I Don’t Do Microwave Dinners, Here’s What I Buy for Quick, Low-Effort Meals Instead
The reason I don’t do microwave dinners is simple enough—I don’t own a microwave. It’s not because I have some fundamental conflict with microwaves, or using them (despite the fairly bizarre period during my tween years when my family had not one, but two, microwaves in the kitchen and we weren’t allowed to use either because my mom was convinced they’d fill our food with cancer or other radioactive ilk); I just don’t love having bulky items sitting on my countertops. My counter space is limited as is. Had my “historic” apartment come furnished with a mounted microwave, it’s not like I wouldn’t use it to reheat leftovers or occasionally cook a frozen dinner.
I do understand the inherent value that accompanies the convenience and ease of a frozen, microwaveable dinner. Look, in the past 4 years I’ve dated people who own microwaves, I’ve drank the water—I know an Amy’s frozen dinner is tasty, and that pulling that box from the freezer is especially satisfying when you’re exhausted and ended up at the office later than anticipated. I get it, and I too have nights when legitimately cooking is the last thing I’m trying to do. Thus, even in my microwave-less state of existence, I need meals that require a bare minimum of time and effort from my end. And because Amy’s frozen meals take close to an hour to prepare in the oven (believe me, it was a nasty shock learning this the hard way), here are the no-microwave-necessary staples I turn to.
Not all that different from a microwaveable frozen dinner, except (IMO) more delicious and ready from the oven in 20 to 25 minutes. Plus, unlike an ice block of dinner in a cardboard tray, you can very easily customize a frozen pizza to have more flavor and vibrancy. Add spice, add extra cheese or meats, add fresh veggies—add whatever makes your heart sing and requires no more than 2 minutes to throw onto your pie.
Refrigerated Tortellini or Ravioli
A small step up from frozen pizza, packages of prepared tortellini or ravioli are excellent to keep in the fridge for lazy-night meals. Fill a large, high-sided skillet with just enough water to cover the pasta (this reduces the amount of time you’re twiddling your tired-ass thumbs waiting for a big pot of water to boil), toss in your filled pasta of choice, boil for roughly 7 minutes, and drain the water off. From there, dress your pasta according to how much energy you have. You can go with prepared, store-bought sauce or toss the pasta with a generous drizzle of olive oil, some grated Parmesan, a dash of garlic powder, black pepper, and if you’re up to it, some torn baby spinach, fresh basil, and/or diced tomatoes—allowing the residual heat to soften the veggies/herbs (if the pan has cooled, place over low heat).
Bagged Salad Kit + Chicken From the Deli
I’m all about a bagged salad, but my general rule of thumb is to stick with the shredded cabbage-based varieties (these are typically the “Asian” inspired kits), as these tend to be the most reliably not-wilty/-sad. Go with whatever salad kit calls to you, though. Top this this with cooked chicken from your supermarket’s deli or prepared food section. If you’re a responsible type, you might already have a rotisserie chicken at home in your fridge, just waiting to be shredded over your bag of greens to fulfill its destiny as an instant meal that feels relatively healthy. If so, that’s great. If not, and it’s been a long day… I’ll just tell you, I’ve never once regretted buying a few crispy chicken fingers from the Publix deli to top off a bagged salad.
We go way back, canned tuna and I. And I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I am so on board with a tuna sandwich. There’s never not a can or two of olive-oil packed tuna in my pantry. If you haven’t given it a try in a while (like your entire adult life) and have vile childhood memories of fishy canned mush that is too close to cat food for comfort, I’d highly suggest trying some of the good stuff—Bela Skipjack Tuna Fillets or Ortiz White Tuna in Olive Oil.
CHEESE + Things That Go with Cheese
If you can keep a couple of hunks of cheese on hand, chances are, you’ll always be scrounge up enough other odds and ends—i.e. snackable veggies, bread/crackers, deli meat, olives, etc.—to throw together a fine snack dinner. The number of nights I’ve eaten some variation of cheese + assorted scraps (that sort of seem cohesive when you put them together on a board) for dinner are too many to count. And between us, I kinda like it like that.