Here’s the deal: I’ve written a lot of easy dinner recipes in the last five years. Hundreds of them. What I’ve learned is that what constitutes easy is pretty open to interpretation. Obviously, whether or not something is easy depends on your skill level, but it also depends on how well-equipped your kitchen is and what kind of access you have to ingredients. Add to that the fact that a recipe can be “easy” without being quick or convenient—it’s pretty easy to make pasta from scratch, for example, but it’s also time consuming and a total mess; likewise, it’s easy to throw a bunch of ingredients in a blender and make your own acai bowl, but I can attest that it’s not always easy to find acai (and whatever other Instagram-worthy toppings are involved) at the grocery store.
When I’m coming up with easy recipe ideas, I try to think about the entire process, from meal planning to shopping to cooking. After years of reader feedback—emails, comments, tweets, Facebook messages, Instagram DMs, you name it—I’ve realized that, for most people, the most annoying thing about weeknight cooking is gathering the necessary ingredients. They don’t mind waiting 45 minutes for a sheet pan dinner to roast or keeping a close eye on seared fish to make sure it doesn’t burn, but having to run to the store after work for a handful of specific ingredients is a real turnoff. A recipe needs to be delicious and doable, yes, but it should also call for as few ingredients as possible.
If you’re thinking that a three-ingredient dinner sounds boring and a little too simple—well, maybe. The thing is, sometimes you’re lazy and hungry and you just need to eat. On those nights, a three-ingredient dinner is perfect.
The following 32 three-ingredient recipes run the gamut from a five-minute no-cook sandwich to a whole roasted chicken dinner that takes over an hour. They all taste good, but they’re definitely bare-bones, because isn’t that the point? Feel free to add herbs, spices, or condiments, if you have them! Each recipe has at least 15 grams of protein per serving (the minimum registered dietitians recommend eating at every meal) and is made with nutritious ingredients like fruits, veggies, whole grains, legumes, healthy fats, and lean proteins. Each one contains between 325 and 500 calories, but the serving sizes are just a suggestion, and you should feel free to customize as you see fit. Almost every recipe contains a vegetable (or tomato or avocado, which are technically fruits, I know), but the few that don’t get healthy carbs from another source, like whole grains or beans. If you have a vegetable in the fridge or freezer, you can whip up a five-minute side dish or simple salad to go alongside any of these meal ideas.
Oh, and just to get this out of the way: Olive oil, salt, and pepper don’t count.
They’re the three staples that every kitchen should have at all times, and it’s almost impossible to cook good food without them. If you don’t have olive oil, you can substitute another neutrally flavored oil, like canola or vegetable oil.
Also, some of the ingredients called for are packaged products that actually contain several ingredients—things like tomato sauce, pesto, salsa verde, and baked beans—but they’re all common supermarket staples. The point of three-ingredient recipes is to make shopping and cooking as easy as possible, not to be super clever and technical about what constitutes a single ingredient and what doesn’t. If it’s a grocery staple that you can buy in a can, jar, or bottle at any supermarket, it has the convenience factor of being a single ingredient, and that’s what’s important.
If you make one of the recipes or have questions, post a photo on Instagram and tag @selfmagazine and @xtinebyrne (that’s me!), or DM us—we love a good food pic as much as you do, and we’re always here to help!