Make an “emergency meal” list – this is like brainless crowd pleasers, but eaaaaassy (e.g. hot dogs and mac and cheese, PBJ, scrambled eggs and toast, Chicken Caesar salad from a bag), something you can cook at home when you don’t have time or energy. It’s ok if most of your meals are like this. They don’t have to be fancy.
Consider using a snacky meal on a day when you just can’t even
Have a different family member plan or prepare on different days of the week (Age-appropriately of course – your toddler cannot make dinner by themselves). This can be a great way to get kids involved and more excited about food.
Don’t plan to make involved or new recipes on days you know you will be busy! (These are great days for an “emergency meal”. Or for going out, if that fits with your goals)
Pick one new recipe to try per month
Use convenience items if you can afford it and they are available. What parts of cooking at home do you hate? Can buy a product to eliminate that? I hate washing lettuce – I’m much more likely to eat salad if I have pre-washed greens. We eat a ton of frozen veggies. Hate cooking raw meat? Buy it frozen and pre-cooked, or choose meals that don’t involve meat
Don’t mind leftovers? Making a big pot of soup or chili to eat throughout the week works well
Do mind leftovers? Freeze any leftovers for a few weeks from now (this doesn’t work for things like salad obviously)
Don’t get stuck on needing to cook at dinner – maybe cooking lunch or breakfast is a better fit for you
Do half and half – do a takeout entree and homemade salad or veggie. Or reverse – make some baked fish and get some fries from MacDonalds.
Frozen fruits and frozen vegetables are good for you!
They are just as nutritious as fresh produce, and may sometimes be even a little more nutritious!
Because fruits and/or vegetables are processed (washed, cut, and frozen) very soon after being harvested, their freshness is “frozen” in place at just-picked quality! This can include ripeness (as they don’t have to be picked early to prevent spoilage on the way to the customer) and nutrition. Here’s how the process works:
Why are frozen vegetables and fruits are sometimes higher in nutrition than fresh ones?
Some vitamins and antioxidants degrade over time. Freezing a fruit or vegetable stops or really really slows down this process, so the vitamin content of frozen produce might be higher than one that has been sitting in the produce section (or in your fridge drawer) for a few days.
(This is not to say that fresh vegetables or fruit are devoid of nutrition if you don’t eat them right out of the ground or off the tree – it is only a very small portion that degrades. I just like to illustrate that you aren’t missing any nutrition by eating frozen produce)
Besides excellent nutrition, think of the other benefits of frozen produce!
No washing, chopping, slicing, peeling, needed – ready to use!
Most plain frozen fruits and vegetable products are just that – frozen fruits and vegetables. They don’t contain any added salt, sugar, fat, or preservatives! (You can always check the ingredients list if you want to make sure)
Sometimes they are more affordable than fresh, especially if it is a seasonal item (like strawberries or peaches) or one that does not grow where you live
Some vegetables are even packaged in a bag you can microwave directly so you don’t even have to get another dish dirty! (This is easy and pretty safe and a great way to get kids helping – just be careful with the hot package when it’s done!)
Some ways to use frozen produce besides steaming or making smoothies
Add frozen fruit to baked goods – blueberry muffins anytime 😀
Top a cereal or yogurt with frozen fruit
Cook frozen fruit with a few spoons of sugar to make a syrup that you can use on whatever you like!
Add frozen vegetables into the last few minutes boiling pasta to get an extra serving of veggies
Add frozen vegetables to a soup – again you can just throw them in the last few minutes
Look. I’m tired today, so we’re going to talk about something that I had actually planned in advance, but is appropriate for a day when you are tired and don’t feel like cooking or maybe don’t even feel like eating a meal:
How to make a meal out of snacks.
The fancy version of this is charcuterie. Or a smorgasbord. Although I recently looked up what a real Swedish smörgåsbord is, and apparently it includes 7 courses and must include herring and I don’t know if I’ve ever even had herring.
Anyway, you can have snacky meals that look like this:
But they can also look like this:
They can be fancy, but they don’t have to be. Most of the time when I eat a snacky meal, it’s because I’m already tired or too hungry to cook, so putting in the work to make it fancy would defeat the purpose.
The snacky “meal” I’m writing about today is assembling a meal out of things you already have on hand, or can prepare quickly and easily (like washing grapes, cutting up cheese, or baking some frozen sausage cheese puffs)
What are the ingredients?
Ideally, a snacky meal contains at least 1 fruit and/or vegetable, at least one protein food, and at least one starch.
This can definitely be modified, but the dietitian here recommends you get all your food groups (or at least 3 out of the 4).
What do you have in the fridge/freezer/cabinets that can fit in each of those categories? See some examples below
All of my examples here are finger food, but they don’t necessarily have to be – this is a great time to bring in leftovers.
As you can see, we often eat cheese for our protein – but you can use whatever you prefer and generally have on hand: hard boiled eggs, jerky, tuna salad, leftover chicken, salami, sliced lunch meat, nuts or seeds or trail mix, yogurt, leftover meatballs, fish sticks, chicken nuggets, hummus, leftover lentil or bean salad
Best if you can include both a fruit and a vegetable – or even a variety of both, but again, the idea is to pull from what you already have, not make more work for yourself. This is a great time to pull out leftover vegetables, the bag of baby carrots, the end of the salad greens that need to be eaten, those random olives or pickles that you always forget about and the bag of grapes that nobody is eating because they’re in the fridge and not on the counter. Don’t forget about dried fruits! No prep needed for those and I know mine often get neglected as they are hidden in a cabinet.
Starches are often prevalent in pantries and readily available for snacky dinners: crackers, bread, chips, pretzels, tortillas, etc. Don’t forget about leftovers – leftover pasta, potatoes, waffles – you might come up with some odd combinations, but the bottom line is – you’re being nourished!
This is a perfectly fine way to have a meal. Kids (especially young kids) often love eating this way because there are a lot of finger foods involved, they feel like they have more choice, and there are often a lot of familiar foods offered.
It may also be helpful for adults who are struggling with poor appetite, low energy, or low motivation to make sure they are getting the nutrition they need.
What do you think? Have you ever had a snacky meal before? What type of foods do you like to include?
These are meals that literally require throwing ingredients together. No quick sauteeing, no slicing, no chopping, no measuring. This is for you if you want to make a meal but don’t have access to a kitchen. This is for you if you don’t know how to cook but want to eat more at home. This is for you if you don’t want to cook because you’re too exhausted or busy or just have other things you’d rather do. This is for you if you’re struggling with your mental health and you just need some fuel for your body on days when you have no motivation to do anything.
Most of these salads are a balanced meal in themselves. They have veggies, protein, and some sort of carbohydrate. Most of them are lower on the carb side (especially carbs from grains), so if you like bread, a whole grain bread makes a good compliment to the meal. I personally feel like a salad meal isn’t complete without bread. 🙂
Anyway, on to the salads
pre-washed lettuce/greens OR sliced cabbage/coleslaw mix + can of beans + (optional can of corn) + shredded cheese + salsa + (optional guacamole and/or sour cream) + chips
Cheese Apple Walnut Salad
pre-washed lettuce/greens + apple slices + walnuts + shredded or crumbled cheese+ vinaigrette dressing + optional pre-cooked chicken OR deli turkey OR deli ham
No-Chop Cobb Salad
pre-washed lettuce + pre-cooked chicken OR sliced deli chicken + bacon bits + blue cheese + cherry tomatoes + pre-cooked hardboiled eggs (crumbled by hand or squished with a fork) + scoop guacamole + vinaigrette + optional dried chives sprinkle
Cherry or grape tomatoes + sliced mozzarella or mozzarella balls + olive oil + fresh basil or dried basil + optional extra pre-washed greens
Washed leaves of Romaine/Green leaf/Red leaf/Butter/Iceberg lettuce spread with hummus/tuna salad/chicken salad/egg salad/peanut butter (sounds weird but actually not bad) or use them to roll up deli meat and/or cheese with whatever condiments you like
Chicken Caesar Salad
pre-washed lettuce/greens + pre-cooked chicken OR sliced deli chicken + Caesar dressing + croutons + (optional cherry tomatoes)
sliced cabbage or coleslaw mix + pre-cooked chicken + sliced almonds + canned mandarin oranges + Asian dressing or soy sauce and honey + (optional crunchy chow mein noodles)
Pear Spinach Salad
Canned sliced or cubed pears (drained) + pre-washed spinach + pre-cooked chicken + pecans, walnuts, or sliced almonds + dressing of your choice (blue cheese and pears is a winning combination I think)
You can actually buy cans of this already made, or make your own: canned kidney beans + canned garbanzo beans + canned green beans (or add whatever beans you like) + vinaigrette dressing. Eat with whole grain bread for the most complete protein
I have done my best to make sure that these recipes require as little preparation as possible. The most that will need to be done is opening a few cans, maybe tearing some lunch meat, spreading some stuff on other stuff, and mixing stuff together. The items mentioned as pre-cooked can be something you have pre-cooked yourself, but I have tried to choose things that you will be able to buy at a typical grocery store pre-cooked to truly minimize the work and need for a kitchen. I do realize not everyone has access to a grocery store or a grocery store with a wide selection of fresh ingredients. I’ve tried to include salads with a variety of ingredients, many of which are shelf-stable or last a long time.
Do you have any go-to recipes (salad or not) that don’t require any cooking? Feel free to share in the comments
Before I tell you how I cook lentils, if you need reasons why you should eat lentils, here’s a list:
As they are usually sold canned or dry, they keep for a long time
Pretty environmentally friendly*
Pretty easy to cook (and faster than beans)
*Read til after the recipe if you want more of an explanation for this list.
The super easy method to cook lentils:
Buy canned lentils and season them with whatever sauce or seasoning you like. Warm them up or eat them cold. Done. Easy.
The slightly more work but still pretty easy way to cook lentils is:
Measure out the dry lentils you want to cook. They don’t expand that much pasta or beans do, so don’t worry about that.
Give em a good rinse. They don’t need to soak like beans do, although it won’t hurt them if you do. I like to put them in a colander and run water through.
While you’re rinsing, take out any small rocks you find. I haven’t found rocks often, but a few times I have found them with my teeth :/
Find a pot that will fit the lentils you have measured, plus twice that amount of water (so 2 cups of water for 1 cup lentils) and a little extra. It will help if it has a lid that fits.
Put the lentils and water in that pot along with a little salt.
Put the pot on a stove burner or hotplate and cover with a lid.
Turn the stove or hotplate to high heat and wait until the lentils are boiling. Once they are boiling, turn the stove down to low (keep the lid on).
Let it continue to cook on low until most of the water is absorbed or until they are the softness you like (anywhere from 15-45 minutes.) Drain any extra water out.
Taste, add more salt and other seasonings as needed.
To add more flavor, use broth instead of water, add other spices with the salt. Or, before putting the lentils in the pot, cook some onions, garlic, spices, or other aromatic veggies in some oil, then add the lentils.
If you’ve tried lentils before and were put off by the mushy texture, I suggest trying French lentils, as they tend to hold their shape better. Eating them in a salad vs. by themselves or as a soup may also help them be more appealing. Here’s a great French lentil salad recipe from Once Upon a Chef.
Cookie and Kate has a great and very detailed guide if you want specific cooking times for specific kinds of lentils.
17.9g of protein! About the same as 1 and 1/2 eggs! (Just make sure you also eat a whole grain to get all your amino acids in. If you want to learn more, read this)
over 6mg of iron, which is 33-75% of your recommended daily intake, depending on your needs
Over 15g of fiber, which is 40-60% of your recommended daily intake!
over 350 micrograms of folate, which is about 90% of your recommended daily intake!
Generally, plant-foods use fewer resources, including water and energy, than animal foods. This is also true for lentils. Lentils also have the added bonus of being nitrogen-fixing, which means that if farmers use lentils as part of crop rotation, less fertilizer is required. (Source)
Of course, there are a lot of great lentil recipes out there from around the world! Do you have any favorites?
It’s a great way to get a serving (or two) of vegetables
It goes really well with grilled cheese.
It can be a great throw-together-from-the-pantry dish
If you make it yourself, you can control the flavor, texture, and the nutrition!
This recipe is really flexible so you can make it how you like it
Think of how accomplished you’ll feel as you sip that nutritious soup!
Just a heads-up: this is not a particularly quick recipe. It requires time for the onions and tomatoes to cook down, probably 30 minutes at minimum to get a nice flavor. But it does not require a lot of active time. Most of the time you can be doing something else you want to do as long as you’re making sure the kitchen isn’t burning down. Anyway, if you’re still here:
The minimum ingredients you will need are:
Salt (not pictured)
Cooking oil or butter or margarine – some sort of fat to cook your onions and garlic in
There are some extras you can add to change the flavor or texture to your liking: spices like basil, oregano, chili flakes, chili powder, cumin, pepper, etc.; sugar, broth, milk, or cream. But these aren’t necessary to make a basic soup. I’ll let you know when these would come into the recipe.
Heat a little oil (or your preferred cooking fat) in a pot over low heat. Add your onions and a pinch of salt. The salt helps build the flavor of the soup and helps draw out the water from the onions so they cook to where we want them faster. (Learned that from SORTEDfood)
Cook those onions on low heat for a long time (like 10-20 minutes) until they are nice and golden and soft. Stir occasionally, but not that often. While you’re waiting for them to cook, you can mince your garlic or wash dishes or read a book (just don’t forget about them)
Once your onions are nice and cooked, add your garlic and any herbs or spices you will use. I used a generous sprinkle of dried basil and a bit of oregano here. Let them all cook together for just about a minute. If you cook garlic like this too long it will burn and get bitter.
Add your canned tomatoes and stir to combine everything. Then turn up the heat to high and put a lid on. Let it heat up until it starts simmering (occasional bubbles), then turn it down again and keep the lid on.
At this point, the longer you simmer it, the longer the flavors will meld together. I simmered mine for probably around 20-25 minutes. You can simmer longer if you like (just don’t let it cook so long that all the liquid goes away and it burns), or shorter if you like. The tomatoes are already cooked – they just need to be heated up.
Once it’s simmered, you have options. If you like a chunky tomato soup, just taste it to make sure it doesn’t need more salt, sugar, or spices of your choosing and it’s ready to eat!
If you want a smooth, creamier soup, puree it with an immersion blender or a regular blender (careful, HOT), adding water or broth or cream to get it to the thickness you like (I used water for this one).
Adding milk can be more tricky as the acid from the tomatoes might curdle it. Warm your milk up separately, then add a little tomato soup to the milk, stir it in, then add a little more tomato to the milk. Repeat this until no more tomato will fit in your milk container, then slowly add the milk and tomato mixture back to the pot.
I’ve also read you can add 1/2 tsp baking soda to the tomatoes to neutralize the acid so it won’t curdle the milk, but I haven’t tried that.
Finally, taste! If it’s too sour, you can add a little more salt (believe it or not it helps balance out the sour taste) or some sugar.
Just the instructions (no pictures)
Chop onion and mince garlic (I used a small onion and 1 large clove garlic)
Heat a bit of oil/butter/margarine over low heat in a pot
Add the onions and a pinch of salt and let cook until the onions are very soft and yellow (at least 10 minutes)
Add the garlic and any spices you are using and cook for 1 more minute
Add canned tomatoes and stir (I used two 14-oz cans)
Turn the heat up to high and cover the pot with a lid, but stay there and watch!
Once it starts to simmer (occasional bubbles), turn the heat down to low again. Keep the lid on.
Let it simmer for as long as you want, but at least until the tomatoes are heated through (I recommend 20 minutes)
If you like chunky soup – taste and add more salt, sugar, spices as needed!
If you like smooth soup, blend until it’s as smooth as you want, adding water, broth, or cream until it is the thickness you want (see note about adding milk above)
It seems to me that there are infinite “easy” cooking recipes out there that range from actually easy, to probably easy for someone who grew up in the kitchen, to maybe easy for a trained chef who has a fully stocked kitchen and a sous chef.
The goal with this series (starting with sandwiches and wraps) is to be a list of ideas that require (as the title says) zero cooking. Because maybe you like cooking, but are in a crazy busy season of life and don’t have time. Maybe you live in a place with only a mini fridge and no utensils to prep with. Or maybe you just don’t like cooking and have better things to do than spend time chopping, slicing, braising, sauteing, and/or cleaning up. Granted, some of these things will take a little prep, but – stay with me – it’s mostly opening packages and dumping things together or maybe spreading something with a knife. I’ve even made this list so you don’t even need to heat anything up.
The components for all of these meals are a bread or grain wrap + filling (usually protein) + fruit or vegetable
This model makes sure the meal includes at least 3 food groups on USDA’s MyPlate. If there is already a fruit or vegetable in the filling, adding another fruit or veggie on the side, makes it even closer to the goal of 1/2 the plate being fruit and/or vegetables.
Bread or Wrap:
Sliced whole grain bread
Whole grain tortilla
Whole grain pita
Gluten-free sandwich wrap
Whole grain waffles
These are just some examples, as there are so many bread options. Choosing a whole grain option will make for a higher-fiber and more filling meal.
Fruit or Vegetable:
You can use a whole fruit or vegetable that’s ready to eat, like an apple or carrot (just rinse these) or banana or mandarin orange.
You can also use packaged produce that is already prepared, like bagged spinach, baby carrots, or a jar of pickles.
Most grocery stores also sell pre-washed and cut fruits and veggies in the produce section.
A grocery store with a pay-by-weight salad bar can also be a resource for purchasing already washed and prepared veggies in smaller amounts (think shredded cabbage, pickled beets, or sliced cucumbers).
Nut butter and jelly
Nut butter and honey
Nut butter and sliced fruit
Nut butter and lettuce/spinach + optional mayo (I know it sounds weird, but some people like it)
Turkey (add ketchup, mustard, mayo, Sriracha, horseradish or even guacamole)
Turkey and veggie (add ketchup, mustard, mayo, Sriracha, horseradish, or guacamole)
Turkey and cheese (add ketchup, mustard, mayo, Sriracha, horseradish, or guacamole)
Turkey and cheese and veggie (add ketchup, mustard, mayo, horseradish, Sriracha, or guacamole)
Roast beef (add ketchup, mustard, mayo, horseradish, guacamole, or Sriracha)
Roast beef and veggie (add ketchup, mustard, mayo, horseradish, guacamole, or Sriracha)
Roast beef and cheese (add ketchup, mustard, mayo, horseradish, guacamole, or Sriracha)
Ham (add ketchup, mustard, mayo, horseradish, or guacamole – not sure if guac would go well with ham but fine if you want to try it)
Ham and cheese (add ketchup, mustard, mayo, horseradish, Sriracha, hot sauce, or guacamole)
Baloney (add ketchup, mustard, mayo, horseradish, Sriracha, hot sauce, or guacamole)
Cheese (any cheese besides cream cheese can work as a protein food)
Cheese and veggie (add ketchup, mustard, mayo, horseradish, Sriracha, or guacamole)
Salami/pastrami/hot dog (salami and other sausages are higher in fat and sodium, so better to choose this less often, however – still provides protein)
Tuna salad (many stores sell tuna salad already mixed OR make your own by mixing canned tuna with mayo or guac or yogurt and some salt or pepper)
Chicken salad (see above – you can add flavor to either of these with garlic powder, chili powder, cumin, or a spice mix packet)
Hummus and veggies – particularly ones with crunch – snap peas, lettuce, shredded carrots, small tomatoes, celery, cucumbers, sliced cabbage
Egg salad (buy egg salad already made or mash up some hard-boiled eggs with mustard, salt, pepper, mayonnaise, paprika or whatever other spices you like in your hard-boiled eggs)
Eggless salad (same as egg salad, but mash up tofu instead)
Tofu and veggies (definitely want to add some flavor to this using soy sauce, hot sauce, Sriracha, etc. as tofu is pretty bland)*
Pre-cooked chicken, lettuce, and Caesar dressing*
Beans (baked beans or black beans, pinto beans or garbanzo beans, chili beans or white beans – add hot sauce, garlic powder, chili powder, or taco seasoning to plain beans)*
Bean and cheese *
Bean and salsa/guac/hot sauce*
Bean and cheese and salsa/guac/hot sauce*
Yogurt and fruit*
Yogurt and fruit and nuts*
*These would probably work best as a wrap, but you could certainly make them into a messy sandwich
Some of these ideas might seem obvious, but just because they are super easy and common doesn’t mean they aren’t a good meal. Feel free to share your sandwich/wrap ideas in the comments.
And of course, this are general ideas and guidelines. They are not intended to treat any specific health condition. Speak with your doctor or dietitian about your specific dietary needs.