8 Zero-Cooking-Involved Meal Ideas

8 Zero-Cook Meal Ideas - not even using the microwave!

8 meal ideas you don't even need to heat up

8 Meal Ideas You Don't Even Need to Heat Up - for days when you really cannot even think about making dinner

8 Zero-Cook Meal Ideas - not even using the microwave!
8-zero-cook-meal-ideas8 Zero-Cook Meal Ideas - not even using the microwave!

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We all have days where any effort is too much effort when it comes to dinner (or breakfast, or lunch). If you’re dealing with chronic illness, sometimes those days happen several times a week. Here are 8 zero-cooking-involved meal ideas that don’t even require reheating. I’m not sure about you, but for me, even coordinating the microwave can be a little much on the very worst days.

These ideas are for those days. They don’t rely on previous prep much, unless you happen to have things around. This list will focus more on things you can buy and have ready to go when you need them. The specific items are suggestions – pick things you like and use what you have on hand!

Feel free to ask questions in my Facebook group, too – I’m happy to help.

8 Meal Ideas You Don't Even Have to Heat Up
No need to be this fancy, but it’s nice to look at!

  1. Cheese, Fruit, Nuts, and Bread or Crackers

    For some reason I don’t mind pulling a few things out of the fridge to put on a plate. We all like string cheese, so that makes frequent appearances here, along with colby or Cheddar. Fancy cheese is nice, but not always in the budget. Ceci n’est pas un cheese platter – it’s just whatever you like and can keep around. Mozzarella and bananas are not going to show up in Food & Wine as a delightful pairing anytime soon, but if everyone likes both: Why not? Add a few almonds or pistachios. If you like,  serve with crackers. We almost always have saltines since those sleeves last nearly indefinitely. Costco often has great deals on variety packs of fancy crackers near the holidays, too. Zero cooking involved, but you can fancy it up quite a lot depending on what you choose to include!
    What to Buy:

    • Cheddar – Kraft or something aged; or try Dubliner from Kerrygold
    • Brie – even my three-year-old will occasionally eat brie, and it makes us feel fancy
    • Mozzarella – string cheese, fresh mozzarella, whichever you like
    • Feta
    • Blue cheese
    • Goat cheese
    • Cherry tomatoes (or “grape tomatoes,” as are now popular)
    • Apples
    • Pears (if you have blue cheese, get pears)
    • Pickled sweet and/or hot peppers
    • Olives
    • Dates
    • Almonds
    • Pecans
    • Peanuts
    • Pistachios
    • Cashews
    • Sunflower seeds
    • Baguette
    • Italian bread (is this a thing in the rest of the country? It’s ubiquitous in Pittsburgh grocery stores.)
    • Saltines
    • Club crackers or Ritz
    • Triscuits
  2. Cream Cheese (and/or nut butter) and Jam on Bread

    Of course peanut butter and jelly is an old standby, but cream cheese and jelly or jam on a slice of Italian bread is next level. It’s not the kind of thing most people eat all the time, unless I’m missing something, so nobody can complain that they’re sick of it. You can toast the bread, or not. If you toast it, I guess it’s not quite zero-cook. I usually don’t!
    What to Buy:

    • Cream cheese – blocks are fine, whipped is easier to spread if you haven’t remembered to set it out
    • Kerrygold or other fancy butter – this in place of cream cheese
    • Almond butter, natural peanut butter, sunbutter – again, in lieu of cream cheese
    • Sweet marmalade
    • Cherry preserves
    • Raspberry jam
    • or just go all in and get some Nutella
  3. Deli Meat and Cheese Roll Ups

    Here’s a secret: You don’t even have to roll them up, depending on your preferences. No, but these are great; they have protein and calcium and potassium. They’re keto diet friendly, if you’re on that bandwagon. You can buy fancy stuff or just use presliced provolone. Costco sells excellent quality deli meats that are not gnarly at all. I’m picky.
    What to Buy:

    • Sliced turkey
    • Honey cured ham
    • Rosemary ham (this from Trader Joe’s – it’s good)
    • Pastrami (I like Columbus brand)
    • Salami
    • Cheddar
    • Brie (see the overlap here?)
    • Provolone
    • Pepper Jack
    • Fancy mustard (for dipping)
    • Prepared horseradish (mix with sour cream, also for dipping)
  4. Order a Pizza/Hit the Drive Thru

    Yes, I know there are things you can cook in less time and certainly for less money. If it’s within your means, though, and you really truly just cannot even think about cooking or assembling food one night a week, just order a pizza. If delivery isn’t in your budget, you can of course buy frozen pizza at the grocery store, though this involves heating and so is not within the scope of this list.
    Drive thru food isn’t going to destroy anyone eaten on an occasional basis, either. If you are hovering on the edge between being functional and not, it’s OK to buy a bucket of fried chicken or some cheeseburgers. I get it entirely. There are days when really and truly one more thing will tip you right over the edge, and in that case, I think it’s better to eat fast food than to beat yourself up over what you can’t do.
    What to Buy:

    • Whatever sounds good. Don’t spend 3 hours deliberating over the best value on the menu. Just go for it. It’s OK to get the same thing every time, too.
  5. Bagged Salad Greens with Rotisserie Chicken (or smoked salmon, or those precooked chicken strips, or…)

    I particularly enjoy the salads that come with dressing and accoutrements. The sweet kale salad at Costco is excellent, and can be dressed and held for a day or so – it softens slightly but retains a good texture, kind of like coleslaw. For protein, just keep something precooked around, whether that’s a rotisserie chicken you grabbed while shopping, or a package of smoked salmon, etc. Trader Joe’s sells turkey and chicken breast that doesn’t have an obnoxious fake black pepper flavor that’s supposed to imply “grilled.” I don’t know what’s up with that, but I can’t stand it. Hardboiled eggs are nice, and easy to keep on hand if you have an Instant Pot or similar pressure cooker.
    If you find you do this often, you might stock various salad toppers like fried onions, sliced almonds, dried fruit, blue cheese, etc. and just put it on the meal plan once or twice a week. I like chopped salads, personally, and am eyeing this nifty-looking Oxo device for making them. That’s not quite zero-cooking-involved, though. Excessive chopping is worse than nuking leftovers, in terms of work, I think.

    What to Buy:

    • Sweet kale salad (Costco carries this, though other stores do as well)
    • “Asian” chopped salad mix in a bag
    • Caesar salad kit in a bag
    • BBQ ranch salad kit in a bag
    • Rotisserie chicken
    • Precooked shrimp
    • Smoked salmon
    • Deli ham and/or turkey
    • Precooked hard boiled eggs
    • Precooked chicken or turkey strips
  6. Overnight Oats

    True, this requires some forethought, but overnight oats keep well in the refrigerator for about five days. So you can make a few jars when you’re feeling on top of your game and hang onto them for a day when you need them. I love old-fashioned rolled oats for this; I find the steel cut stay a little too firm for my liking, but some people think they’re fine. Milk, coconut milk, preserves, brown sugar, cinnamon, cocoa powder, peanut butter, fruit… you can do just about anything with these. I’ll dedicate a post to them soon (and cry, since they’re not part of my diet anymore), but for now, just combine one part oats with one part liquid (so, use the same measurement of both – 1/2 cup and 1/2 cup, 2 cups and 2 cups). Mix in any sweeteners or flavors you’d like. Make sure that you put them in a container with room to expand, since the oats will swell. Swell!
    What to Buy:

    • Old fashioned rolled oats (my preference)
    • Milk (I use full fat, but I am not a believer in low-fat dairy)
    • Preserves (which you already have because of item #2 on this list)
    • Cinnamon
    • Brown sugar
    • Almond/peanut/sunbutter (again see item #2)
    • Apples (cube and add to the oats); alternately, pears
    • Frozen mango
    • Frozen berries
    • Granulated sugar or sugar substitute
    • EzSweetz (my personal favorite sugar substitute for applications where a liquid sweetener works, like this!)
  7. Smoothies.

    Not smoothie bowls. What is that about, anyway? People take smoothies and put stuff in them and eat them with a spoon? Kids these days. Anyway, you can make freezer smoothie packs ahead of time and just toss them into the blender with your liquid of choice and voila, nutrition you don’t even need to chew. I just buy big bags of frozen berries at Costco, throw in leftover bananas, and prewashed spinach or kale or whatever. You can also use frozen spinach, because the texture really isn’t going to matter. I like to put chia seeds in mine. It makes me feel more Whole Foods. Ideally you want to focus on things you can just throw in the blender, because the goal here is zero cooking, right?
    What to Buy:

    • Frozen berries
    • Frozen mango
    • Frozen spinach
    • Pre-washed spinach, kale, or other greens
    • Bananas
    • Milk or coconut milk
    • Chia seeds (Aldi sells these for $1)
    • Almond/peanut/sunbutter also makes a nice addition
    • Protein powders can also increase the staying power of a smoothie if you’re using it as a meal replacement
  8. Hummus, Pita, and Veggies.

    Again, this can be expanded. Deli sections often have lots of premade dips, from buffalo chicken dip to spinach artichoke and everything in between. Aim for something with some protein content if you can. Everyone loves dip. It’s a fact. Compare the appetizer table at any party or potluck to the main dishes. Zero cooking for you, happy eating for everyone.
    What to Buy:

    • Hummus (I like Sabra brand, if I’m not making my own, which in this case I am definitely not)
    • Spinach artichoke dip (La Terra Fina at Costco is nice)
    • Buffalo chicken dip
    • Pimiento cheese
    • Queso dip (Costco has white cheese dip with green chiles that’s quite good)
    • Pita chips (Stacy’s are nice, and Costco sells the big bag at a good price)
    • Whisps (baked parmesan cheese, if you are low-carbing it)
    • Tortilla chips
    • Triscuits
    • Mini sweet peppers (at Costco and sometimes Aldi or Trader Joe’s)
    • Cherry tomatoes
    • Baby carrots

All of the buying suggestions are just that, something to get you started. The idea is to stock your fridge and pantry with a few things that you can combine into something tasty and reasonably nutritious for a few meals a week, when you really just need a break.

I hope this list helps you! Come talk about it in my Facebook group and share ideas with other busy moms!

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