Dinner. It’s the same grind every week, but that doesn’t make it any easier — especially when you’re short on time (always) and sticking to your health goals (mostly).
If you’re struggling to keep things fresh and fast each night, it’s time to rethink your approach. Follow the lead of these inspiring food gurus who show us that when you strip down your expectations and focus on mastering a few basics, meal time is never more than 20 minutes away.
10 Easy Shortcuts for 20-Minute Meals
1. Batch-Cooked Roasted Vegetables
By roasting a big batch of vegetables once or twice a week, Kate Kosaya has the foundation for multiple meals to take her through the week. Her weekly vegetable haul will get “cut into wedges, circles or slices, drizzled with oil or ghee, sprinkled with spices, and roasted in the oven at 375°F.” Once cooled and stored in glass containers, it’s simply grab-and-go to create a veggie bowl or creamy vegetable soup made with coconut milk.
2. Canned Seafood
World-wide travels have imparted Linda Schneider of Wild Greens and Sardines with a love of all things oceanic. “While canned seafood hasn’t entirely caught on here in the United States, they’re highly revered in parts of Europe,” she says. “Small fish, such as sardines, anchovies and mackerel are sustainable, healthy, inexpensive, versatile and easy to prep. They’re already cooked, so it’s just a matter of opening a can and adding a little creativity.” With a can in hand, it’ll become dinner when layered on a big green salad, tossed with pasta, served over beans, or even spread on toast.
3. Simple Stir-Fry
McKel Hill, MS, RDN, LDN and Founder of Nutrition Stripped, practices what she preaches in her Guide to Master Meal Planning, making a simple stir-fry on most evenings. Her formula: leftover roasted vegetables, a protein, a carbohydrate and a healthy fat (such as coconut oil). She also relies on a changing mix of herbs and spices to keep things interesting. Not only is it simple and quick, but “it leaves me feeling really great,” Hill says.
4. Eggs Anytime
“Where is the rule that eggs are only for breakfast?” asks Sarah Gim of TheDeliciousLife.com. Even when she’s not short on time, she prefers to make a scramble for dinner by sautéing garlic, onions and whatever vegetables she has on hand along with three to four eggs. Once cooked, add a dollop of almond milk ricotta, a few avocado slices and some gut-boosting chopped kimchi. Voila, your 20-minute meal is served! “I eat some variation of avocado, eggs, vegetables and kimchi almost every other day,” she says.
5. Fruit and Vegetable Smoothie
Another breakfast-for-dinner winner: A well-balanced smoothie. For Liz Moody of Sprouted Routes and the author of Glow Pops, smoothies are a weeknight staple. “A good smoothie takes literally five minutes to make, and it’s one of the cheapest dinners around. Usually mine are under $5 a serving,” she says. “The secret to making a dinner smoothie is making sure there’s a good amount of greens, fat and protein.” Her favorite flavor combinations include mint chocolate chip and cilantro cucumber.
6. Cooked Quinoa
For plant-based nutrition counselor and holistic health practitioner Sara Sullivan, batch-making quinoa on Sundays is her secret to a low-stress week. “I love that quinoa is so versatile! You can add it to veggie chili, toss it with roasted vegetables, top it with a fried egg or mix it with some pesto for a quick nutritious meal. The options really are endless,” she says. “Quinoa is a complete source of plant-based protein and is much more affordable than meat.”
7. Canned Chickpeas
Jenny Lei of LiveGreenHealthy knows how to assemble dinner in less time than it takes to order takeout — the operative word being “assemble.” With a can of chickpeas that she always has stashed in the pantry, she’ll whip up a chickpea salad using half a can of chickpeas paired with half an avocado, a sprinkle of feta on top and a swoosh of balsamic vinaigrette. If mixed greens are in the crisper, all the better. “I love how easy and quick this salad is,” she says. “Just assemble and eat!”
8. Red and White Cabbage
Hearty, versatile and extremely affordable, there’s a lot to love about the humble cabbage. Slice it up thin or grate it, and you’ve got the beginnings of dinner, says Lisa Stewart of FamilyandForks.com. Her favorite go-to: a riff on Filipino pancit, made with a base of sautéed cabbage, carrots, onions and garlic. Top it with broth-soaked rice noodles, any leftover pork or shredded chicken you may have and eggs. Whether served hot or at room temperature, it’s a low-maintenance dish that tastes anything but.
9. Anything-Goes Tacos
For Sonja Overhiser of A Couple Cooks, tacos are the perfect foil for leftovers. “We love taking what’s in our refrigerator and pantry and making it into tacos — especially using eggs, since they’re so quick to cook,” she says. “We are big believers in quick ‘improv’ cooking.” Rehashing food as mix-and-match tacos isn’t only a creative dinner, it’s one that helps reduce food waste, too.
10. Frozen Cauliflower
Did we say 20-minute meals? This one takes five! For a creative twist on your usual smoothie, look to frozen riced cauliflower. It’s how Jessica Hoffman of Choosing Chia takes her almond milk blends to new heights. Cauliflower packs a nutritious punch, plus it won’t alter the color of your mixture. “Adding veggies to my smoothies helps me to make sure I’m getting my daily servings of vegetables without feeling like I have to be eating salads all day,” Hoffman says. “I also love adding a source of protein like almond butter, hemp seeds, or plant-based protein powder to make my smoothie a more substantial meal.”