You already know that making dinner at home is a great idea—it’s healthier than eating out, you control the ingredients, and it’s a huge money saver. Problem is, it takes time and energy, which, at the end of the day, you don’t have a lot of.
I’m a chef, but after a long day in the kitchen, I’m no exception! When I walk through the door at night, I often need to revert to a fast recipe that I can make in my sleep.
The secret to cooking at home is having some go-to recipes and a pantry and freezer stocked with a few basic ingredients. Try these simple ideas, and you too will be able to pull together a nutritious, delicious, and satisfying meal within minutes.
1. Lettuce Wrapped—Anything!
I know they’ve been around for a long time, but I sort of forgot about these wraps and how delicious they are! Make any sandwich, burger, or taco meal instantly healthier by replacing the bun or tortilla with fresh, leafy lettuce—great choices include romaine leaves, butter lettuce, or even kale. You can fill the leaves with anything from cold tuna salad to grilled chicken and peppers for a refreshing fajita. My latest favorite is sautéed ground chicken with peanuts and water chestnuts, wrapped in butter lettuce and served with Ponzu dipping sauce.
2. Quick Creative Quesadillas
Quesadillas don’t have to be calorie-laden, and they can actually be super nutritious when you fill them with ingredients other than cheese. Keep corn or brown rice tortillas on hand, and stuff them with your favorite flavors—I love black beans, sliced avocado, any chopped cooked vegetable, gobs of guilt-free salsa, and just a sprinkle of cheese. The varieties are endless, and almost nothing is quicker for a little southwestern treat.
Bonus: add an egg to your leftovers for a wonderful breakfast the next day.
3. Simple Spaghetti and Meatballs
Keep a bag of frozen turkey meatballs, organic low-sodium marinara, and quinoa pasta in your kitchen at all times. In less than 15 minutes, you’ll have a tasty, satisfying meal rich in protein, fiber, vitamin C, and lycopene, which is a great antioxidant. Toss in some olives for a little dose of healthy fat and garnish with a dusting of Parmesan cheese. For even greater nutritional value, add fresh or frozen veggies like broccoli, spinach, or carrots.
Lentils, part of the legume family, are a great source of fiber, which lowers cholesterol, prevents blood sugar levels from rising rapidly, and fills you up, too! They also provide several important minerals, B vitamins, and protein, all with virtually no fat.
For a huge time-saver, make a batch of three to four cups (or buy them pre-made at Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods), and turn them into three different great meals throughout your week:
Salad: Toss 1/3 of the cooked lentils with one or two cups of your favorite squash and vegetables and a light vinaigrette. Garnish with leafy greens, goat cheese, and toasted nuts for a colorful, seasonal salad.
Entree: Marinate and grill chicken, tofu, or fish and serve with one cup of the leftover lentil salad for a high-protein meal.
Soup: Simmer the remaining lentils and vegetables with vegetable broth and puree the mixture for a tasty, filling stew.
5. Breakfast for Dinner
Eggs are protein-packed, filling, and loaded with healthy omega-3s, so why save them only for breakfast? Whip up a quick omelette or scramble with anything you have on hand, like veggies, roasted potato, and low-fat cheese. Add a Mediterranean flair by garnishing with marinara sauce and fresh basil, or make your meal Mexican by adding black beans, salsa, and avocado. I like to make a double batch and grab the leftovers as I’m running out the door the next morning.
Even if you don’t have a grill, it’s so easy to prepare this nutritious, versatile meal. Purchase pre-cut vegetables and proteins, marinate them in a light vinaigrette, and skewer the ingredients in an alternating pattern. (Or, buy already prepared skewers at your specialty grocer.) Grill the kebabs, or roast them in your oven, until the meat is safely cooked, and serve with cooked rice or garbanzo beans seasoned with lemon zest and fresh herbs. You can eat these cold the next day with a little high-protein hummus or tahini in a whole-grain pita.
Once you have the essentials stocked in your kitchen, healthy cooking at home is easy—and it can even take less time than waiting for take-out.
What are your go-to recipes for a quick, healthy dinner?
Photos courtesy of The Unseasoned Wok and PALETA.