A Little More Each Day

One working mama learning to run & to maintain my 100+ pound weight loss!

Quick & Easy Healthy Dinners

on January 30, 2014

As a working mom, it can definitely be hard to find time to get a healthy meal on the table in the midst of all of my other “chores”. I love to cook and to experiment with new dishes or more complicated recipes, but there are lots of busy weeknights where I need a quick and easy option in order to get something on the table in a reasonable amount of time, without a lot of hands on care. It’s very hard to cook dinner while simultaneously prepping breakfast and lunches for the next day, answering a thousand two  year old questions and trying to handle dishes, laundry, etc (all of which assumes we got home at a reasonable hour to start with). Last night, I had my little helper read me stories while I was working on all of these things so we got in some quality time while I was working.

imageA few general tips to make getting healthy meals on table a reality (or at least an easier option):

– If your budget allows it,  take advantage of the pre-prepped options in your produce department at your grocery store. Yes, I could wash and chop up broccoli but I am much more likely to use it before it goes bad if I pick up in the pre-washed, pre-cut, steam-in bag. In addition to the products provided Dole and other national retailers that are pre-washed, check out your local options as well. There are lots of things at Trader Joe’s that serve as good shortcuts (as previously reviewed here) and my local grocery store has their own internally prepped items, ready to toss in the oven or on the grill. I pay a little more for these, but they’re less likely to go to waste than something I’d have to do more work to prepare, so it probably comes out even in the end for me. Another option would be to do all of this pre-prepping yourself on the weekend, so that you’re ready to go for the week (I confess – I am too lazy for this on the weekend!).

– Poll your family to find out which proteins they like and build some meal ideas around the ones that are the quickest and easiest to prep. For our house, that means shrimp, beans and pork tenderloins primarily (all quick to prepare and lean), but we also do some chicken (especially the thin cutlets) and sausage (there are some very tasty lean chicken sausage options out there!). If I know I’m going to be dinner on my own because my husband has plans (like tonight), I gravitate toward the individually frozen tilapia filets, which thaw in a flash, or eggs as my protein source. I like keep things that thaw very quickly (like shrimp, tilapia) or don’t require thawing at all (like canned beans or eggs) on hand for quick and easy last minute meal prep. Beans are essential in our house anyway because that’s my little man’s favorite food. He is definitely not much of a carnivore yet.

– Have a loose meal plan for the week, but be flexible. I tend to have several options for the week that I know I could prepare quickly and for which I’ve got the ingredients, but I don’t get tied to preparing them any particular day because I never know when I’ll have to work late or it’ll take forever to get O to leave school or whatever, so flexibility is key. A flexible meal plan also helps us feel like we’ve got a little room for spontaneity. Just keep an eye on what needs to be thawed or thrown in the freezer if you realize you aren’t going to use it in a reasonable time.

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– On weekdays, I tend to use the oven a lot more than the stove top just because it’s a less hands-on. I love being able to toss something in the oven and check it in 20-30 minutes, as opposed to constantly stirring something on the stove top. It’s a lot easier to keep my hands free for kid-wrangling and lunch packing that way!

– Your slow cooker is your best friend as a working mom/wife. Once a week, I try to use my slow cooker for dinner. There’s very little in life better than coming home to the smells of dinner already done on a long day!

Some of our specific weekday favorites:

– Tuna-white bean melts: Very quick & easy. Check out the post with that recipe here.

– Pork tenderloin roasted in the oven with kale and tomatoes: I can’t remember when or where we stumbled across this idea, but it is great! It is adapted from a much fancier recipe, I think. We almost always have those little pork tenderloins in our freezer (Hormel usually has them in the meat section with the other raw pork products, but we’ve also used the Trader Joe’s versions or unseasoned grocery store versions). They’re quick cooking (usually around 30 minutes), low calorie / points because they’re leaner and you can get them unseasoned or with a wide variety of seasoning options. We love the garlic & peppercorn option from Trader Joe’s! Turn your oven on to 350 F, line a baking dish with foil (another working mom life saver – quicker clean up!) and put the pork tenderloin in the pan. Then top it with a can of diced tomatoes (we particularly like the roasted tomatoes) or cherry tomatoes and some torn up kale leaves. We buy the kale pre-washed and torn, but it doesn’t take long to clean it up and tear it from the whole leaves either.

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Let it roast in the oven for about 30 minutes or until your meat thermometer says it is done. You end up with protein and a great side dish all in one, since the kale and tomatoes cook together with the pork juices. I love a one dish meal! (There is extra roasted broccoli on the side in this pic)

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– Nachos: I know, who would expect nachos on a weight loss blog? We love them and they’re another of my go-to meals when I’m cooking for one, but you can do it for a whole family too. This is one of the many times where having baking dishes of individual sizes is handy, because everyone can mix their own and pop them in the oven. You could do the same with a plate in the microwave. I like the sweet potato tortilla chips from Trader Joe’s (they should hire me, right, as much as I rave about them for free?) but you can use any chip. Just be sure to weigh or measure it out so you don’t go overboard. Top with I usually top them with with cheese and whatever protein I’m using (more on that in a second) and pop it in the oven to warm through and melt the cheese. When they come out, go crazy with salsa, lettuce, and tomatoes – all low calorie ways to bulk things up and I love the warm/cold juxtaposition. I like to use Greek yogurt instead of sour cream, but you can use sour cream too, and an extra dollop of the Trader Joe’s queso on top. What really works about this is its flexibility. I can make these for my non-meat eating toddler, with black beans as the only protein source, or with chicken, shrimp, beef, pulled pork – whatever I have left over from other things during the week. This week, I used Mexican-seasoned chicken breasts I have prepared to use for both nachos (Tuesday) and enchiladas (Saturday probably). Proteins that serve double duty are really handy!

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– Spicy shrimp with tomatoes & peppers: Shrimp are a great lean protein source that thaw really quickly and cook quickly. They’re also on the short list of meats my son eats, so we eat them a lot. One of my favorite ways to prepare them is to saute them quickly with a can of tomatoes & peppers (aka Rotel). You could also use salsa. These are great by themselves (eaten this week with some black beans & corn as sides) or as a filling in a quesadilla, nacho topping or in enchiladas. Multi-tasking proteins are great! *I cook a few without the peppers first for O.

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– Stir fry: We like to use a mix of pre-cut veggies, like broccoli slaw and shredded cabbage, with bell pepper and either shrimp or thinly sliced chicken to make quick and easy stir fries. The key to a stir fry is getting everything ready before you start cooking,  because once the heat is on, you don’t have time to mess around or you’ll burn something! I like to use a mix of Sriracha (garlic-chile sauce), light soy sauce, garlic (frozen cubes of pre-chopped garlic) and ginger (ditto), plus or minus some sesame oil, depending on my mood, as a flavor base and add a ton of veggies. It’s a great way to use up extra bits and pieces of veggies in your fridge and comes together really quickly. Experiment with different combos of flavorings and veggies to figure out what works best for you. I usually eat it without noodles, but you could serve it over some pad thai noodles if you like.

My favorite slow cooker recipes would be a whole different discussion! I’ll be trying out a buffalo chicken chili this weekend for the SuperBowl.

These are our menu options for this week. What are your “go-to” meals for getting a healthy meal on the table on a busy workday?

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7 responses to “Quick & Easy Healthy Dinners

  1. Lauren says:

    We do tip #3 a whooole lot. We plan out what we will cook throughout the week, but not when. You never know when you’ll have a busy evening or maybe you’re extra tired.

    That pork tenderloin sounds uh-maze-ing.

    A few go-to recipes for us are breakfast tacos, nachos (we cook the ground turkey with salsa verde – soooo good), spaghetti with garlic bread, soup/sandwich.

    • The pork tenderloin is seriously great and so easy. Try it out! Breakfast tacos are high on the list of things I miss since leaving Texas (that, and sangria/frozen margarita swirls). People just don’t get those right outside of the Lone Star State.

  2. Great post! The spicy shrimp with tomatoes and peppers sounds divine! I love, love, love shrimp, but have got to move away from my favorite preparation (i.e. fried), so I’m on the hunt for great, light preparations like this! We need to be much better about laying out a tentative meal plan for the week. We were doing really good about this for awhile, but we have definitely fallen off the bandwagon. I admit, we are struggling with getting healthy, quick dinner options on the table, but I hope to remedy that a.s.a.p.! I bought some frozen salmon fillets that I am dying to try so I am scouring the Internet for good salmon recipes. I can’t get enough salmon right now and to think, I used to think I didn’t like it! 🙂

  3. jaime says:

    i love pork tenderloin but my husband always wants pork chops (i cook the pork chops in the oven with shake and bake but its more points than the pork tenderloin for some odd reason, im assuming cut of meat). so i just stopped buying the pork tenderloin cause it was a bit pricey (im ok paying that much IF we both love it, of course the chops are way cheaper, so i just get those to make my wallet and my husband happy). is trader joes reasonably priced?

    • They were reasonable – partially because they aren’t very big. It works well for the two of us though. I’ll check the price next time I get in there (or when I get home tonight – I think I have one in the freezer) and let you know!

  4. […] will be just the boys – I’m not a fan, so I’ll be having ratatouille instead), pork loin with kale and tomatoes, and slow cooker chicken stew. My back pocket recipe, for when I’ve forgotten to thaw […]

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