There seems to be this notion that in order to eat well you have spend a lot of time in the kitchen. People associate healthy food with an elaborately planned and executed meal, but I am here to tell you that doesn’t have to be the case. Sure, you can spend a lot of time preparing a wonderfully delicious and healthy meal and on the weekends I myself like to spend some extra time in the kitchen. But 90% of the time, I want to get a meal on the table in under an hour. Most of you probably have busy lives with jobs, kids, spouses, and a million other activities going on. You don’t really have time to be spending over an hour getting dinner ready every night. Meal prepping can be a huge help in this area and I have talked about it many times before. But sometimes you are left trying to get healthy food on the table in a hurry with no planned or prepped meals at hand. Rather than reach for the take out menu or head to your nearest fast food joint, I have some items that you can keep on hand to whip up a healthy meal in no time.
Keep a box of your favorite pasta in your pantry and you will always have a quick meal at hand. I like to keep brown rice pasta or corn pasta well stocked at all times (sidenote: I get my pasta from Aldi. It is under $2, gluten free, and has an ingredient list of one. It’s awesome). You can keep it simple and make your traditional pasta and tomato sauce or you can get creative and try making your own sauce out of pesto or avocado or even salsa. Pasta is a great canvas for adding things like roasted vegetables, beans, or eat and it’s a great thing to help tie together a meal of odds and ends you may have hanging out in the fridge. Make sure to read the label of your pasta and know what’s in it. There are a ton of different kinds out there, so whether you’re gluten free or looking for a heart healthy version you’re bound to find pasta that works for you.
Beans are just as versatile as pasta and can be even cheaper. I have a variety of dried beans like chickpeas, black beans, and cannellini beans that I keep on hand at all times. You do have to think a little bit ahead with dried beans because they need to be soaked and then cooked. If you don’t have the time for that though, you can stock your shelves with canned beans. Make sure that the only ingredients are beans and water and that you drain and rinse the beans before you use them. Beans can pretty much be added to any dish. Try them in soups or stews, in stir frys, on top of salads or pasta. You can saute them with some leafy greens like collard or kale. Or mash them up and puree them for a dip or spread for breads and crackers. Beans add protein and fiber to any meal and are quick and cheap. All wins in my book.
I always have eggs in my fridge because they are delicious and cheap. There are so many different meals that you can make with eggs and they aren’t just for breakfast, although breakfast for dinner is awesome as well as quick. Try a frittata or an omelette for dinner and add in your favorite vegetables and seasonings. Poached eggs are simple and go pretty much on top of anything from pasta to vegetables to salad to soup. Seriously, put eggs on anything and it is an awesome meal.
Frozen Fruit & Vegetables
At any given time I have at least 4 bags of frozen vegetables in my freezer along with a bag of frozen bananas. The bananas get turned into tasty desserts, but the vegetables are great when I need a quick side dish or need to up the vegetable intake of any dish. Some people think that frozen isn’t as healthy as fresh but that just isn’t true and frozen vegetables can save you a lot of time at dinner. They work great in stir fry or added to grains and pasta. I know at my grocery store you can buy big 5 pound bags of vegetables. This saves money and you can just portion out what you need for that meal and put the rest back in the fridge. It’s also a nice way to get a variety of vegetables no matter what season you’re in.
Ah the humble potato. Most of the time people only think of potatoes in the form of french fries, but they are a really versatile food. You can bake them, roast them, boil them, mash them, put them in a stew (Lord of the Rings reference anyone? Yup, I’m a nerd). Try making a baked potato and then loading it up with things like beans or vegetables or salsa or leftover meat. Now you have a quick and delicious dinner in less than 30 minutes. And don’t just limit yourself to russet potatoes, try sweet potatoes, fingerling potatoes, or red potatoes. There are so many different kinds and you can put them in anything.
Soup and Salad
Olive Garden has it right with making a meal out of soup and salad (and breadsticks, but we won’t go there). Yes, there are a few good brands of canned soup out there, but most of the time they are loaded with sodium and unpronounceable ingredients. It’s really easy to make your own soup and a lot healthier too. Start with sauteing whatever vegetables you have on hand (onions, garlic, carrots, celery, parsnips, leeks are all good), then add in water or vegetable/chicken broth and seasonings, next try adding things like beans, cooked meat, brown rice/quinoa/millet, or potatoes. Simmer everything for about 15 minutes and if you want stir in some leafy greens, like kale, at the very end. Simple soup and all in one pot. Salads are another great meal, all you need is some cut and washed greens and toppings. Again, beans, meat, more vegetables, nuts/seeds, dried fruit, hard boiled eggs, are all great things to add to your salad. And if you really don’t have time to cut up your own lettuce, just grab a bag of pre-cut lettuce at the store. Just don’t pour a huge amount of store bought dressing all over your delicious, healthy salad. Try making your own with any of these recipes.
Good food doesn’t have to take a long time or a lot of brain power. All the things I listed here are things that I usually have on hand and can be thrown together quickly. So don’t panic if it’s dinner time and you realize you have no idea what to put on the table. If you keep a few of these items in your kitchen, you’re never far away from a tasty and wholesome meal.