20-Minute Meals For Busy Weeknights

Sep 16, 2016

Parents know this well: weeknights can be rushed. Although it’s easy to resort to convenience food and call the pizza guy or hit the drive-through, there are plenty of meals you can pull together from scratch in less time than it takes to bake a batch of frozen fish sticks.

Bonus: A lot of them make use of leftovers, transforming them into a new meal and saving them from the compost bin.

Relevant Reading: 6 Food Staples This Dietitian Mom Always Has On Hand


Knowing how to make an omelette is a good skill to have — it means that if there are eggs in the fridge, you can have a proper meal on the table in under ten minutes. Whisk a couple of eggs in a bowl and slide them into a small skillet that has been drizzled with oil and warmed over medium-high heat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and, as it sets, tip the pan to let uncooked egg run underneath. When it starts to look almost cooked through (but still wet on top), add bits of cheese, leftover cooked veggies, chopped ham or sausage, torn greens or even things like leftover crab and artichoke dip (really!) to one side, and slide it out onto a plate, folding the opposite side over with the edge of the pan to cover the filling. Best of all, older kids can whip up their own quick dinner when they get home — and everyone can eat on their own schedules if need be. Just add toast.

a photo of an omelette on a plate

Fried Rice

Plan ahead for useful leftovers the next time you cook some rice. Leftover cold rice is perfect for frying, as the grains are separate and won’t clump together and get sticky. Heat a drizzle of oil in a large skillet (a drizzle of sesame oil is delicious too), and add the rice to the hot pan; add chopped green onion, leftover ground or chopped meat and veggies, thawed shrimp from the freezer, and season with soy sauce. Push the mixture to one side and crack an egg or two into the pan to cook, scrambling with your spatula, then stirring into the rest of the ingredients. It makes a fast one-dish meal, and makes great use of leftovers.

a photo of fried rice with shrimp and other veggies

You'll Also Love: Tastiest Cheesy Veggie-Filled Meatballs

Spaghetti with Sausage Meatballs

While your spaghetti is cooking, make instant meatballs by squeezing fresh Italian sausages out of their casings into a drizzle of oil in a pan set over medium-high heat at 1-inch intervals; they’ll make perfect, pre-seasoned meatballs that hold together perfectly. Roll them around in the pan to brown, then add jarred tomato sauce and let them simmer — they’ll season the sauce as they cook through. Serve with your favourite pasta and freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

a photo of spaghetti with sausage meatballs

Eggs on Toast

Poached or fried, eggs on toast has been a quick dinner standby for generations. To give it a boost, add a warmed can of beans, mushrooms sautéed in butter with a clove of garlic and splash of cream, ratatouille or leftover meaty pasta sauce — truly.

a photo of a fried egg on top of sauteed mushrooms on toast

You'll Also Love: 10 Kid-Friendly Breakfast Ideas That Aren’t Cereal


French toast is just stale bread, dipped in eggs and fried quickly in a hot pan — and it can totally count as a quick, economical dinner (and dessert, served with maple syrup) in a pinch. Oatmeal is also a hearty standby — it cooks up quickly, and reheats even faster. Top it with berries or a fruit compote for an added vitamin boost.

a photo of french toast with maple syrup on it with a side of oatmeal

Pan-fried Fish

Thin whitefish filets cook in just a few minutes, it’s real fast food — all you need to do is dredge them in a shallow bowl (or pie plate) of flour, seasoned with salt and pepper, and cook for a minute or two per side. Set a skillet over medium-high heat, add a big dab of butter and when the foam subsides, add the fish filets. Serve them with quickly steamed or sautéed veggies, smashed potatoes or whatever you can scrounge from the fridge.

a photo of pan fried fish with kale and beans

You'll Also Love: 5 Simple Sheet Pan Suppers

Roasted Salmon and Asparagus

A fresh filet of salmon cooks in about 10 minutes per inch of thickness — place it on a parchment-lined sheet and lay asparagus spears (broccolini and grape tomatoes work well too) around it. Drizzle them with oil, sprinkle everything with salt and pepper (or smear the fish with bottled pesto) and bake at 425˚F for 10 minutes, until the asparagus is tender-crisp and the edge of the fish flakes with a fork, but the meat is still moist in the middle.

a photo of salmon and asperagus on a baking sheet

Article Author Julie Van Rosendaal
Julie Van Rosendaal

Read more from Julie here.

Julie Van Rosendaal is the author of six best-selling cookbooks (with a seventh due out this fall), the food editor of Parents Canada magazine and the food and nutrition columnist on the Calgary Eyeopener on CBC Radio One. She is a recipe developer, TV personality, food stylist and writes about food for local, national and international publications. She is perhaps best known as the voice behind her popular food blog, Dinner with Julie, where she documents real life at home in Calgary with her husband and nine-year-old son. Connect on twitter @dinnerwithjulie.


Add New Comment

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Submission Policy

Note: The CBC does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comments, you acknowledge that CBC has the right to reproduce, broadcast and publicize those comments or any part thereof in any manner whatsoever. Please note that comments are moderated and published according to our submission guidelines.