5 Expert Tips for Cooking Quick & Healthy Weeknight Meals

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September 22, 2022
sheet pan dinner with chicken and roasted veggies
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Sometimes cooking healthier meals isn’t always the most convenient; especially when a frozen meal or a drive-thru run is a lot more accommodating for a busy schedule. While these can be easy weeknight solutions once in a while, they don’t always offer the most nutritious choices for our health. But is it even possible to eat healthy weeknight meals, let alone cook them, when you’re on a time crunch?

Short answer — yes. We spoke with Danielle Walker, a New York Times best-selling cookbook author whose recent book Healthy in a Hurry provides low-stress, high-flavor recipes that make it easier to eat well at every meal. Here are some of the tips she suggests, and how you can make your weeknight meals even healthier — without all the hassle.

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1. Plan out what you’re going to cook.

You don’t have to meal prep dozens of containers of food in order to stay healthy throughout the week; all it takes is having a good plan to follow.

“Having a menu plan is the best way to keep weeknight meals healthy,” says Walker. “This way, you avoid choosing takeout at 5 p.m. when you stare at the fridge and get overwhelmed by the ingredients staring back at you, but no plan for what to make.”

Along with saving you time from staring aimlessly at a fridge wondering what to cook for dinner, a meal plan can help you save money at the grocery store because you know exactly what to buy.

“There’s much less waste,” she says. “At the beginning of the Healthy in a Hurry, I gave readers 12 weeks of meal plans with shopping lists to make the entire process easier for them.”

2. Plan meals around proteins.

But what exactly should you plan? Walker suggests starting with a protein as your base and working from there.

“If you want to have fish three nights a week, and chicken and beef the others, you can plug those in by day and then find recipes that work,” she says. “Just try to keep your fish dishes towards the beginning of the week so you only have to grocery shop one time.”

In her cookbook Healthy in a Hurry, Walker categorizes all of her meals based on cook time and protein (including meals for vegetarians), making it easy to plan out the protein source for your healthy weeknight meals.

For inspiration, check out these 8 Healthy Seafood Recipes Even Beginners Can Cook or these 9 Weeknight Chicken Breast Recipes You’ll Never Be Bored Of.

3. Create themes for each night of the week.

For meal planning newbies, Walker says a great place to start is to pick themes to work with each night of the week.

“Monday can be Italian. If you want to do a Taco Tuesday, Tuesday is going to be your Mexican-themed night. Wednesday could be Thai, etcetera,” she explains. “Then you can look through a cookbook and say, ‘Oh, that Instant Pot, five-ingredient chicken taco meat from the book looks really good. I’m going to plug that in on Tuesday.’”

4. Don’t overlook leftovers.

You don’t have to cook every single night of the week to say healthy — those leftovers still make for easy go-to healthy meals.

“I typically plan five nights of dinners, and then I figure we’re either going to eat leftovers one night or we might get takeout one night,” Walker says.

Have some leftover cooked chicken that needs to be used up? You could pair it with some freshly roasted or grilled veggies using one of Walker’s Healthy in a Hurry Seasoning Blends, or whip up one of these leftover chicken dinner recipes.

5. Choose a cooking method that works for your schedule.

Own an Instant Pot? how about a slow cooker? Walker says these appliances can be a lifesaver for busy weeknights when you’re looking to get something healthy on the table without any effort.

“If you know you have a few really busy nights that you’ll get home late, go with plugging in three Instant Pot or slow cooker dinners [to your meal plan], then the others could be grilling recipes or sheet pan dinners,” she says.

Read next: 10 Hearty Slow Cooker Soup Recipes for Chilly Nights

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