a plate or in a lunch bag.

    I stand in the produce section of my grocery store and challenge myself to take home as much as I can possibly think I can eat in a week. Most days my meals consist of raw veggies often with hummus, whole fruit maybe with peanut butter, nuts, granola, yogurt, and if I'm feeling really fancy I might roll some veggies and cheese up in a tortilla (avocado, spinach, cukes, tomato, and mushrooms with pepper jack = AMAZING).

    When I do manage to turn on an appliance, it'll be for frying an egg, baking a potato, or boiling water for quinoa or rice. Or chocolate chip cookies. πŸ™‚

    2 agree
  36. My daily breakfast fix takes 1 minute, Instant banana bread oatmeal:
    microwave quick oats w/ a little water for 1 minute
    while oats cook, cut up and smash 1 banana
    mix together with cinnamon, dash of vanilla and a little milk
    no need for sugar, the banana gives you all the sweetness you need.
    sometimes I use unsweetened applesauce and a dash of agave instead of the banana

    Lunch: deviled egg Sammy and arugula salad
    hard boiled egg, smashed with 1 teaspoon of mayo, 1 teaspoon of brown mustard, dash of paprika
    spread on toasted wheat bread
    prewashed arugula, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper, mix (also great with fresh baby kale in place of arugula)

    Dinner: grocery store rotisserie chicken is your new best friend! You can use it to make tacos/burritos with no actual cooking at all, or throw some in a pot of chicken stock with a few frozen veggies. Also excellent with just a quick veggie side.

    2 agree
    • Making a roasted chicken from scratch isn't actually that hard and can last several meals. If you cook it on a day when you can wait for it (that's most of the effort), then you can cook the chicken and a couple types of vegetables for several meals. Just dress the chicken and some root vegetables like carrots or parsnips or rutabegga with salt and pepper and a little olive oil, pop them all into a roasting dish together on 425 for 1 1/2 hours. Simultaneously, potatoes or sweet potatoes that have been generously poked with a form can be cooked in the over for the same amount of time on the same temperature.

      Dinner #1 is the chicken and diced vegetables with some butter, salt, and pepper on the potatoes or sweet potatoes. Dinner #2 is hash made from the leftovers. Dinner #3 is fancy hot sandwiches with chicken and a side of the roasted diced root veggies. Dinner #4 is chicken soup with the chicken, vegetables, and potatoes chopped up and in low sodium broth, parsley, greens, and garlic. Dinner #5 is stuffed baked potatoes with stir fried greens, garlic, and chickpeas with optional chiles if you like it hot.
      If you roast the chicken and vegetables on Sunday, you won't have to cook for more than a few minutes until Friday.

      2 agree
      • I suggested the rotisserie for ppl that are looking for more arranging and less cooking, but I love me a roasted chicken. We cook a large chicken once a week for dinner. Then I pull the leftover meat to make him chicken salad, and we use the carcass to make chicken stock. (we use a lot of chicken stock in this house)

        • My family calls the rotisserie chickens from the grocery store "emergency chickens" πŸ˜€

  37. When I'm lazy, I get out a medium pan, put the burner on medium heat, and start picking out cans. Canned tomatoes, canned black beans, canned corn (and maybe a little green chiles) stirred together with salt and cumin (or, hell, use a taco seasoning packet) is my default combo. Heat until desired temp & eat with tortilla chips. Or, if you've got a rice cooker, put that shit on rice.

    but seriously:
    1. get pot on a medium heat burner
    2. open cans, put contents in pot (use judgement on whether or not to strain can-juice)
    3. get silly with spices
    4. stir (or don't) until you're ready to put food in your face
    5. put food in your face

    4 agree
  38. I have always enjoyed cooking but my favorite go to meal in the summer when I don't want to heat anything up is:

    French Bread (sometimes a multigrain if I wanted to be "healthy")
    Marinated Mozzarella
    Fresh Tomatoes
    Small salad
    Wine

    I also used to love cottage cheese either with pineapple or tomatoes depending on if I was feeling sweet or savory at the moment. And if there were triscuits in the house then it was all the better.

    This unfortunately had to change recently as I can't eat dairy or wheat anymore. So now it is a large salad with whatever veggies I happen to have around and usually half a can of tuna or salmon thrown on top.

  39. BAMBOO STEAMER:

    It's Magical.
    Put Dumplings/Frozen Veggies/Whatever in Steamer. Ignore for 15 minutes while you tidy-attack something. Unstack onto Plates on Table.
    The bamboo makes it pretty and your peoples will have fun picking stuff out of the baskets.

  40. Eggy spaghetti (serves 2)

    Cook 1/2 box spaghetti
    Drain
    Put back in pot
    Crack 3 eggs into pan
    Stir through until egg is cooked.

    Invite 25 of your friends round for dinner because I can never estimate the right amount of spaghetti.

    2 agree
  41. Baked potatoes (regular or sweet) are totally my go to also.

    Top with black beans, whatever veggies are around, cheese if I have it, and salsa: taco potatoes!
    Top with grated carrots, green onions, cilantro, and peanut sauce (okay, I do make the sauce, but it's just stirring, and I'm sure you could buy it in a jar too): Thai potatoes!
    Top with cut up sausage, spinach (from a bag in the freezer), and tomato sauce: Italian potatoes!
    Top with spinach, nuts, and goat cheese: fancy potatoes!
    Etcetera, etcetera.

    4 agree
  42. Offbeat home – this is it. This is the moment I lay down my 'You killed Offbeat Families!' pissy feelings and succumb. Knew it would happen eventually.

    7 agree
  43. I love cooking, but I love arranging food even more.

    Boil a box of store-bought chicken broth in a saucepan. + sliced onion or garlic, +tortellini from the store + several handfuls of spinach. Boil 10 minutes. Bam. Soup. for bonus points, top with cheese. You can also open a can of tomatoes and dump it in there.

    Open can of beans. Pour into bowl. Top with salsa, cheese, any leftover cooked veggies or frozen veggies. Microwave. Eat.

    Put bagged salad greens on a plate. microwave some asparagus. put it on top. Sprinkle with lemon juice and olive oil. Add a soft-boiled egg* on top. Eat with toast. (make like a hardboiled egg, but only cook 4-5 minutes.)

    Also, soft-boiled eggs on Wasa crackers is my go-to breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

  44. I love platters. Usually mine has fruit and veg, cheese, carb, protein. Such as strawberries and grapes, broccoli, 3 kinds of cheese, crackers, hummus and/or peanut butter and/or nuts. I put it on nice pottery, and then I just graze!

    Also sometimes I just pretend I am hiking and eat summer sausage chunks, cheese, trail mix, etc.

    • "Platter" is such a brilliant fancy term for this! My mum always called this "things on a plate". πŸ™‚

  45. Also! Not arranging but I have a 5-ingredient smoothie ~ dollop of plain Greek yogurt, some unsweetened vanilla almond milk, splash of OJ, 1 banana and a shit ton of baby spinach. Press button. I have been having this every single day for lunch for months now. It's great because you can really put a ridiculous amount of spinach in and still taste good (I would never eat enough veggies if I didn't do this daily). Plus it is very well-rounded and pretty low in sugar, unlike most smoothies.

    For BONUS easiness: a $15 Hamilton Beach blender that is a single serve, to-go sippy cup. This was a Christmas present that changed my life!!

    1 agrees
    • I have a similar blender as you! The one with the sippy cups! It's definitely changed my life for the better.

      I've been on a smoothie kick for breakfast lately. My favorite smoothie is chocolate almond milk, 1/2 a frozen banana (peel bananas, place in ziplock bag overnight), frozen strawberries and hemp seed. Tastes like chocolate covered strawberries. <3

      Or my other favorite is vanilla almond milk, 1/2 a frozen banana, handful of frozen peaches and hemp seeds (so I can get my omega 3's in). All the noms.

      1 agrees
      • I make almost those exact same smoothies, they rock! I love frozen blueberries in mine. Peaches sound interesting, might have to try that. Instead of almond milk and hemp seeds you could just use hemp milk. Add a bit of cocoa powder if you want it chocolatey (I always do this, it's the best!)

  46. These began when my daughter hit 6/7 months and we started baby-led-weaning (i.e. – started solids but she feeds her self – no purees here). Favourites are:

    Edamame. Any way you like it. Costco stocks it in Aus and it was the first and only place we've found it frozen, so we binged for a few months. Currently on a hiatus til we can love it again. Still, that stuff rocks and makes one easy meal paired with pan fried frozen shelled prawns (comes in under the time limit!) + a good mayo. DELISH.

    Brie/camembert + apple slices. This was my lunch today. Who needs crackers when you have perfectly good apple slices anyway?! I'm coeliac and GF crackers are damn expensive. Apple is delicious and feels healthy, cheese is delicious and is filling, WIN!

    Floor picnic. Chop whatever you have in the fridge/pantry that takes your fancy. Fruit, berries, veges, cheeses, cold meats etc, serve with lettuce leaves for wrapping up assortments, dips for dipping, bread with oil and dukka if you've got it (that stuff is YUM). Sit on the floor and have at it. Kids LOVE this, and eat more with all the assortment and plate sharing.
    Hot tips – fresh figs are super yum with a crumbly vintage cheese. Strawberry, avo and marinated feta are delish wrapped in lettuce together. Mini mozzarella balls (called bocconcini in Aus, never saw them when I was in the US and I SEARCHED because I was missing them!) make anything better and are also amazing on pizza. They'd even spruce up a frozen pizza. *cough*

    2 agree
  47. This goes well for entertaining too; This is my summer lunch for 6 people:
    Two baguettes, sliced
    1/2 pound each ham, hard salami, provolone
    Two sliced tomatoes
    a pile of basil leaves
    some fresh mozzarella in olive oil from the deli counter
    a jar of pitted kalamatta olives and/or roasted red peppers
    a bowl of strawberries/peaches/grapes/apples
    LOTS OF WINE.

    I can't wait for summer.

    2 agree
  48. I have 3 kids under 3, a full time job and a husband who works nights. I love to cook big elaborate dinners but have totally embraced the arranged dinner.

    At our house we pretty much on the regular eat what I call the "garbage plate". I put a big platter of slices of baguette or Italian bread (I work across the street from a bakery), scoops of hummus or other bean spread, slices of cheddar or goat chez, sliced veggies (what ever I have in the fridge), sliced apples or pears, what ever other fruit happens to be in season. Maybe some olives or roasted red peppers if I'm wearing my fancy pants. The husband can grab a handful before he runs out the door. The kids and I can eat leisurely with dirtying minimal dishes. It's well balanced, healthy and cheap.

    1 agrees
  49. -Use dehydrated onion for easy, no-chop tuna salad. Just tuna, mayo & onion. You could throw in whatever spices float your boat…same would work with chicken too. Anyhoo, pair the tuna salad with ripe tomatoes and crackers. This was many a childhood summer dinner.
    -Chips (not a whole food, I know), salsa, and cheese…warm until the cheese melts…nachos!
    -Potatoes in all their forms. Baby, sweet, mashed, all good. Yesterday's lunch was some sliced roasted potatoes leftover from the night's before dinner, sauteed with chopped red onion, topped with cheese. (And okay, ketchup.) And I'll do mashed potatoes (there are actually some good quality instant, if you know what to look for) with soft cheese (like those little laughing cow wedges) mixed in, then some grated cheese on top.
    -Don't neglect salad if you don't like greens. I'm not able to do frequent shopping, so I don't often have lettuce. But I will mix together chopped tomato, shredded carrot, whatever veggies I have, throw a little shredded cheese (I like cheese, ok?) and some salad dressing on top. Maybe some bacon bits, if that's your thing. Sometimes I'll eat it by itself, out of the bowl with crackers, or throw it onto a wrap/roll/some bread.
    -Buttered noodles…egg noodles (or whatever pasta you have), butter, salt, lots of pepper.
    -Toasted cheese, aka the lazy grilled cheese…throw cheese on bread. Put on cookie sheet. Put in oven until the cheese is melted, and as bubbly and brown as you like!

  50. Minimal cooking for this one: Noodles & Peas. Take whatever pasta you've got hanging out in the cabinet, and make it. When it's about a minute from being done, throw in some frozen peas. Cook another minute, drain. Top that baby with some cheese. Boom. Done.

    My favorite when I've got some kind of smoked sausage is to just slice that up and throw it on a plate with some raw vegetables & cheese. Smoked Kielbasa/Pepperoni/Andouille plus extra sharp cheddar, plus cucumbers, broccoli, tomatoes & carrots. Mmmmmm.

  51. OMG, this thread is full of so many good ideas!

    I love cooking but I really don't have time for it during the week and I can't really get behind the spend-all-weekend/Sunday-cooking philosophy.

    I'm going to bookmark this post for future "crap, what are we going to have for dinner?" days.

    2 agree
  52. Lunch today consists of a slice of homemade molassas bread, smeared with goat cheese and topped with cucumbers. BOSS.

    1 agrees
  53. Nuke a can of chickpeas/garbanzo beans. Then put some pesto and feta on them and stir. I love this and can't wait until my kids eat it.

    Open-faced sandwiches: slice of bread (toast if you want to be fancy), grainy mustard, goat cheese, avocado, fried egg, salt and pepper. Be very generous with the toppings.

    Instant oatmeal with peanut butter and jam. We call this "mama oatmeal".

  54. I have a couple favorite meals that take no actual cooking, simply cutting and arranging as you put it.

    Pre-cooked rotisserie chicken from the grocery store is my best friend in the summer time, when the weather turns hot and swampy and the thought of adding more heat to my third floor apartment makes me want to cry.

    Chicken and strawberry salad
    Ingredients:
    Salad greens
    Rotisserie chicken, chopped (feel free to cook the chicken yourself or use whatever left overs you have)
    Strawberries, sliced
    Walnuts
    Crumbled chevre cheese (goat cheese)
    A good slightly sweet balsamic dressing (I like Brianna's Blush Wine Vinaigrette)

    Directions:
    layer salad greens on plate. Top with chopped chicken. Add sliced strawberries. Sprinkle with walnuts and cheese. Finish with your favorite dressing. Serve with a good crusty bread (that you can pick up from the grocery store bakery), sliced and topped with butter.

    Another similar salad featuring red meat, but requires you to actually cook the steak.

    Flank steak and blue cheese salad:

    Ingredients:
    Flank steak (about a pound will be enough for 4 people)
    Salad greens
    Pecans
    plums, sliced thin (pears also work nicely)
    Crumbled blue cheese

    Directions:
    Sprinkle flank steak with salt and pepper (or your favorite spices. I usually throw cumin and sweet paprika on mine).
    Cook flank steak over medium heat, about 6 minutes per side. Place steak on cutting board and allow to rest for about 5 minutes. Cut steak into strips, cutting across the grain (if you think of the steak as vaguely rectangular, typically you will be cutting from the short side of the steak).
    Slice plums. You can leave the peels on.
    Layer salad greens on plate. Top with flank steak. Add sliced plums. Sprinkle with pecans and blue cheese. Add your favorite dressing (I still like Brianna's Blush Wine). Serve with crusty bread.

    I'll end with a cold soup and sandwich combo I got from cooking light. These two recipes work really well together.

    Prosciutto, fresh fig, and manchego sandwiches – It's like a high end ham and cheese. Don't be afraid of the ingredients. My local grocery store carries everything, though fresh figs can be difficult to find. I've only ever been able to find black mission figs.

    http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/prosciutto-fresh-fig-manchego-sandwiches-10000002011011/

    Gazpacho – This is a cold tomato soup. It only requires chopping veggies and throwing everything into a food processor. I have found that gazpacho tastes better the next day, after the flavors get a chance to marry with one another. For this recipe, I use regular red tomatoes and red peppers. Typically, I leave out the garnish and serve with a sandwich.

    http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/yellow-tomato-gazpacho-10000000460045/

  55. One of my favorite breakfasts is simply plain greek yogurt, stevia, chopped fruit, and a small handful of granola. Simple and filling.

    1 agrees
  56. Our summer staple-

    Bulgarian cheese (cheese in brine, comes in a can of several of them), watermelon and flatbread. – nom

  57. Even though I LOVE to cook… the microwave is my friend for work lunches or hurried days. Microwaved veggies, pasta sauce, melted regular or soy cheese. Easy comfort food. OR Microwave egg beat with water salt n peppa, scoop out onto broiled tortillas with cheddar (or soy or rice cheese). Scoop avocado on that, throw some cilantro and a hit of sriracha. OR Steam in bag brown rice with steam in bag veggies. Hit with braggs or a little sesamea oil, sea salt, pepper.

  58. One of my favorite midday snacks is:
    toast with peanut butter, topped with banana, drizzled with honey, sprinkled with cinnamon

    A super simple breakfast is:
    toast spread with smashed avocado (smush avocado with a fork, add a squirt of lemon juice, salt and pepper, and red pepper flakes if you like), add a fried egg on top with a little hot sauce if you like. Done!

  59. Are we talking 5 minutes of work or 5 minutes of actual cooking? Because the crock pot is my favorite "can't cook" cheat. I put in a package of chicken, a jar of salsa, and a package of taco seasoning and cook for 8 hours on low. No work required except for pouring! OR I do a package of chicken and pour over some BBQ sauce and cook for 8 hours on low. It shreds as you're pulling it out of the pot, put it on a roll and you've got yourself a yummy pulled chicken sandwich.

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