These days, it’s understandable if making elaborate (and delicious! and healthy!) meals is the last thing on your mind.
Maybe the COVID-19 pandemic has you working a stressful job from home with kids squabbling in the background. Or maybe financial strain, an uncertain future, and lack of social interaction is starting to take a toll on your mental health.
Whatever your pandemic situation, by the time 5 p.m. rolls around, there may be plenty of days when you just can’t muster the oomph for a healthy, home-cooked dinner.
I’m right there with you.
As a work-from-home parent with three kids now schooling online, I’m not exactly leaping up from my laptop to prepare our evening meals lately.
But as a nutritionist, it’s still just as important to me that our meals be healthy and nourishing.
Through some trial and error, I’ve found that many minimal-work, done-in-a-flash recipes can actually feed us well.
Here’s everything you need to know about short-cutting your way to healthy, no-prep dinners.
Pulling together healthy meals on the fly won’t happen without a little thinking ahead — mainly in the form of intentional grocery shopping.
Stock up on these convenient go-tos to set yourself up for no-prep meal success.
- smoked salmon
- beans like chickpeas or hummus, black beans, cannellini beans, or pinto beans
- rotisserie chicken
- turkey or fish burgers
- block, shredded, and crumbled cheeses
- whole wheat bread and bread crumbs
- frozen corn
- instant brown rice
- frozen gnocchi (made with wheat or veggies like cauliflower or sweet potato)
- premade whole wheat pizza crust, naan flatbreads, and pitas
- quick-cooking pasta like angel hair, tortellini, or shells
Fruits and veggies
- baby carrots and other presliced veggies like bell peppers or zucchini
- frozen veggies like peas, carrots, spinach, and green beans
- frozen veggie spirals like zucchini and butternut squash
- bagged greens like kale, spinach, or romaine
- bagged slaw with cabbage, carrot, or broccoli
- canned and dried fruits
Easy flavor additions
- olive oil
- vinegars like balsamic, red wine, and white wine
- dried herbs and spices
- grated Parmesan cheese
Once you’ve got these ingredients on hand, you’re ready to try the 17 delicious meals below. Whether you’re looking for salads, soups, or mains, I’ve got you covered.
Tuscan Tuna and White Bean Salad
Think outside the can! Canned tuna tends to get put to work mainly in sandwiches, but it’s an excellent protein to add to a quick and easy salad — like this Mediterranean-inspired meal.
Apple Salad with Chicken and Cherries
Rotisserie chicken, apples, and dried cherries make quick work of this tasty salad on the sweeter side.
Sub dried cranberries for a more economical (but still antioxidant-rich) berry choice.
Full disclosure: You will have to do a little bit of chopping for this salad, but it’ll be worth it when you get a perfect bite with creamy avocado and juicy tomato.
Use a bag of presliced romaine to make things even easier. And when you’re really not feelin’ it at dinnertime, skip the homemade dressing in favor of an olive oil-based bottled variety.
Chilled Cucumber Melon Soup
The directions for this intriguingly flavored chilled soup couldn’t be simpler: Put all ingredients in a blender. Blend until smooth. I’ll sip to that!
15-Minute Miso Soup with Greens and Tofu
Fermented foods like miso have been linked to a stronger immune system — so this easy Japanese classic is a pandemic win-win.
Serve with a side of instant brown rice for added fiber and complex carbs.
5-Ingredient Black Bean Soup
You had me at “five ingredients” (and at “20 minutes”).
This simple soup relies on the spicy flavor of prepared salsa to work its south-of-the-border magic, while canned black beans make for a zippy cooking time.
Healthier Charcuterie Board
Maybe you’re not hosting any celebrations in the near future, but a charcuterie board always seems to bring the party vibe.
DIY a custom tray of meats and cheeses with plenty of healthy additions like dried apricots, grapes, whole wheat crackers, and hummus.
Herbed Tuna in Heirloom Tomatoes
Summertime is heirloom tomato season. Make the most of the misshapen beauties in this low-carb, allergy-friendly recipe.
For a more substantial meal, pair with cheesy toast or a green salad.
Smoked Salmon and Peas with Creamy Gnocchi
An easy dinner that looks très elegant? Yes, please!
With just six ingredients, this recipe whips up a one-dish meal that’s fancy enough for company but fast enough for a low-energy weeknight.
Sheet Pan Turkey Sausage and Vegetables
If you’ve yet to explore the wide world of sheet pan dinners, now’s the time. I like to think of these easy dinners as “chop, plop, and pop.”
Chop a protein and veggies, plop them on a baking sheet, and pop them in the oven. Done!
Balsamic Crock Pot Roast
Get ahead of the dinner game by dumping a few ingredients in your slow cooker around lunchtime. You’ll be well on your way to an aromatic, home-cooked meal come evening.
This simple roast takes just a few ingredients, made even easier with baby carrots and potatoes small enough to chop with a single slice.
Easy Chicken Gyros
Rotisserie chicken saves the day (again)! Go Greek the no-prep way by assembling these gyros with presliced pitas, crumbled feta, and purchased tzatziki.
Pesto Caprese Grilled Cheese
Kids and grownups alike will flip for this extra classy grilled cheese made with store-bought pesto and sliced tomato.
Shake out some greens from a bagged mix, and you’ve got a complete meal.
Zucchini Noodles with Beans, Feta, and Lemon
Don’t have the time (or the drive) to spiralize zucchini on a Wednesday after work? Thaw frozen “zoodles” for the base of this healthy vegetarian main.
Flatbread Veggie Pizza
Make pizza night a tad more interesting — and so much faster — with naan flatbreads as crust.
Sprinkle on some veggies and cheese and pop in the oven for 10 minutes for a nutritious, versatile meal.
Spicy Chickpea Wraps with Spinach and Avocado
Fact: Sriracha makes everything better (or at least it makes everything spicier).
Dial up the heat — or dial it down, depending on your preference — in spicy chickpea wraps with plenty of greens.
Loaded Veggie Nachos
Can nachos be good for you? When you load them with beans, veggies, and avocado, they can. A few minutes in the oven is all that stands between you and this health-ified Mexican dinner.
When tough days get you down, there’s nothing wrong with the occasional takeout meal. But like many quick fixes, takeout on repeat isn’t a very sustainable solution.
Instead, fill your pantry and fridge with the building blocks of no-prep meals. Do it for your health, your wallet, and your stress level.
Sarah Garone, NDTR, is a nutritionist, freelance health writer, and food blogger. She lives with her husband and three children in Mesa, Arizona. Find her sharing down-to-earth health and nutrition info and (mostly) healthy recipes at A Love Letter to Food.