How To Make Healthy Dinners Happen In A Busy Week
Making healthy dinners happen in a busy week is often more complicated than keeping up with quality breakfasts and lunches. Dinner is typically the time of day when we are most susceptible to abandoning healthy eating. You are tired at the end of the day and don’t feel like cooking. You have activities with the kids. You resort to eating out or making something quick that doesn’t provide good fuel for your body. Cooking can seem like another burdensome chore on the already long list of To-Do’s, yet you need dinner every night unless you are doing a scheduled fast.
But there are positive aspects to cooking. It can be relaxing and a good break from electronics. It is also a time to stand for a bit or get your mind off stressful things. Additionally, you will save money and consume fewer calories, just to name a few benefits of meal planning.
Cooking can seem like too much but it can be simple. And if you plan it, even more simple. When you preplan what you are having you don’t have to think about what to fix; just pull the ingredients out and make it. Let’s break down how to make healthy dinner planning in a busy week a success.
First, What should the dinner consist of?
Whether you make it at home or get it out, dinner should first consist of real, whole food. See my article Erase Confusion About Real Food to get more details on what that means.
Ideally, it consists of a lean protein source, lots of veggies, good fat, and an optional whole grain and/or fruit. Fruit makes for a good dessert if you have a sweet tooth.
First, worry about quality, then worry about quantity and portions. Work on getting mostly real food in and later concern yourself with getting enough proteins, fats, veggies, fruits, good carbs. Here is a good article by Precision Nutrition to understand more about creating a perfect meal.
So you know you need to eat real food most of the time, but how do you really make this happen?
The number one key….you have to plan ahead.
The time you take to plan your meals and get your food will save you a lot of time during your already busy week. Honestly, it doesn’t take too long to do either one of those two. And these days, you can even have your groceries delivered.
Here is how I coach my clients to dinner meal plan for a week. Look at your week and see…
Which nights do I have time to cook, even a 30-minute meal?
- Plan meals for these nights, maybe doubling 1 to 3 recipes as needed for leftovers.
Which nights do I not have time to cook or want a break from cooking?
- Plan leftover meals for as many of these nights as possible. If planning to eat out, look at the menu ahead of time and plan your healthy dinner. Or use a healthy meal delivery service, if available where you live.
Which nights are dinner engagements already scheduled?
- For these nights, pick the healthiest focusing on protein and veggie options available.
What night (if any) will be a treat dinner?
- For this night, make it one meal a week and make it *good* but not plentiful.
*Treat dinners- I don’t preach that every meal has to be super healthy all the time. But to keep one treat dinner from turning into two or three nights of treat dinners, plan them ahead of time. Also make them super tasty, worth the treat.
Other tips to make it easier:
If you have time to prep a whole or part of a meal earlier in the week or while you are working on another meal, that can be a great time saver. This is for the super proactive. I am not one of them. Other than prepping my lunches for the week while I make dinner on Sunday.
When making your menu, make note of what food you already have in your fridge and need to use up. This can help you start creating a menu or guide you to a recipe to pick. Plus, it saves food from going bad.
Another time-saver is using similar ingredients for a couple of meals. For example, make several chicken breasts and use them for dinner one night and then put the leftovers in soup another night.
Here is an example of my planning:
Sunday, Monday, and Friday I have time to cook.
Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday I have no time but could put something in the slow cooker on Wednesday morning.
Saturday I have dinner scheduled with friends.
Here is my dinner plan:
Sunday: Jen’s Go to Chili with Roasted Broccoli (double as needed)
Monday: Salmon with a Veggie (double as needed)
Tuesday: Sunday’s Leftovers
Wednesday: Slow Cooker Chicken, Potato, Carrot Soup with Mixed Green Salad (doubled as needed)
Thursday: Monday’s and/or Wednesday’s Leftovers
Friday: Grilled burgers - Bunless with Veggie Side
Saturday: Dinner with friends at my favorite pizza place
How to throw a meal together without overthinking it...
Pick a protein. Cook it the easiest you know how to cook it.
Pick a green veggie. Don’t want to cook it, have it raw.
Maybe pick another veggie. One you can roast tastes the best.
Have some good fat. Consider olive oil, olives, or avocado, to name a few.
For even more ease, keep a record of your recipes for future go-to meals.
If the recipes are in cookbooks:
Make a list (paper or digital) of the recipes you love and where to find them, along with how long it takes to make.
Write notes on your recipes with any details of modifications you made. Examples include: whether you liked it or didn’t like it, what you might do differently, how long it actually took, etc.
For keeping up with recipes you find online:
The easiest way I have found is using the recipe saver app, Paprika Recipe Manager. It isn’t free, but it only costs $4.99/device one time and is so worth it. I have the app on my iPad and phone. It easily copies recipes from online and saves them. You can rate them, categorize them, add your own notes/modifications, as well as save your own recipes there. It is easy to share recipes via the app, too.
If you still want recipes or ideas for meals:
Check out Warrior Approach’s blog for my weekly dinner menus that include recipes and notes.
If you want to search online, search for “Whole30 recipes” or “Paleo recipes”. While I don’t like labeling meal plans, recipes with those labels will typically consist of real, whole food.
For more help, download the Warrior Approach Weekly Meal Planner. It is a great way to stay organized and assist you as you create a sustainable habit of planning your weekly dinners. You will also get my dinner menus emailed to you weekly.
To your good health,