This article is by staff writer Honey Smith.

Recently, I wrote about meal planning and delivery services. Most of the meal delivery services that I found were priced similarly per meal to most of the fast-casual restaurants in my area. To me, at least, that’s rarely worth it, especially when you consider that with, many such services, you still have to do the cooking yourself.

One reason a service like that might be worth it for many people, however, is that they simply don’t know what to make when left to their own devices. I’ve definitely been there, even though I have a bunch of cookbooks and practice the Pinterest strategy.

It takes practice to identify recipes that you will like, and there is always a learning curve when it comes to making something new. For that reason, I also keep some easy, tried-and-true recipes in a recipe box on my counter that are healthy and simple to make. Bonus points for any recipe that tastes fresh but can be made from items that I can store in the pantry so that they’re there when I need them.

Here are a couple of my favorite go-to’s. Not only are they delicious, they are super fast and so easy that you can barely consider it cooking. (You don’t even need to heat anything up!) They also happen to be inexpensive, so you can direct more of your hard-earned money to a high-yield online savings account.

Corn and avocado salad

If you live someplace where fresh, farm-grown sweet corn is cheap and easily available, you may want to go with that. I can only imagine it would improve the dish immensely! However, in wintertime or if you don’t live in the heartland, canned corn will do nicely too.


  • 4 tbsp lime juice, fresh is better if you’ve got it

  • 1 avocado, diced (see below for how to dice an avocado)

  • 1 can corn, drained

  • Half a red onion, diced

  • Medium bunch basil, chopped

  • Salt & pepper to taste

(Also pictured: an Ulu board and knife. The shallow bowl of the board and curved knife making chopping herbs like basil easier.)


  • Mix, chill at least an hour, and serve. Whoa! How easy was that?

How to dice an avocado

I only learned this a couple of years ago and it changed my life. First, use a chef’s knife to cut into the avocado the long way around, all the way to the pit. Once you’ve cut all the way around, you should be able to twist the two halves in opposite directions and separate them.

Then if you tap the blade of the knife into the pit, you can twist the knife and loosen and remove the pit easily. Don’t use your best knife and be careful not to cut yourself.

Now comes the best part: Cut the avocado meat in a cross-hatch pattern while it’s still in the skin.

Then all you have to do is scoop out the meat with a large spoon. Ta-da! Salad!

As you can see, this is almost ridiculously easy — plus it’s tasty! It’s excellent topped with blue cheese crumbles, though I don’t add that until my serving is on the plate. This is great as a side dish, particularly with seafood.

Bean salad

This is probably my favorite recipe to bring to potlucks. It’s easy to make and to transport, plus it’s hearty and isn’t your boring, everyday salad. Also, despite how quickly and simply it comes together, it’s super beautiful.


  • 1 can garbanzo beans (chickpeas), drained and rinsed

  • 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed

  • 1 can corn, drained

  • Half a red onion, diced

  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced

  • 1 green bell pepper, seeded and diced

  • For the vinaigrette: 3 tbsp lemon juice, 2 tbsp light olive oil, and Tabasco, garlic powder, and salt & pepper to taste


  • Whisk together vinaigrette (though to be fair, with no vinegar it’s not really a vinaigrette).

  • Add other ingredients, mix, and refrigerate.

You can also add other ingredients for color. And depending on what you like, you could use seeded and diced jalapeno or chopped green onions for the green color, or shredded carrots if you want a punch of orange. I don’t recommend tomatoes since they get mealy quickly after being diced. Grape tomatoes that aren’t cut or maybe diced tomatoes added to each serving right before serving might work.

Don’t be afraid to tweak

In addition to being a respectable side dish, this “salad” can also be used as the filling for soft tacos or a wrap in conjunction with some guacamole and sour cream. Since this makes quite a bit (serves 6-8 if used as a side dish, and 4-6 if used as taco/wrap filling) it’s something you can make at the beginning of the week and eat two to three different ways during the week. Gorgeous!

In addition to factors like money and time, many people don’t like cooking because they’re afraid to deviate from a recipe. Certainly for things like baking, this is a concern. Baking is really chemistry and, unless you really know what you’re doing, making an adjustment can impact the finished product in ways that you don’t expect.

However, when it comes to cooking things like stir-frys, salads, and other non-baking activities, experimentation can be half the fun! The two recipes in this article have been adjusted so many times over the years that they barely resemble the original source. I’ve made them so many times that I don’t even have to look at my recipe cards anymore, but I also tend to make them slightly differently every time.

And while these are what I think of as summertime recipes, now that we’re heading into fall, I’m ready to step up my slow-cooker experimentation once again. Basics like chicken and vegetable soup or chili come in almost infinite permutations. Varying the herbs that you use in a recipe can change the flavor entirely even if you don’t make any other changes. Try other substitutions, like canned pumpkin instead of tomato paste, and see where that lands you. Now you’re cooking flexipe style!

What are your go-to recipes?

Maybe you’ve made your favorite recipes so often that it doesn’t even occur to you to share. However, when I poll my friends about their favorite easy meals, usually they describe something I’ve never heard of or thought about.

In fact, lots of times the people who do the least cooking are the best sources of fast and easy recipes, because they gravitated toward things they can accomplish sans cookbooks or special tools (like an Ulu board and knife). So what’s your favorite recipe? Add it to the comments below for others to enjoy!

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