I generally don’t like meal prepping, and the good news is that you don’t have to like it too. Just follow my last-minute healthy dinner ideas, and your meal will be ready in 30 minutes or less.
Here are all the staples and concepts you need to know!
Here is my FREE GUIDE to Building a Healthy Kitchen (with these staples and more).
Last-Minute Healthy Dinner: my tips and tricks
1. Stock your fridge with whole foods
My first tip for cooking a last-minute healthy dinner is to stock your fridge with whole foods. These include low-fat dairy like low-fat Greek yogurt, low-fat milk, low-fat cheese, and also low-fat meats. The latter include chicken, fish, and lean beef. If possible, get grass-fed pasture-raised cuts. In addition, stock up on eggs and plant-based protein sources, like tofu, tempeh, and different types of beans.
Second, buy in-season fruits and vegetables. This not only ensures better quality and taste of the products but you will also never get bored of them because you can always rotate through different types of fruits and veggies.
Third, stock your pantry with different unrefined carbs sources, such as brown rice, quinoa, and whole-grain pasta. You’ll also want to always have some nuts and seeds, such as almonds, cashews, different types of nut butter, chia seeds, sunflower seeds, and so on.
As your main source of healthy fats, opt for extra virgin olive oil. It is also good to have some type of stock (if possible vegetal stock) and vinegar in your pantry (my favorite is balsamic vinegar), as well as different types of herbs. You’ll get used to knowing what kind of herbs go with different themes of food, such as Asian food blends, Mexican blends, Italian blends, basic savory blends, Indian blends, and more.
2. Have appropriate pans and utensils
Here are some basic kitchen supplies you’re going to want to have. First of all, a spatula, measuring cups, and measuring spoons. Then, a can opener, a slotted spoon, and many more. View the video above for more of that list, or download my free guide on creating a healthy kitchen. All the rest of it is just a bonus. For instance, I love my citrus squeezer but I can also do without it. On the other hand, I don’t feel like I could live without my pressure cooker and air fryer, as they make things super easy and quick, so you might want to check those out.
3. Techniques to assemble a last-minute healthy dinner
The first thing I usually do is look through all of my perishables and look for foods that are about to go bad. A lot of times I’ll use this as inspiration for that night’s dinner. For example, right now I’ve got some broccoli and zucchini that needs to get used. One recipe I really like to do with them is this Asian tofu stir fry.
Another technique is to just go with what you are in the mood for that night and look around to see what you can find. For example, on Tuesday we usually do some sort of Mexican. In addition, you can for example do Mediterranean Monday, or pizza Friday. Having this type of theme helps a lot with removing part of the decision fatigue linked to deciding what to cook for dinner.
4. Use my healthy meal formula
Use this healthy meal formula as a guide to choosing the ingredients you put in your meals. With every meal, I like to have about a palm-size per person of a protein, choosing either animal or plant, or a combination of both, which is what I generally prefer to do.
The second type of ingredient you’re going to want to have in your meals is some sort of complex carbohydrate, preferably whole grains. Then add vegetables and fruits. I like to do about two fists of vegetables per person. Stir-fried veggies are delicious, salads are quick and easy, and even easier is steaming a bag of frozen vegetables. Finally, you’re going to want to add some form of healthy fats. Usually, I cook most of my dinners with olive oil, but I also absolutely love nuts, seeds, and avocado.
5. Tips to avoid wasting time
If money isn’t a problem, buy vegetables that have been pre-chopped. I also absolutely love my pressure cooker as it can cut down your cook time substantially. I often use Walmart delivery as well. Walmart delivery is really awesome because you can put things in your cart and do free pickup or just give a little tip to the driver to bring it to your house.
Another option to make things easier is to cook in bulk. Sometimes it can also take quite a bit of time to go through your seasonings and measure them all out to make blends, so if you can purchase seasoning blends, they can make your life a whole lot easier as well. For example, I absolutely love the taco seasoning blend and I use it in a lot of different dishes, not just Mexican food. Finally, I also am a huge fan of pop in the microwave frozen veggies.
6. How to cut down on your expenses
The first thing you can do to cut down on your expenses is not worry about buying organic from the get-go. If you want to buy some foods organic, check out what is on the dirty dozen list for the year and get those produce items organic. These might also be quite affordable to get from a farmer’s market.
On the other hand, the regulations around organic meat and dairy are quite loose, so you might prefer buying free-range and grass-fed products. These types of meat and dairy are not only better for you but also for the environment. One way to cut down on the cost of eating pasture-raised meat and dairy is by cutting it 50-50 with a plant-based source of protein.
If you don’t mind doing just a little bit of meal prep, getting dried beans and grains is much more affordable than getting them prepped. In fact, the more whole and basic your foods are, the cheaper they are going to be.
Another great tip is to buy your produce in season. This is going to make them cheaper because they likely didn’t have very far to travel, and they also have a greater nutritional value. Finally, you can also buy your non-perishables in bulk.
These are all the kitchen basics and concepts you are going to need to make some creative last-minute and healthy meals!