So, you have a routine for back-to-school lunches started, but what about those evenings (and weekends) after school, school activities, and work? Some days, there is little time and energy to spare when trying to decide: “what’s for dinner?” much less trying to figure out how to make a good dinner selection both quick and healthy! The key in this situation is learning to plan ahead and learning what to keep and use on hand to prepare something delicious and nutritious for you and the whole family!
“Eating healthy doesn’t always have to be a huge time investment if you think ahead and have the right recipes and ingredients on hand,” says Bethany Say, RD, LDN, CDCES. “I’m a huge proponent of cooking 2-3 meals (with enough for leftovers) over the weekend to enjoy as heat-and-serve meals during busy school nights.”
How Does Meal Prep Help?
Meal preparation, when done right, will help save both time and money, as well as spare you the frustration of getting a nutritious meal that you and others enjoy onto the table when work and school schedules are tight. You may balk at the notion of NOT buying packaged and prepared foods (and let’s face it, there are times when that’s OK!), but preparing your own ingredients will ultimately save you money. Ask yourself: “will this dinner provide me with tomorrow’s lunch?”. Registered dietician, Bethany Say, offers a handful of key tips will help you figure out which recipes will work the best, whether you’re already pressed for time and looking for ideas, or are able to plan out meals for a few days or even an entire week in advance!
- Remember that convenience costs more!
- Choose recipes that make enough for leftovers later in the week, saving you time and money on additional meals!
- Try one new recipe along with 1-2 “tried and true” recipes. This allows for some room for error if a new recipe does not work out!
- If prepping all at once, choose recipes that utilize different cooking methods to allow for multitasking. For example, you might put a sheet tray recipe in the oven while another recipe cooks in a crock pot.
- Look for recipes that are “one and done”, aka, “dump and go”. Look for sheet tray, crockpot, air fryer, or one pot/skillet within the recipe name.
- Take notes! You may find your creative juices flowing (no pun intended!), and will have future recipe modifications to improve portions, flavor, etc., to use at a future time!
Suggestions for Quicker Meals
From the freezer
- Keep your freezer stocked with frozen vegetable blends, whole grains, and grilled chicken.
- Keep frozen berries and light yogurt on hand for quick sides or smoothies. Add protein powder for extra nutrition!
- Try salad mixes that come with toppings and dressing.
- Add chicken or tuna packets, cheese, hard boiled eggs, and even nuts for protein with a salad blend.
Consider a nutritious charcuterie board with a variety of lean meats, cheeses, and fresh fruits and vegetables! Some suggestions include:
- Cheese made with skim or 1% milk
- Turkey or chicken deli meat
- Turkey pepperoni
- Walnuts, almonds, pistachios, sunflower seeds, etc.
- Fresh-cut fruit or “hand” fruit (apples, peaches, pears, etc.)
- Raw veggies and dip
Try whole grain sandwiches, subs, wraps, or low carb alternatives with the following choices:
- Roast beef, ox roast, turkey, chicken, ham
- Cheese (that skim or 1% mentioned above!)
- Lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, etc.
- Fresh fruit or a fruit cup, veggies and dip, and vegetable blends that can be easily steamed and cooked
- Light yogurt or Greek yogurt
- Rice cakes or popcorn chips or baked chips
- Quest chips (low carb alternative)
Whether you need them for tonight’s dinner plans, or a couple of things to prepare on a Sunday afternoon for the upcoming week’s lunches, check out the recipes below for some ideas, curated by Bethany Say, RD, LDN, CDCES. Meadville Medical Center offers nutrition services at our Mind-Body Wellness facility.
- 1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, all visible fat discarded
- 1 pound baby carrots
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1 medium potato, peeled and chopped into 1/2-inch cubes
- 1 medium bell pepper (any color), chopped
- 14.5-ounce can no-salt-added diced tomatoes, undrained
- 18-ounce can no-salt-added tomato sauce
- Juice from 1 medium lime
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
- 2 teaspoons cumin
- 2 teaspoons chili powder
- 4 medium garlic cloves, minced
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon pepper
- 4 cups fat-free, low-sodium chicken broth
- If frozen, thaw the bag of chicken in the refrigerator overnight.
- Pour the contents into a slow cooker. Stir in the broth.
- Cook, covered, on low for 6 to 8 hours, or until the vegetables are tender and the chicken is no longer pink in the center.
- Just before serving, transfer the chicken to a cutting board.
- Using two forks, shred the chicken.
- Transfer the chicken to the slow cooker, stirring to combine.
- 1 ½ lbs. flank steak
- 1 cup low-sodium beef broth
- ¼ cup low-sodium soy sauce
- ¼ cup oyster sauce
- 1 tbsp honey
- 1 tbsp rice vinegar
- 2-tsp Sriracha
- 2-tsp minced garlic
- 2-tbsp cornstarch
- 5 cups broccoli florets
- Pre-prepared brown rice (can use microwaveable, but optional)
- Chopped green onion
- Coat a 4-quart or larger slow cooker with nonstick spray. Place the beef in the bottom.
- In a small bowl, stir together the beef broth, soy sauce, oyster sauce, honey, rice vinegar, Sriracha, and garlic.
- Pour over the beef, then stir to combine.
- Cover and cook on low for 1 and 1/2 hours.
- In a small bowl, whisk together 1/4 cup of water and cornstarch. Stir into the slow cooker with the beef and sauce, then place the broccoli on top.
- Cover, turn the heat to high, and cook another 30 minutes until the broccoli is tender.
- Serve warm over rice, sprinkled with green onions and sesame seeds as desired.
- 2 lbs. boneless chicken breast
- 1 cup hot sauce
- 1/3 cup oil
- 3 tbsp low sodium soy sauce
- 1 ½ tsp garlic powder
- ½ tsp cayenne (optional- adds more heat)
- 8 small, sweet potatoes
- Ranch dressing
- Place chicken in a slow cooker set on low.
- In a small saucepan on medium heat, combine the butter, hot sauce, soy sauce, garlic powder, and cayenne (optional). Stir together until fully melted.
- Pour sauce into slow cooker.
- Cook for 4-6 hours on low or 2-3 hours on high; or until chicken is fully cooked and tender.
- Remove chicken from slow cooker and shred with two forks. Return to slow cooker and toss with the sauce.
- Microwave or bake the sweet potatoes.
- Serve chicken in the baked sweet potatoes and drizzle with ranch.
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1 tsp salt
- ½ tsp pepper
- 4 chicken thighs (using boneless, skinless chicken breasts will decrease calories and fat content!)
- 1 small red onion, sliced
- 8 mini bell peppers, seeded and halved
- 1 lb. baby potatoes
- 1 sliced lemon
- ¼ cup crumbled feta cheese
- ¼ cup parsley
- 8 pitted kalamata olives
- Preheat oven to 425°F.
- Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil.
- Whisk olive oil, juice of 1 lemon, vinegar, tarragon, oregano, paprika, salt, and pepper together in a large bowl. Add chicken thighs, onion, baby bell peppers, and potatoes. Stir until everything is evenly coated.
- Transfer vegetable-chicken mixture to the prepared baking sheet and spread in an even layer.
- Scatter lemon slices over the vegetables, making sure to leave the chicken uncovered so that the skin will brown.
- Bake in preheated oven for about 40 minutes.
- Remove from oven and top with feta, parsley, and olives.
- 3 tablespoons low-fat mayonnaise
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- 2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
- 4 teaspoons olive oil, divided
- ½ teaspoon salt, divided
- ¼ teaspoon ground pepper, divided
- 4 cups broccoli florets (8 oz.; 1 medium crown)
- 1 ¼ pounds salmon fillet, cut into 4 portions
- 2 limes, 1 zested and juiced, 1 cut into wedges for serving
- ¼cup crumbled feta or cotija cheese
- ½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
- Preheat oven to 425°F.
- Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with foil and coat with cooking spray.
- Combine mayonnaise and chili powder in a small bowl. Set aside.
- Toss sweet potatoes with 2 tsp. oil, 1/4 tsp. salt, and 1/8 tsp. pepper in a medium bowl.
- Spread on the prepared baking sheet. Roast for 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, toss broccoli with the remaining 2 tsp. oil, 1/4 tsp. salt, and 1/8 tsp. pepper in the same bowl.
- Remove the baking sheet from oven. Stir the sweet potatoes and move them to the sides of the pan.
- Arrange salmon in the center of the pan and spread the broccoli on either side, among the sweet potatoes. Spread 2 Tbsp. of the mayonnaise mixture over the salmon.
- Bake until the sweet potatoes are tender and the salmon flakes easily with a fork, about 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, add lime zest and lime juice to the remaining 1 Tbsp. mayonnaise; mix well.
- Divide the salmon among 4 plates and top with cheese and cilantro.
- Divide the sweet potatoes and broccoli among the plates and drizzle with the lime-mayonnaise sauce. Serve with lime wedges and any remaining sauce.
- 1-pound large shrimp peeled and deveined
- 14-ounce pork or chicken sausage sliced
- 2 medium-sized zucchini sliced
- 2 medium-sized yellow squash sliced
- ½ bunch asparagus sliced into thirds 2 red bell pepper chopped into chunks
- Salt and Pepper
- 2 Tablespoons olive oil
- 2 Tablespoons Cajun seasoning
- Preheat oven to 400°F.
- In a large bowl add the shrimp, sausage, zucchini, yellow squash, asparagus, bell pepper, and salt and pepper. Add olive oil and cajun seasoning and toss until coated.
- Spread evenly onto a sheet pan. Bake in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes or until shrimp is pink and vegetables are tender.