Easy weeknight dinners

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One thing I hear from the majority of my patients is the need for quick and easy dinner ideas. Weeknights are busy, I hear you!

To get healthy, real, whole food based meals on the table quick, some planning ahead is key. There is no way you can get a meal on the table in less than 30 minutes if you get home and have no idea what you are going to make.

Are you trying to eat healthy AND get dinner on the table fast? Check out these tips for easy weeknight dinners! #saslife Click To Tweet

1. Make a Plan

Planning your dinners ahead of time doesn’t have to be complicated. You can set weekly themes to help narrow down the potential options, like Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday, (of course it doesn’t have to sound cute or rhyme), Chicken Wednesday, Pork Thursday, Salmon Friday, you get the idea.

You can also use this handout as a guide to help you meal plan.

2. Head to the Store

Make your grocery list from your meal planner (see above for an actual shot of my “meal planner” – definitely not fancy). Then get everything you need from the store to make those meals. Thanks to COVID, most grocery stores now have the option to purchase online and pickup or even have it delivered to your home to help make things even easier.

3. Prepare the Food

Meal prepping or batch cooking ahead of time is one option. Check out these blogs for more on that:

Or you can choose foods that you can prepare quickly. This is usually what I end up doing. There are a few things to keep in mind when planning meals ahead of time to ensure they really will be quick and easy.

  • Choose simple meals. We’re talking protein, veggies and maybe a nutrient dense carb, not beef wellington or turducken! Shredded cabbage (or cole slaw mix) sautéed with a little butter or ghee, salt and pepper and paired with cooked ground meat is tasty and ready to eat in minutes.
  • Choose quick cooking ingredients. Eggs, chicken thighs, thin boneless pork chops, chicken tenders, ground meats, shrimp and fish all cook quickly, as do fresh or frozen veggies. Pre-cut veggies are a time saver and are available in most grocery stores. Trader Joe’s had the biggest selection I’ve seen (I love their Asian style vegetable stir-fry mix!).
  • Make enough for leftovers. Unless you enjoy cooking every night or for every meal, make enough to either have that same meal again. If you don’t love leftovers, use parts of that meal again like tossing leftover protein on your salad the next day.
  • Use good tools! In order for prep to go quickly, you need a good sharp knife, proper cutting board and adequate skillets and sheet pans. Check out this Essential Kitchen Tools handout for more info.
  • Pre-make (or purchase) your favorite spice mixes and sauces. This makes your favorite meals even quicker to prepare.

Of course, there is always the slow cooker. You can set it up in the morning to cook all day, or if you are gone from the house too long, you can cook it overnight, put it away before you leave for work in the morning, then come dinner time, you just need to reheat. Try these 7 Slow Cooker Recipes to Warm Up Your Week.

Here are some of my favorite go-to easy meals:

  • Spicy Honey Brushed Chicken Thighs – Served with salad greens and corn on the cob.
  • Sheet Pan Tandoori Chicken and Cauliflower – Use either frozen cauliflower or pre-cut to save time.
  • Teriyaki Salmon with Bell Peppers, Broccoli and Cauliflower Rice – Use precooked salmon (365 brand responsibly farmed is what I usually grab) and frozen veggies. Thaw the salmon in the fridge overnight. The next morning, pour some teriyaki sauce over the salmon to marinade all day. When you are ready for dinner, take it out of the marinade and place on a sheet pan (covered with foil and/or parchment for easy clean up). Broil for 3-5 minutes, just until warm and slightly caramelized on top. While the salmon cooks, sauté the frozen veggies in a big skillet.
  • Lemon Pepper Barramundi with Sautéed Zucchini, Onions and Cherry Tomatoes (or really whatever veggies you want) – Thaw the fish in the fridge overnight. The next morning, place fish on a sheet pan (covered in foil and/or parchment for easy clean up) and sprinkle both sides with lemon pepper. Broil for 3-5 minutes on each side. While the fish cooks, slice up the veggies and toss them in a big skillet to sauté. The veggies and fish will be done at about the same time.
  • Meat and Veggie Skillet Meal – This is exactly as it sounds, usually a mix of ground meat, veggies and herbs/spices or a sauce. Toss the ground meat into a skillet and let it cook while you prep the veggies. Once the meat is almost all browned, add in the veggies and whatever herbs or spices you like and let it cook until everything is done. It can be as simple as ground beef with onions, bell peppers and broccoli with marinara sauce, or ground pork with green peas, broccoli and mushrooms, topped with a Thai Curry Sauce (like Yai’s Thai). Or even shrimp sautéed with sliced zucchini, summer squash, bell peppers and Cajun seasoning.

And for no cooking, snag a rotisserie chicken plus a salad kit. This is actually my “go-to” for vacation lunches. On the way into the beach, I grab a rotisserie chicken along with my other groceries, then each day for lunch I cut off more chicken and toss it in with the salad kit goodies, olive oil and white balsamic or lemon juice and I’m done!

Here are some more great ideas and tips:

4. Clean as You Go

I like to wash dishes as I cook so that when is dinner is done, I’m not left with a mountain of dishes in the sink. Another reason one pot or sheet pan meals are ideal for weeknights.

5. Get Help!!

Put others to work in the kitchen alongside you – your partner, spouse and/or kids. It’s not only great bonding time, but with your kids, you are teaching them valuable life skills. Knowing how to prepare simple foods is an important skill to maintain health (stay tuned for my next blog all about kids in the kitchen).

6. Practice Makes Perfect!

The more you cook certain meals, the quicker you get. Keep that in mind if you aren’t an experienced cook right now.

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About Author

Kelly LeSage, MS, RDN, LDN, IFNCP

Nutritionist

Kelly is a Nutritionist at the HCC at SAS Institute Inc. in Cary NC. She received her Bachelor of Science degree in Exercise Science from Arizona State University and her Master of Science degree in Nutrition from Bastyr University. She is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and an Integrative and Functional Nutrition Certified Practitioner. Her areas of expertise include functional nutrition, health and wellness education, prenatal nutrition, food allergies and intolerances and culinary nutrition. Follow @klesageRD on Twitter.

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