In our busy world, by the time dinnertime rolls around after a full day at work and/or taking care of your family, it can be hard to find the energy to make dinner. But the stats aren’t pretty: 2/3 of those in the United States consume fast food at least once a week, and a 2011 survey discovered that 28 percent of Americans don’t even know how to cook. 21 percent of respondents said there simply wasn’t enough time. Making a commitment to cook dinner means you control what you’re putting into your body and your overall health will benefit. Check out these tips on how to create healthy dinners that won’t take up too much time, so you can easily get dinner on the table once you return home from the office.
1. Plan Ahead
It’s stressful to get home from work and realize you have no groceries. Instead, embrace the art of planning. A common trick is to sit down every Sunday and write out a meal plan for the following week, then head to the supermarket and stock up so there are no last-minute trips for that forgotten clove of garlic or lemon. But you can plan anytime: if it’s easier to plan on Sundays for the next three nights and then sit down Wednesday evening to plot out the rest of the week, that’s perfectly okay. Find a routine that works for you. The most important thing is that your fridge and pantry and cupboards are stocked with enough healthy options so you can create fast, healthy dinners with as little stress as possible.
Want some help? Check out the app Pepperplate, which will organize your recipes and even create shopping lists that you can take to the grocery store. It doesn’t get much easier than that.
2. Enjoy Everyone's Favourite Grain
Quinoa has become increasingly popular recently and for good reason: the ancient grain (which is actually a seed, but is considered to be part of the whole grain family) has several minerals and vitamins, along with iron and fiber. Quinoa is also gluten-free and is considered to be a complete protein, meaning that it has all of the necessary amino acids that your body needs. Quinoa will be an amazing addition to your weeknight meals. Cook a big batch on Monday night: it only takes 15-18 minutes. The popular grain is 160 calories per serving of 1/4 cup, with 6 grams of protein. Here are some easy ways to work quinoa into your evening meals:
- as a side dish for chicken, steak or fish
- as part of a Mexican-inspired quinoa bowl: layer quinoa, black beans, avocado, salsa or tomatoes, and your preferred spices
- spruced up with some raisons, dried fruit, or almonds
- as a complete meal with some quick sauteed kale and mushrooms
3. Love Your Freezer
Your freezer isn’t just a place for ice cream and that long forgotten bag of frozen beyond recognitiion peas. It can be your best chance of getting a healthy dinner on the table. Every time you make tomato sauce for your pasta dinner, for example, make extra sauce and freeze it. Then the following week, when you want spagetti once again, all you have to do is boil the pasta, which takes 10 minutes. While it’s easy enough to buy a can of tomato sauce and open it, your health won’t benefit at all. It’s best to avoid processed foods as they have preservatives and artificial colour, not to mention fat, sugar, and sodium, which you don’t need.
If you really don’t have time to make your own sauce, try this trick. For a simple sauce that doesn’t mean standing at the stove and stirring for hours, buy a carton of cherry tomatoes and sautee them in olive oil with some salt, pepper and garlic. They will soften within minutes and are the perfect topper for pasta.
Another smart way to use your freezer is to stock up on chicken and meat when it’s on sale at your local supermarket. Buy enough for the entire month and freeze it. Now you’ve got access to lean protein whenever you need it
4. Create a Salad (or Taco, or Sandwich) Bar
Sometimes it can be boring to eat at home, especially with so many tempting take-out alternatives -- like the pizza you’re trying not to think about. So make eating dinner at home fun and embrace the idea of a bar.
For a salad bar, do the following:
- Make an easy protein (like strips of chicken or meat -- it’s even easier if you have some already in your freezer, as mentioned in the above tip)
- Choose a base: lettuce, kale, spinach
- Choose your toppings: cut-up peppers, red onion, avocado, walnuts
- Make a two-minute dressing: mix olive oil, lemon juice, and balsamic vinegar with salt and pepper
- Let everyone make their own salad and you have an easy dinner that feels more fun than simply making a large salad
You can easily make a taco or sandwich bar as well, by following the same protein, base, toppings, and dressing formula. For tacos and sandwiches, offer a few different proteins so everyone can choose their favourites. You can make these dinners as simple or more complicated as possible, depending on your time.
5. Get a Slow Cooker
A slow cooker is the busy worker’s best friend. You can place ingredients in the slow cooker in the morning before work and by the time you get home, dinner is ready. But you can make it even simpler: by prepping the ingredients the evening before, placing the slow cooker in the fridge, and then taking it out and setting it to its low setting so it cooks in the 8 hours you are at the office. You can make anything in the slow cooker, but the most popular recipes are chili (replace ground beef with turkey to make it healthier), chicken to make shredded chicken sandwiches or tacos, and any kind of beef or chicken stew. You can follow a few recipes if you are new at using a slow cooker, but it is super easy and you can make almost any kind of meal in it.
Finding the time and energy to make dinner every evening is not easy, but you will be rewarded not only with a delicious meal, but with lasting health benefits. Say goodbye to that greasy pizza or fast food burger or frozen meal and embrace the art of making weekly dinners. If you follow these tips, you will never shake your head wondering what to make for dinner again.