Are you too tired by dinnertime to cook you or your family a healthy meal? It’s possible you just haven’t found the right meals to cook yet. The nice thing about 20-minute meals? They don’t take long to make — and definitely won’t take long to eat. And if you live alone or with only one other person, there is likely going to be plenty of leftovers to save you even more time tomorrow.
Many people struggle to prepare healthy meals because they simply do not think they have time. That’s because most people don’t take the time to plan ahead, which can save you hours of time every single evening of the week.
There are a lot of steps to meal prep, but they aren’t complicated. The first and most important step is to choose quick and easy recipes you can actually make — and ones you want to eat, too. To get you started, here are a few healthy recipes you can put together and have on the table (or counter, or coffee table, or couch) within just 20 minutes or less.
Orange Chicken with Peas and Asparagus — 20 minutes
If you’re craving orange chicken, skip takeout and dare trying to make your own. Mixing flavored grilled chicken with vegetables provides enough protein and fiber to keep you far away from the pantry between the hours of dinner and bedtime.
- 2 oranges
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Four 5-ounce chicken breasts, boneless and skinless
- Salt and pepper
- 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup water
- 4 ounces snow peas
- 1/2 pound asparagus, trimmed, cut into 2-inch pieces
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped
Juice 1 orange (1/4 cup juice). Peel the other orange and slice.
In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat oil. Season chicken with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Cook on skillet until one side is golden brown, about 4 minutes. Turn to the other side, reduce to medium heat, and add garlic. Stir the garlic and cook for 1 minute.
Add orange juice and cook 1 more minute. Add water and simmer. Then add peas and asparagus, cover, and cook 2 to 3 minutes until vegetables are tender. Add in orange slices, lemon juice, and dill. Serve hot.
Grilled Eggplant and Red Pepper Sandwich — 10 minutes
For our plant-based eaters, grilled vegetables provide just as much protein as lean meat probably would on the same sandwich. Sandwiches are extremely quick and easy to throw together, and they’re relatively portable, too. Enjoy a side of baked sweet potato wedges or a fresh green salad.
- 1 eggplant (medium)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/4 cup pesto
- 4 ciabatta rolls
- 1 cup ricotta cheese
- 4 roasted red peppers (medium)
- Salt and pepper to taste
Heat grill to medium. Brush eggplant with oil on both sides and season with salt and pepper. Grill eggplant (covered) 2 to 3 minutes on both sides or until tender.
Spread pesto on each of the rolls and stack eggplant, cheese, and peppers to create sandwiches. Serve with a salad or grilled vegetables.
Tomato and Chickpea Salad with Orange — 15 minutes
Chickpeas aren’t just for hummus lovers. With a little toasting, they take on a bean-like texture. And with a little orange zest added in, just like this recipe, they adopt a bold flavor you will want to continue eating long after tonight’s serving of salad is gone.
- 1 orange
- 1 cup couscous
- 1 pound cherry tomatoes
- 1 can chickpeas
- 1/2 sweet onion (small)
- 1/2 cup green olives, pitted
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
In a medium bowl, grate 2 teaspoons orange zest. Add couscous and toss until combined. Pour in 1 cup water, cover, and let sit 12 minutes.
While that sits, over a large bowl, peel the orange, cut into segments, and squeeze out remaining juice. Add tomatoes, chickpeas, onion, and olives and mix until combined. Add to couscous and serve.
Tuna Stuffed Tomatoes — 15 minutes
Tuna — especially canned solid white tuna in water — is one of the healthiest sources of omega-3 fatty acids and lean protein you will find. Many people who do not like the taste of fish find tuna not only tolerable, but flavorful and delicious.
- 4 tomatoes (large)
- 2 cans solid white tuna
- 2 stalks celery, chopped
- 2 tablespoons capers
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- Black pepper to taste
- 1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves
Cut a thin slice off the bottom and a 1/4-inch slice off the top of each tomato. Set aside (do not throw away!). Use a spoon to scoop out the seeds and pulp. On a cutting board, chop tomato bottoms and pulp and put them in a bowl.
Add tuna, celery, capers, vinegar, and pepper to the bowl and toss to combine. Add parsley.
Spoon tuna mixture into hollow tomatoes, replace tops, and serve.
Mozzarella Zucchini Frittata — 20 minutes
Everyone knows breakfast for dinner just tastes better than breakfast for breakfast. So the next time you are in the mood for eggs after 6 p.m., consider a healthy frittata. Mozzarella cheese is a healthy source of protein, and cooked vegetables add fiber and essential vitamins to the mix.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 1/2 cups red onion, thinly sliced
- 1 1/2 cups zucchini, chopped
- 7 large eggs, beaten
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 4 ounces mozzarella cheese
- 3 tablespoons sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
- 1/4 cup fresh basil, thinly sliced
Preheat broiler with rack in upper third of the oven.
In a broiler-safe cast iron skillet over medium-high heat, heat oil. Add onion and zucchini. Stirring frequently, cook 3 to 5 minutes until vegetables are soft in texture.
In a bowl, whisk together eggs, salt, and pepper. Pour egg mixture over the vegetables in the skillet as they are cooking. Cook about 2 minutes, lifting the edges of the eggs throughout so they cook all the way through. Add mozzarella cheese and tomatoes on top and cook pan under broiler 2 minutes, until the eggs are slightly browned.
Remove from oven, let sit for 3 minutes, then add basil. Run a spatula around the edges and underneath the frittata until you can lift it onto a serving plate. Cut into 4 pieces and serve hot.
Roasted Chicken and Vegetables — 20 minutes
This classic, simple dish combines two of the most basic food items you can get at the store: chicken breasts and vegetables. It’s nearly impossible to mess this one up. Just chop, put on a baking sheet, and slide into the oven.
- 2 chicken breasts (medium), chopped
- 1 cup bell pepper, chopped
- 1/2 onion, chopped
- 1 zucchini, chopped
- 1 cup broccoli
- 1/2 cup grape tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
Preheat oven to 500 degrees F. On a cutting board, chop vegetables. On a separate cutting board (to avoid contamination from raw chicken) cut chicken breast pieces into cubes.
On a sheet pan lined with foil, place vegetables and chicken cubes and season with oil, salt, pepper, and Italian seasoning. Toss to combine.
Bake 15 minutes, until chicken is cooked and veggies are slightly charred. Serve hot on top of rice or whole grain pasta.
Chicken, Tomato, and Spinach Pasta — 20 minutes
You really can’t go wrong with pasta. But you’re way better off skipping the Olive Garden breadsticks and creamy Alfredo sauce and sticking to a much healthier (and faster) pasta dish. Choose angel hair pasta for a much lighter homemade entree.
- 1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped, oil drained
- 2 tablespoons olive oil (from drained sun-dried tomatoes)
- 1/2 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast, chopped
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 4 roma tomatoes, chopped
- 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
- 8 ounces fresh spinach leaves
- 3 garlic cloves, chopped
- 6 ounces angel hair pasta
Heat a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add sun-dried tomatoes and olive oil. Add chicken and red pepper flakes and cook over medium heat 5 minutes, until chicken is no longer pink.
Add roma tomatoes, chopped basil leaves, fresh spinach leaves, and garlic cloves to the chicken skillet and cook on medium high heat about 3 minutes, until spinach wilts slightly. Remove skillet from heat, cover, and let sit, keeping off heat.
Cook pasta according to manufacturer’s instructions (cook to al dante) and drain. Once drained, add pasta to chicken and vegetable skillet and reheat on low heat.
Mix everything together and then remove from heat. Season with additional olive oil for added flavor, if desired, and serve.
Greek Quinoa Bowl — 15 minutes
Quinoa may not be a miracle grain, but it’s definitely good for you. You can cook it just like rice, and serve it with vegetables and herbs for a quick, protein packed dinner you will not regret.
Quinoa and vegetables:
- 1 cup quinoa
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 1 cup green bell pepper, chopped
- 1 cup red bell pepper, chopped
- 1/3 cup feta cheese, crumbled
- 1 tablespoon fresh parsley
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- Salt and pepper to taste
In a strainer or sieve, drain quinoa.
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, lightly toast quinoa. Stir as it cooks, 1 to 2 minutes. Add water and boil quinoa over high heat.
Once quinoa is boiling, reduce heat to low and let simmer, covered, for about 12 minutes. Quinoa should have absorbed the liquid and should be fluffy.
While quinoa simmers, chop vegetables and whisk together olive oil, apple cider vinegar, salt, and pepper to create dressing.
Remove quinoa from heat and let cool on counter for several minutes. Add vegetables, dressing, and fresh parsley, and enjoy. For a cold quinoa bowl, boil quinoa in advance and let stand in fridge. Serve in bowls.
For even more flavor, you can add fresh tomatoes, olives, avocado, and even hummus to your quinoa bowls.
Black Bean Burritos — 20 minutes
Beans are an excellent source of plant based protein, full of fiber and other essential nutrients. Instead of filling up on Chipotle guac and sour cream with a burrito bowl, make your own, much healthier burritos in the comfort of your own kitchen.
- 1/2 cup canned black beans
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 1/2 cup onions, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/4 cup tomatoes, chopped
- 1/4 teaspoon cumin
- 1/4 teaspoon oregano
- 1/4 cup water
- 4 corn tortillas (or gluten-free tortillas if necessary)
- 1/2 cup brown rice, cooked
- 1/2 cup fresh avocado, chopped
- 1/4 cup spinach, shredded
Over medium heat, heat oil in a saucepan. Add onion and sauté until it’s translucent in color. Add garlic, tomatoes, cumin, and oregano and stir for 1 minute. Add canned black beans and water and bring to a boil.
Once boiling, lower heat and simmer 10 minutes. Remove from heat, slightly mash beans, and set them aside. Warm tortillas and spread 1/4 cup of the bean mixture over the middle of each.
Add brown rice, avocado, and spinach on top of beans, roll, and enjoy.
You could also use dried black beans for this recipe, but you will have to soak them overnight, rinse and drain them, and cook them for at least 45 minutes.
Meal prep and planning tips for healthier eating
- On Saturday or Sunday, choose the recipes you want to prepare for the coming week.
- Create a shopping list and include all the ingredients you’ll need, so you don’t have to stop by the grocery store on your way home from work Thursday night on an empty stomach.
- You can prepare some ingredients ahead of time and store them in sealed containers, such as chopping vegetables or peeling fruit.
- Stick to the plan. Veering off course is an almost guaranteed way to go from quinoa to pepperoni pizza in 30 minutes or less.
- Don’t be afraid to try new recipes or ingredients that are less familiar to you. Sometimes moving away from your culinary comfort zone makes food prep — and consumption — more exciting.
- Mix things up so you don’t get bored eating the same things over and over. For example, don’t have chicken more than two nights in a row. Try fish, or a plant-based protein source, like quinoa.
- The more vegetables, the better. Veggies are extremely versatile, and are just as filling. Cook and season them with olive oil and mix them in with other foods to improve the texture and taste.
No more excuses! If you take the time to plan in advance, your chances of sticking to a healthy eating routine are much greater.
Making dinner does not have to be time consuming or exhausting. And it definitely does not have to be boring. If you love pasta, you can boil noodles and add a different lean protein source or vegetable every night if you want to. A little creativity, and 20 minutes or less, can really go a long way.
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