Quick Dinner Ideas

Don't have the time and energy to cook a big dinner at the end of a busy day? Fortunately, healthy cooking doesn't have to be time-consuming or difficult. On days like these, it's important to have your kitchen stocked with a few essentials that can be whipped into a quick and healthy meal.

Stock Your Kitchen

Here are some healthy staples to keep in your kitchen for nights when time is tight. When you shop, think about the basic foods you need to Create a Healthy Plate which is: ½ non-starchy vegetables, ¼ lean protein, ¼ whole grains or starchy foods, and some fruit and/or dairy on the side.

Vegetables

  • Frozen vegetables – keep a few of your favorites in the freezer
  • Fresh vegetables – keep some basic salad ingredients like greens, a few tomatoes, a cucumber and a bell pepper
  • Reduced-sodium canned tomatoes are great for adding to pastas, casseroles and more
  • Other canned vegetables that you like such as artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, etc.

Starchy Foods

  • Reduced-sodium canned beans – choose from black, kidney, navy, garbanzo and more
  • Quinoa, quick-cooking whole barley, whole grain pasta, whole wheat cous cous
  • Pre-cooked brown rice – all you need to do is heat it up in the microwave
  • Whole wheat tortillas or corn tortillas

Protein Foods

  • Rotisserie chicken – use it throughout the week in salads, pastas, sandwiches or tacos
  • Frozen fish filets
  • Frozen chicken breasts
  • Eggs

Fruit

  • Fresh fruit makes a good side at dinner, or even a dessert
  • Keep some berries or grapes around which are easy to wash and serve in a bowl
  • Canned fruit – choose varieties canned in juice, not syrup
  • Lemons and limes – juice from these citrus fruits makes a great flavoring for vegetables, fish or chicken

Dairy

  • Skim or 1% milk – unsweetened soymilk or almond milk are also options, especially for lactose intolerance
  • Light/non-fat yogurt (regular or Greek) – note that flavored varieties will have more carbohydrate than plain

Some Extras to Have Around

  • Olive oil
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Various spices and dried herbs
  • Light salad dressing
  • Salsa
  • Salt and pepper
  • Nuts – add to salads and other vegetable dishes
  • Trans-free margarine
  • Minced garlic (jarred)

If you tend to be short on time during the week, it's very important to plan ahead. You might be interested in our article, Back to School – 6 Tips for Eating and Living Well.

Quick & Nutritious Dinner Ideas

  1. Defrost frozen fish filets in the fridge the night before you plan to use them. Brush the fish lightly with olive oil and season with freshly ground pepper and other dried herbs. Bake the fish in the oven until done and serve with ½ cup of pre-cooked brown rice and steamed green beans.
  2. Make a salad for your entrée. Chop up your favorite non-starchy vegetables and serve them over a bed of greens. Add some rotisserie chicken breast, cottage cheese or another reduced-fat cheese. Have your salad with a side of whole wheat garlic bread or some fresh fruit.
  3. Try chicken tacos. Use rotisserie chicken or defrost and roast up some frozen chicken. Fill a corn or whole wheat tortilla with shredded chicken, tomatoes, lettuce, fresh cilantro and black beans. If you want, top it all with a spoonful of salsa and some non-fat plain Greek yogurt.
  4. Scramble up a few eggs for dinner. Top them with peppers and onions that you&'ve heated from frozen. Throw in a slice of whole wheat toast with some trans free margarine.
  5. Try pasta primavera (vegetables with pasta). Add frozen vegetables to pasta during the last 3 minutes of cooking. Drain the water and then toss with a two tablespoons of light salad dressing and cooked diced chicken. Or, toss in pasta sauce if you prefer a red sauce.
  6. Stir fry is another easy option! Keep a frozen vegetable stir-fry medley in your freezer. Sauté on the stove with vegetable oil. Add some frozen shrimp or heated chicken and serve over brown rice, quinoa or whole farro.
  7. Make a veggie flatbread. Sauté some frozen or fresh veggies and pile them onto a premade whole wheat pizza crust (or a whole wheat pita will also work!) and top with reduced-fat mozzarella cheese and tomato slices. Bake in the oven until the cheese melts.
  8. In the morning, toss some canned beans, canned tomatoes, tomato sauce, and frozen corn in a crockpot with some cumin, chili powder and garlic. Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours to make a chili that will be ready when you get home. You can also add other vegetables that you have on hand like diced onions, bell pepper or carrots.

Looking For Recipes?

Prefer to follow a recipe? Here are some quick and tasty dinner recipes from Recipes for Healthy Living. If you want to receive more free recipes like these each month, sign up for our Recipes for Healthy Living e-newsletter.

Spinach and Ham English Muffin Pizzas
Need a dinner in less than 20 minutes? Here's your answer, it's nothing fancy but it provides some vegetables and is healthier and cheaper than ordering out. Kids will also love this dish!

Slow Cooker Chicken Fajita Burritos
A slow cooker or crock pot will cook food slowly on a low heat throughout the day while you're at work. Throw the ingredients together before you leave for the day and come home to a hot dinner that's ready to eat!

Speedy and Spicy Shrimp Stir Fry
Here's a simple stir-fry recipe that uses frozen vegetables and can be ready minutes!

Eating out for dinner?

Sometimes, grabbing a quick bite is all you have time for on a busy evening. Find tips for days that you find yourself dining out in our Eating Out section.

  • Last Reviewed: August 1, 2013
  • Last Edited: December 19, 2013

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