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”

  • Rich

    With two kids under 3, weeknight meals have to be fast and simple. These are the ones I keep going to the well for.

    Pan seared strip steak
    – usually seasoned simply with kosher salt and cracked pepper, maybe a quick a la minute sauce if I’m feeling ambitious (wine to deglaze, add stock (or cream), reduce)
    – “fried baked potato” – microwave (!) 2 whole potatoes for about 5 minutes, cut in half and pan fry in a little olive oil until the surface gets golden and crispy, season with coarse salt – so easy and so good
    – steamed broccoli – again, microwave (!!) in a vented dish for about 3 minutes, season with olive oil, salt, and some shredded Parmigiano Reggiano

    Fish Tacos
    – Get some fresh white fish (halibut is really good, but tilapia will work too), season with salt, sautee in a nonstick pan with some olive oil, squeeze some lime juice on it when you remove it from the pan. Meanwhile, chop up some tomato, shallot or green onion, and pick off a few leaves of lettuce. I like to make a quick sauce from an avocado and thick greek yogurt, whizzed in the food processor with a little lime or lemon juice and a pinch of ceyenne.

    Penne with reta, fresh tomato, and basil
    – While the penne is cooking, dice some tomatoes, crumble some feta, and chiffonade some basil. Combine all together and dress liberally with olive oil, maybe add some black pepper if you like.

    The key to all of these is to start with good produce and proteins. They are all fairly simple, so poor ingredients will be apparent.

  • David

    A standard is ‘Kathy Roast Chicken,’ which usually means chicken roasted in some new and unique way. An example is to lift the skin from the breast and add butter which has been infused with herbs from the garden (whatever is fresh today).

    Always served with roasted potatoes and braised carrots. Salad is required with a simple vinegar/mustard dressing.

    The other which is in standard rotation is ‘personal pizza.’ This is fresh dough from Julia Child’s book ‘The Way To Cook’ any tomato sauce you like and a collection of onions and bell peppers cooked in olive oil until tender, toss in finely chopped garlic (if you like it) right at the end to just soften up. Add whatever the butcher has in fresh sausage that you like today, cooked in the same skillet you just did the veg in.

    Make the dough into 8″ rounds, pre-cook them in a 450 oven until just not raw. Top with the sauce, meat, veg and a little Parmigiano Reggiano, back into the oven until the cheese is melted and everything is hot. You could easily eat 2 of these things. Served with Red wine, usually a Zin or a Chianti.

  • Connor

    Grilled chicken is a staple in our household during the summer months. We often smoke whole chickens on our Big Green Egg (sometimes we brine them first and/or use the bourbon glaze in Charcuterie) or when we have less time, we grill whole butterflied chicken or chicken thighs on our gas grill. The variations are endless but lately we’ve been using rubs with lots of smoked Spanish paprika, chili powder, fennel, mustard powder, cumin, and salt and pepper.

    The side dishes vary, but one that makes frequent appearances is a grain or pasta (e.g., farro, wheat berries, orzo, mixed grains) tossed with fresh vegetables and herbs we have on hand (e.g., cherry tomatoes, basil, spinach) and a simple vinaigrette.

  • French Laundry at Home

    Because I often eat more at lunch (business meetings, etc.) and because I’m single, I tend to go lighter at dinner. One of my year-round dinnertime staples is Heidi’s wheatberry salad. I make it at least twice a month. Another frequent go-to is mixed grill — I do this year-round (I love to grill in the wintertime), and make this when I have friends or neighbors over during the week: steak, sausage, chicken, lamb on the grill — just seasoned with salt (no marinade or any of that nonsense), and I serve it with grilled zucchini and squash in the summer and roasted baby potatoes with olive oil, salt, and thyme in the winter. No matter what I make, though, I always set a place at the table for myself when I’m dining alone. Sometimes I read while I eat, but most of the time, I just listen to music and enjoy the solitude after a busy day.

  • Cheryl Fuller

    We make pizza every Friday — toppings vary according to our whim.

    Chicken with lemon and olives is frequently on our menu — from one of the Silver Palette cookbooks

    In winter, pot roast — braised in a small amount of red wine, a dash of soy sauce, for at least 3 hours — served with roasted potatoes and a salad.

    clam, bacon, potato pot pie from a recipe I found somewhere — clams are plentiful most of the year here on the coast of Maine

  • Heather

    I live alone – so meals with multiple courses are almost exclusively weekend treats and tend to be when I go all out (therefore, not staples).

    Weekday staples are omelets (ingredients vary with leftovers), fried rice (ditto), and at least 2-3 times a month I have a simple dumpling soup my family calls “gnepsh”:

    good, homemade chicken stock (or turkey, or duck)

    plus dumplings made of eggs and flour mixed to the consistency of pudding and dropped into the soup.

    It’s my if-I-had-to-eat-one-thing-forever dish

  • schlake

    My staple food is “pot pie” (“Popeye” when I was a child). As an adult I’ve tracked it back to originating in Pennsylvanian Dutch “bot boi”. I have no idea how it came into the family. My father was from upstate New York, and my mother from Missouri. My mother always cooked it, and my father never did. I asked my aunt about it, but she said grandma never cooked it and that my mother never cooked while at home. It is likely that my mother got it from her first husband, and my aunt will try to find out.

    As a child, it was always made with yesterdays roast beef. I liked roast beef, but I liked pot pie even more. The leftover roast be chopped up and would go into a pot of water and be brought to a boil. A dough was made of eggs, milk, flour, and red chile. (my father used salt to cook and eat with, but neither me or my mother ever did). The dough rolled flat and cut into 1 or 2 inch strips 8 to 12 inches long, and boiled in the thin broth. It was fabulous.

    As an adult I’ve never really been able to replicate the dough. I’ve started adding baking powder to it, and that really triggers a memory, but I don’t remember it being an ingredient.

    I never have leftover roast (I don’t make roast), and my attempts to improvise the broth with fresh beef never taste right. I’ve started to make chicken broth for it in a pressure cooker. Just chicken in water for an hour of pressure, then I strain it.

    Pho has made me start to season my broth with star anise from time to time.

    My noodles are made from eggs, water, bread flour, black pepper, paprika, and salt (I’ve been forced to cook with salt by salt-addicted people who eat my food, and after Dr. Forgey connected my iodine allergy with my salt and seafood aversions I’ve acquired safe salt).

    I roll my noodles in the pasta roller of my kitchen-aid, and just made random strips of dough pinches from the ball.

  • mirinblue

    Wow! This is sure to be a lengthy remark! I have always admired families that serve the same dish (or variations of) on the same day of the week! Not so in my home. Here menus are planned 2-4 weeks in advance so shopping can be done and leftovers used. (Wasting food is a pet peeve!) And that being said…what do I cook often?

    Pasta with olive oil, parsley and salt cured anchovy. Or w/tomato sauce(marzanos, olive oil, garlic, onion, oregano and the secret ingredient..lemon juice (just a bit)

    Chicken-many, many ways. A family favorite is skin seared in hot pan, flipped to sear other side, dump 1 cup lemon juice (fresh-abt 7 or 8 lemons)1/3 cup olive oil, 6 or 7 cloves garlic, sliced, 2 tbs red wine vinegar, oregano, pop into 450 oven abt 30 minutes, serve w/orzo or rice (must be a lemon lover for this one!)

    Bagna cuda with wonderful crusty bread and an array of fresh veg (especially endive)(leftovers easily converted to pasta w/anchovy..just add cauliflower,too!)

    Fresh fish lightly seasoned and pan seared or broiled-often with a new potato and fresh green bean salad (tossed with vinegar, oil, dill, mustard, s&p)(leftover fish used for fish tacos)

    Steak (grilled or quickly sauteed), sometimes with fresh mushrooms and red wine, somtimes just s&p. LOVE! it served with fresh tomato slices and sweet raw onion slices. Sometimes mashed potatoes.

    Meatloaf, mac -n- cheese (has to have shallot in the white sauce), burgers, bean soup, homemade baked beans, ribs, salads, soups.

    Lemon, lemon, lemon!

  • amy

    My staple meals tend to be either Dumplings, Fried Rice and/or soup…Sometimes I’ll stir fry some veggies on the side…. Everything homemade ; )

    Nice, easy, quick. : P

  • Mia

    One of our staple meals is Indian-style lentils and vegetables, served with spiced brown basmati rice. The combinations vary, but there are always legumes (lentils, chana dahl, chickpeas), vegetables (usually spinach, often tomatoes, cauliflower, okra, or peas), and a starch (usually rice, sometimes homemade naan). I serve it all with plain yogurt to soak up some of those Indian spices. This meal is so healthy and filling, and is good in the summer or in the winter. In fact, we had it last night!

  • mel

    For us, it’s certain combos that stay in the rotation

    Lamb rib chops & HdP roasted new potatoes
    single bone chps with all fat removed and brushed with a garlic, HdP, evoo, S&P paste and grilled to rare. Potatoes get a similar treatment but some butter too.

    flank steak & mac and cheese
    lime, ginger, garlic, soy, sesame & honey marinade
    Anne’s white cheddar ( OMG a box!) kids love it…

    blackened catfish & satuéed spinach
    Paul P’s spice blend on the catfish & evoo and garlic & lemon on the spinach

  • Maura

    One of my favorites is roasted pork tenderloin. Sometimes I’ll just brine it, but I usually marinate it:

    1/2 cup orange juice
    1/4 cup soy sauce or balsamic vinegar (I prefer the soy sauce)
    1/4 cup olive oil
    2 tsps. honey
    Rosemary or thyme, whichever I have on hand or am in the mood for
    2 bay leaves
    2 or 3 crushed garlic cloves
    Salt and pepper to taste

    Mix all ingredients in a large measuring cup. Marinate the pork for at least 1 hour. I use a ziplock bag and turn the bag halfway through the marinating time.
    Roast at 400 for 27-35 minutes.

    In the winter, I serve this with roasted vegetables – onions, potatoes, peppers and garlic, and some couscous; in the summer with a salad; and always with homemade bread. And beer, of course.

    These proportions are perfect for me. I’ve used a whole cup of orange juice, and more honey, but it’s too sweet.

  • Neal L.

    Braised short rib is a staple at my house. With mirepoix, stock, tomato paste, white wine, wild mushrooms, and herbs. Even when it’s hot outside we have to have it at least once a month with some baguette and a lot of iced tea. Keller’s roast chicken recipe with a green salad and mashed potatoes is on the menu every week. My 2 yr old pulls his foot stool up to the counter while I’m carving so he can steal the little butt piece and some crispy skin. Friday we always have seafood whether it’s poached halibut with peas and bacon or mixed ceviche with tortilla chips and cold beer.

  • The J Train

    Grilled salmon, usually with a lemon/mustard/shallot sauce, with baked potatoes (usually roasted on the grill), often with broccoli (simple, with lemon and olive oil).

    Burgers and corn on the cob grilled with Bacon Salt.

    Boneless chicken thighs (grilled or sauteed), pasta, and green beans (steamed over the pasta water) with garlic, a little white wine, and whatever herbs look good out back.

    Chicken breasts coated liberally with Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning and sauteed with some lemon juice and served over salad greens (romaine, green leaf, red onion) with whatever dressing I have. (This was dinner about three nights a week in med school.)

  • Victoria

    Two simple staple meals:

    Grilled lamb chops – loin or rib; asparagus vinaigrette; steamed new potatoes with butter and parsley.

    Walter eats mint jelly with lamb; I use Edmond Fallot Moutarde de Bourgogne.

    Thin loin pork chops on the bone, bound with a breading of Wondra flour, eggs (beaten and strained to get rid of the chalaza), and Ian’s panko, cooked in olive oil; cucumber salad with a sweetened vinegar dressing (Hungarian style); lima beans braised in heavy cream.

    Walter eats apple sauce with pork. Homemade is best, but I don’t always do that. If not, I use the best organic, unsweetened I can find.

  • OneEyedCarmen

    Oops…forgot about the olive oil in the tomato/basil mix. Use a nice one, it’s worth it.

  • That Girl

    Our staple (other than Thomas Keller’s Favorite Roast Chicken served at least once a week with potatoes, vegetables and salad) is a pasta dish with tuna, capers, lemon and olive oil. The very best thing about this dish is that I can clean out my produce drawer by adding any type of vegetable from zucchini and asparagus to eggplant and tomatoes. Or I can just go out to the garden for a smattering of fresh herbs and/or arugula. Sometimes I add parmesan, most of the time not. But there is always fresh ground pepper. In mid winter we may use frozen vegetables (broccoli, green beans). It’s the versatility that keeps it fresh, but the it’s the basics (pasta, tuna, lemon, capers, olive oil) keep it quick and a constant at our family table.

  • OneEyedCarmen

    Even though it’s early in the season, I’ve been lucky enough to find some amazing local tomatoes for one of our staples.

    We have a nice little neighborhood market a block and a half from our house in downtown Baltimore (cuz I’m gangsta) where we pick up some nice fresh fish. Flounder is great for this one.

    Just a light dusting in flour and Old Bay (I AM from Baltimore!), and a quick pan fry. In the meantime, I dice up the nice ripe, juicy tomatoes and add in some roughly torn fresh basil, salt and pepper. Drain the fish for a minute or two on paper towels and top it with the “salsa.”

    Simple, VERY fast, one pan meal that is absolutely delicious.

  • Shana

    One of my staples is simply sauteed fresh veggies over hot pasta tossed with some nice Parmesan cheese. When I can I use fresh pasta from the Italian Market. This is also good for using up those bits of veggies in the fridge.

    olive oil
    garlic, minced
    onion, chopped
    veggies, chopped (whatever is in season, or needs to get used)
    salt and pepper to taste
    freshly grated Parmesan cheese

    Everything is optional. If your veggies lend themselves to blending well with onion great. If not, leave the onion out. Same with the garlic.

    Heat equal parts olive oil and butter in a pan. Add the onion and cook over low to medium heat until starting to caramelize. Add garlic and cook briefly. Add remaining veggies and cook through, but don’t overcook (they should still have a bit of crispness to them). Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.

    Toss with hot pasta. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and serve.

    And veggie combination will work. My favorite combo right now is halved grape tomatoes and zucchini with garlic (no onion). The tomatoes start to give up their juice and blend with the butter and oil to make this wonderful sauce.

    Asparagus and onion is also excellent. If you’re feeling really bold, add a beaten egg to the pan at the last minute, pull the pan off the heat, and toss the asparagus and onion with the egg and pasta. The heat from the veggies and pasta should cook the egg.

    Drat. Now I need a snack.

  • Joel

    One of our “weeknight staples” is Bittman’s Spaghetti with Fried Eggs. A lot of what I see in food blogs isn’t attainable in Southwest Ohio (Ohioans unite!), but ever since I found a farmer with amazing eggs about 10 miles from my house, I’ve been trying to stretch those suckers into every corner of my diet. It’s usually served with steamed broccoli, asparagus, kale or some other kind of greenish, local veg.


    * Salt
    * 1/2 pound thin spaghetti
    * 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil or lard
    * 2 large cloves garlic, lightly smashed and peeled
    * 4 eggs
    * Freshly ground black pepper
    * Freshly grated Parmesan or pecorino cheese, optional


    * 1. Bring a pot of salted water to the boil. Start the sauce in the next step, and start cooking the pasta when the water boils.
    * 2. Combine garlic and 4 tablespoons of the oil in a small skillet over medium-low heat. Cook the garlic, pressing it into the oil occasionally to release its flavor; it should barely color on both sides. Remove the garlic, and add the remaining oil.
    * 3. Fry the eggs gently in the oil, until the whites are just about set and the yolks still quite runny. Drain the pasta, and toss with the eggs and oil, breaking up the whites as you do. (The eggs will finish cooking in the heat of the pasta.) Season to taste, and serve immediately, with cheese if you like.