Five fast and frugal weekday dinners

Kate Elfer of Cookerydoodledoo gives a week's selection of fast, cheap meals for busy parents.

January is a tough month. The back to work ‘blues’ and eking the budget out until the next payday can making cooking feel like a chore after a long day. Add in the pressure of a New Year diet and you can easily find yourself staring at the fridge in despair wondering what to eat.

Here are some quick, tasty and cheap dinners that the family will enjoy.


Ridiculously Quick Sweetcorn and Chicken Soup (pictured)

This soup is so easy, I’ve made it many times with a crying baby on my hip! The natural sweetness makes in a winner with the kids and it’s packed with vegetables and fibre to keep you full. You can make this veggie by omitting the chicken.


  • 100g frozen sweetcorn
  • 100g frozen spinach
  • 1 stock cube (low sodium if possible)
  • Knob of butter
  • 2 tbs. cornflour
  • Black pepper
  • Grate of nutmeg
  • Shredded chicken or turkey

You could add flavour and mix up with:

  • Top with fried cubes of bacon and dried sage or sweet smoked paprika
  • Shallow fry garlic and ginger before adding the stock, then top the soup before serving with grated cucumber, sliced chillies and prawns


1. Melt the butter in a saucepan and add in the cornflour

2. Heat gently and stir until you have made a paste, adding a little cold water to thin

3. Bung in the sweetcorn and spinach

4. Pop in the stock cube and pour over water

5. Cook for about 10 minutes until the sweetcorn is tender

6. Blitz with a hand blender until completely smooth

7. Serve with chunks of freshly cut bread.


Lighter Pizzas

These pizzas have less calories because the base is made with a tortilla wrap. They crisp up lovely, and can be topped with a whole rainbow of veg so you don’t have to feel guilty about the yummy melty cheese!

Ingredients (Makes 4):

  • 4 tortilla wraps
  • 8 tbs. tomato puree
  • Garlic powder or puree (fresh won’t cook in the time these bake!)
  • Assorted veg – peppers, mushrooms, sweetcorn, olives
  • 200g Mozzarella cheese
  • Dried or fresh herbs
  • Drizzle or spritz of olive oil


1. Pre-heat the oven to 200 °C

2. Place a tortilla on a non-stick baking tray

3. Spread each tortilla with 1-2 tbs. tomato puree

4. Sprinkle over or spread the garlic

5. Chop the vegetables and arrange over the base

6. Cover with pieces of mozzarella cheese

7. Cook for 5-8 minutes until the cheese is melted and the edges of the tortilla are brown

Delicious served with a well-dressed green salad.


Halloumi and Crunchy Apple Pittas (makes 4 pittas)

This squeaky, salty cheese has been described to me as ‘bacon for vegetarians’. It’s delicious grilled or even used as an alternative to paneer in curries. Paired with the sweet crunchy apples and dressed in this punchy sauce it’s just what you need to get you over the midweek ‘hump’.


  • 4 pitta bread
  • 250g Halloumi cheese
  • Lettuce leaves or baby salad
  • 2 crunchy apples (Pink Lady or Braeburn work well)
  • 4 radishes
  • 1 teaspoon wholegrain mustard
  • ½ lemon
  • 1 tbs. olive oil
  • Squeeze of honey to taste


1. In a bowl mix a dressing with the mustard, olive oil, lemon and honey. Set aside

2. Cut the halloumi into slices

3. Brush with a little olive oil and place the halloumi under a hot grill – or griddle in a pan if you prefer

4. Watch them carefully, turning halfway when the topside is browning. Remove when cooked.

5. Thinly slice the apples and radishes and mix in your dressing

6. Toast a pitta and slice open

7. Fill with salad, apples and your halloumi


Baked Salmon and Cous Cous (4 servings)

Now, we all know that fresh salmon is not cheap. But – buy it frozen and you can save a huge amount of money and enjoy it as a mid-week treat. The trick is to take it out of the freezer in the morning before you leave for work so it is completely defrosted when you need it.


  • 4 frozen salmon fillets
  • 4 handfuls of frozen green beans
  • 200g Baby tomatoes
  • Dried thyme
  • 1 lemon
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • Knob of butter
  • Olive oil
  • 150g cous cous
  • Stock cube


1. Defrost the salmon – take it out of the freezer in the morning and leave in the packet to defost

2. Pre-heat the oven to 200 °C

3. In a large ovenproof dish, place the frozen green beans across the bottom of the dish

4. Put the drained defrosted salmon fillets on top skin side up

5. Crush the garlic cloves leaving the skin on and place in the dish

6. Chop the lemon into 4 wedges

7. Add the tomatoes

8. Sprinkle with the dried thyme

9. Drizzle with a little olive oil

10. Place in the oven to cook for 20-30 minutes. You need the salmon to be cooked through and still tender.

11. Meanwhile, boil hot water and make the stock

12. In a large bowl, pour the cous cous and cover with stock. Place a plate over the top while the liquid absorbs

13. When the fish is cooked, remove the baked lemons and squeeze over the cous cous

14. Add the butter to the beans while hot

15. Pour the buttery liquid and juices into the cous cous and fluff with a fork


Creamy Mushrooms on Toast (serves 4)

This also makes wonderful brunch recipe, but for dinner we’ve vamped up the garlic content and suggest using a rich granary bread that will complement the earthy mushroom flavours.


  • 500g chestnut mushrooms
  • 5 cloves of garlic
  • 1 tbs. dried or fresh parsley
  • 150ml half fat Creme fraiche
  • Splash of milk to adjust consistency
  • Pinch of salt
  • Splash of sherry/brandy (anything you have left over from Christmas)
  • Olive oil
  • Cracked black pepper
  • Good granary bread thick-cut


1. Slice all the mushrooms

2. Peel and finely chop the garlic

3. In a large wide pan on a medium heat, warm the olive oil

4. When hot, add the mushrooms. At first they will ‘soak up’ the oil but as they cook they will release moisture and cook down

5. Keep stirring the mushrooms to prevent them sticking and burning. They will start to soften and go darker.

6. Add the splash of booze

7. When the mushrooms are almost cooked, add the garlic and dried parsley

8. Cook for 5 minutes and then you should have a heavy, fragrant pan of dark cooked mushrooms. Add the cream

9. Toast the thick sliced bread under a grill

10. Serve the warm mushrooms piled high on the toast. Garnish with cracked black pepper and ripped parsley

*Katie Elfer is the founder of children’s cooking school; Cookery Doodle Doo. A cookbook obsessive and mum to 2 boys, Katie manages the national franchise and works with female foodie entrepreneurs running their own children’s cooking classes and parties. For more recipe or information about our latest flexible work opportunities please visit


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