If you’re like me, juggling work, school, friends and family, it can be hard to make time for a home-cooked meal after a long day. However, with a few tips and a little planning, it’s easy to make quick and healthy meals throughout the week.
For example, by having one or two quick recipe ideas in mind and the ingredients in your kitchen, you’ll be able to cook up a homemade meal at any time. Let’s say you’re a fan of grilled cheese with tomato soup. Make sure to have those ingredients on hand so they’re there when you’re hungry for a healthy and balanced meal at home.
Why cook at home?
Cooking at home can save money and time compared to going out to eat. Home-cooked meals are often healthier because you decide what goes in your food and how much you serve yourself. Home-cooked meals, compared to restaurant meals, have been found to be higher in calcium, fiber and iron and lower in sodium, calories and fat.3 In addition, cooking and eating with friends and family is one of the best ways to share recipes and share time together.
So without further ado, let’s dive into the six simple tips and see how they work.
The first step to planning a meal is balance. Our bodies work best with a balance of grains, protein, dairy, fruits, and vegetables.1 The goal is to make half your plate fruits and vegetables, a quarter of your plate grains, and a quarter protein.2 If you stick to that easy formula, you’ll be golden.
For more healthy tips, check out ChooseMyPlate.gov.
2 Quick meal ideas
Come up with a few quick meal ideas you like, make a list, and keep the ingredients on hand.
For example, some of my favorites are:
- Veggie quesadillas or burritos
- Grilled chicken salad with oranges
- Stir-fry with rice, vegetables, and meat or tofu
- Tortellini with spinach and walnuts
- English muffin pizzas
- Breakfast for dinner: toast, eggs, plus fruit or vegetables
- Lunch for dinner: grilled cheese or tuna melt sandwiches with soup or salad
- Taco salad with canned beans, frozen corn, and peppers
- Loaded baked potatoes with canned chili, cheese, and veggies on the side
- Check out more quick and easy recipe ideas4
3 Stock your kitchen
Stocking your kitchen with some staples will make it easy to cook meals at any time. Keep some grains on hand, like rice, pasta, quinoa, or bread.
Good sources of protein include eggs, dried or canned beans, tuna, tofu, and meat. Fresh, frozen, and canned fruits and vegetables are all great and healthy choices.
Personally, I like carrots, cabbage, frozen spinach, and frozen corn because they are versatile, long lasting, and quick to chop up. With those vegetables, I can make stir-fry, salad, raw veggies and dip, fajitas, etc. Pick a few of your favorites to keep on hand.
4 Smart food storage
Storing your food wisely can keep it fresh longer and prevent food waste. Fresh vegetables stay crisp if you store them unwashed in the fridge in their original plastic bags.
Check out more vegetable storage tips.5
Freezing meat is a great way to keep it on hand, just make sure to thaw it in the fridge 12-24 hours before you use it.
If you don’t think you’ll finish a loaf of bread before it goes bad, pop it in the freezer.
5 Planning ahead
In addition to stocking up on staples, some people find it useful to plan ahead. Check the freezer and pantry to see what you already have in your kitchen. Create a menu for the next few days or for the week, make a grocery list, and get the ingredients on hand. One idea is to consider making a bigger meal, like a casserole, on the weekend to have leftovers during the week or to freeze for the future. Some people like to prep their meals ahead of time. If you have extra time in the morning or on the weekend, think about chopping up vegetables so they’re ready to throw in the pot when you get home.
6 Change it up
Look for new, fun recipes to keep your taste buds happy. For inspiration, I look to cookbooks, friends, coworkers, food blogs, and restaurants. Once I have some ideas, I search in cookbooks and online for new recipes.
How can you tell if a recipe is healthy?
Well, remember to balance grains and protein with lots of fruits and vegetables. If you find a recipe you like that has grains and protein, add some vegetables in the recipe or on the side. There are lots of good recipes out there, so go ahead and try something new to keep your meals fresh and exciting.
Sit down, relax, and enjoy your home-cooked meals. With a little time and planning, you can have healthy meals every day of the week. For more budget friendly, quick and healthy meal ideas, check out Foodhero.org and the Moore Family Center’s recipes.
Rice Bowl Southwestern Style
from Food Hero
- 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
- 1 cup chopped vegetables (try a mixture – bell peppers, onion, corn, tomato, zucchini)
- 1 cup cooked meat (chopped or shredded), beans, or tofu
- 1 cup cooked brown rice, or any leftover cooked grain
- 2 tablespoons salsa, shredded cheese or low fat sour cream
- In a medium skillet, heat oil over medium high heat (350 degrees in an electric skillet). Add vegetables and cook for 3 to 5 minutes or until vegetables are tender-crisp.
- Add cooked meat, beans or tofu and cooked rice to skillet and heat through.
- Divide rice mixture between two bowls. Top with salsa, cheese or sour cream and serve warm.
- Refrigerate leftovers within 2 hours.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture & U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2010). Dietary Guidelines for Americans (7th ed.). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture. (2011). ChooseMyPlate. Accessed November 7, 2014.
- Lin, B. H., Guthrie, J., & Frazao, E. (1999). Nutrient contribution of food away from home (pdf). In E. Frazao (Ed.), America’s Eating Habits: Changes and Consequences (213-242). U.S. Department of Agriculture & Economic Research Service. Agriculture Information Bulletin No. 750.
- Oregon State University. (2014). Time-saving Recipes. Accessed November 7, 2014.
- Oregon State University. (2013). Vegetable Storage Times & Tips. Accessed November 13, 2014.