Struggling to get easy healthy dinners on the table at night? These are our top 3 desperation dinners – the meals we make when we just can’t think of anything else. They save us lots of money from going through drive-thrus and help us stick to our health goals!
Why does finding easy healthy dinners always have to feel so hard?
I have a problem with meal prepping…If I do not intentionally plan for dinner, I completely forget how to make dinner at night. Does this happen to you?
I’ll be like…I know we need to eat, but somehow I can only remember how to make popcorn. Or eat graham crackers. Or order a pizza.
It’s not a great thing for a blogger that focuses on healthy, homecooked meals to admit, but it is TRUE!
I’ve spent summers existing off nachos and watermelon before. It gets really bad at the start of the school year when I am already exhausted and stressed…I’m sure this has never happened to you because you are never exhausted and stressed, right?
So, I actually had to print out a list of my easiest, fastest, dinner-in-a-pinch recipes to put on my fridge. If it’s not there, I promise I just cannot remember and the next thing I know, I’m eating chocolate for dinner.
If you’re trying to eat healthier, these are the BEST vegetables to keep on hand!
Why You Need a Well-Stocked Pantry (and Freezer)
First of all…if you keep some solid essentials in your pantry and freezer, you’ll have food on hand to throw together quick healthy meals all of the time!
This helps you eat healthier foods, spend less time shopping, and stick to your food commitments. Being thoughtful with your food purchases means you can save money, waste less food, and eat better!
I’ve created a free printable download to help you do just this! It’s called “The Well-Stocked Pantry” and it’s available for free for my email subscribers.
What are some quick healthy dinners?
For my own healing journey, I really try to focus on unprocessed, lower-carb meals. This doesn’t mean keto necessarily, but closer to paleo. We try to focus on high-quality meats and lots of vegetables. Although we love them, beans and grains don’t typically do too well for our digestive systems. My stomach is really sensitive to salads too so even though I love them (and eat them in the summer), I usually have an upset stomach after.
We do often keep a frozen pizza on hand just for these sorts of situations…We do this less and less though as it doesn’t support our health goals.
Equipment to help you eat quick & easy healthy dinners everyday
Of course, quick healthy meals are easier to make when your kitchen is prepared! These are our most common kitchen tools for making quick healthy dinners.
A note on buying new products…Personally, we recommend looking for used products first. Check thrift stores, Buy Nothing groups, community Facebook pages, etc. If you cannot find the product locally, buy the best you can afford! We try not to use Amazon, but these are Amazon links. Sometimes we use Amazon just to see reviews and then shop elsewhere.
We actually won ours at a family white elephant gift exchange! We had ZERO plans to buy an air fryer and were a little snobby about it. Why would this be better than an oven on convection mode?? In reality, we use ours almost daily. It is so convenient for preparing potatoes, sweet potatoes, parsnips, chicken wings, etc. The food is always cooked perfectly and crispy on the outside. This was a game-changing product for us!
Our Instant Pot shows up on the counter frequently. It is a gem for easy healthy dinners! We especially love it for cooking entire frozen chickens until they are falling apart with just 45 minutes of pressure. It’s great for making one-pot dishes, too. You could totally use it to make the veggie-packed marinara bowl below!
We have two half sheet trays that are in rotation for everything from baking cookies, roasting vegetables, roasting meats, etc. I didn’t grow up with sheet trays although my husband did, and I had no idea how handy they would be! The shallow sides allow moisture to evaporate faster so this is a way better solution than a baking dish for a lot of recipes.
Be sure to avoid the nonstick trays as they usually contain Teflon. Just get the regular aluminum ones and use parchment paper or silicone tray liners!
I have an old, small food processor we bring out about once a week for quick projects. It is perfect for pulsing cauliflower for cauliflower rice, shredding tons of zucchini for zucchini pizza, or making hummus! Ours is old and chipped and imperfect, but it still works just fine.
Quick & Easy Healthy Dinners – Low Carb and Paleo options!
Quick, Versatile Tacos (Low carb, no carb, or carb options)
We always have ground beef in the freezer and it thaws so quickly! We have taco seasoning in our spice cupboard and some sort of jarred salsa in the pantry at all times.
Keep it super simple. Brown the meat. Mix in the spice mix following the container instructions. Shred some cheese and dice some onion.
Grab the salsa. If you eat tortillas or tortilla chips, bring them out. If you eat rice, you can pop it in the rice cooker as soon as you put the meat in the microwave to thaw.
Quick Microwave Cauliflower Rice
if we’re not in hangry mode, we may even chop or dice cauliflower for steamed cauliflower rice! (So easy – just pulse until fine in the processor, add to a bowl with a couple of tablespoons of water & a sprinkle of salt, and cover with a plate. Microwave for about 4-5 minutes and let stand.)
Make it even easier with frozen cauliflower
Not interested in washing out a food processor tonight? I totally hear that! You can grab a bag of frozen cauliflower or cauliflower rice and steam that instead.
Veggie-Packed Marinara Bowl
Okay, so I’ve talked to my husband about sharing this recipe in the past and I always think it seems a bit…too simple? Like people would never really make it? But I have to say that we make it often…typically once every week or two! It is SO EASY and we load it up with vegetables.
Keep your pantry & freezer stocked
We always have ground beef or Italian sausage in the freezer because we order from Crowd Cow or do a bulk pickup from a local farmer. There are jars of marinara and storage onions in the pantry. We almost always have cauliflower in the fridge (or you could even do frozen cauliflower for less prep!) and in the summer, our counters are full of zucchini.
How to prepare
Thaw and brown ground beef or Italian sausage (you can make this whole thing in your Instant Pot or a large skillet!). Be sure to sprinkle with a little salt. While the meat is browning, slice an onion in whatever size cut people in your family will eat. Quick chop a whole cauliflower head into small bites. If you have zucchini on hand, shred it with a grater (I often do 1-2 medium-sized ones).
Once the meat is browned, add the onion and let soften for a few minutes. Then add the cauliflower and zucchini. Season with salt to draw out moisture. Let those cook down a bit to release moisture so the sauce isn’t too wet.
After about 5 minutes, add two jars of marinara sauce. If you only have one on hand, you can add an extra can of diced tomatoes and a heaping spoonful of tomato paste. Diced tomatoes have less sugar but need to cook down longer to get that tinned flavor to go away. Let the mix simmer for about 10 minutes to let the flavors merge.
Add even more vegetables
If you like other vegetables like bell peppers, you could add those here! We do like adding black olives to this, too. This would be great to thinly slice and cook down some kale.
Honestly, we serve this just like this or maybe with some cheese on top! It has some nice textures and we love the marinara flavor. You could also boil some pasta (maybe whole wheat spaghetti?), but we don’t.
This is SUPER simple, but warm, comforting and filling! We always eat seconds.
Air fryer chicken wings and steamed broccoli
So, I would not call us a chicken wing family or anything. We truly never made them before we got an air fryer and before we started ordering from Crowd Cow. Their wings are so flavorful and fun to eat! We stock up anytime we order and were even doing wing nights every Friday night during the summer!
They take a little time in the air fryer, but you can cook them from frozen! Start off with them at 350 for 20 minutes and then turn up to 400 for 15-20 minutes or until cooked to 165.
Top with your favorite sauces. We use a sugar-free barbecue sauce often or we’ll use buffalo sauce.
I LOVE blue cheese, so I like to eat these with blue cheese dressing.
We can eat steamed broccoli every day and ALWAYS have broccoli on hand, so this is an easy one! If you don’t, grab a couple of cans of green beans from the pantry or celery & carrots from the fridge. Done!
How do our meals change with the seasons?
Honestly, we do make these dinners all year long. In the summer though, we find it way easier to find vegetables to sautee or steam quickly. We eat a LOT of zucchini in the summer and since I’m off from school, we have an easier time making things like zucchini pizza crust.
In the fall and winter…the zucchini disappears. The bags of homegrown snap peas are gone. The spring onions are no longer available to be sauteed with every dish!
In the colder months, we try to be more intentional about keeping root vegetables and winter squashes in the pantry (potatoes, sweet potatoes, etc) and hardy brassicas in the fridge (broccoli, cauliflower). You can certainly use frozen vegetables, too!
We really try to plan for crockpot meals or soups in the fall and winter. They do require prepping on the weekends or weekday mornings, but it is such a relief to come home to food ready to go!
What are your favorite easy healthy dinners? We are always looking for new favorites! Share yours below in the comments.