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How to Make a Quick & Healthy Weeknight Dinner

You know the drill – you arrive home late after work. You’re tired. You don’t feel like cooking. Usually this means you end up having cereal for dinner, or hitting the drive through on the way home, or just eating a container of ice cream and calling it a night. But I promise if you have just a few things on hand you can throw together a really simple, quick, and nutritious meal with little to no effort. Here’s how!

quick healthy weeknight dinner

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1) First, your base. Choose one to go on your plate:

  • For warm meals, 1 huge handful fresh baby spinach – pop it in the microwave for 1 minute on high to wilt it.
  • For cold meals, 1 huge handful of fresh salad greens – any kind.

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2) Choose one of the following and put a serving (½ cup cooked) on your plate.

A good idea for this step is to make a big batch of grains one night so you have it on hand the rest of the week. Another option? Uncle Ben’s 90 Second Brown Rice – it’s awesome.

  • Brown rice
  • Barley
  • Quinoa
  • Whole wheat pasta
  • Any other whole grain

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3) Add 1/2 cup of any of the following cooked beans to your plate.

This will add fiber and protein to keep you full! I recommend canned beans – they are so easy. Just drain and rinse them! Alternatively, if you have leftover cooked meat in the fridge (or canned meat/tuna), you could use that instead.

  • Cannellini beans (great with pasta)
  • Black beans (great with rice, quinoa, barley)
  • Kidney beans
  • Chickpeas or lentils (good with anything)
  • Etc.!

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4) Time to add some veggie power – anything you have on hand!

This will add nutrients and a lot of volume to your meal, keeping you full longer.

  • Cooked or fresh broccoli
  • Chopped peppers
  • Steamed zucchini and/or squash (great with pasta)
  • Chopped or cooked carrots or celery
  • Cooked string beans
  • Etc.!

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5) Top with a little fat (choose one or have both):

  • 1 to 2 tablespoons of cheese (cheddar, feta, goat, etc.)
  • ¼ of an avocado

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6) And finally, a sauce! Choose one depending on your theme:

  • Salsa (for Mexican inspired meals)
  • Marinara (pasta) sauce
  • Balsamic vinaigrette (I like Newman’s Own brand of balsamic vinaigrette – go for the regular version as low fat dressing often just have more sugar/salt/preservatives added).

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To get you started, here are a few of my favorite combos:

 

Mexican Mess

  • Base of microwave steamed spinach or fresh greens
  • ½ cup cooked brown rice or quinoa
  • ½ cup black beans
  • Chopped peppers and tomato
  • ¼ an avocado
  • 2 Tbsp. shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1/3 cup salsa, any kind

 

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Quinoa Chickpea Salad

  • Base of fresh greens
  • ½ cup cooked quinoa
  • ½ cup chickpeas
  • Chopped veggies – peppers, carrots, cucumber, etc.
  • ¼ an avocado
  • 1 Tbsp. feta cheese
  • 2 Tbsp. Balsamic vinaigrette

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Simple Veggie Pasta

  • Base of steamed spinach
  • 1/2 cup cooked whole wheat pasta
  • 1/2 cup cannellini beans
  • Zucchini + squash, steamed in microwave
  • 1/2 cup marinara sauce

Another variation of this if you like tuna is to make my Cold Tuna Pasta Salad or Tuna & Veggie Pasta Salad – both are delicious and really simple – they use canned tuna!

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I hope you guys find this post helpful the next time you arrive home with no idea what to make for dinner! The key is to include a lot of volume from veggies to help keep you full, and to make sure to add some form of protein – either beans or a lean meat/seafood.

A few more previous posts you might also find helpful:

What’s your favorite quick and easy weeknight dinner staple?

Comments

  1. 1

    Love all of these ideas! I try to keep roasted veggies on hand for throw together meals like these. My favoite is a 1/4 of a kabocha squash topped with an eggwhite/spinach omelette, nutbutter and pom seeds….I’ve been enjoying this on a biweekly basis! ;)

  2. 2

    I love this! So simple. Aside from a salad, I never think to use spinach or salad greens as a base and go from there. Or to add grains to it. I’m just not very creative when it comes to those, but this gives me some great things to build on. I don’t like beans, but seem easy enough to swap out for meat/chicken/fish.
    I think I know what I’m having for dinner tonight!

  3. 3

    Great ideas! If we’d like to add protein in the form of lean meat, would that replace the beans?

  4. 5

    Perfect! I think salads and stir fries are really the EASIEST and tastiest quick meals anyone could make! :)

  5. 6

    This is exactly how I make lots of my quick throw together meals!

  6. 7

    I am going to look for that rice. But my stand-by is sweet potatoes. That first bowl looks SO good.

    The Kidless Kronicles

  7. 9

    I do this all the time, though never add the spinach. That is a genius plan, and I will be adding that to the rotation.

    We call this “Lazy Dinner.”

  8. 10

    Love this post! Such easy ideas to create full, well-rounded meals. Thank you for sharing!

  9. 11
    Healthy Eater says:

    Looks great, Thx.

  10. 12

    Love all these ideas! I’m obsessed with those 90-second rice packets. It doesn’t get any easier than that!

  11. 13

    I love this post! I’m going to try the Mexican Mess but for an extra nutrient boost I’ll add chia seeds :)

  12. 14

    I do this same thing all the time! for dinner the other night we had no idea what to make and just threw a bunch of things together, ended up with steamed spinach, israeli cous cous, lentils, peas, edamame, sauteed mushrooms+garlic+onion and a little bit of tofu, topped with pepitas and pesto. It was *surprisingly* good. I have leftover spinach, lentil, edamame, peas mix and I threw on some chickpeas and bbq sauce for lunch tomorrow- hope it’ll be good!

  13. 15

    I’ve shared this post on FB, and everyone is really impressed. I use a similar recipe for all my meals during the week, but you’ve given me a few new ideas. Thanks for sharing this in such a concise, easy to read format.

  14. 17

    I love fast, easy meals for work days! I always try to have staple items on hand to make random dinners!

  15. 18

    I find that having some food items prepped (chopped veggies, cooked quinoa, pre-washed greens) means that most of my unplanned weeknight meals end up like this. Most of the time, though, I have a list of dinners already planned for the week and just make whatever’s on the list (and have leftovers for lunches). It works well for me!

  16. 19

    Such a great post! Sometimes I get so boggled down with trying to make more elaborate meals that it’s awesome to have a back to basics post. AND to include recipes! Than you!!

  17. 20

    I too slightly wilt my spinach in the microwave when I tire of raw greens, which lends a creamy texture to the whole bowl – esp. when I use nutritional yeast and avocado. And, I make a nearly identical version of your Mexican Mess – a dish in my regular rotation which has been begging for a catchier title for years!

    This is such a terrific (practical!) post, Anne. :)

  18. 21

    these are great tips, thanks Anne!

  19. 22

    I love this approach to eating. It makes everything so simple. My Mom used to have a casserole template that she used to put together meals when I was a kid. I prefer your “salady” meals to casseroles though. The ones I grew up with were very carb heavy.

  20. 23

    I want to print these steps out and put them on the refrigerator. Thanks for sharing how simple and easy it is to make a healthy, satisfying weeknight meal. Looking forward to trying this out soon.

  21. 24

    This is SO how I “cook” on weeknights too. haha!

  22. 25

    Thanks for the inspiration! I’ll these tips. For sure!

  23. 26

    Just made my lunch consisting of spinach, some leftover roast chicken, garbanzos (decreased to 1/4 cup), carrots, and hummus (ran out of salad dressing and quinoa–must go to grocery store ASAP).

    So glad I found your blog–been lurking for a while, but posting for the first time. I love your recipes and reviews of running wear/shoes. My best friend is vegan and I just sent her your biscotti recipe.

    • 27

      Sounds delicious! Hummus is always a win. Thanks for reading and for saying hello – and for referring your vegan friend to my biscotti recipe!

  24. 28

    Hi Anne — Thanks for all of the great recipes. My husband and I make something very similar to your “Mexican Mess,” but we add a fried egg on top. We’ve taken to calling it “Mexi-bap” since it’s kind of like a Mexican version of bibimbap.

  25. 30
    Sandra in TX says:

    Thank you Anne! This is a great post, exactly what I need. I’m always looking for quick, healthy meal ideas.

  26. 31

    Love, love, love this post! I need somebody to walk me through how to throw things like this together for work lunches…and boom, I find this blog! Awesome :)

  27. 33

    The “Mexican Mess” looks delicious, will certainly be trying some of these out!

  28. 34

    Great idea! Will definitely be trying this.

  29. 35

    Awesome tips! Big messes of grains, beans and veggies plus a little avocado are always my fave :)

  30. 36

    Wow! Your dishes at the bottom look great and the steps are so simple to follow! I am going to be living on my own for the first time next year at school, with access to a kitchen, and these look like some great go to meals for the weekdays!

  31. 37

    I made the Mexican mess tonight and I love it! I followed your ingredients exactly–I was amazed I ate so much veggies. I have been trying to increase my daily veggie intake. I definitely will include this in my dinnerrotation. Thanks Anne. (BTW–I have been eating your microwave banana oatmeal five times a week for the past five months. It’s so easy to have during the work wee.I definitely have not gotten tired of the oatmeal for breakfast.)

  32. 39

    This is great! love the ideas!!! Enjoy reading your blog! :)

  33. 40

    I love this! Thank you!

  34. 41
    Heather Hening says:

    I love the ideas! I am a very busy mother with two young daughters. We eat out a lot and i hate it that we do it because i know its so unhealthy, but its convenient. My only other issue of eating healthy is its so expensive!!

Trackbacks

  1. […] I have some simple, healthy lunch ideas for you guys today, as a kind of variation on my How to Make a Quick & Healthy Weeknight Dinner […]

  2. […] owe this lunchtime inspiration to Anne’s previous “How To Make a Quick Healthy Weeknight Dinner” […]

  3. […] inspired by a post here on the blog – almost exactly a year ago, I wrote a post entitled “How to Make a Quick and Healthy Weeknight Dinner” that included 6 steps to throwing together an easy meal. One of the editors at Health saw the […]

  4. […] Meal (via Bon Appetit). This reminds me of the article I wrote for Health Magazine – and of my “How to Make a Quick & Healthy Weeknight Dinner” […]

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