In a perfect world, we would have personal chefs that made us grilled wild king salmon with sprouted farro, radishes, cucumbers, swiss chard, and briar rose feta topped with green goddess dressing. And that would just be lunch. Dinner would be another fantastic affair with fresh and healthy ingredients that we didn’t have to dream up and prepare.
But we live in the real world, where we’re the moms that have to choose and prepare what goes on our plates (and usually everyone else’s). The task is overwhelming sometimes, even before we throw in the “healthy” curveball.
To make it a tiny bit easier, here are a bunch of healthy meals that can be prepared in a pinch. There is nothing fancy here, but it certainly gets the job done.
Getting the Job Done
And what is the job that needs to get done? It's providing a meal that tastes pretty good and meets the following “healthy eating habits” criteria:
We’re going to bend that last rule a tiny bit, but not as much as some might to eat a “healthy” meal in a pinch.
Occasionally I’ll suggest a food item that comes out of a package and has been processed a little (like salad dressing), but we must be realistic, right? Salad dressing out of a package is different than a “Lean Cuisine” out of a package. Hopefully you understand what I mean.
Healthy Meals in a Pinch
Let's dig in!
Rotisserie chicken and bagged salad. This is one of the easiest meals to throw together. This can be your staple for many lunches and dinners. The chicken is already cooked so you simply need to break it down and dice it up (or shred it). Toss it together with a bagged salad (we're going to use these a lot). Try to choose a bagged salad that has lots of dark, leafy greens like kale, spinach, romaine, and cabbage. Also, look for the kinds that include a “vinaigrette” dressing. Extra credit: Buy a separate vinaigrette dressing with fewer ingredients or make your own.
Canned chunk chicken (or canned tuna/salmon) and bagged salad. This is just as easy as the rotisserie chicken. Do the same thing as above, but mix in canned chunk chicken instead of rotisserie chicken. Choose a brand that is packed in water, not oil, and has zero added ingredients. I will frequently add canned chicken to salads if I don't have any protein cooked or purchased.
Frozen soup. This takes a tiny bit of planning (sort of). Chances are that at some point during the month you will have time to prepare a delicious crockpot soup like this one, this one, or this one. Freeze the leftovers so that you will have another dinner available in a pinch later in the month.
Breakfast for dinner. Who doesn’t like breakfast for dinner (or any meal for that matter)? Let’s just not make it pancakes or waffles, ok? For minimal effort, you can simply scramble eggs with some diced veggies, or make a veggie omelet. Or if you’re not completely pinched on time, you can make this egg casserole or these turkey sausage mini quiches.
Turkey sausage and peppers. This simple meal tastes delicious and is ridiculously easy. It requires one pan and about 15 minutes. Extra credit: Throw the sausage and pepper combo on top of some cooked quinoa if you have it, especially if it's a workout day.
Chicken strips and roasted veggies. Occasionally, I’ll grab a frozen bag of chicken tenders that are lightly breaded (not ideal, but we’re in a pinch!). Toss these in the oven with some veggies to roast at the same time, and you’re all set. Extra credit: Make your own chicken strips like these ones here. This certainly takes longer, but they're far healthier for you and taste better, too!
Barbecued chicken. When the weather gets nicer, we use our barbecue probably four nights a week. This chicken marinade is easy, and if you forget to prepare it a couple of hours beforehand, the chicken still tastes great after just marinating for 20 minutes. (Yes, I know this firsthand.) Serve it with a bagged salad or even raw veggie sticks and everyone is happy.
Marinated pork tenderloin. Tenderloin is actually quite lean, and the pre-marinated packages taste great. In an ideal world, you would make your own marinade (perhaps even the one used for the chicken above!), but remember we don’t live in that world. Roast the tenderloin and serve with a bagged salad. (These bagged salads are really coming in handy!)
Canned chili. Yep, canned chili. Chili is naturally loaded with protein and fiber, and some varieties also contain plenty of vegetables. You can also add more of your own veggies to your bowl by topping it with onions, tomatoes, avocados and even olives. Just make sure you’re stingy with the cheese and sour cream! (My favorite brand of chili is Stagg. They have turkey chili and vegetable chili varieties to choose from.)
What about Restaurants and Fast Food?
It's inevitable that you will find yourself in a restaurant at some point. What should you order to stay healthy and prevent the restaurant over-indulgence?
As soon as you open the menu, look for the salad section. Don't even start reading the different types of sandwiches, burgers and pizzas that are on the menu. Most restaurants provide at least one salad, even if it's just a side salad.
Choose a salad that is made with mostly leafy greens, has additional vegetables, includes some healthy fats like nuts, seeds or avocado, and comes with protein like chicken or fish. Request a vinaigrette-style dressing instead of something creamy.
If you find yourself in a fast food restaurant, look for the salads. Even McDonald's and Wendy's have a couple salads to choose from. Avoid anything with the words "ranch", "bacon", "creamy", "crispy". Instead, look for grilled meat and vinaigrette-style dressing.
If you're at a restaurant that simply does not provide salads, identify the item on the menu that has the most vegetables and go with it. Try to get some form of protein that has been grilled instead of fried. And avoid wraps, buns and tortillas. You can pick out the "guts" if you must to avoid the bun.
And if you're at home at your wits' end, just scramble up a few eggs and have a couple giant handfuls of raw veggies or fruit. It gets the job done.
Healthy Does Not Have to be Fancy
To eat healthy on a consistent basis does not require fancy meals that are well planned out ahead of time. You can certainly pull things together in a pinch. And even if you end up going out to eat, you should have plenty of healthy options to choose from if you look for them.
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