Creating easy healthy dinner recipes day in and day out is no walk in the park. Well, it is like a walk in the park. Except you’re walking through the wonderland of high-sugar sweets and lakes of trans fat. And while you’d like to think that you’re the voice of reason steering them all towards better food, sometimes you get tired. Battling with “no’s” or “I don’t want it!” every day easily wears you out. And then you wonder why you’re home alone that one day a year sitting on a couch with a pint of double chocolate ice cream in one hand and potato chips in the other.
It’s okay: Everyone has those moments. But remember the importance of giving your body all the vitamins and nutrients it craves. You owe it to your body to nourish it properly. Secondly, you don’t have to go to battle alone! Sometimes you don’t need to battle at all. Making easy healthy dinner recipes your family both loves to make and eat isn’t as hard as you think. We’ll give you a step-by-step process of making delicious (and healthy) meals for the entire family from the grocery store to the dinner table.
What Is Considered "Healthy" Anyway?
Most people have a pretty good idea of what are healthy and unhealthy food options. Broccoli, Brussel sprouts, leafy greens: healthy! French fries, salt, and vinegar chips, deep fried chocolate bar: unhealthy but oh-so-tempting! Every piece of food we eat can break down into a number of calories. But just because a food is high in calories doesn’t mean it's 100 percent terrible for your body. Unless it’s a bar of deep fried chocolate -- that one is a heart attack waiting to happen.
Back to my point: not all calories are bad. That is because food is calculated using other units of measurement including carbohydrates (carbs), fats, protein, vitamins, and minerals. A diet consisting of low calories and low carbs is good for those wanting to lose weight. Meanwhile, a high-protein diet combined with lots of exercise is ideal if you want to gain muscle.
But the key to a healthy diet is more than just the food you eat. It also depends how much of which food you put into your body. An easy way to do this is by using your dinner plates. Vegetables should fill half of your plate, followed by a quarter lean protein and a quarter whole-grain or starch (such as rice).
The Importance of Meal Planning
Coming up with easy healthy dinner recipes on the spot is practically impossible. Whether you live alone, with a partner, or with a houseful of children, planning your meals takes a load off your mind. Sit down a couple of days before your trip to the grocery store and plan out your week. Not only will this make shopping significantly more manageable, but you’ll also always have an answer to “what’s for dinner?!” Sayonara, emergency frozen pizzas.
Shop Fast, Cook Fast: Quick Tips
Unless you like throwing out rotten vegetables, you’ll need to coordinate your grocery trip with a weekly menu. We’ll go through some quick tips to make shopping a breeze so you can use up everything in your fridge without wasting a dime.
Making your grocery list
As aforementioned, making a list before your trip to the grocery store is vital. Buying vegetables should be on your list. However, vegetables are also the first to spoil which is why planning is paramount. That eliminates the margin of error when you open the fridge and ask yourself “oh no, why did I buy that watercress again?” While some vegetables keep well in the refrigerator (such as cabbage and carrots), others, like green beans and okra, spoil reasonably quickly. The same goes for fruits. Peaches, bananas, and avocados rot quickly while fruits such as apples and oranges stay fresh for much longer.
Buy according to what's on sale
If you’re on a tight budget, take a gander at several grocery store flyers before planning out your daily easy healthy dinner recipes. If you don’t receive flyers, search for a phone application to view multiple online flyers. Plan your easy healthy dinner recipes around what is on sale. If sweet potatoes are half their regular price, incorporate sweet potatoes into a couple of your weekly recipes. Feel free to visit a couple of grocery stores to take advantage of their sales if you have the time.
Shop around the perimeter
Once you’ve reached the grocery store, it’s time to put on your war paint. The moment you step through the doors, the store bombards you with advertisements for things you do not need and colorful promos for junk food you don’t want. But there is a simple trick to keep you on the right track. Arm yourself with your grocery list and shop the perimeter of the grocery store. Most of your weekly necessities are found not in the aisles, but around the store’s walls. Products such as fruits, vegetables, meats, dairies, and bread line the perimeter. Meanwhile, items such as soda, sugar, sauces, and treats are in the aisles. While you can’t completely ignore the aisles, you may find your cart mostly full by the time you venture into them.
We’ve already gone over the importance of shopping according to what's on sale. Not only could it save you some serious buckaroos, but it will also force your cooking genius to be creative on the spot. But there are a few other ways to save a few bucks when you’re at the grocery store.
- Price matching
Using manufacturer coupons, for instance, is a great way to save a few dollars. Sometimes you can find these coupons while you’re shopping. Even if you don’t want to use them the day you find them, take the coupon so you can use it at a later date. If may not seem like much, but if you use coupons every time you shop, you may be surprised at how much you save at the end of the year.
If you know a product is cheaper elsewhere, ask the cashier about their price matching policy. Most grocery stores require proof of the item being cheaper elsewhere in order to match the lower price. That can be in the form of paper flyers or even a picture of the ad on your smartphone. Phone applications such as Flipp and Shipt search hundreds of flyers so you’ll always get the best price.
Lastly, if the item on sale is out of stock at your store, ask for a raincheck. Check the grocery store’s policy on rain checks and for how long they are valid. Rainchecks guarantee you’ll get the advertised price for at least a couple of weeks if they do not have it in stock. While your weekly menu may need a change, at least your wallet won’t take such a hit next week.
Dinner Duty: How to Make Dinnertime Quick and Easy
Now that you’ve armed yourself with all the necessary components to make easy healthy dinner recipes, it’s time to get to work. But that doesn’t mean you’ll need to battle alone. Here are some tips to make dinner prep as easy as three, two, one: you’re done!
Get all your items organized and prepped before you turn on your stove. Depending on the meal, this may take longer than the actual cooking. You’ll need to measure and prepare all the elements of your meal. That could mean measuring your rice and oils or prepping your vegetables by peeling, slicing, and dicing them to size.
Get everyone involved
If everyone eats dinner, then everyone should help with dinner. The larger the meal, the more hands you need on deck! Small roles such as washing vegetables, measuring ingredients, and stirring food are perfect chores for little ones. Older kids can help peel and chop vegetables or even marinate meat. If your kids and significant other can’t (or shouldn’t) help in the kitchen, get them to set the table.
Manage your time
One of the hardest things to do when cooking is to get everything done at the same time. That is extra difficult when you have several components to a meal requiring different cook times. To make things easier on yourself, remember to prep everything first. Be conscientious of what part takes the most time from start to finish and do that first. Anything in the oven usually takes a long time while raw sides (such as salad) take as little as 5 to 10 minutes. Plan accordingly and remember: practice makes perfect.
Easy Healthy Dinner Recipes
Now that we have the basics down, on to the food. We’ve searched the ever-colorful and inspirational internet and selected some of the most drool-worthy easy healthy dinner recipes ever.
Easy healthy dinner recipes don’t have to take hours to prepare. Salmon is a hearty fish full of high-quality protein, vitamins, and minerals. It tastes delicious no matter how you make it, but we love baking it. Take a big piece of salmon filet (skin on) and cut it into four parts. Season with salt, pepper, crushed rosemary, and a generous squeeze of fresh lemon. Place the salmon skin-side down in a 450-degree oven and bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until no longer pink inside. Serve your salmon with your favorite side (we suggest roasted asparagus with a salad) et voila: A healthy dinner in no time! Inspired by Food Network’s Oven-Baked Salmon recipe.
If you don’t know what shakshuka is, prepare to have your mind blown. A shakshuka is a comforting dish filled with hearty tomatoes and any other vegetable you have in the fridge. You could incorporate eggs, green tomatoes, or in this case: chickpeas. Inspired by Minimalist Baker, this recipe is the perfect three: quick, easy, and healthy.
Start with a cast iron pan over medium heat. Add your favorite oil (avocado, olive, canola, etc.) and add a chopped onion and bell pepper. Then add three cloves of minced garlic and sauté until translucent. Then add diced or pureed tomatoes (one 28-ounce can), 3 tablespoons tomato paste, and a tablespoon of sugar or maple syrup. Add salt to taste, two teaspoons smoked paprika and chill powder, one teaspoon group cumin and a quarter teaspoon of cinnamon. Add a pinch of cayenne, cardamom, and coriander for extra deliciousness.
Stir and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes, then remove from heat. Blend in a blender until smooth and return to pan. Add 1 and a half 15-ounce cans of cooked chickpeas to the mixture and simmer for another 15 to 20 minutes until done. Serve as-is or with bread for a quick and easy family dinner (or lunch…or even breakfast.)
- America s Test Kitchen
- Publisher: America's Test Kitchen
- Edition no. 1 (12/27/2016)
- Paperback: 440 pages
Quinoa is a staple in healthy households. This gluten-free ancient grain is jam-packed with protein, iron, fiber, copper, thiamin, and vitamin B. Making easy healthy dinner recipes with quinoa is quick and won’t cost a fortune. This recipe inspired by the Nutrition Twins will make you eager to try a bowl of quinoa salad.
Cook one cup of quinoa to package directions. Drain thoroughly and add two tablespoons of olive oil and vinegar, a third of a cup of crumbled feta cheese as well as a third of a cup of black olives. Also add half a cup of cherry tomatoes (halved), one diced cucumber, and half a red onion, diced. This salad serves 8 people and only contains 134 calories per half a cup. However, this recipe is highly adaptable to you and your family’s likes and dislikes. Add or remove any of the ingredients to personalize it.
Like quinoa, lentils are also a lesser known superfood filled with nutrients. This versatile legume contains a surprising amount of potassium, folate, iron, and manganese. There are also a ton of easy healthy dinner recipes made with just lentils. One of our favorite lentil meals is using it as the main ingredient in soups.
This Food Network-inspired lentil soup recipe is a perfect example. You’ll need a dutch oven and a hand blender for this recipe. Set your dutch oven on your stovetop over medium heat and heat two tablespoons of olive oil. Once hot, add an entire chopped onion, half a cup of carrots and celery. Season with two teaspoons of salt and cover until translucent (six to seven minutes). Then, add one pound of lentils (rinsed), one cup of peeled and chopped tomatoes, and two quarts of broth. Season with half a teaspoon coriander, cumin, and grains of paradise. Cover and bring to a boil. Once boiled, reduce heat to low and simmer for 35 to 40 minutes. Once lentils are tender, use a hand blender (optional) to puree the soup. Serve with flaky bread.
BROCCOLI AND CHICKEN STIR-FRY
Just because you want easy healthy dinner recipes doesn’t mean they have to be all comprised of fishy meals and soups! Your favorite stir-fry recipe, for example, needs adapting to make it a little bit healthier. Life Made Sweeter has a tasty low-calorie broccoli and chicken stir-fry recipe we adore. And the best part is, it’s all in one pot.
Cut one and a quarter pounds of skinless chicken breasts into one-inch chunks. Cook in a wok or skillet over medium heat with a dash of olive oil. Season with salt, pepper, and one teaspoon of sesame oil. Once cooked through, set aside and heat pan again with another tablespoon of olive oil. Stir in three cups of chopped broccoli, half a cup of thinly sliced carrots, two cloves of minced garlic, and half a teaspoon of grated fresh ginger. Cook for three to five minutes and add your chicken. You can make your own sauce, using the sauce recipe provided, or skip the sauce altogether for a healthier alternative. Serve over rice or your favorite rice alternative such as sautéed cauliflower or zucchini noodles.
SWEET POTATO BOATS
Easy healthy dinner recipes don’t have to be boring. With a little ingenuity, your healthy dinner could look so good, the kids will ask for seconds. Thanks to the Minimalist Baker that may be the case with these sweet potato boats loaded with black beans. At just 157 calories per serving, these may be just the thing your family needs to up your daily nutrition intake without feeling bloated.
First, halve 5 sweet potatoes and bake them for 40 to 50 minutes in a 400-degree oven. Meanwhile, make an avocado cream with a quarter cup light sour cream, half a ripe avocado, and some lime juice. Mix until creamy, adjusting as necessary. Take a 15-ounce can of black beans, rinse and drain them.
Once you cook the sweet potatoes, scoop some of the insides and reserve the insides for another recipe of your choice. Place the scooped boats back onto the baking sheet and fill with the black beans. Top with a cheese of your choice (we suggest grated Manchego) and place back into the oven until golden. Remove from oven and top with sour cream, salsa, cilantro or any topping of your choice. Serve as a side or as a main dish for the whole family.
Remember that easy healthy dinner recipes don’t equal boring dinner recipes. While these recipes have lots of the necessary vitamins and nutrients, there are plenty of other healthy recipes out there. Not to mention, making adjustments to your current recipe repertoire to include healthier alternatives is also a great way to get healthier. It’s all about making health-conscious decisions that work with your lifestyle. Have fun with it!