We’re all looking for inventive ways to make the most of what we have in our pantries to avoid grocery store trips—but sometimes, figuring out what to make for dinner can be more work than fun. Before you give up and subject yourself to a Chopped–esque scramble, allow us to step in with a little creative guidance.
We tapped our trusty network of foodies and chefs to source the low-lift recipes they turn to when they’re too exhausted to cook. Spoiler alert: The dishes are delicious and easy to prepare. See for yourself.
Flour Shop founder Amirah Kassem—author of The Power of Sprinkles and purveyor of the Insta-famous exploding sprinkle cake—may be popular for her sweet treats, but she knows that the true key to happiness is pizza. Kassem picks up ready-made dough from a local pizzeria and bakes it at home with choice toppings. Her go-tos: soppressata with a spicy honey drizzle or vegetables with freshly sliced avocado. Though in a pinch, a basic Margherita will do just fine.
Half Baked Harvest’s Tieghan Gerard never fails to stun us with her creations, and her weeknight meal of cacio e pepe is no exception: “I always have all the ingredients on hand, and it takes less than 30 minutes from start to finish to throw together,” she says. All you need is pasta, butter, black pepper, Parmesan cheese, and a bit of lemon and arugula for garnish.
When takeout just won’t do, The Modern Proper’s Holly Erickson turns to the melt-y, cheesy ease of baked chicken quesadillas. “Cooked chicken and cheese are staples in my fridge, so I just load up some tortillas and pop them in the oven until they’re crispy on the outside and gooey on the inside—dinner is done, and everyone’s happy,” says Erickson.
After a long day in the kitchen at Nashville’s Chauhan Ale & Masala House, chef and Food Network star Maneet Chauhan relaxes with a toasty grilled cheese, which she elevates with a medley of spices, including ginger, cumin, and masala. This isn’t your average elementary school–era sandwich.
“For those nights when I just can’t be bothered to spend more than 10 minutes in the kitchen, it’s all about this super-garlicky, cheesy pasta,” says What’s Gaby Cooking’s Gaby Dalkin. “It takes no time to whip up and makes enough for dinner and maybe even a leftover lunch.” The five-ingredient sauce uses pantry staples you’re guaranteed to have on hand at all times.
Top Chef Canada host and cook Eden Grinshpan is all about the baked goodness of shakshuka—a low-effort dish that can easily be scaled for a large or small group. Entertainers, take note: “The simple, filling tomato sauce can pack a big punch when seasoned properly,” Grinshpan notes. “My husband and I love making it for a quick dinner or for brunch.”
For The Smile’s executive chef Melia Marden, weeknight meals entail something healthy that only takes five minutes to make. “I always have brown rice going in the rice cooker, and I also try to have a jar of chili oil in the fridge at all times,” she says of her secret weapon for dressing up simple vegetables. Her easy escarole bowl is topped with sliced avocado and garnished with olive oil, Aleppo chili flakes, and garlic.
“I make a variation of this sweet potato recipe at least twice a week,” says natural food chef Jodi Moreno of What’s Cooking Good Looking. “It hits all the right notes—healthy, tasty, and filling—and it’s easy to throw together.” Add a soft-boiled egg for some extra protein.
“I always keep quality, fresh hummus in the fridge, and when I’m too lazy to cook—especially after a long night working in the slice shop—I’ll warm up a pita and serve it alongside the hummus, mixing in some high-quality extra-virgin olive oil, Maldon salt flakes, and paprika,” says Noam Grossman, cofounder of NYC’s newest hot spot, Upside Pizza. He suggests topping the protein-rich hummus with fresh vegetables and herbs, which he always tries to have around, as well as olives and pickles for an added burst of flavor.
After a jam-packed day, chef Chloe Coscarelli resorts to a simple, five-ingredient kale pasta that features a handful of essentials she always has in her pantry. Dressed in a vegan pesto—made from kale, cashews, olive oil, garlic, and lemon—it’s a light and refreshing dish that is sure to please.
Marlow Bistro’s chef, Zivko Radojcic, turns to an easy-to-prepare bowl of creamy polenta to satisfy his weeknight cravings. “When I’m tired, I like to add some mushrooms with a fried or poached egg for protein,” he notes. “I make the polenta itself with milk, water, crushed garlic, butter, and Parmesan cheese.”
Haven’s Kitchen founder Ali Cayne knows a trick to using up every last bit of those leftovers: Toss them in a frying pan and turn them into fried rice. “It’s the perfect use for day- or two-day-old delivery rice and a good way to get in all sorts of veggies for my kids and me,” she explains. Feel free to freestyle with the vegetables you use; the aim is to finish up whatever’s in your fridge.
Add 1tbsp’s Evan Kalman’s go-to is perfect for when you don’t want to go anywhere near a stove. His pick is a charcuterie board, and the usual suspects include a goat cheese, a blue cheese, and a Cheddar. “Not only is it visual—we do eat first with our eyes—but I can throw one together using whatever I have on hand,” he says of his “misfit boards.” Consider this your chance to improvise with the final scrapes of mustard, the last few pickles in the jar, or even a barely there spoonful of ricotta. This meal’s biggest perk is its flexibility.