Being able to whip up quick, healthy dinner meals in minutes is a skill that will serve you well in your quest to eat healthier.
In our household, my wife and Six Factors to Fit co-author, Nancy, prides herself in doing just that for our family.
For this blog, I asked Nancy to share her tips so you can learn to do the same.
If these types of meals and foods are new to you, it’s always helpful to start slow and ease into a new way of eating.
Finding a repertoire of meals that include more vegetables and fruits, less red meat and processed meats, more plant based proteins like beans, lentils, nuts and tofu and more seafood and fish is the goal.
Ultimately, your personal family preferences, food availability in neighborhood grocery stores and food budget will help determine which meals to try.
1 – Theme Your Meals
Themed meals, Nancy says, break from the typical American meal where meat is the main event, allowing you to more easily achieve the following nutrition goals that support healthier eating and healthier meal planning:
- Use more plant-based foods, like vegetables, salads, beans, nuts, seeds
- Choose higher-fiber and better-quality whole grains
- Select leaner protein sources
- Incorporate some healthy fats
Here are some of Nancy’s themed meals that she repeats with varied ingredients week to week:
- Pizza Night
- Taco or Chili Night
- Stir-Fry Night
- Soup & Sandwich Night
- Entrée Salad Night with Protein Toppers (like fish, seafood, chicken, turkey burger or falafel)
- Breakfast Anytime Night
Know that other more familiar themed meals, like Pasta Night, Burger Night or Fish Night can also be adapted to fit this format.
2 – Stock Kitchen with Staples
Making sure your kitchen is stocked with some key staple foods will make assembling some quick, healthy dinner meals easier.
Some examples of Nancy’s freezer staples include bagged shrimp, salmon and white fish cut and ready to defrost, chicken, turkey and veggie burgers, falafel, riced cauliflower (a great addition to stir fry dishes), edamame, homemade lentil soup (made in batches on weekend and frozen in containers)
Other staples include tuna fish in packets, nut butters and nuts like walnuts and almonds, whole grain pizza crusts and bread, quinoa, bags of lentils, canned garbanzo beans (great roasted and sprinkled on salads or in stir fry dishes), extra-firm tofu, eggs and egg whites in cartons, corn salsa, soft taco shells, hummus, shredded mozzarella cheese, parmesan cheese.
3 – Buy Fresh Produce Week to Week
Weekly, Nancy spends time picking fresh produce that she knows can be used for themed meals, such as:
- Darker greens like bagged mixed kale salads or arugula, baby carrots, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes (the basics for throwing together a side or entrée salad)
- Shredded cabbage, avocados (great for tacos or salad addition)
- Fresh broccoli, onions, peppers and whatever looks good or is on sale like asparagus, eggplant, green beans, cauliflower or corn on cob; vegetables are great toppers raw or roasted for pizzas, salads or additions to stir fry or egg or egg white scramblers
- Fruit such as apples, pears, oranges (sliced apples, pears or oranges make a nice dinner plate accompaniment and decoration)
Note that frozen vegetables and fruits offer another convenient option.
4 – Find Your Favorites
What Nancy likes best is she can mix and match these ingredients and create new favorite themed meals week to week.
Whether it’s seared shrimp tacos, tofu and vegetable stir fry mixed with quinoa, lentil soup with an avocado and hard-boiled egg sandwich or an entrée salad with falafel and hummus, these meals don’t take long to assemble.
Be patient as you try new dishes to find your favorites.
Maybe your family isn’t a fan of pizza with roasted broccoli and peppers but loves barbecue chicken pizza made with the same healthy crust.
Or maybe they don’t like shrimp tacos but love turkey chili.
If you want to get more healthy dinner meal ideas, you can check out Nancy’s and my self-help book, Six Factors to Fit: Weight Loss that Works for You! You can also find many healthy recipes online at websites like Cooking Light, Eating Well, My Recipes and Skinnytaste.
Healthy cooking and eating is a journey; enjoy the ride!
Robert Kushner, MD