How many times have you found yourself driving home from work with no idea what to make for dinner, so you head to the nearest fast-food joint? Take heart: here are some simple but effective tips that will have you whipping up healthy fare at home in the time it would take to have a pizza delivered to your door. Diane Lofshult, a freelance writer and editor based in Encinitas, California, shares some suggestions from nutrition experts.
First decide on the specific meals you intend to serve over the next week. Then you can determine the particular ingredients and quantities you’ll need to buy for each breakfast, lunch or dinner.
“If you don’t plan ahead, the mental effort to figure out what to make each night and then ensure you have what you need to cook can be a drag—and all the more reason why you end up calling out for pizza again,” says Natalie Digate Muth, RD, MD, a nutrition expert for the American Council on Exercise and a pediatrics resident at the University of California Mattel Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles.
When deciding which meals to cook on what nights, assign the simpler meals to the evenings you know will be most hectic or when activities may run later than your regular dinner hour. Always plan one extra meal each week to serve as a backup in case an essential ingredient is not available at the grocery store. For ideas on what to prepare, the Internet is a great source for quick-dinner recipes; just search for “30-minute meals” or “simple meals.”
You can save considerable time and effort if you wash and dice certain foods as soon as you get home from the grocery store. This practice ensures that healthy ingredients are ready when you need them.
The best vegetables to prep ahead are the heartier varieties, such as squash, carrots, broccoli, peppers, zucchini and beets. After you have washed and cut up your produce, save and bag a handful from each pile of veggies to use later in the week for a quick stir-fry meal.
If you prefer convenience over cutting, buy some veggies, like celery or carrots, pre-cut, advises Jenna A. Bell, PhD, co-author of Energy to Burn (Wiley 2009) and a registered dietitian based in New York City. “Grocery shopping is enough work, so if you are challenged by that huge head of broccoli, buy it already sliced or diced,” she says.
When it comes to deciding which meals to make ahead of time, “think stews, sauces and casseroles, like a veggie–based lasagna, which can be tasty even when cold!” says Bell.
Make at least one healthy meal each weekend and cook extra portions of the main ingredients, which can then be used as the basis for other meals later that week, suggests Cathy Leman, MA, RD, LD, a personal trainer and the owner of NutriFit, a Glen Ellyn, Illinois, nutrition therapy practice and private personal training studio. “For example, [you] might prepare a Sunday dinner that includes a hearty bean chili; a whole grain–based side dish, such as quinoa; and a big pan of roasted vegetables. Any leftover chili can accompany a green salad for lunch on Monday, while the quinoa can be used for a cold quinoa and veggie salad the following night. And the roasted veggies can be warmed up for side dishes all week long or folded into pita bread or a tortilla with hummus for a quick lunch.”