I try to keep systems in place to organize my life and make sure things get done (homeschooling, cooking, blogging, travel, etc.). But I’m just like anyone else in that sometimes things pop up that interfere with my carefully laid plans. Out of necessity, over the years I’ve come up with quick, easy and healthy “emergency” meals that I can count on when I’m short on time or energy.
Prevention Is the Best Medicine
As with most things, prevention and preparation are a better way to go than putting out fires when they arise. Here’s how I prepare for busy nights:
- Batch Cooking – This is simply preparing and cooking as much beforehand as possible. For example, cooking chicken breasts or meatballs on the weekend and having those for lunch throughout the week. I also pre-slice and chop ingredients so all I have to do is throw them together (or cook them) when dinner rolls around.
- Meal Planning – I also use a meal planning service to plan out our meals for the week (plus the shopping list). This helps me to do batch cooking. It also helps keep me organized so I know exactly what I need to cook and when. I only choose quick meals for busy nights.
- Keep a Stocked Pantry and Freezer – Keeping healthy ingredients on hand is one of the best ways to be prepared to make a quick meal. Thrive Market is totally my secret weapon for this. I use the app so I can reorder my usual lists with the click of a button, and time my order for when they’re having a special freebie or offer I really want. If you’re curious, you can read about my favorite items and how I use the service in this post. You can also stockpile pre-made healthy meals, like from Pete’s Paleo.
Being prepared for busy nights and unexpected events is a great way to keep healthy meals on the table. But if you’re in a dinner emergency already, it’s too late to try these. In that case, try the following recipes for healthy meals to save your weeknight.
Easy Healthy Dinner Recipes (for THOSE Days)
We’ve all had a day where plans go right out the window. I certainly have been there! They say necessity is the mother of invention, and they are right… some of my best easy meal ideas were born on days I had to work with limitations like:
When You Have an Hour Until Dinner (and No Plan)
These recipes take about an hour or less. They’re also very simple so you can get a lot done while dinner is cooking (like bathing the kids, prepping lunch for the next day, or just sitting down for a few minutes!).
- Roasted Chicken – I love that this recipe uses just one pan but is a complete meal (keep frozen Brussels sprouts or broccoli on hand to round it out). It’s so simple, as long as I have about an hour until I need to feed the family, it’s a lifesaver.
- Pizza Stir-fry – This recipe is a favorite because it’s simple and can be made in just one pan. Stir-frys are great for getting lots of vegetables into the meal and this one really tastes like pizza (so the whole family loves it!).
- Stuffed Acorn Squash Boats – Filled with tasty meat and vegetables, this recipe is healthy and a family favorite. To make it even simpler you can toss some frozen squash in with the sausage instead of baking the squash halves.
- Instant Pot Chicken and Rice – Instant pot recipes are amazing when it comes to cooking a meal quickly. This recipe gets the job done quickly and all you have to do is steam a few veggies for a side dish.
- Tuna Noodle Casserole – If you’re craving comfort food, this recipe is perfect. It’s the traditional tuna noodle casserole but it’s made with healthier ingredients (including gluten-free noodles, which you can leave out or substitute with something grain-free if you wish).
I like how the above recipes are hands off, won’t get a lot of dishes dirty, and serve a crowd. You do still need to plan a bit to make them and have the ingredients around, however.
When You Haven’t Bought Groceries Yet
If you get caught off guard with an empty fridge/pantry (and there’s not enough time for that wonderful invention called grocery delivery!), these recipes are an easy way to get a healthy meal on the table:
- Simple Tomato Soup – This healthy version of a comfort soup favorite takes just 30 minutes to make and you can use fresh or canned tomatoes. Add some leftover chicken and it’s a complete meal.
- Salmon Asparagus Recipe – This quick meal uses just one pan (my favorite way to cook!) and a few ingredients. Salmon is loaded with healthy fats and lower in mercury than most fish, making it one of my favorite simple meals.
- Vegetable Frittata – Frittatas are not just for breakfast (though they’re delicious then too!). They are a great way to add more vegetables to a meal and take hardly any time to prepare. They are also very versatile, so you can add whatever veggies you have in the refrigerator.
- Coconut Flour Waffles – We almost always have eggs and bulk coconut flour on hand, so we’ve served these for dinner in a pinch.
Because these recipes use minimal ingredients (many of which will be in the pantry or freezer) they’re a must-have for busy weeknights at my house.
When You’re at the Grocery Store But Don’t Feel Like Cooking
My go-to for this situation? A charcuterie board! My family will feel spoiled but it will literally take me zero minutes of cooking or chopping. We even splurge on some delicious items and it will still work out to be less money (and healthier) than eating out.
When You Have 30 Minutes or Less
If we get home really late and the kids are starving and exhausted (not a good combination!) I know I need to get something on the table quickly. Here are my favorite recipes for those days:
- Guacamole (or Hummus) and Veggies – Though this isn’t a meal recipe, guacamole can pass for a meal if paired with some vegetable sticks. If you have leftover protein to round it out, great, but if not, the healthy fats in the avocado and the fiber in the vegetables help fill everyone up. If your kids will eat sardines, we open a few cans of those as well.
- Taco Scramble Stir-Fry – You may have noticed that a running theme here is one pan stir-frys for simple meals. This recipe is another on the list that makes mealtime so easy. I love that it has the flavor of tacos but without all of the extra steps.
- Miso Soup – If you already have some broth in the freezer, this recipe becomes a very quick meal. It’s perfect for cool days or when the family is under the weather.
- Egg Drop Soup – Another quick soup recipe, this one is a family favorite. My kids call it “breakfast soup” since it has eggs in it.
These meals can often be made with the ingredients you have on hand, so if I don’t have something I figure out a substitute. If I don’t have homemade broth in the freezer I grab some grass-fed shelf-stable broth from the pantry.
Code Red! When You Have No Time and Everything Is Frozen
When you’re running so late (and unprepared) that even the easy meal ideas above won’t do, here are some other ideas to get everyone fed:
- Instant Pot Chicken – This instant pot chicken recipe can be made with fresh or frozen chicken breasts, making it a lifesaver when you forget to pull the meat out of the freezer. Add a quick side dish (fresh veggies and fruit work!) and you have a quick, healthy meal.
- Smoothies – When you’re tight on time, a healthy smoothie is a great choice for a fast meal. These recipes make sure to include healthy protein and fats so that the smoothie is filling and healthy.
- Leftovers – An obvious choice for nights when you don’t have time. Pull together whatever leftovers you can find in the refrigerator and make it a fun game for everyone to make their dinner from what’s available.
- Snacks – If you tend to have healthy snacks in the house anyway, this isn’t a bad choice. If you can get healthy protein, healthy fat, and vegetables into the meal, you’re good! That might look like a slice of ham, some avocado, and some carrots sticks. You could also put together some almond butter, apple slices, and celery. Here’s a complete list of our favorite snacks.
- Salad – Salads are easy and quick to throw together. They’re even easier if you prepared the ingredients earlier in the week.
- A Healthy Meal Replacement – I have been keeping Ample meal replacement shakes on hand for those times when I’m traveling or on the go and need an emergency meal. They are low sugar (a big requirement of mine) and the ingredients are non-GMO, soy-free, and even use whey from grass-fed cows. They even have a ketogenic formula. It isn’t an everyday (or even every week) thing but has been a great fallback in a pinch.
Keep in mind that we don’t need to have every food group at every meal. The main thing I worry about is not making a meal entirely out of carbohydrates or all protein. I think variety is important but if one meal is a bit lopsided, you can make it up in the next meal. Our bodies are amazing food compasses that will tell us what we need.
Remember… Balance Is a Moving Target
I’ve been trying to remind myself that especially in mother/parenthood, balance is a moving target. We won’t hit all of our goals every day, and that’s ok! I’ve learned that as long as my family has healthy (and tasty!) food to eat at every meal, I don’t care how fancy it is (and neither do my kids!).
What are your go-to recipes for busy nights?