Easy Healthy Weeknight Dinners
Six experts share their tips, strategies (and 16 dinner recipes!) for putting good-for-you meals on the table, pronto, on busy weeknights.
Life happens. Between work days that run long, last-minute hoops to jump through on the home front (your science project is due when?), and the siren call of take-out, it can be a challenge to cook healthy weeknight meals night after night. To help us stay focused on our goals this month—and hey, every month—we tapped six bloggers who specialize in healthy eating for some advice and fresh inspiration.
1. Just cook something
Linguine with Plant-Based Marinara Sauce by Kale Me Maybe
“Start with anything!” says Carina Wolff, the LA-based health and wellness food blogger behind Kale Me Maybe. “Cooking at home on your own is already such a great step for your health. It's good for your mental health, your creativity, and your body. Feel free to experiment, and don't worry if it doesn't look like a blogger's picture.” For Wolff, “healthy” translates to recipes that are mostly vegan and gluten-free. Think (gluten-free) pastas, bowls, and lots of color.
2. Focus on the basics
Salmon Packets by Nutrition by Mia
A registered dietician nutritionist, Mia Syn of Nutrition by Mia shares simple healthy recipes and easy takeaways on her blog and on Good Food Friday, the TV show she hosts in Charleston, South Carolina. Says Mia, “Healthy cooking to me is going back to the basics: preparing meals with plenty of vegetables, a lean protein, starchy veggie or whole grain, and healthy oil, with spices and herbs to add flavor.”
3. Don’t be a superhero
BBQ Tempeh Sandwich by Veggies Don't Bite
On the vegan food blog Veggies Don’t Bite from Sophia DeSantis of San Diego, California, you’ll find delicious plant-based food, most of it gluten-free and without refined sugar. But Sophia’s vision for healthy cooking involves more than the ingredients you eat. “For a healthy mind, cooking should focus on manageable meals, those that can be done within the time you have—and sometimes it’s healthy to add in less-nutritious options that feed your soul.”
While Sophia likes to make her own bbq sauce and ranch dressing for her BBQ Tempeh Sandwiches, she says store-bought is totally okay as a short-cut.
4. Embrace dietary differences
Lentil Sweet Potato Curry Soup by Crowded Kitchen
At Crowded Kitchen, mother-daughter duo and Michiganders Lexi and Beth Harrison share the mostly plant-based, gluten-free recipes that bring their big family together around the dinner table despite dietary differences. “Healthy cooking is all about eating in a way that makes you feel good, both physically and mentally,” says Lexi. Case in point: this cozy soup that suits her vegan husband as well as the rest of their gang.
5. Don’t overthink it
Shredded Chicken Bulgogi Bowls by Lindsey Eats LA
You’ll find recipes for every kind of diet on Angeleno Lindsey Baruch’s site, Lindsey Eats LA, from a vegetarian shakshuka-hummus combo to shredded chicken bulgogi bowls made with chicken thighs. For Lindsey, healthy cooking doesn't require a lot of rules; it comes down to “nourishing, feel-good meals that fill me up!”
6. Go for big flavors—and textures
Chicken Shawarma with Hummus & Pita by The Gourmet RD
Opting for ingredients with high nutritional value (vegetables, fruits, lean meat and seafood, beans and legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds, and heart-healthy oils) is only one consideration for Wisconsin-based registered dietician Julie Andrews of The Gourmet RD. “I also passionately believe in creating immense flavor and layering flavors when I cook, so herbs, spices and condiments such as mustards, vinegars, and citrus zest and juice are very important to me. Creating a dish that is sweet, savory, spicy, and umami is the ultimate goal. In addition, creating exciting textures is also important, so I try to incorporate several different ones like creaminess and crunch into each dish.” Try, for example, her healthy dinner recipe for Chicken Shawarma with Hummus & Pita.
7. Be a meal-planner
Vegan Pulled "Pork" Mushroom Sandwich by Veggies Don't Bite
These bloggers all agree that having a plan in place for easy dinners each week saves time and money, helps you stick to your goals, and translates to delicious dinners. (And by the way, Yummly’s Meal Planner makes developing your plan a snap.) Sophia DeSantis explains, “We pick a few recipes to make, then fill in the holes with quick and easy throw-together meals. We also allow room for balance so if a day throws us for a loop, we give ourselves permission to make something frozen or take-out or boxed. And feel zero guilt.”
8. Power up your pantry—and fridge
Mediterranean Grain Bowls with Salmon by The Gourmet RD
“Keeping the right groceries around motivates me to cook during the week,” Carina Wolff notes. “If my fridge is full with ingredients I'm excited about, then there's no reason not to make myself a meal.”
Julie Andrews drills down on the specifics. “In my pantry, I keep items like canned beans and lentils, pasta, rice, canned tomatoes, canned tuna and salmon, stock or broth, oats, oils, nuts and seeds, dried spices and herbs, sweet and white potatoes, avocados, onions, garlic, and ginger. In my fridge I generally have eggs, yogurt, some fresh vegetables and fruit, greens like spinach or kale, cheeses, and only the meat I’m going to use within a day or two (as well as a door full of vinegars, mustards, Worcestershire and other flavorings). In my freezer I keep meat, seafood, and frozen fruit and vegetables.”
This strategy lets Julie Andrews whip up a quick bean chili, pasta dish with vegetables, tacos, or this grain bowl that could be made with just-thawed salmon. Quinoa would be an easy sub for the kamut if you like.
9. Add a secret sauce
Mediterranean Stuffed Avocados with Sumac Dressing by Crowded Kitchen
Weeknight dinners can be pretty basic when you have an exciting sauce to jazz them up. Says Lexi Harrison, “I love whipping up a super-quick lemon tahini sauce” (like the one that’s part of her stuffed avocados recipe); “it’s so versatile for drizzling on grain bowls, roasted veggies, and salads.”
Pizza with Herbed Almond Ricotta, Kale, and Pumpkin Seed Pesto by Kale Me Maybe
Not surprisingly, Carina Wolff, the blogger behind Kale Me Maybe, turns frequently to her homemade vegan kale pesto; “I put it on everything—pastas, bowls, eggs, pizzas, roasted veggies.”
10. Keep the kids happy
Vegan Buffalo Wing Sliders and Ranch Dressing by Veggies Don't Bite
Ultimate Creamy Vegan Cheese Sauce by Veggies Don't Bite
As a mom of three school-age boys, Sophia DeSantis is a pro at creating healthy dishes that the whole family is excited to eat. “I make sauces weekly and use them throughout the week. My kids’ favorite is my vegan ranch.” Classic homey dishes are a hit with them too, like tomato soup, and macaroni with vegan cheese sauce.
11. Make soup and salad for the win
Kale Tahini Caesar Salad (Vegan) by Crowded Kitchen
“Soup and a huge salad are my two go-to quick meals,” says Lexi Harrison. “Soup is great because you can just throw everything into a pot, wait, and you’ll have great leftovers.” (See her lentil soup recipe above.) She's a fan of salads because she can "add in just about anything." Her favorite formula involves baby kale, a quick vinaigrette, chickpeas, and a few other add-ins. In this version, roasted chickpeas are a crispy and gluten-free sub for croutons; tahini stands in for olive oil in the dressing and adds some protein.
12. Add a few healthy splurges
Spaghetti Squash with Italian Meatballs & Creamy Tomato Sauce by The Gourmet RD
With the right recipes, weeknight meals can be healthy but still feel like a treat. “I am a fan of comfort food dishes that seem a bit indulgent but contain oodles of nutritious ingredients,” explains Julie Andrews. For a low carb option, try her recipe for Italian meatballs served over spaghetti squash instead of the usual pasta. A little Parmesan cheese adds the finishing touch.
Pesto and Mushroom Spaghetti Squash Pasta by Nutrition by Mia
Mia Syn applies the same low-carb approach to create cauliflower fried rice, cauliflower crust pizzas, and this pesto spaghetti squash pasta.
One Pot Thai Coconut Curry Shrimp by Lindsey Eats LA
For those times when you’re craving something rich and creamy with big flavors, Lindsey Baruch’s Southeast Asian coconut milk curry goes together in a hurry and includes fresh spinach and tomatoes. You can sub in chicken breasts or even tofu for the shrimp if you prefer. She tops it with cilantro and serves cauliflower rice on the side; regular brown rice or white rice would be terrific, too.
Looking for more easy weeknight dinners? Just type "Stir-fry," "Sheet pan dinner," "Slow cooker," "Instant Pot," or whatever you're looking for into the search bar on any Yummly page to get thousands more options.