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20 Dishes Every Busy (and Broke) Twentysomething Should Know How to Make

You are sooooooo busy! We know. But that doesn't mean you can't eat well. Plus, if all you're going to do is show off what you are eating on Instagram, the least you can do is take a few pictures of food you made yourself -- you know, meals you did something to besides take off the lid. In our Martha world, there are a few dishes that you should probably have under your belt before you hit 30. These dishes will not only help you save money and eat better, but they'll give you total bragging rights.

 

 

It’s Thursday and you’ve come to a refrigerator standstill. You open the door and shut it, each time hoping something new will appear. No dice, and the idea of a ketchup sandwich is becoming increasingly appetizing.  

Imagine a world where come Monday, your fridge was filled with healthy and fresh pre-prepared food. It’s possible. Use your weekends to make ahead and become a master of meal prep with these easy premade meals.

1. For when you've got the sniffles...

 

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Break out your stockpot! Starring cost-effective staples such as root veggies, chicken, and egg noodles, chicken noodle soup is soup-er affordable and easy -- you literally throw everything in a pot and wait. Leftovers will last for up to  days in the fridge and up to six months in the freezer. To avoid soggy noodles, leave them out of the original batch and make fresh each time you serve. 

Get the Simple Chicken Noodle Soup Recipe

2. For when you just want comfort food...

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At the end of a long day, boxed macaroni and cheese may be your saving grace, but if you plan ahead, scratch-made macaroni can be enjoyed in even less time. Prepare a casserole dish of creamy mac in preparation for a hectic week, bake, and leave in the fridge to enjoy for the rest of the week, or freeze it in single servings for quick defrost and dine. Add veggies covertly for added nutritional value that is sure to please Mom. P.S.: This makes a great potluck contribution.

Get the Lighter Three-Cheese Mac Recipe

 3. For date night...

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Simple and satisfying, meatballs can be made and cooked ahead of time for dinner in a pinch. Take them out of the freezer the morning of and let defrost. When you get home, just put two pots on the stove, one with boiling water for pasta and another with sauce to reheat your meatballs. Serve with a simple salad, and prepare for your "Lady and the Tramp" moment.

Get the Easy Spaghetti and Meatballs Recipe

 4. For a dish with unlimited possibilities...

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Chili is one flexy lady -- it can be just a bowl of comfort, or it can be served atop a salad, baked into cheesy hashbrowns, or ladled on top of a hot dog (we won't judge). In addition, all of the ingredients are relatively cheap. Grab a few cans of beans from the store, 3 pounds of beef chuck (which is significantly cheaper than other cuts of beef), and simmer it all on the stove. Chili: Have it your way. 

Get the 30-Minute Chili Recipe

5. For when you want to feed a crowd or feed yourself forever...

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Photography by: Anson Smart

Another one-pan wonder, lasagna is a low-demand, high-yield recipe perfect for the busy and the bustling. While it may feel labor intensive, the payoff is worth it. If it's not your lunch for the next five days, it'll be the star of your work potluck or the perfect meal to serve to Mom when she visits. And once you've got it down, play with it! Not a fan of spinach? Toss it. Self-declared lover of all things artichoke? Add some! With lasagna, anything goes and every bite is delicious.

Get the Very Vegetable Lasagna Recipe

6. For when you want to eat healthier...

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Photography by: John von Pamer

Roast some veggies! Save yourself the side-dish headache and just throw some vegetables under the broiler. Tender, roasted carrots will look pretty elegant next to that lasagna you made. Their kin -- root vegetables like sweet potatoes and parsnips -- are also excellent side dish weapons to keep in your arsenal. In addition, a tray of roasted veggies can go a long way: Blend them into a soup, toss them with quinoa, or serve next to roast chicken.

Get the Roasted Carrots and Red Quinoa Recipe

7. For when you want to feel like a pro...

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Photography by: Christina Holmes

A good roast chicken is something everybody needs to know how to make, so you might as well get it down early. It can't hurt, right? Think of all the foods you can make with one roast chicken: Chicken quesadillas, cheesy chicken pasta, chicken salad...Make your wallet happy with a week's worth of protein in just one (delicious) bird. 

Get the Roast Chicken with Paprika and Roasted Garlic Recipe

8. For when you have a hodgepodge of leftovers...

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Photography by: Andrew Purcell

Reduce, reuse, recycle does not apply simply to plastic and glass. Recipe ingredients, when made in bulk, can serve in not one but two meals. Roast chicken and veggies make dinner one night, while leftovers live on in your lunch salad the next day!

Get the Chicken and Roasted Vegetable Salad Recipe

9. For simple single servings...

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Chicken pot pies in individual ramekins make single servings simple. Cook a batch of filling and freeze them in ramekins. When dinner comes around, defrost one (or two), top with puff pastry and bake to perfection!

Get the Chicken Potpies with Puff Pastry Recipe

10. For when you're curious about kale...

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Photography by: Bryan Gardner

What's the deal? Everyone's into it and it's on every restaurant's menu. Well, kale is really good for you and once you've learned how to make a spectacular kale Caesar salad yourself, you will forever be converted. It's the perfect thing to whip up when the parents come to visit! "Look Ma, I'm being healthy!"

Get the Kale Caesar Salad Recipe

11. For a dinner that is better in bulk...

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Photography by: Ryan Liebe

You can eat several bowls of this every meal and not get bored or have to feel guilty about it. Plus, it's totally cool to know your grains.

Get the Roasted Sweet-Potato and Farro Salad Recipe

12. For when you realize one protein bar is almost $3...

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Ditch that storebought snack -- it's time to make your own. Customize to make savory or sweet concoctions. Stash these cereal bars in your desk or tote in your bag for an emergency bite that will spare you the vengence of the vending machine.

Get the Chocolate-Peanut Butter Cereal Bar Recipe

13. For when you're just not feeling the bagel line...

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Or the doughnut line or the million-hour wait at Starbucks. Take care of breakfast by making a bulk batch of baked oatmeal (say it five times fast!) and portion it out during the week, adding mix-ins as you go: blueberries, jam, butter, a chocolate bar...wait, what? Choose your own adventure. Oats may be the best-kept secret in town: They're cheap, they're nutritious, and they'll keep you full, at least until 10:00am (we're not making any promises).

Get the Baked Oatmeal Recipe

14. For a recipe that'll help you get rid of the fruit flies...

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Photography by: Tina Rupp

Make bread! When life gives you forgotten black bananas (and the fruit flies that come with them), you should make something sweet. Banana bread actually tastes better with overripe bananas, so don't be shy -- toss 'em all in! Quick breads, like banana bread, are also on the easy side of the baking spectrum. You won't need to put on an apron or fuss about like your mother -- just mix and bake. 

Get the Banana Bread with Walnuts and Flaxseed Recipe

15. For when you want fish without fuss...

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Look to the tuna. Fish is delicious, but prices range higher than your rent these days, so it's better to stay away from the fancy fillets. Oil-packed tuna is rich in omega-3 fatty acids and can come pretty cheap. Make yourself a tuna burger, get some vitamins so om will stop her worrying, and celebrate a slightly heavier wallet. 

Get the Tuna Burgers Recipe

16. For the one thing you'll eat all week...

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Cook once to eat all week. Take 15 minutes of your weekend to save countless time, thought, and energy come weekday mealtime. A large batch of hummus is a versatile lifeline. Eat with veggies and pita for lunch or incorporate in Mediterranean cuisine for an added element at dinner. 

Get the Hummus Recipe

17. For when you've got to work with what's in your pantry...

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Make an entirely pantry-based dinner. First of all, keep your pantry stocked (yes, we're looking at you). Canned foods, like tuna, will never go bad -- you don't have to worry about watching them rot on the kitchen counter like your CSA always did. The same goes for pasta, rice, and dried beans. So if you're suddenly presented with the need to make dinner (which, if we're not mistaken, happens most every night), you should be able to scrub up a hearty meal. Use whole-wheat pasta, toss with tuna and arugula, and you'll feel pretty healthy about it, too. 

Get the Whole-Wheat Shells with Tuna and Arugula Recipe

18. For when you're tired of getting your breakfast on your shirt...

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Breakfast is the meal of grab-and-go, but some favorites are more portable than others. Yogurt and cereal were made for the morning commute, but eggs -- not so much. Through redesign, eggs take new shape. Cook your eggs in muffin form for a breakfast that is truly portable, durable, and made to be made en mass. 

Get the Scrambled Egg Muffins Recipe

19. For when your delivery guy knows you by name...

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You may think he's your friend, but he's not and he's probably wondering how you can eat the same dish three times a week and not have figured out how to make it yourself yet. Time to prove him wrong!

Get the Chinese Noodles with Sesame Dressing Recipe

20. For when you realize it's another week till payday...

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Photography by: Bryan Gardner

$20 for a regular pie?! What are you, made of money? Depending on how fancy you want to get with the toppings, you can make pizza yourself for a fraction of the price. Plus, it's fun, easy, and endlessly adaptable: 

Get the Quick Basic Pizza Dough Recipe
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