Does this sound familiar? You’ve decided to improve your family’s diet, and have committed to cooking healthy dinners at home most days of the week. You’ve planned, you’ve shopped – maybe you’ve even prepped some ingredients for the week. Everything’s going great, and then you run into – life. One of the kids has a meltdown, your husband’s running late, you’re racing to meet a deadline, or the washing machine overflows. Or you’re just facing a day that’s jam packed from the moment your alarm goes off to dinner time and beyond.
And there’s the dilemma. You’re trying to avoid fast food, and your budget can’t stretch to include healthy take-out or restaurant meals. But you have no time, and the plans you’ve made have fallen apart.
The solution? A go-to list of quick and healthy dinners that use staple ingredients and require little time and effort. These are no-recipe meals you can make with little or no advance prep and just a tiny bit of effort at the end of a busy day. Here are five to get you started. Print them out, post them on your refrigerator, and stock up on the staples that will let you make them in a flash.
Skillet Chicken Marinara
In a large skillet, brown boneless, skinless chicken breasts in olive oil. Add a jar of marinara sauce, cover and cook on low-medium heat until the breasts are cooked through. Put a pot of water on to boil and cook enough pasta for your family. While the pasta is cooking, make a simple pick-up vegetable plate – baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, sliced red or green peppers – whatever you have on hand. When the chicken is done, top each breast with Parmesan or provolone cheese (or cheddar or whatever your family likes) and let it melt a bit. Serve each person a chicken breast and pasta topped with some of the marinara sauce, and pass the vegetable plate.
This easy dinner idea was inspired by my friend Christina, author of Juggling Real Food and Real Life. Place whole wheat naan or other flatbread on a large cookie sheet (lined with foil for quick clean up). Use one or two per person, depending on size and appetites. Let each person make his or her own pizza, using marinara sauce, shredded mozzarella or pizza blend cheese, pepperoni, and some sliced vegetables (you can quickly cut up a pepper, an onion and some mushrooms or have some pre-cut vegetables on hand from the produce section at the grocery store). Bake at 375 until the cheese is melted and toppings are cooked – 15-20 minutes, depending on your oven. While the pizzas bake, make a fruit plate of orange slices, apple slices and/or grapes (or any other fruit you have on hand).
Quick Veggie Pasta
Put a large pot of water on to boil. In a skillet, sauté sliced or chopped onions and peppers in olive oil (add garlic and/or mushrooms if your family likes them). Cut up your own vegetables if you have time, or use some pre-cut from the produce section. When the onions and pepper are soft, add one or two cans of diced tomatoes. Season with Italian seasoning and let simmer. When the water boils, cook enough pasta for your family. While it’s cooking make a pick-up vegetable plate or simple salad. Serve pasta topped with sauce and pass the vegetables or salad. (If your family insists on meat with every meal, slice some turkey kielbasa and brown it before cooking the onions and peppers, then add it back into the skillet with the tomatoes. It’s a very good addition!)
Slow Cooker Beef Tacos
This meal requires a tiny bit of planning ahead – just enough to give you time to toss a few ingredients together in the morning. Place a top round London broil in your slow cooker – I like this cut because it has very little fat and shreds nicely when cooked. Add about half a cup of water or broth, cover and cook all day on low. Remove meat to a plate and shred with a fork or tongs (it should shred easily). Warm whole wheat tortillas and top with shredded beef. Let each person add shredded cheese and salsa. If you have time, chop a few vegetables to use as additional toppings (lettuce, tomatoes, onions, etc.). Serve with sliced apples or oranges. (The beef freezes well, so make a double batch and freeze half for another busy day.)
Breakfast for Dinner
On days when you’re completely out of dinner options, serve a simple breakfast for dinner. Scramble some eggs (and maybe add some shredded cheese) and serve with whole wheat toast and orange slices. Because some days, a mom’s gotta do what a mom’s gotta do!
Cooking healthy meals for your family pays big dividends, but it takes time and effort. So make things easy on yourself by making a back-up plan – a list of simple dinners you can make in minutes, using ingredients you can easily keep on hand.