a woman in the kitchen

Healthy Dinner Tips: Ideas for Making it Easier

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How often do you cook meals at home?

Making meals at home is one of the easiest ways to improve your diet and eat healthier meals [1]. Unfortunately, a lot of people struggle to prepare healthy dinner recipes at home.

If this is a problem you have, these simple suggestions will help you to cook your own meals more frequently, which is just one healthy eating habit you can use for life..

1. Make Sure You Have The Tools That You Need

various cooking supplies on the kitchen counter

You don’t need to spend a fortune on cookware before you can start making meals. With that said, you are going to want to make sure you have a few essentials.

You’ll want to have a few pots and pans, as well as a handful of cooking tools, like spoons and spatulas. You may also want to stock up on a set of sharp knives. Dull knives can be dangerous [2]; it’s easy to injure yourself when you’re using them.

Once you have the tools you need, you’ll be able to follow up on the recipes that you find and make all kinds of dishes. This is a fairly small investment, and it will wind up saving you money.

Home-cooked meals are typically healthier and more affordable than buying pre-cooked food.

2. Plan Your Meals in Advance

a guy plans his meals for the week

It might seem strange to plan out what you’ll be eating days in advance. However, if you plan ahead, you’ll be able to make sure you have everything you need to prepare healthy dinners at home [3].

You won’t be tempted to order takeout or grab fast food on the way home. You’ll be able to make nutritious meals at home every single night.

Put together a meal plan that’s filled with healthy meals that are easy to prepare. From there, work to make a grocery list that includes everything you need. Make sure your pantry is stocked with everything you need to make healthy dinners every night of the week. If you focus on keeping your pantry stocked, you won’t be able to make excuses when it’s time to cook.

Everything you need will be right there.

3. Do Some Basic Prep Work

a woman making a healthy meal

Do you feel overwhelmed when you try to follow along with the healthy dinner recipes that you find? You can make things a lot easier on yourself if you do some prep work before you start cooking [4].

For example, you can measure out your ingredients so that you can easily add them to the dish. It’s also a smart idea to chop vegetables before you start cooking. Chopping vegetables can take some time; you’ll want to make sure everything can be added to the dish at the right time.

Prep work can save you time and make cooking less of a hassle. When all of the ingredients that you need are ready to go, you’ll be able to avoid losing time and burning the ingredients that are cooking. Do all of the prep work first, and you’ll have far fewer problems when you’re cooking.

4. Keep it Simple

a couple cooking a healthy dinner together

If you’re a novice cook, you’ll want to avoid recipes that are too complex. You might be intrigued by sous-vide, and you might be drawn to the idea of making your own pasta, but these kinds of recipes can be both time-consuming and challenging.

You’ll want to focus on mastering the fundamentals first [5].

Once you learn basic cooking techniques, you’ll be able to tackle more advanced recipes. Start by cooking a few basic dishes, then move on to preparing meals that are a little more complex. Even if you can’t cook now, you’ll be able to master a lot of skills simply with time and practice.

5. Look for Ways to Save

Before you decide what you want to eat this week, you might want to look at the sale papers at the grocery stores near you. If you’re able to find foods that are on sale, you’ll be able to stretch your grocery budget a little bit further [6].

One of the reasons that many people struggle to eat a healthy diet is that they simply can’t afford to buy the foods they want to eat. If you’re able to take advantage of sales and plan out your meals with care, you’ll be able to eat well for less.

6. Start Cooking with Frozen Vegetables

some frozen veggies on a plate

It can be challenging to cook with fresh produce, especially if you’re only cooking for one or two people. Produce can be expensive, and it tends to go bad quickly.

Because of this, many people wind up limiting their intake of fruits and vegetables.

If this is something you’ve done in the past, there’s an easy and cost-effective solution to your problem. Instead of using fresh vegetables, you should use frozen veggies.

Frozen vegetables are just as nutritious as fresh produce [7], and when stored properly, they can last for months or even years. You can purchase these vegetables very cheaply and substitute them for fresh vegetables in your favorite recipes.

7. Pick Meals Your Whole Family Will Want to Eat

Eating meals you made at home doesn’t have to be boring. You should make sure you’re excited to enjoy the meals that you make. While you should absolutely try to make healthy dishes, you should also focus on making dishes that are both comforting and tasty.

It’s fairly simple to turn classic comfort food meals into healthy dishes. For example, you can make a nutritious version of macaroni and cheese if you use less cheese and add in some butternut squash. You can make any pasta dish healthier by using whole wheat pasta instead of standard pasta.

If you’re excited to eat the food that you’re making, cooking isn’t going to feel like a chore. You shouldn’t feel like you’re depriving yourself when you make your own food. It’s easy to make healthy dinner recipes and still love the food that you eat.

8. Have Go-To Meals

tacos can be a great go-to meal

You don’t have to try out new meals every time you cook.

If you’re not comfortable in the kitchen, it’s a good idea to have a few simple go-to meals that you can prepare again and again [8]. You can make changes to these meals and adapt them based on what you have in your pantry.

One basic, delicious meal is a chicken breast with a vegetable side. Chicken breasts can be seasoned in all kinds of ways. You can bread your chicken and squeeze lemon over it. You can bake chicken breasts doused in olive oil and parmesan cheese. You can add some kick to your meal by sprinkling chicken breasts with chili powder.

Add a vegetable, like some asparagus or Brussels sprouts, and you’ve got a healthy and tasty meal on your hands.

It’s also very easy to make healthy pasta dishes!

Pasta can be paired with a tomato sauce or olive oil, along with vegetables and your preferred protein. Ground beef and sausage are both popular choices. If you’d like to make pasta dishes more nutritious, you can cook with whole wheat pasta. As long as you have pasta, a protein, and vegetables in your kitchen, you can make a variety of meals.

If you’re looking for a meatless go-to meal, curry is a great option. If you have curry powder in your spice rack, a curry is a breeze to make. Simply add curry powder to a pan along with some chickpeas and vegetables. Pour in milk or coconut milk and allow the meal to simmer until the spices have released their flavor.

You can serve the meal alongside rice or quinoa.

Once you have a few easy go-to meals you can fall back on, you’ll find that it’s much easier to cook. You don’t have to follow a recipe every time you cook. You can have a few simple meals that you can make any time you want to cook.

9. Try Freezing Meals to Heat-and-Eat Later

Do you feel like a lot of the food that you’re cooking is going to waste? If this is a frequent problem for you, you may want to start freezing some of the meals that you prepare [9]. You can simply reheat these frozen meals when you don’t have time to cook.

They’ll offer the taste and nutrition of fresh food.

If you’re new to freezer meal cooking, you might not know where to get started. You won’t need a lot of supplies to keep meals stored in the freezer. Just a few simple items, like plastic storage containers and freezer bags, should be enough for you to preserve the meals that you’ve made.

You’ll also want to think carefully about the types of meals you’re preparing. Foods that have a high water content, such as lettuce or cucumber, typically don’t freeze well. You should also avoid freezing raw potatoes; you’ll want to cook them before you freeze them.

There are plenty of healthy freezer meal recipes for you to try, from soups to casseroles to pasta dishes. While you won’t want to overload your freezer with frozen dishes, you should try to get into the habit of keeping freezing meals to eat later.

Having ready-to-go meals in your freezer will keep you from eating unhealthy foods when you’re in a hurry.

10. Learn How to Properly Season Your Food

Herbs and spices can take your food from flavorless to flavorful. They can also help you to prepare dishes that are more healthy. You won’t have to make dishes that are filled with sugar, butter, or cream if you learn how to properly season your food.

You’ll want to stock up on a variety of essential spices, and you’ll want to keep herbs in your kitchen as well.

If possible, you’ll want to cook with fresh herbs whenever you can. Herbs are easy to grow indoors. If you’ve got a green thumb, you could start your own herb garden at home.

11. Invest in a Slow Cooker

a slow cooker

You don’t have to spend all of your time in front of the stove when you’re cooking. If you have a slow cooker in your kitchen, your meals will essentially cook themselves [10].

Slow cookers, also known as crockpots, are perfect for people that aren’t comfortable cooking. When you have a slow cooker, you don’t have to do much more than toss in a few ingredients in the pot and wait a few hours.

Slow cookers are also perfect for when you don’t have a lot of food in your pantry. There are all kinds of meals you can make in the slow cooker that contain three or fewer ingredients. For example, you can make BBQ chicken with just a few chicken breasts, your favorite BBQ sauce, and a little bit of salt and pepper.

You can make chicken cacciatore with arrabbiata sauce, pasta, and boneless chicken thighs. You can marinate chicken breasts and throw them in the slow cooker along with a bag of frozen veggies for an effort-free meal.

While you can also make more complex dishes in a slow cooker, they’re perfect for people that aren’t comfortable cooking. If you’re not an accomplished chef, and you don’t have a lot of extra time, it’s smart to add one of these appliances to your kitchen.

12. Clean as You Cook

One of the reasons many people avoid cooking at home is that they don’t want to deal with the cleanup. It’s true that cooking a meal from scratch can make a big mess.

However, if you start cleaning while you’re still cooking, the cleanup process won’t be a big headache.

While you’re waiting for your water to boil, you can start wiping down your counters. When your food is in the oven, you can do a load of dishes. Don’t just stand around in your kitchen while you’re waiting for your food to cook. Use your time wisely, and it’ll be easy for you to keep your kitchen clean.

Summary

You might feel that it’s impossible to cook healthy dinner recipes at home. However, cooking your own meals is easier than you think.

If you try out some of these tips, you’ll find that you can make delicious, nutritious meals even if you’re not an experienced chef.

Citations

  1. Study Suggests Home Cooking is a Main Ingredient in Healthier Diet, Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future. Found at https://clf.jhsph.edu/about-us/news/news-2014/study-suggests-home-cooking-main-ingredient-healthier-diet
  2. Danilo Alfaro, 5 Tips for Caring for Kitchen Knives: Dos and Don’ts, The Spruce Eats. Found at https://www.thespruceeats.com/caring-for-kitchen-knives-dos-and-donts-908913
  3. Mayo Clinic Staff, Menu planning: Eat healthier and spend less. Found at https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/menu-planning/art-20048199
  4. Meal Prep: A Helpful Healthy Eating Strategy, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Found at https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/2017/03/20/meal-prep-planning/
  5. Anisha Jhaveri, 34 Healthy Dinner Recipes Anyone Can Make, Greatist. Found at https://greatist.com/eat/healthy-dinner-recipes-for-beginners
  6. Lyn Mettler, New coupon hacks: 3 easy ways to save money while grocery shopping, Today. Found at https://www.today.com/food/couponing-smartphones-3-tools-grocery-savings-t121867
  7. Cheyenne Lentz, Sometimes frozen vegetables can be even healthier than fresh-here’s why, Insider. Found at https://www.insider.com/which-is-better-fresh-vs-frozen-vegetables-2018-6
  8. Melissa Harrison, 17 Easy Dinners Everyone Should Have In Their Arsenal, BuzzFeed. Found at https://www.buzzfeed.com/melissaharrison/easy-dinners-everyone-can-cook
  9. Gillie Houston, How to Freeze and Reheat Prepared Meals, My Recipes. Found at https://www.myrecipes.com/how-to/how-to-freeze-and-reheat-prepared-meals
  10. Julia Spence-McCoy, The Benefits of Slow Cooker Meals, PennState Extension. Found at https://extension.psu.edu/the-benefits-of-slow-cooker-meals