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Quick & Healthy Meal Ideas

As parents, we always strive to give our families healthy food, but since most of us are limited on time to shop for and prepare nutritious meals and snacks, we may frequently find ourselves in a fast food drive-thru or reaching for prepackaged items because we need something quick and affordable. Unfortunately, what’s quick isn’t always healthy, and may even be downright damaging to our bodies. Time is a valuable resource, so here are seven tips for preparing healthy weeknight meals in 30 minutes or less, plus five quick, midweek recipes that are not only nourishing, but also incredibly simple to make – and budget-friendly.
1. Decide how you are going to plan meals.
Some people like to look through cookbooks or Pinterest to pick recipes and then make weekly shopping and menu lists accordingly, while others are more spontaneous and are inspired by the items they already have at home or the available (or most affordable) produce and meat at the grocery stores. Work with your personality, but try to write a list for the grocery store and do not go shopping when you’re hungry, as you will be more likely to stick to your budget and avoid impulse purchases.
2. Plan a day to shop for and prepare meals and snacks.
Find a day (or a couple of days) where you can do the bulk of your food shopping and prep work. Some preparation tips:

  • Make double batches
  • Freeze meals you’ve prepared for later use
  • Chop and cut vegetables and rotisserie chicken so you can incorporate them into a meal later in the week
  • Hard-boil eggs for a quick snack or to throw on a salad or in a lunch box
  • Make homemade sauces and bone broths
  • Prepare healthy bars or muffins for easy breakfasts, snacks or school lunches

3. Keep healthy food in your fridge, freezer and pantry so you always have it available when you are in a time crunch.
Foods to always keep on hand:

  • Fresh and frozen vegetables and fruit should always be a priority because you can build meals around those
  • Healthy proteins include fresh, frozen, or canned fish; beef; ham; rotisserie chicken; deli meats; eggs; organic dairy products and beans
  • Preferred complex carbohydrates that you should have available are root vegetables, rice, quinoa, oatmeal, gluten-free or whole-wheat pasta and sprouted bread
  • Essential fats and oils to have handy are nuts and seeds (along with their butters such as almond and sunflower butter, and flours, such as coconut and almond flour), grass-fed butter, coconut oil, olive oil, avocado oil, and oils for infusing and enhancing flavor, such as truffle, macadamia, walnut and sesame oil
  • Other food items to keep in stock include herbs, spices, vinegars, hummus, tahini, organic ketchup, organic pasta sauce and dressing, as well as healthy (or homemade) mayonnaise and mustard to create exciting, yet nutritious, meals

4. Keep meal building simple.
Start out with the protein you want to have (meat, chicken, eggs, dairy, beans) and how you want it prepared, then pick your vegetable(s) (fresh, steamed, roasted, grilled, sautéed, baked), and finally, add a complex carbohydrate. Keep your ingredient list short and don’t overthink it. Your meal doesn’t have to be elaborate, complex or gourmet in order to be absolutely delicious and satisfying.
5. Stick with what you know.
Midweek, when you are short on time, prepare the meals that you know have worked for you and your family. Explore your adventurous culinary side when you have more time on your hands (weekends, perhaps?).
6. Meals don’t have to be traditional.
Who doesn’t love breakfast for dinner? How about a few appetizers to compose a meal, tapas style? If you have leftovers, creatively incorporate them into the meal you are making (like throwing in veggies and meat into a soup, stew, eggs or salad, or making fried rice with leftover rice, vegetables and eggs). And there is absolutely nothing wrong with letting your kids have hands-on fun with their meals once in a while by allowing them to play with their food. Slice fruit, vegetables, cheese and deli meat and allow them to make artistic masterpieces with their food prior to eating their creations.
7. Don’t stress.
Once you get the organization and preparation down, you will notice that grocery shopping and meal prep will start running smoothly. And even if you sometimes don’t have all the necessary ingredients or the time to put a meal together, go with what you do have available and “healthy it up.” For instance, in a pinch, I add my own leftover vegetables and meat to organic canned soup or Annie’s Organic pasta. While unprocessed and whole foods get preferential treatment, modern life doesn’t always allow for it, so put away the guilt, do the best you can, and remind yourself that mealtime doesn’t have to be expensive, complicated or fancy to be nourishing and enjoyable for your entire family.
Dana Shafir, Ph.D., LPC, is a psychotherapist and health and wellness coach. She lives in Arlington with her husband and three young daughters. Visit her at danashafirwellness.com.