15 Lazy Cooking Tips For When You Don't Really Feel Like Cooking

We've all had those days when we don't feel like cooking and want to get food on the table with as little effort as possible. Of course, ordering takeout or heating a frozen pizza is always an option, but it's not necessarily always the healthiest, cheapest, or tastiest option.

The question of "What's for supper?" can sometimes be one of the toughest ones to answer. Even harder can be the question of what to make that requires the least physical and mental effort. What you want are options that don't require a lot of chopping or standing at the stove for too long. The best options are ones where you can throw a few ingredients together to cook and not have to do a whole lot of work in the process. Take a look at some of our tips on what to throw together when you're staring into the abyss of your fridge or pantry trying to gather inspiration so you can get out of the kitchen quickly and rest for the night.

Turn anything into pizza

The first trick is how you can turn more ingredients in your kitchen into a pizza than you probably realized. You just need to have a crust, a sauce, and toppings. We've used a variety of items to make pizza crusts in the past, including tortillas, flatbreads, naan bread, parathas, bagels, toast, and French bread. English muffin pizza is even a thing. If you can use it to make a wrap or sandwich, it can become the crust for a pizza.

A jar of pizza sauce or marina is ideal, but you don't have to stick with traditional sauce. We've used a variety of sauces. The simplest is olive oil with Italian spices or maybe minced garlic. However, you get creative using pesto, tapenade, BBQ, ranch, or whatever type of sauce you have on hand. One of our favorites is a can of Trader Joe's Grecian Style Eggplant With Tomatoes & Onions. Then, you can add the meats, cheeses, and toppings you have. There are plenty of canned pizza topping options ranging from olives and artichokes to peppers and mushrooms. You can raid your fridge, freezer, and cupboard for other pre-cooked meats. Then stick it all under your choice of cheese.

Make soup from leftovers, frozen, or canned items

Soup is a great option to make when you don't feel like getting overly creative or working too hard in the kitchen. A pot of soup is fairly forgiving of whatever you put in it. Just dump a few ingredients into your pot, and go off and relax while it bubbles away.

Even without a specific recipe, you can start raiding your fridge, pantry, and freezer for ingredients. You'll want to think about what you want to use as your base, protein, veggies, carbs (if any), and seasonings. We've made soups from lots of different bases, including canned tomatoes, tomato sauce, broth (or water plus bullion), cream of chicken soup, or cream of mushroom soup. Proteins could be as simple as canned mushrooms or frozen chicken strips. To avoid chopping veggies, you could use frozen or canned ones. If you want carbs, you might throw in a handful of rice, pasta, or barley. The easiest way to season it is with a mix like Italian seasoning or curry powder that doesn't require you to do any thinking.

If you have some great leftovers, you can always use them as your starting point. For example, if you have leftover chicken and veggies from fajitas, you could add canned vegetable broth, corn, chilies, and black beans to make Enchilada Soup. There are even soups that use nothing but canned items.

Make nachos with all canned or frozen ingredients

Nachos are the perfect lazy meal. Of course, the easiest version is melting cheese over tortilla chips in the microwave for half a minute or so. However, we assume that you're looking for something a little more robust. For something simple, you can make 5-Ingredient Triple Layer Nachos in the microwave with a jar of queso, a can of refried beans, and taco sauce. One of our favorite things to do is make sheet pan chicken nachos in the oven. You can use shredded leftover chicken, rotisserie chicken, or frozen fajita meat. For ingredients that don't require chopping, consider canned black beans, refried beans, corn, peppers, jalapeños, nacho cheese sauce, and queso. Shredded cheese also eliminates work. And you can pull out toppings from the fridge or cupboard like sour cream, guacamole, salsa, and pico de gallo.

There's also a dump-and-go Slow Cooker Creamy Chicken Nachos recipe you can get started earlier in the day with a package of chicken breasts, black beans, a can of Rotel, taco seasoning, cream cheese, sharp cheddar cheese, and olives.

Make dump-and-go instant pot meals

If you haven't discovered the wonders of instant pots yet, you're missing out. It's the ultimate way to make a meal without doing anything but throwing some ingredients inside and pressing a few buttons. You merely have to look for a recipe that matches the ingredients you have on hand. If you have two instant pots, you can even make rice or another carb in one and a hands-off meat or bean dish in another.

One example of an easy meal to try is Instant Pot Creamy Garlic Chicken, which only requires chicken, butter, garlic, mushrooms, chicken broth, sour cream, Italian seasoning, and Parmesan. If you start with pre-minced garlic, pre-sliced mushrooms, and pre-shredded Parmesan, the recipe requires very little effort. So, you'll want to look for instant pot recipes that make dinner a breeze. Even the recipes that start with sautéeing onions can be simplified if you start with pre-chopped or dried onions.

Turn anything into a wrap or sandwich

Nearly anything can become a wrap or sandwich. All you need is some type of bread or wrapper and your imagination. The first thing to realize is that you can make a sandwich out of any bread at your disposal, whether it's pre-sliced bread, frozen naan in your freezer, or leftover biscuits from breakfast. You can even use leftover cornbread to make something resembling arepas. Don't forget that tortillas and pita bread aren't the only type of wrapper for wraps. You can also use rice paper to wrap your ingredients in the style of a Vietnamese spring roll.

Another thing to realize is that you don't have to go with the traditional burrito, lunch meat, or meat salad fillings. For example, you can add leftovers. One popular leftover sandwich is the Thanksgiving leftover sandwich. You can even make French dip sandwiches from leftover prime rib. There's even a powdered instant version of au jus that you can make.

Make breakfast for dinner

Some of the quickest foods to make are breakfast foods. You can think about what you like to make when you're in a hurry in the morning, and use those items as your inspiration. Dig in your freezer for some premade breakfast sandwiches, drag out the cereal and milk, grab a breakfast bar, put some pop tarts or frozen waffles in the toaster, or bake a pre-made quiche for some of the easiest options. With a little more effort, you can make some cheese grits or hearty oatmeal. Even a cheese grits casserole requires very little effort to make if you have pre-shredded cheese. Scrambling up some eggs and microwaving bacon doesn't take a lot of effort either.

There are also lots of hands-off breakfasts you can make, like casseroles you can refrigerate overnight and bake when you're ready. Even quiches don't require a lot of prep work if you start with a pre-made crust and shredded cheese.

Provide ingredients for a deconstructed buffet-style meal

One of the best things you can do when you don't feel like cooking is to provide deconstructed ingredients for a buffet-style meal. Not only does everyone get their food made to order without you having to cook it five different ways, but everyone else does the lion's share of the work.

There are lots of easy options for this one. One of the easiest options is to bake potatoes in the microwave and then put out a whole bunch of optional toppings for everyone to add. Another idea is to provide ingredients for a taco salad or elevated ingredients for ramen. You can pull sub sandwich ingredients out of the fridge or make up some waffle batter and let everyone make their own waffles like at a hotel breakfast bar. It wouldn't even take a lot of effort to offer all the ingredients for a make-your-own-KFC-Famous-Bowl by providing ingredients like instant potatoes, quickly baked chicken nuggets, canned corn, and pre-shredded cheese.

Have snacks for dinner

One of the big food trends that is taking over is snacks as meals. It came into the limelight when snacky "girl dinners" started to become popular in 2023. Snacks for dinner can look like anything from charcuterie or some snacky frozen appetizers. Or you can just nosh on whatever you have in your cupboards.

Dinner doesn't necessarily have to look like what you'd get at mom's house for Sunday dinner or at a diner. Snacks for dinner can look like nearly anything, and you can mix and match whatever is available. You might make yourself some hard-boiled eggs, slice up some apples and dip them in peanut butter, go for cheese and crackers, air fry some pizza rolls, make yourself a bowl of fruit, grab a handful of nuts, grab a yogurt out of the fridge, grab some fresh veggies or fruit, dish out some hummus, or combine a few of these.

Pick up a rotisserie chicken on the way home

Sometimes, the most dreaded part of making supper is cooking the meat. If you grab a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store on the way home, you don't have to touch raw meat, and all the work besides pulling it off the bone is already done for you. Not only are so many ways to use rotisserie chicken, but you'll likely have enough for more than one meal.

Rotisserie chicken is an excellent addition to so many easy meals. You can add it to soups, sandwiches, wraps, bowls, tacos, BBQ sandwiches, and chicken salad. It's also a great option for a lot of deconstructed buffet-style meals like taco salads, baked potatoes, and ramen. You can use it in any recipe that calls for chicken. However, you may want to throw it in at the end rather than at the beginning if the recipe has a long cooking time to accommodate cooking the chicken through.

Don't forget to set up your slow cooker before you leave for the day

One lazy cooking tip that's been around for years is using your slow cooker to cook food while you're away from home. However, a lot of us have forgotten about it in an era of instant pots and air fryers. It does take a little pre-planning to get all the ingredients together before you leave, but it eliminates the inevitability of not feeling like cooking after a long day out in the world doing what you do. Plus, most instant pots have a slow cooker function so you don't need a separate appliance.

There are so many slow cooker recipes out there to make your life easier. While a lot of them are meat-centric, there are plenty of vegetarian and vegan ones as well. You can make foods like chili, a variety of soups, pot roast, meat to use in tacos or burritos, and slow-cooked sauces for pasta that tastes like you labored over a stove all day. A good example is Crock Pot pork chops, which only require pork chops, a ranch seasoning packet, and a jar of chicken gravy.

Get inventive combining cupboard and frozen items

There are several magical formulas that can help you create great dishes from whatever you have in the cupboard or freezer. After you've followed the formula, you can always add a protein like some shredded cheese, beans, or pre-made meat, and it's a satisfying meal. One formula is to take any boxed rice or pasta mix and add frozen or canned veggies. For example, you can prepare boxed macaroni and cheese and add broccoli. We like to zhuzh it up with a little curry powder. Another easy formula is adding sauce or packaged spice mix to a protein. Think Sloppy Joes or adding a packet of taco seasoning to rotisserie chicken to turn it into the filling for a burrito. If you're in the mood for comfort food, a favorite formula is to add pasta to a can or jar of soup or sauce. So, go ahead and add pasta to that jar of tikka masala simmer sauce in your cupboard. Another of our favorites is no-yolk egg noodles mixed with a can of cream of chicken soup.

Another tip is that Trader Joe's has a lot of packaged items that warm up easily and mix well with each other. For example, you can raid the frozen food section to make a master stir fry out of BBQ Teriyaki Chicken, Vegetable Fried Rice, and extra vegetables like Stir Fried Garlicky Cabbage. Get creative, and you've made something entirely new.

Throw everything on a sheet pan

Sheet pan dinners are perfect for nights when you don't feel like cooking. And there are plenty that won't require you to spend a lot of time chopping veggies. There are tons of things you can throw on a sheet pan and shove into the oven. Veggies? Meat? Just add them to your sheet pan with some seasonings, stick it in a searing hot oven, and forget it until it's done. 

One option is surf and turf. You can even add veggies like asparagus straight out of the freezer without having to do a lot of work. If you start with frozen fajita ingredients, you can make fajita fixings in the oven without having to worry about turning ingredients into a frying pan. Sheet pan chicken and veggies are easy to make with a packet of frozen veggies and pre-deboned chicken. Ribs are also easy to make as a sheet pan meal. Plus, you can even make buffalo wings sheet-pan style.

Make toasts

In a world of snacky girl dinners and avocado toasts, toasts have come into their own in the past few years. They make easy options that are a little classier than a sandwich for supper and have fewer carbs. Plus, they require very little effort beyond toasting the bread and spreading on the toppings.

There are a variety to choose from, and once you get the hang of them, you're likely to come up with your own combos. Try spreading peanut butter on toast, slicing a few pieces of banana on top, and then sprinkling it with cinnamon. Another version is ricotta cheese or cream cheese spread on toast with sliced fruit like peaches, a drizzle of honey or maple syrup, and a sprinkling of nuts like pistachios or pecans. Another option is cream cheese topped with sliced cucumbers. You can even upgrade your breakfast avocado toast with ingredients like smoked salmon or salsa. While a little less dainty, the British have been making toast for years with their Heinz Baked Beans on toast.

Keep in mind that toasted bread isn't your only option. Like with making pizza or sandwiches out of any bread, you can substitute options like open-faced toasted bagels or English muffins. You could even use rice cakes or crispbreads, which are already crispy without needing to be toasted.

Make bowls

Bowls are the perfect way to add a little bit of this and a little bit of that out of your fridge and cupboards. If you have some leftover grains like rice or quinoa in the fridge, you're already on your way to making a bowl. Maybe throw in some canned protein (like chicken or beans), some fresh veggies from a salad, then add your favorite sauce, mix, and it's done.

The combinations are endless. If you have some rice and tzatziki sauce left over from last night's Mediterranean meal, you could add some heated meatballs from the freezer and have something completely new. One of our favorite bowls involves quick-cooking salmon in the microwave, throwing it on top of leftover grains like rice, adding a salad mix (especially cabbage-based ones), and adding an Asian-inspired sauce. While poke bowl recipes and bibimbap recipes can inspire you, bowls don't have to have an Asian theme. Use your favorite sauce to tie together the flavors however you would like.

Be sure to keep the right ingredients on hand

As you have seen from our ideas, the most important thing to being able to do lazy cooking is having the right ingredients on hand. So, a little planning ahead can help. Shelf-stable proteins like canned beans, shelf-stable bacon and pepperoni, and canned meats can be useful. As we've mentioned earlier, rotisserie chicken can be helpful, but you can also keep your freezer stocked with pre-cooked meat that you either buy pre-cooked or cook and freeze yourself. There are several ways to buy veggies that save you time, including veggies that are already peeled and chopped from the produce aisle, canned food aisle, and frozen food aisle. While it's helpful to pre-chop onions, bell peppers, and garlic and freeze them for days when you aren't up to the task, you can always use garlic powder and dried onions in place of fresh ones.

Some other things to keep on hand are jars or packets of sauce and salad mixes. Packaged mixes for pasta, rice, and even soup makings are helpful to keep on hand. And if you make more grains or meats on a day when you're not feeling so lazy, they're ready for you to transform in the days ahead.