Meal ideas for when you’re short on time

It’s deadline season coming up, and that means many of us have a limited time for making meals. Here are some of my favourite cheap, easy and still nutritious meal ideas for you to give a try. I have been vegetarian for almost six years so they will not contain meat, but there are plenty of opportunities to add it if you wish!

Green Thai Curry (20 minutes)

Three bowls and a pair of chopsticks. There is one large bowl and two smaller bowls. The largest bowl contains rice.

You will need:

  • Green Thai curry paste
  • Coconut milk
  • A selection of frozen veg (cauliflower, broccoli, carrots etc.)
  • White, or Jasmine, rice

First, put water and rice in a saucepan (at a ratio of 3:2), and set boiling on medium-low heat. This will take around 15 minutes but will be done when the water is gone. Stir regularly.

While the rice is cooking, begin frying the veg in oil for around 5 minutes. Add 200ml coconut milk per person to the veg, then mix in one tablespoon of Green Thai curry paste (per person), or more if you prefer spicier food. Mix well and allow to simmer until the rice is cooked, roughly 10 minutes. 

Serve rice first, then pour over veg mix. 

You can also add some kind of meat or vegetarian substitute if you like, making sure they are cooked through before eating, but this tastes delicious by itself as well.

Mushroom Ramen (15 minutes)

A bowl of ramen with green vegetables and salad leaves. There are chopsticks and a dishcloth to the side of the bowl.

This is a really basic version of a ramen, but feel free to add some more seasoning to the stock if you like it spicier!

You will need:

  • Vegetable stock cubes
  • Noodles
  • Mushrooms (any kind)
  • Soy sauce
  • Salad leaves (optional)

Cook noodles according to packet instructions and place in a bowl. Make up enough vegetable stock to fill your bowl as well, using stock cubes and hot water.

In a frying pan over a medium heat, add the mushrooms and soy sauce. Fry the mushrooms in soy sauce for 5-10 minutes.

Pour mushrooms into the bowl containing noodles, then pour over the vegetable stock. Add salad leaves if desired. 


Risotto (25 minutes)

A white bowl filled with risotto. On top of the risotto is some green strands and parmesan flakes.

You will need:

  • Risotto/arborio rice
  • Vegetable stock cubes
  • Garlic cloves
  • Any veg you like (I tend to use leeks, peas, green beans, and spinach)
  • Cheese (optional)

Crush or finely chop the garlic, and fry in oil over a low-medium for 2 minutes. Add the rice and fry for 3 minutes. 

Add in half a mug of boiled water and a vegetable stock cube. Allow this to simmer until the water is almost completely gone, then add the veg and another half mug of water. Continue adding water until you have added a total of 2 mugs of water, this should take 15-20 minutes. If the water is disappearing quicker than this, reduce the heat as the rice takes at least 15 minutes to cook. Continue to stir throughout the cooking process.

If using cheese, add in and stir through before taking off the heat and eating.

Pizza (20 minutes)

A wooden cutting board with four slices of pizza. There are salad leaves on the pizza slices.

If you have extra time sometime during the week, there are plenty of recipes online for making your own pizza dough, and bases can be frozen until you are ready to use them. I know buying ready-made pizzas is easier, but a few extra minutes could make your meal much healthier and just to your liking.

You will need:

  • Pizza bases (homemade or bought)
  • Pizza sauce/tomato puree & Italian herbs
  • Chosen toppings (my favourites are mushrooms, olives and veggie ham or chicken)
  • Cheese (grated), or vegan cheese

If you have tomato puree, mix it with Italian herbs. Coat a pizza base with your sauce, then add some, but not all, of the cheese. Add your toppings in whichever way you like, then use the rest of the cheese to the top to melt over the toppings.

Bake in the oven for around 8-10 minutes, depending on how crispy you like your pizza. You can also have this with chips or salad, or just eat it by itself.

Katsu Curry (15 minutes)

A person holding a bowl of Katsu curry. The breadcrumbed food sits on the curry sauce.

If you have some time for meal prep, homemade Katsu sauce is super easy to make and can keep in jars in the fridge for a week or two and also makes a great dipping sauce for chips. Alternatively, buying premade sauce is always an option and just as tasty.

You will need:

  • White or jasmine rice
  • Katsu sauce (homemade or bought)
  • I tend to use vegetarian chicken nuggets or fillets, but any meat or substitute of your choice will work
  • Salad leaves (optional)

Set the water boiling on a low-medium heat and add rice (3:2 ratio), cooking for around 15 minutes. Cook your meat or substitute according to packet instructions. Heat up the katsu curry sauce.

Serve the rice, then meat. Pour over katsu sauce, and add salad leaves if desired.

Jackfruit Fajitas (15 minutes)

A fajita filled with chicken and vegetables on a plate. There is a pot of salsa and a lime on the plate with it, and a cooking pot of the filling behind it.

Fajita seasonings are available to buy from most shops or you could make your own using some spices you might already have to hand, such as cayenne pepper or chilli powder, garlic powder and paprika.

You will need:

  • Tin of jackfruit
  • Peppers, onions (or other chosen fillings)
  • Fajita seasoning, or other spices of your choice
  • Tortillas
  • Lettuce, salsa, sour cream etc. (optional, use dressings of your choice or none at all)

Drain the jackfruit. Add chosen fillings to the frying pan on low-medium heat and fry for 2-3 minutes until soft. Add the jackfruit and seasoning and continue to fry for around 7-10 minutes. 

Add fillings and dressings to tortillas and wrap to form fajitas. You can also have chips or salad, or just eat them by themselves.

Burger and Chips (25 minutes)

A burger on a plate with a bowl of fries.

Okay, so this one isn’t super healthy, but always a nice easy meal! If you wanted to make it a bit healthier, homemade chips are easy enough to make, taking around 35 minutes in the oven and you can use any seasonings you like.

You will need:

  • Veggie burgers
  • Burger buns
  • Lettuce or other toppings
  • Frozen chips

Cook the chips and burgers according to packet instructions. Put burgers together in buns with the toppings of your choice and enjoy.

Full disclaimer: I am not a good cook. I can follow a recipe easily enough, but cooking complicated meals does not come easily to me, so you can be sure none of these meals are too difficult!

Some of these recipes are adapted from cookbooks to be more affordable for students and easier to make. Making the sauces in advance is an option but not necessary.

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