Photos by Donna Turner Ruhlman
I’m fascinated by what America eats at home—not by what people serve at a dinner party or the latest favorite recipe they’ve found, but rather by what America’s default meals are.  I’d love to know from readers, what are your staple meals?  What are the meals you return to again and again—meals that are economical, quick, taste good, feel good, meals you make without having to think much? (I don't know why I say America–I'm just as curious and maybe more about what staple household meals are in Australia and India and Japan!  If you're an overseas reader, please comment.)

One of our staples is roast chicken, once a week, usually on Monday.  With potatoes and green beans.  Or now that it’s summer, the above grilled chicken.  The potatoes vary (sometimes baked, sometimes roasted in the same grill the chicken’s in—a great strategy when the weather is really hot—sometimes fried, sometimes new with herbs) and the beans vary (sometimes with almonds, sometimes with lemon, sometimes reheated in bacon fat with dried chilli).  Sometimes I make a sauce for the chicken, sometimes just serve it with butter and mustard, or over wilted spinach.  But always chicken, potatoes and green beans.  Like this one from last night, grilled chicken, green beans with coarse salt, lemon juice and zest, and new potatoes with fresh herbs:

So what are yours?  I want to know the whole thing, not just pot roast or burgers, but what the entire meal is, and a little detail, if it's pot roast, do you braise it in stock, tomato sauce, etc.?

The above chicken has a great baste that my father created and that I’ve tweaked a bit.  I slide a knife down either side of the backbone of the chicken to remove it.  I flatten the bird out, salt it, flip it over onto a hot grill over direct heat (I build a fire in a Weber kettle with half the grill covered with very hot coals, and leave the other half of the grill bare) and cook it for ten minutes to get a nice seared skin (if the coals are very hot or if there's a lot of fat that will render, you may need to cover your grill at this point–keep a close eye at this stage).  Then I flip it over and onto the other side of the grill.  Cover the grill and let it cook for another forty minutes or so while I cook the beans and potatoes.  During the last twenty minutes I baste it with the following:

Rip’s Grilled Chicken Baste

Juice from ½ lime
4 ounces butter (a stick)
1-1/2 tablespoons Coleman’s powdered mustard
1 tablespoon dried tarragon
1 tablespoon minced shallot

Squeeze the lime juice into a small sauce pan and place it over high heat.  When the juice is warm, add the butter and swirl it in the juice constantly over the high heat until the butter is melted (you can just melt the butter if you want, but the swirling keeps the butter emulsified, which helps to keep the ingredients well distributed).  Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the remaining ingredients.  That’s it.

Serve the grilled chicken with a chilli lime mayonnaise or simply squeeze some juice from the other half of the lime over the chicken.  Serve with potatoes and green beans.

UPDATE 6/25: Thank you everyone for taking the time to comment.  Your enthusiastic responses have been fascinating and a number of people have told me they've come away with new ideas for themselves. I'm thrilled by the quality and diversity of the kinds of meals you've described here.  Again, thanks.


220 Wonderful responses to “Staple Meals”

  • RainCityGirl

    Flanksteak marinated in a mixture of soy sauce, honey, rosemary and garlic and grilled. Normally, I buy the flanksteak at Costco. The first night, it’s served with a caesar and some potatoes or rice. The next day, I add the leftover steak to napa cabbage, mint, cilantro, basil, cucumbers and radishes and dress the whole with a mixture of rice wine vinegar, sesame seed oil and siracha. Fantastic! If there is any steak that wasn’t used in the salad, it ends up in fajitas.

    Also, chicken rubbed with a little olive oil, generously coated with cracked peppercorns and kosher salt, and cooked in a 500 degree oven. Whether served with just a large salad or some sauteed mustard greens and roasted potatoes, it’s always wonderful and pairs nicely with a good Zin.

  • Leila Abu-Saba

    Lentil soup, a salad and some sort of grain (rice pilaf? French bread?) is a staple for us.

    I hate to admit it, but because hubby insists on low-carbing, we eat Niman Ranch burgers, organic salad, and pasta or whole grain bread for me and the kids at least once a week. I really don’t want to eat meat that often (and hubby eats it more) – in fact I tend to eat just a nubbin of burger and have some leftover lentil soup (see above) to fill out the protein. Anyway. There’s the real staple meal around here.

    If I’m feeling ambitious I make oven-baked steak fries using organic potatoes. Cut ’em up, toss in a mix of olive oil, paprika, cumin and salt, and roast on a cookie sheet.

  • Ralph

    Old standbys for me are two pasta sauces that I can make in the time it takes to boil the pasta water.

    The first is a putanesca: two anchovy fillets melted into some olive oil, half an onion, several cloves of chopped garlic, same amount of chopped, dry-cured olives as onion, a heavy pinch of crushed red pepper, a 28 oz can of good crushed tomatoes, half as many chopped capers as onion, salt, black pepper, and some chopped parsley to finish it off.

    The other is a cream sauce made by sauteing shallots in some oil, adding a pint of half and half, 8 ozs of Gorgonzola, and some chopped parsley, finished with a sprinkling of parmeggiano.

    Add some bread, a greens-based salad with the putanesca, or some chopped tomatoes with salt, pepper, and drizzled with olive oil and balsamic with the cream sauce, and that is dinner for two, with a nice bottle of wine.

  • Brenda

    Thirty-something slacker, native New Mexican, non-pasta-or-cheese-eating (mostly) vegetarian (but often vegan) go-to meals:

    Pinto beans with salsa and a tortilla.

    Carne adovada (made with Quorn instead of carne), pintos, tortillas, with fried eggs or not.

    Naked quorn cutlets made into soft tacos with salsa, avocado (who has the time or motivation to make guacamole??), lettuce or any greens, and tomato.

    I eat at least one huge salad a day. (And I mean mixing bowl huge.)

    I have never in my life roasted a chicken–but the beans at least are homemade…

  • Osvaldo F. Pardo

    The first time I saw the term was probably 3 years ago when Nigella Lawson published her recipe on the NYT. Hers, as it turns out, was one that I immediately tried, and since then spatchcocked chicken is a staple in the house.

  • Matthew

    I grew up eating pasta about 80% of the time (with an Italian mother and grandma in the house). Now my wife and I often make what we humorously call Pasta a la Kit (after my mother-in-law)–any pasta, with a cream and garlic sauce with zucchini and tomatoes.

    Our other main staples are:
    “County Potato Pie”–Grated potato, covered in cheese, milk, egg, and some seasonings (mainly chili powder and mustard) and then baked in a pie dish.

    We like to eat as local as possible, and living in the shortgrass prairie bioregion near the Rockies we decided a great local choice is bison. We purchased 1/8 of a bison directly from a near-by ranch (100% grass fed, free ranging), so bison burgers (usually a recipe with cilantro, green chilies, and other seasoning) or steak with a a red wine and garlic sauce are a couple of our most common quick meals (now I look forward to the nights we we don’t have anything “special” planned!).

  • john

    i have a few meals i eat regularly. some things are regulars because our garden is really kicking out lots of chard, thai and lime basils, pattypans, lettuces, and chilies…

    i like.

    1) grilled steak with homeade kim chee (multivegetable) and brown rice, side salad and maybe some steamed green beans

    2) a sauce made with coconut milk, red curry, thai and/or lime basil, garlic, chilies, galanga…poured over grilled chicken, or pork, or tofu, and some rice. often eaten with some sauteed chard and salad.

    3) a chick pea curry with basically the same sauce described above, but add in a bunch of veggies.

    4) grilled bratwurst with greens, and a grilled tater salad with fresh dill. add a salad, and, of course, more squash, which we cannot seem to get rid of due to the overzealous garden.

    5) oh yeah, breakfast- toast with hard boiled eggs and homeade kim chee.

  • linda

    Cheap, disgusting food that my family loves and I can throw together in 2 minutes:

    Chicken breasts – add one can orange soda and 1/2 soy sauce and bake. Teriyaki chicken!

    Cubed steak: S/P, sear, pour a can of french onion soup on it and bake.


    Blueberry pancakes and bacon. For that matter, anything and bacon.

    Fish (almost any kind): Bake in some butter, lemon juice, bread crumbs s/p. 15 minutes tops.

    Pinto beans and cornbread (we’re southern!) Can make the pinto beans in the crockpot with some salt pork. Dice some onions for serving.

    Chicken noodle soup. Take it to a new level by making your own noodles which takes very little time but makes a big mess.

    Beef stew. Again – the crock pot is your friend.


    Anything made into a panini.

    Chinese chicken salad.

  • New Diarist

    We have a version of pasta e fagiole which my son (now 11) named, at the age of 3, beans & junk. Lately, instead of pasta, we’ve added wheat berries. They give the soup a wonderful toothiness and are a bit healthier than the refined grain in the pasta.

    Brown five or six links of Italian sausage (pork or turkey)

    Put in soup pot with one can each of:
    cannelloni beans
    kidney beans
    garbanzo beans
    black beans
    great northern beans

    Add four cups of tomato puree or crushed tomatoes

    3 quarts chicken stock

    one onion, chopped
    three ribs celery, chopped
    one carrot, chopped

    two bay leaves

    The soup is simmered for about 2 1/2 hours, then served with grated parmesan and a green salad. Wh have fresh french bread for those who want it.

    We have this soup at a minimum every 10 days to two weeks.

  • eric smith

    A staple in our home is Carnitas with beans and rice.

    Pork butt cut into 1 inch cubes
    2 cup fresh squeezed orange juice plus zest
    1 onion finely minced
    2 tablespoons lard

    Marinate pork in orange juice for 24 hours.
    Strain pork and sear in rendered lard until well brown. Lowere heat and simmer for 2 hours occasionally adding reserved juice marinade. During last hour add onion and orange zest and serve with refried beans and rice.

  • Judith in Umbria

    In summer I like to wander into the kitchen garden and see what there is. A handful of this, a bowl of that… it’s inspiring. Add some chickpeas or canellini or bits of meat and the 100 degree afternoon just wafts away with the sun.
    Otherwise, fallback meals fo4r me are:
    cutlets of various sorts
    and yes, roasted chicken

    It’s a different list when you are single.

  • Carrie Oliver

    Grilled steak (skirt, rib-eye, ny, hanger, porterhouse, flatiron) preferably dry-aged drizzled with EVOO, lemon, and sea salt accompanied by thinly sliced Yukon Gold potatoes baked with butter, olive oil, and softened chopped onions and our “house” salad, romaine, scallion, avocado, toasted walnuts or pecans, Lawry’s garlic salt, Modena (ideally 7+ years aged) balsamic, and California walnut oil.

    Substitute lamb chops “marinated” 15 minutes in soy sauce and Lawry’s garlic salt and then just broiled in the oven.

    Grilled fresh-caught salmon with olive oil and sea salt, house salad, and wild or jasmine rice.

    Pizza Sundays, all from scratch. Always pepperoni and arugula/prosciutto, the rest varies according to whatever’s in season or is already on hand. Just back from two weeks in Italy so we need to get a better dough recipe (and a wood oven).

    Penne pasta topped with a really simple tomato sauce: canned roma tomatoes (smashed or diced) with butter and sliced onion thickened on the stove top.

  • CG

    Fun thread. I think there’s a book in the making just with all the response chatter….

    I think about the staples we relied upon in my childhood. My brother, sister, and I joke often about the meals we had growing up. We had A, B, modified B, and occasionally C.

    A was london broil. Usually with potatoes and green beans. London broil was the exclusive red-meat partner in our household.

    B was chicken and rice unless we had…

    modified B which was chicken and pasta.

    C was baked ziti or some kind of lasagna.

    (this meal plan followed a similar bring-to-school plan: 2 pb&js and carrot sticks. Every day for a little over 10 years.)

    Of course after 18 years of that pattern I flipped out and discovered flavors from all corners of the globe during the college years. I’ll save the chapter about how my daughter whines for sushi for another Ruhlman blog response.


  • Karen

    I think it’s amazing that so very many people actually cook and eat at home, despite popular belief. Home cooking is where it’s at.
    Reading all these comments makes me want to have a huge potluck – how delicious would that be?

  • Sprocket

    I prefer quick and easy meals during the week, but I enjoy experimenting with more complex recipes on weekends.

    A simple grilled veal chop over arugula seasoned with a balsamic vinegar reduction is an easy and impressive weekday dinner.

    I made grilled veal chops for my wife on one of our first dates. I think that’s one of the reasons she married me!

    I prefer a French cut Rib Chop but the Loin Chop is a little less costly and easier to find.

    2 veal chops
    1 teaspoon minced garlic
    1 teaspoon fresh rosemary leaves
    Juice of half a lemon
    2 tablespoons olive oil
    Salt and pepper to taste

    1/2 cup Balsamic vinegar
    1 bag of Baby Arugula

    Place the chops in a shallow baking dish. Mix together the garlic, rosemary, lemon and olive oil. Pour over the chops. Turn the chops to make certain both sides are coated. Cover and refrigerate for about 1-2 hours (a little longer if time permits)

    Place balsamic vinegar in a sauce pan and reduce by 1/2. Place arugula in a mixing bowl. Add the balsamic reduction and toss well.

    Heat grill, grill pan or skillet. Sprinkle both sides of chops with salt and pepper. Place on hot grill and cook about 5 minutes per side for medium rare.

    Let the chops rest for a few minutes before plating.

    Place half the arugula in the center of each plate then place a veal chop on top.

    You can also reserve the balsamic reduction and drizzle it over the veal and arugula after plating.

    A lemon vinaigrette can be used in place of the Balsamic reduction, also. Combine 2 tsp fresh lemon juice with 4 tbl olive oil, add to the arugula and toss well.

  • George

    Wow. Everyone eats well. My cheapo meal during the week is probably japanese curry or oden in winter.

    The curry costs me a handful of dollars and lasts for several days. I’ve taken the leftovers and made sandwiches (it congeals nicely when cold) or mixed it with rice and fried up some croquets.

    The oden is for winter, it really warms you up. I have a clay pot, fill it with water add kombu, dashi, dried shitake mushrooms, sake and some mirin and let it simmer to make an awesome stock. After a while I take out the kombu and mushrooms, slice them up and put them back in the pot with some protein and thickly sliced daikon radish. Now you just add some leafy veggies, fish cakes and you have yourself a hot stew/soup to fight the cold winter nights.

  • Krantz

    We are always at the grill on summer evenings. On of my wife’s favorites is to butterfly a whole chicken and rub fresh pesto under the skin of the chicken S&P on the skin. Soak one 3″ chunk of wood (pecan is a favorite)at the same time light the chimney full of charcoal. Bank 1/2 of te coals on either side of the chicken and tuck the wood chunk on one of the piles of hot coals. Place the chicken skin side down between the hot coals coverr with the lid vents wide open and grill roast for 45 to 60 min. Tasty…be sure to serve some good bread to soak up the chicken juices…damn fine!

  • from chicago

    love your blog, and i hear your book is a must-read.

    i grew up in the states but my parents are korean; the quick, staple food has always been prepared in advance, stored, and available for days afterwards: rice in the rice cooker, kimchee in jars you keep refrigerated and eat cold, seasoned tiny anchovies fried in soy sauce and sesame oil similarly stored and eaten cold, shredded dried squid fried in a korean corn-syrup and hot pepper paste, dried salted seaweed, seasoned bean sprouts, seasoned spinach, pickled cucumbers….

    the most basic meals would simply be a mix and match according to the day’s preference and warm bowl of rice. more elaborate would involve actually cooking for the evening, whether hot soups or meats.

    random reference – if interested, this woman is an expert on authentic homemade korean food:


  • Melissa LaCasse

    A staple of mine is Butternut Squash Soup with Ginger. It is nice on it’s own for a light lunch, or with any meat or salad or even a white pizza.

    In greased glass baking dish (may need two) Roast for around one hour at 350 any combination of:

    One onion or leek
    piece of peeled ginger
    a few carrots
    about 2 lbs butternut squash
    a clove of garlic
    2 peeled apples

    Remove from oven when squash can be pierced with a fork.

    Scoop out squash and put all the veggies in a stockpot. You may want to just set it on the counter and let it cool.

    Add chicken or vegetable stock while you puree roasted veggies with an immersion blender until desired consistency. Sometimes, if I only have a little stock I also add water. Salt to taste.

    Freeze, put in fridge, or serve immediately. You may want to add a bit of butter when heating it up. Also good served with a swirl of cream.