I really enjoy cooking healthy, tasty meals. What I don’t enjoy, however, is spending hours cooking dinner at the end of a busy workday. Or figuring out what to bring to work for lunch right before I rush out the door in the morning.
During the week I’m all about shortcuts – and having a plan in place. I save more involved, elaborate meals for the weekend.
The following go-to strategies help me (most of the time) get healthy lunches and dinners on the table fast.
Meal plan in advance
This is a recurring task for me on Saturday mornings. I know that consistently eating well comes down to being organized. And the busier my schedule is, the more important planning becomes.
I map out the dinners for the busy week ahead. I also decide what I will batch cook for quick and easy weekday lunches.
My meal plan dictates my grocery list. Having the right ingredients on hand significantly increases the likelihood I’ll follow through with my plan. Even if I’m tired at the end of the day and craving a thin-crust wood oven margherita pizza.
Read more: Seven steps toward making a healthy meal plan
Prep on the weekend
On Sundays, I prepare ingredients for weekday meals and snacks. This allows me to quickly assemble healthy meals during the week.
I try to always cook protein for my lunches. I might, for example, roast a turkey breast, boneless, skinless chicken thighs or marinated tofu cubes for salads, sandwiches or a bento box lunch.
I’ll hard boil six or eight eggs for snacks or an easy salad protein. And I often make a batch of spiced chickpeas to toss into salads and grain bowls. (Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipe is delicious and takes only three minutes.)
If my meal plan includes grain bowls, I’ll pull out my Instant Pot and cook a batch of whole grains, usually farro (my favourite), brown rice or quinoa.
I’ll also incorporate precooked whole grains into a weeknight meal; just a quick reheat and they’re ready to serve. (Cooked grains keep three to four days in the fridge.)
I might also make a batch of overnight oats for satiating breakfasts. I mix one part steel-cut or rolled oats with one to 1.5 parts unflavoured kefir (for probiotics and prebiotics) and a few tablespoons of ground flax and refrigerate overnight. In the morning, I top a serving of oats with fruit and toasted unsweetened shredded coconut.
Lean on soups
This time of year, I rotate a hearty bean or lentil soup into my Sunday lunch meal prep schedule. They’re packed with nutrition – plant-based protein, fibre, folate, magnesium, iron and potassium.
I recently made a delicious Lebanese lentil soup with Swiss chard, cilantro, lemon juice and cumin that was a big hit at home. Minestrone is another favourite.
Choose simple recipes
I stick with simple recipes for weeknight dinners.
Sheet-pan meals are a staple on my weekday menus; they make for easy prep and cleanup. I also turn to five-ingredient recipes for quick dinners during the week.
If I need inspiration, I often go to the EatingWell website. It has loads of recipes for healthy sheet-pan, five-ingredient and other quick dinners.
Cook extra dinner portions
If it’s not a bean soup week or if I’ve used up my cooked lunch protein, I purposely make extra portions at dinner for the next day’s lunch.
A common double duty meal for me is Arctic char (a favourite oily fish), sweet potato and broccoli or cauliflower, all roasted on a sheet-pan.
I put my lunch leftovers in a glass container when serving dinner. No need to prepare lunch the next morning! So convenient. But you have to like leftovers. Luckily I do.
Stock your freezer
I always keep frozen vegetables on hand to add to meals and recipes. They’re nutrient-rich, cook quickly and have a long shelf life. Plus, they’re more economical than out-of-season fresh vegetables.
Another freezer staple: shelled edamame. I add these protein-rich green soybeans to soups, stir-fries and salads.
Keep pre-washed leafy greens handy
Baby greens – spinach, kale and arugula – are staples in my fridge. I toss greens into salads, stir them into soups, stews, chilies and stir-fries, scramble them with eggs and blend them into smoothies.
And that thin-crust margherita pizza I love? It’s the perfect vehicle for a few handfuls of baby arugula.
Leslie Beck, a Toronto-based private practice dietitian, is director of food and nutrition at Medcan. Follow her on X @LeslieBeckRD