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5-Ingredient Recipes for Busy Cooks

Simple recipes and speed-cooking tips for everyday meals.

From the WebMD Archives

Does this ever happen to you?: You're interested in trying a new recipe, but then you notice that it calls for a long list of 15 or more ingredients. And suddenly, you’re just not that into it anymore.

For everyday cooking, most of us (even those who like to cook) have an unspoken limit on the number of ingredients we're willing to hunt down for a recipe. Five seems to be the magic number for many people. So I've come up with a few 5-ingredient recipes, plus some tips on how to keep your recipes simple.

The trick is to use food products that can stand in for several ingredients at once. Some examples:

  • A good-quality bottled salsa, marinara, or enchilada sauce. Bottled salsa can take the place of five or more ingredients, like tomatoes, tomato paste, onions, garlic, apple cider vinegar, salt, mild red chilies, and spices. Marinara sauce can replace eight or more ingredients, like tomato puree, diced tomatoes in juice, olive oil, onions, sugar, salt, garlic, basil, pepper and oregano.
  • Seasoning blends like Mrs. Dash Original Blend or pumpkin pie spice. Instead of 10 or more ingredients (like onion, black pepper, parsley, celery seed, basil, bay, marjoram, oregano, savory, thyme, cayenne pepper, coriander, and cumin), use a salt-free seasoning blend like Mrs. Dash. Pumpkin pie spice can replace cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, ginger, and cloves.
  • A light bottled salad dressing, sauce, or marinade, like light raspberry walnut vinaigrette and teriyaki sauce. Salad dressing can sub for six or more ingredients, like vinegar, vegetable oil, sugar, raspberry juice, walnuts, salt, garlic, and onion. Teriyaki sauce can replace nine or more ingredients, like soy sauce, sugar, soybean oil, garlic, sesame seeds, ginger, white vinegar, salt, sesame oil, and onions.
  • Canned soup, like 98% fat-free cream of chicken, can replace five or more ingredients, like chicken stock, water, wheat flour, cooked chicken meat, and salt.
  • Italian-style breadcrumbs can pinch-hit for five or more ingredients, like breadcrumbs, parsley, onion powder, garlic powder, salt, and pepper.
  • Frozen prepared items. Instead of green peppers, onions, and potatoes, use O’Brien hash browns. And phyllo dough or prepared pie crust can sub for three or more ingredients like flour, cooking fat, salt, and water.
  • Flavored egg substitute can sit in for three or more ingredients. For example, instead of eggs, chopped bell peppers, onions, and spices, use Southwestern Style Egg Beaters. Cheese & Chive Egg Beaters can replace eggs, cheddar cheese, and chives.
  • Mixes. Pudding or pie filling mixes, stuffing mixes, noodle or rice mixes, and cake, muffin or brownie mixes can simplify your recipes. For example, instead of five or more ingredients like flour, sugar, cooking fat, baking powder, and flavorings, use a cake or brownie mix.


5-Ingredient Recipes

To get you started on your way to speed cooking with five-ingredient recipes, here are five simple recipes to try.

BBQ Chicken Pizza


1/2 cup bottled BBQ sauce of your choice

1 large (10 oz.) 100% whole-wheat Boboli (ready to heat) pizza crust

2 cups shredded, reduced fat 4-cheese Italian blend (or similar)

2 chicken breasts, skinless, roasted or grilled and shredded or diced

1/4 cup chopped green onion, white and part of green


  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Set the Boboli pizza crust on a baking sheet and spread BBQ sauce over the crust as you would pizza sauce.
  • Sprinkle the shredded cheese over the sauce then dot the top with chicken breast pieces and chopped green onions.
  • Bake for about 10 minutes until cheese is melted and bubbling. Cut into 8 slices and serve.

Yield: 4 servings (2 slices each)

Nutrition Information: Per serving: 488 calories, 41.5 g protein, 48 g carbohydrate, 14.5 g fat, 7 g saturated fat, 78 mg cholesterol, 6.5 g fiber, 1259 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 27%.

Chicken Teriyaki Dinner


4 chicken breasts, skinless and boneless, each cut into two or three pieces

3/4 cup bottled teriyaki sauce

1 1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds, baked or broiled until lightly browned (if your teriyaki sauce doesn’t contain sesame seeds)

3 cups steamed brown rice

3 cups steamed or stir fried vegetables (broccoli, green beans, mixed vegetables, etc.)


  • Wash chicken in cool water and pat dry with paper towels. Place in 7.5 x 11-inch baking dish (or similar). Pour teriyaki sauce over chicken; toss to coat well. (If you want to finish cooking later, you can cover dish at this point and refrigerate for 2 hours before cooking.).
  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Remove cover from dish and bake chicken for 15 minutes. Turn chicken over and bake about 15 minutes more or until cooked throughout. Sprinkle toasted sesame seeds over the top.
  • Serve each portion of chicken over 3/4 cup each of steamed brown rice and vegetables.


Yield: 4 servings

Nutrition Information: Per serving: 432 calories, 43 g protein, 50 g carbohydrate, 5.8 g fat, 1.5 g saturated fat, 96 mg cholesterol, 6 g fiber, 930 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 12%.

5-Ingredient Fettuccine Alfredo

If you want to make this into chicken fettuccine, just stir in 1-2 cups diced skinless, grilled chicken breast. To make it mushroom fettuccine, stir in a cup of sauteed mushrooms.


8 ounces whole-wheat or whole-wheat blend fettuccine noodles (or similar)

1 tablespoon whipped butter

1 cup fat-free half-and-half (or low-fat milk)

3/4 cup grated Romano or Parmesan cheese (plus more for garnish, if desired)

Salt and pepper to taste (optional)

4 pinches ground nutmeg OR 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley


  • In large nonstick saucepan, cook pasta until al dente. Drain pasta and set aside in a medium bowl.
  • In same nonstick saucepan, melt butter until golden brown and fragrant. Stir in the fat-free half-and-half and grated cheese; bring mixture just to a simmer. Stir in drained noodles and toss to combine. Add salt and pepper, if desired.
  • Serve each portion with parsley or ground nutmeg sprinkled over the top.

Yield: 4 servings

Nutrition Information: Per serving: 362 calories, 19 g protein, 48 g carbohydrate, 10 g fat, 6 g saturated fat, 30 mg cholesterol, 5 g fiber, 470 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 25%.

Easy Spanish Tortilla


2 teaspoons olive oil

1/2 pound red or yellow potatoes, cut into 1/8-inch slices (about 1 1/3 cups)

1/2 cup thinly sliced bell pepper (red, orange or yellow)

1/2 cup thinly sliced sweet or yellow onion

1 cup Egg Beaters with yolk (or any of the flavored Egg Beater options like Cheese & Chives), OR use 2 eggs blended with 1/2 cup of egg substitute


  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In medium, nonstick 9- or 10-inch skillet or frying pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add potato slices, bell pepper and onion. Add salt and pepper to taste, if desired. Cover skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are crisp (8-10 minutes.)
  • Pour egg substitute over vegetables in skillet and gently stir to help the egg reach every nook and cranny of the skillet. Cover skillet and continue to cook over LOW heat (or simmer, if your stove runs hot) until tortilla is set (about 8 minutes). Cut tortilla into 4 wedges and serve.


Yield: 2 servings (2 wedges per serving)

Nutritional Information: Per serving: 249 calories, 16 g protein, 31 g carbohydrate, 7 g fat, 1.5 g saturated fat, 107 mg cholesterol, 4 g fiber, 234 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 25%.

5-Ingredient Lasagna


14-ounce package Turkey Polska Kielbasa (such as Hillshire Farm), diced; or you can substitute soy or chicken sausage

24-ounce jar marinara sauce (such as Bertolli Olive Oil, Basil & Garlic)

9 whole-wheat blend lasagna noodles, uncooked

15-ounce container part-skim ricotta cheese

2 cups shredded, reduced-fat 4-cheese Italian cheese (such as Sargento); or substitute part-skim mozzarella


  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Start heating a large nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat. Add diced sausage and cook, stirring frequently, until lightly brown. Turn off heat and set aside.
  • Pour marinara sauce into a 4-cup measure and add enough water to make 4 cups (about 1 1/2 cups water). Pour 1 cup of this sauce over the bottom of a 13x9-inch baking dish.
  • Lay three uncooked lasagna strips lengthwise over sauce. Pour another cup of sauce evenly over the top of the noodles, then dot evenly with half the ricotta cheese. Sprinkle half the shredded Italian cheese blend over the top.
  • Lay three more uncooked lasagna strips lengthwise over the top. Cover with another cup of sauce. Spoon the diced kielbasa over this, then dot with remaining ricotta cheese. Lay the last three lasagna strips in dish, pour remaining sauce over the top, and sprinkle with remaining shredded cheese.
  • Cover with foil and bake 45 minutes. Remove foil and bake 10 more minutes or until lasagna is hot and bubbly. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Yield: 12 servings

Nutrition Information: Per serving: 229 calories, 17.5 g protein, 21 g carbohydrate, 8.8 g fat, 4.3 g saturated fat, 41 mg cholesterol, 3 g fiber, 623 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 34%.

Recipes provided by Elaine Magee; © 2009 Elaine Magee

Elaine Magee, MPH, RD, is the "Recipe Doctor" for WebMD and the author of numerous books on nutrition and health. Her opinions and conclusions are her own.

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