5 Easy, Healthy Dinner Recipes for Your Week

Weekly meal plan featuring 5 quick and easy dinner recipes.

Labor Day has come and gone. Now September is officially in full-swing, which means one thing in particular: school is back in session.

Back-to-school time means homework, book reports, fall sports, and Nutcracker dance recitals — in other words total chaos.

And when things get stressful it's easier and easier to justify rolling in the drive-thru. It's OK to give in to that temptation, as long as it's not five days a week. So avoid that scenario we asked dietitians their advice on how to cook easy, healthy dinners in all the craziness.

Here are their guidelines to get us through those tough weeks:

Use your Sundays

Spend one or two hours on the weekend planning the week's meals. That prep-work can save hours of franticness during the week, said Irene Soucy, a behavioral health and nutrition professor at the University of Delaware and owner of Dietary Direction, Inc.

"It sounds simple,but oftentimes it gets lost in the shuffle," Soucy said."Just take a few minutes take a look at your calendar and come up with a  flexible plan as far as where is your family going to be."

Sitting down and savoring a meal together can have major benefits for kids, she added, including the increased consumption of fruits and vegetables and less soda or fried food.

Late dinner? no problem

On days where a late dinner may be in the cards, pre-make a tray of fresh veggies or have fresh fruit and yogurt in the refrigerator for the kids when they come home from school.

Having healthy options can cut back on mindless snacking.

"When we are growing up kids are developing lifelong habits and I would much rather our future generation come home and look for a healthy snacks," Soucy said.

Invest in a slow cooker

Slow cookers help a lot of people with insane schedules said Sarah Woods, a nutrition and dietetic technician with the Food Bank or Delaware and food demonstration specialist for WIC clients.

"Put everything in the morning," she said.

Less prep, lots of nutritional value

Find recipes that require you to toss lots of veggies into one pan or a slow cooker to cook the dish. Less mess and less clean-up are crucial on long nights.

"Just because something doesn’t take a long time to cook and a long time to prep doesn't mean it isn't going to be nutritious," Woods said.

Go canned or frozen

You can use canned or frozen versions of vegetables if you are pressed for time and money. Look for low-sodium and low saturated fat options of sauces, too, said Sharon Collison, fellow University of Delaware behavioral health and nutrition professor

If the low-sodium option is too expensive, Woods added, you can drain a can of beans for instance and rinse off the excess juice.

"When you are cooking with canned vegetables you don't have to add as much salt in the sauces," she said.

Grill or cook in bulk

If you are cooking chicken or grilling one night, take that as an opportunity to make enough for two or three separate meals.

A family pack of chicken can go a long way during the week, Soucy said. You can make chicken soup, BBQ chicken sandwiches or even chicken salad all in one week.

Rule of fours

To maximize nutrition and health benefits, try to include a grain, vegetable, protein and dairy in every dinner, Soucy said. It doesn't have to be fancy; for taco night for instance, you can add beans, peppers, shredded cheese and rice wrapped in whole-wheat tortilla.

Stock up with staples

Keep certain items in your pantry for when you run out of fresh food or are in a pinch, such as rich and beans.

You can cook dried beans, Woods said and prepackage them so you can just grab one and start cooking immediately after work. Pre-packaged rice can also be a God-send.

OK, so those were our tips. Need an idea of what to make?

Here's a sampling of five, easy dinner recipes that taste so good your kids won't think they are healthy.

Monday

Slow-cooker peanut sweet potato stew

  • 6 small sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch slices
  • 2 red onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 14.5-ounce can of diced tomatoes
  • 2 cups of water
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons of ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/2 cup of creamy peanut butter
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Stir together potatoes, onions, tomatoes, cumin, allspice, salt, pepper and water in a slow cooker until thoroughly combined. Cover and cook for 4 to 5 hours on high.
  2. Just before serving stir in peanut butter.

Submitted by Sarah Woods

Tuesday

Baked Fish and Chips

  • 1 cup cornflakes, crushed
  • 1/3 cup flour 
  • 1    tsp ranch seasoning packet
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup skim milk
  • 4 cod or tilapia filet (can use individual tilapia frozen fillets which defrost in a few minutes if placed in lukewarm water) 
  • Salt and pepper to taste 

Oven-baked chips:

  • 4 medium russet potatoes
  • olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Wash potatoes and cut into small wedges.  Place into a large bowl with water and allow to sit for about 10 minutes.
  2. Remove potatoes from water and dry on paper towels.
  3. Place wedges onto a parchment lined baking sheet.  Lightly spray with olive oil and place in a 450 degree preheated oven for about 25-30 minutes or until crispy.
  4. While potatoes are cooking, mix together in a medium size bowl, flour and ranch seasoning.  Set aside
  5. Rinse the fish and pat dry with a paper towel.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Dredge the fish in the flour mixture than dip in the milk and finally dredge in the crushed corn flakes, pushing the crumbs into the fish.
  6. Place onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and place in a 450 degree oven for about 10 minutes or until fish flakes easily with a fork.
  7. Try to place the fish in the oven when the potatoes have about 10 minutes left to cook.
  8. Serve with malt vinegar if desired.

Submitted by Sharon Collison

Wednesday

Zucchini and corn chili

  • 3 large ears of corn
  • 3 medium zucchini diced
  • 3 to 4 chopped cloves of garlic
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon of chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon of cumin
  • 2 cups of black beans
  • 2 to 3 cups of chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 14.5-ounce can of diced tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon of honey
  • A small handful of cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons of lime juice

Directions

  1. Place corn on the cob upright in a bowl. Cut the kernels off the cob so they fall into the bowl.
  2. Heat a dutch oven or large pot over medium-high heat. Add olive oil, let heat for about a minute then add corn and cook until browned (between 2-4 minutes).
  3. Add zucchini, onion, garlic, chili powder and cumin, stir until spices are toasted (about 2 minutes)
  4. Stir in half of the beans. In another medium bowl, mash the remaining beans (this will add more texture), and add to the vegetables.
  5. Add the stock, tomatoes, and honey. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Stir in cilantro and lime juice.

Thursday

Citrus Chicken Orzo Salad in a jar

  • 4 whole 12-ounce mason jars
  • 2 cups whole wheat orzo (cooked according to package directions)
  • 2 cups diced cooked chicken breast (grilled or poached)
  • 1 cup roasted red peppers, chopped
  • 1/2 cup red onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cup baby spinach, chopped

Creamy Citrus Dressing:

  • 4 tablespoons of fat-free plain Greek yogurt
  • 1/3 cup orange juice
  • 1 teaspoon of orange zest
  • 2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Dressing: In a small bowl, combine Greek yogurt, orange juice, orange zest, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper. Whisk until well-combined. Set aside.

Assemble each mason jar in the following order:

  1. First (bottom) layer: 2 or 3 tablespoons creamy citrus dressing followed by roasted red pepper, red onions, whole wheat orzo, chicken, spinach, and remaining dressing.
  2. Store in the refrigerator until ready to eat. When ready to serve, dump jar's content into abowl, toss, and enjoy OR shake jar and eat right from the jar!

Submitted by Sharon Collison

Friday

Taco night

  • Whole grain tortilla wraps
  • Lettuce
  • Tomatoes
  • Shredded part-skim cheese
  • Black Beans or lean ground beef, chicken or pork

Directions:

Get creative with your tacos! Toss beans or lean meat in the tortilla and top with letucce, tomatoes and shredded park-skim cheese.

Submitted by Irene Soucy

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was originally published Sept. 12, 2016 on USAToday.com.

 

© 2017 USATODAY.COM


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