Quick and Healthy Meal Ideas

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I know many nights I find myself facting a dilemma: a night where I don’t have the time or energy to cook up a crafty dinner. I used to think that I could only resolve these types of situations with fast food pit stops, take out menus, bowls of cereal, plain old pasta, or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Bland, boring, and/or not the most balanced choice out there. With time, however, I have had ample practice at keeping dinner simple and quick, while still remaining healthy.

I got fed up with the same old habits. I realized that as a self-proclaimed impatient diner (and with the Hangry Boy as my child), pretty much every night in the Reale household needs quick meals. Here are some of my standby ways to make quick dinners happen:

Meal Plan Quick Options

pasta salad dinner

Whole Wheat Pasta with Artichokes, Tomatoes, Olives, Mushrooms, Onions, and Feta Cheese

When planning my weekly meals, I always plan in a couple of quick fix recipes to whip up on nights I suddenly run out of time for dinnerIt never fails that at least one night per week I realize I don’t have the time to cook what I intended. It is such a stress relief to already have back up options available.

Use quick cooking methods.

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Eat your veggies either raw or slightly steamed. Go ahead and use my best friend the microwave for quick cooking. If eating meat, cook up ground beef or turkey or thinly slice your chicken breast before cooking. Use eggs! You can cook breakfast for dinner, since those meals tend to be less time consuming. Make a “kitchen sink” salad where you just toss together things you have at the ready in your fridge or pantry. If you know it will be a busy night, prep the slow cooker in the morning for a ready-to-eat meal at night. After tonight’s outing we will come home to some of that delicious chili pictured above all ready to eat. 

Don’t feel bad for using packaged.

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Sure, fresh foods are better. We all know that, but sometimes there is a need for frozen or canned products like Kashi pizzas, Morningstar/Boca/Quorn products, Amy’s Organics burritos and meals, bags of frozen vegetables, canned soups, etc. I do try to choose the option with the best balance of calories, protein, whole grains, and healthy fats and shortest ingredient lists, but there is a time and place for these things in our lives. And sometimes they are a dinner saver. My favorite? Annie’s Shells + a bagged salad mix. Yum!

And another dinner saver…LEFTOVERS! 

Plan meals that will make extra you can save as leftovers. You can even get creative and use your leftovers as a base for other meals, such as using chopped chicken in many different ways (in soup then enchiladas, for example). If you don't plan on needing the leftovers right away, stash them in the freezer. Casseroles and soups are two of my favorites for leftovers. Find a recipe of one of my favorites, below. 

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Mexican Black Bean Tortilla Casserole

Prep Time: 15-20 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes

    • 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
    • 8 oz package button mushrooms, trimmed & quartered
    • 1 small zucchini, chopped into 1/2” pieces
    • 1/2 small onion, chopped into 1/2” pieces
    • 1 cup yellow corn
    • 1 tablespoon minced garlic (I used about 1 Tbsp)
    • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
    • course salt & ground pepper
    • 15.5 oz. can black beans, drained & rinsed
    • 8 corn tortillas, halved
    • 2 cups marinara 
    • 4 oz. Monterey Jack cheese, shredded

Preheat oven to 400. In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms, zucchini, onion, and corn to pan. Cook until softened, approximately 7 minutes. Add garlic and cayenne; season with salt & pepper. Add black beans and stir to combine. Cook until beans are warmed through.

Arrange 5 tortilla halves in an 8×8 baking dish. Top with half the bean & vegetable mixture and 1/2 cup marinara, then sprinkle with one-third of the cheese. Repeat with another layer (5 tortilla halves, other half of the bean/veggie mix, 1/2 cup marinara, 1/3 of the cheese). Top with remaining tortillas, salsa/marinara, and cheese. Cover with foil and bake for 15 minutes. Remove the foil and bake another 10-15 minutes, until cheese bubbles. Serve and savor…despite its non-photogenic qualities.

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