Whether it's because you're tired, it's too hot, or you just don't feel like it, sometimes cooking a real meal just isn't going to happen. Instead of giving up and eating a bowl of cereal, try one of these easy, healthy meal ideas.
We've all been there: It's the end of a long day and the last thing you want to do is cook a proper meal. This is one of the most common issues I help my nutrition clients navigate. When you're crushing it at work, enjoying an evening exercise class, or making time for after-hours side-hustles or social plans, putting on your chef's hat might not be a priority. (Please tell me I'm not the only one who's ever been on a bad date trying to pay attention but really thinking about what I'm going to throw together for dinner when I get home, because I'm starving and drinks and an app aren't cutting it.)
No matter what your reason is for not wanting to cook, it happens. But you can still enjoy a balanced meal that will nourish your body and help you stay on track. Rather than give up and pour a bowl of cereal and eat it standing in front of the fridge, try one of these easy meal ideas.
Kitchen Sink Salad
My personal go-to when I just can't even with cooking is throwing a bunch of stuff over greens, tossing it with some olive oil and vinegar, and calling it a salad. As for what that bunch of stuff entails, it could be any leftover veggies you might have handy or whatever raw veggies you have in the fridge that are a day or two away from being wasted. For protein, I like hard-boiled eggs or canned tuna, but you could do black beans or leftover grilled chicken. (Take just a few more minutes and toss the greens with one of these three-ingredient salad dressings.)
This is about as easy as it gets. Toast up a slice of sprouted grain or whole-wheat bread and top it with half an avocado. In less than 10 minutes, you'll have a balance of complex carbs and healthy fats. If you want to step it up a notch, add a sprinkle of hemp or chia seeds or top it with an egg or smoked salmon. You can swap traditional bread for a thinly sliced sweet potato toast for a gluten-free twist. Also, if you're worried about cutting your hand while trying to cut an avocado (hey, it happens more often than you might think), those single-serving packets of guacamole are super-handy when you need food NOW.
We think nothing of having a smoothie for breakfast or even lunch, so why not dinner? Make sure you work in some greens to get your veggies and add protein to make it balanced and give it staying power. Try your favorite protein powder, plain Greek yogurt, silken tofu (if you haven't tried this but love smoothies with a creamy texture, you're in for a treat), or nut or seed butter. Powdered peanut butter works too. (Think you don't like green smoothies? You'll be surprised to learn how many green smoothie recipes there are—from sweet to super green.)
A mezze platter is a great way to turn a glorified snack plate into a balanced meal. Go for a mix of protein, veggies, complex carbs, and healthy fats. Here are a few examples of what that might look like:
- Hummus, olives, baby carrots or other sliced veggies, and a boiled egg or a piece of cheese
- Cheese, cherry tomatoes or other raw veggies, and nuts or rolled-up low-sodium turkey
- Toasted bread or whole-grain crackers, cheese, and sliced raw vegetables
It doesn't get much easier than eggs for dinner. At 70 calories each, with about 6 grams of protein and 5 grams of fat, they offer instant portion control when you don't want to have to think too much about "does this piece of protein look like it's the size of a deck of cards?" Keep it simple with scrambled eggs and toast or toss some veggies (fresh, frozen, or leftover cooked) into an omelet. (Get a little more creative with these 20 quick and easy ways to cook eggs.) You could also make a simple salad to have on the side and pretend you're having restaurant-brunch for dinner. Mimosa totally optional.
PB&J Sweet Potato
The first time I ever had this combination was after getting home hangry from a second date gone very wrong. This was before the sweet potato toast trend, but it's still my favorite way to enjoy this flavor combo. All you do is wash and prick the potato a few times with a fork, stick it on a plate in the microwave, and cook it for five or so minutes or until it's soft. Many microwaves even have a "potato" setting to make this easier. When the potato is cooked, slice it in half and add peanut butter (or your favorite nut butter) and jelly.
For a savory option, this is also brilliant with tahini or goat cheese. Whichever route you take, you'll enjoy a satisfying balance of protein, fat, and complex carbs.
You can throw together a sandwich in about five minutes. Keep it as classic or as weird as your heart and taste buds desire. Just make sure you're getting some protein in there to balance out the carbs in the bread. A few ideas for your protein base: peanut, almond, or sunflower seed butter, an egg, tuna salad (try using plain Greek yogurt or even a little olive oil instead of mayo for a healthy twist), leftover cooked chicken, or tofu. If regular bread sounds boring, try using an English muffin or a tortilla. (If eating something cold for dinner doesn't appeal to you, try one of these healthy hot sandwiches.)
Not doing grains? A client of mine used to scoop the seeds out of a bell pepper and use each half as a vehicle for whatever you'd normally put on your sandwich. Lettuce cups or collard leaves are options too. Want something on the side? Instead of chips, consider some crunchy veggies like baby carrots or sliced cucumber, or throw together a simple green salad.
Spread a serving of whole-grain tortilla chips on a lined baking sheet and top with your favorite cheese and black beans. Broil until the cheese melts (or use a plate and microwave if that's more your speed). Top with salsa and sliced avocado. In under 10 minutes, you've got a balanced meal that provides protein, complex carbs, and healthy fats. (If you'd rather skip the chips, check out these eight creative ways to make nachos without tortilla chips.)