Let’s face it, not everyone likes to cook or has the time to make elaborate home cooked meals each night. Healthy dinners don’t have to be overly complicated. I’d say about half of our dinners are super fresh, healthy, use-a-recipe type of meals. But the rest of them are simple, easy, and use what I happen to have on hand. I make it a point to keep my fridge, freezer, and pantry stocked with plenty of convenient and healthy options so we don’t have to run through a fast food joint or go out to eat on a regular basis. Today I’m sharing some of our favorite quick, easy, and healthy meals for those nights I don’t want to cook.
But first, here are some tips for making quick and healthy meals a reality in your home:
- Keep your fridge stocked with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. Every time you go to the store you should bring home some fresh produce. I always keep us stocked up on our favorites: cucumbers, spinach, peppers, avocados, broccoli, sweet potatoes, apples, bananas, etc. Then I look at what is seasonal and I buy a few of those as well. Right now, winter squashes are in season and those will last in your pantry for quite some time.
- Keep your freezer stocked with frozen vegetables and fruits. The beauty of frozen produce is that it will last several months or more. When you run out of the fresh produce you can pull out the frozen. Frozen vegetables are a great option because they are usually packed at the peak of freshness so often they are just as healthy, if not more so, than some of the fresh produce you bring home.
- Keep a few cans of vegetables in the pantry for dinners when you don’t have any other vegetable options. Sometimes when we literally have nothing left I’ll pull out a can of green beans.
- Buy whole wheat and/or corn tortillas, flat bread, and pita bread when it goes on sale and keep your freezer stocked. When you need an easy and quick meal, pull out what you need. Breads defrost very quickly.
- If your family likes eggs, keep some in your fridge at all times. Eggs are a great source of protein and can be made very quickly.
- Keep your pantry stocked with things like whole grain pastas, pasta sauce/pesto, beans, and microwave brown rice.
- Double recipes and keep your freezer stocked. Soups are one of the easiest meals to double and freeze. I have about 5 types of soup in my freezer right now. When I make pastas, enchiladas, brown rice, quinoa patties, salmon patties,etc., I always freeze the leftovers for quick weeknight meals.
- Keep your freezer stocked with easy to make meats/protein. I usually have some sort of chicken or turkey sausages, turkey patties, and cooked and shredded chicken. Because I’m not a huge meat eater I always keep quinoa patties and veggie patties in my freezer as well.
Here are a few of my go-to easy and quick dinner ideas for busy nights or when I don’t feel like cooking a big meal:
Breakfast for Dinner
Breakfast for dinner is a hit with just about everyone, young and old. Eggs are a great source of protein and they only take a few minutes to make, scrambled or fried. Add some sort of whole grain (toast, cereal, granola, pancakes, or muffins) and some fruit and you have dinner. If you want to take it a step further, add in some sausage or bacon.
Eggs last several weeks so they are a great food to keep stocked in the fridge. If you need some recipe ideas for breakfast, try out these Overnight Pumpkin Pancakes, Granola, Sweet Potato Muffins, or Pumpkin Muffins. When I have more time I double these recipes and stock my freezer so when I’m in a pinch on a busy weeknight I can just pull out what I need.
Grilled Sandwiches and Veggies
Use whole grain bread or flat bread, such as pita pockets, to make quick and easy sandwiches. Add in some lunch meat and cheese and whatever veggies you have on hand or just make plain grilled cheese. You can grill them on the stove or cook them in a panini press. We love to change ours up and make Pesto, Tomato, and Mozzarella Grilled Cheese or use marinara sauce and mozzarella to make a pizza inspired grilled cheese.
Steam some broccoli and cauliflower, roast some vegetables, warm a can of green beans, and/or serve a salad on the side. I make this meal once every few weeks when I’m feeling uninspired and not wanting to make a big dinner. It’s easy and comes together really quickly. Plus, you can use what you have on hand to customize everyone’s sandwich.
Easy Flatbread Pizza and Salad
Pizza doesn’t get any easier than this. Use whole grain flatbread or pre-made pizza crusts and the pizza toppings of your choice to make super quick and healthy-ish pizzas. Add a salad or whatever veggies/fruit you have on hand for a well balanced meal. Here’s how we do a Flatbread Pizza Bar at our house.
Nitrate-Free Sausage and Veggies
I usually keep some type of nitrate free sausage in my freezer for a quick and easy protein. You can saute it on the stove or roast it in the oven with veggies. Onions, peppers, mushrooms, zucchini, squash, and carrots are all great veggies to serve alongside sausage. To make it even easier, use frozen vegetables.
Whole Wheat Pasta with Pesto or Red Sauce
Boil some whole wheat noodles according to package instructions and toss it in some marinara or pesto sauce and add Parmesan cheese if desired. If you happen to have cream or half and half, add in a splash for extra a little extra yummy. Serve with a side of salad or whatever vegetables you have on hand. Another option is to steam, sauté, or roast some vegetables and add them into the pasta for a one bowl dinner. If you happen to have some cooked chicken and tomatoes you can make this Whole Wheat Pasta with Pesto, Chicken and Tomatoes.
I actually made this for dinner tonight. I had some kale and mushrooms so I sautéed them and added in the pesto, a splash of 1/2 and 1/2, and some of the reserved pasta water. I then added the pasta and a sprinkle of parmesan cheese. It was a delicious meal. I served it with some leftover steamed cauliflower and broccoli. It truly took me about 10 minutes to make (not counting the time for the pasta to boil.)
Tortillas with Beans and Cheese
If you have some tortillas, beans, and cheese you can easily throw together a quick main dish. Warm some black, pinto, or refried beans on the stove and place them, along with some cheese, in tortillas and roll them up. Or add some lettuce and tomatoes for meatless soft tacos. Serve with guacamole, salsa, and a salad on the side. Another option is to make some quick bean and cheese quesadillas, adding in any veggies you have to boost the nutrition.
Once every few months I make a huge crockpot full of refried beans and portion it out for dinners just like this.
Tortillas freeze well so keep your freezer stocked for this quick meal.
Pick up a rotisserie chicken and add some brown rice and veggies or a salad for a super quick and balanced dinner. And the best part – you can use the leftover chicken in soups, salads, or sandwiches. You could even add some to the rolled up tortillas, pasta, or pizza mentioned above. My only advice is to look over the ingredients on your rotisserie chicken. Some brands have MSG and other additives that aren’t great for your health. I buy mine at Sprouts or I buy the Simple Truth brand from Kroger.
These ideas may not seem all that healthy but I believe eating at home (even when some convenience foods are used) is almost always a healthier option than fast food or eating out.
Ok, so now I want to know – what do you make on those nights that you don’t want to cook? Or when you are pressed for time?