It can be soooo hard to make quick meals AND include veggies, right? These days, having an arsenal of quick meals is pretty much required if you’re going to have a meal planning system that works for you. In How to Choose your own Meal Planning Style, I mention that sometimes you’ll end up choosing your week’s meals based on the amount of time you have to prep, cook, and serve them. And, for us, that available time is often pretty slim. Most nights, I’m shooting to get dinner on the table in under 30 minutes from when I first hit the kitchen. And, usually, that time isn’t un-interrupted time. We’re often working on homework, I’m trying to get the 4-year old focused on something that doesn’t involve cars in the kitchen floor, or I’m trying to get the kids ready for an after-dinner practice. What I’ve found, though, is that quick meals have a higher chance of being either unhealthy or a bit unbalanced. But, we CAN do better.
First off, here’s my take on healthy eating. I’m not a nutritionist or dietician and I don’t follow any sort of meal program (Paleo, Whole30, etc). What I do strive for, though, is to serve well-balanced meals…ones that include a protein (usually meat for us), veggies, and fruit. We eat pasta, but I won’t fix it every night, even though that would be the super easy route to go in my home. Getting that balanced meal on the table can be a bit challenging if you’re not intentional about it. For us, fruit is easy–we just throw it on the table and it gets eaten before I have a chance to sit down. The veggie part, though, is the most challenging. So, here are some simple ways to include veggies in your quick meals.
1. Go the all-in-one route.
Slow Cooker recipes that include veggies
This is the sure fire way to walk into your house and have a completely cooked meal that is well-rounded and ready to eat. Great options are pot roast, these Pollo Asada Rice Bowls (don’t have the Wildtree goodies? Swap in your favorite taco or fajita seasoning and add a couple more tablespoons) and soups.
Soup options are endless and usually chock full of vegetables. Brunswick Stew is one of my favorites, vegetable soup is pretty easy to make, and, you can sneak a ton of veggies into most any chili recipe. One of my favorites is Ranch Chicken Chili–it has corn, tomatoes, onions and black beans (I know…not an official vegetable, but it counts in our home). And, lately, I’ve been addicted to this Zuppa Toscana recipe. I skipped the cream and used half beef broth and half chicken broth and LOVED it!
Grill it all!
If you’re planning a grill night, just plan to include veggies on the grill, too. Great choices are peppers and onions, zucchini and squash, AND my hubs even grilled thick sliced potatoes the other night. They were awesome! In case you reserve the grill just for warm weather, I’d highly encourage you to consider it as an almost year round cooking tool. It keeps the kitchen relatively clean, doesn’t require much man or woman power while the food is cooking, and grilling itself, imparts some added flavor on the food, so your job in pre-seasoning isn’t so important.
2. Throw the veggies ON.
We love a quick potato bar in our home. You can bake the potatoes ahead of time, or microwave them while you are setting out the toppings. Great additions besides the usual culprits like cheese and sour cream are steamed broccoli, salsa, peppers, and olives. Use sweet potatoes instead of white potatoes to really bump up the health benefits of this quick meal.
Taco Night and Pizza Night
Similar to the potato bar, you can add just about any veggies you want as toppings to these two favorite theme night stars. On taco night, we often serve rice and beans and then have sauteed peppers, diced spinach, tomatoes, and avocado as easy toppings. For pizza night, you can either add veggies onto a frozen pizza or do a quick pizza at home using a dough mix or by buying a refrigerated ball of pre-made pizza dough.
3. Mix the veggies IN.
Wraps, burritos, and quesadillas.
We heart a simple quesadilla at our house, but I’ve come to require the kids to choose 2 from the following list: cheese, beans, chicken, spinach, or hummus. One always goes the cheese, chicken, and bean route and the other goes cheese and hummus. I know…it’s not a veggie, but I’m planning to start requiring the spinach and just finely dice it. Baby steps with the little guy. Baby steps.
Pasta is perfect for sneaking in veggies.
We do a Cheezy Mac-n-Peas in our house, where I add peas to our macaroni and cheese, so that at the very least, the littles get something green in their bodies. Another favorite for us is a one pot Alfredo meal that we add spinach or broccoli to. Quick tip here, too. Since one of my kiddos can be super picky about veggies, I *MAY* have used the little broccoli balls at the bottom of a bag of frozen broccoli to add in–they literally can not be picked out. Sneaky….
4. Prep the sides ahead of time.
Prep the parts on the weekend and have them ready to go at dinner. If you think I’m crazy for suggesting a salad with kids, I hear you. Try this, though, before you give up. Have a ‘dressing tasting event’. My daughter showed some signs of interest in a salad I was making one day, so I offered to let her make one. I made different piles of toppings and let her add them in. For dressing, I chose 4 from our fridge and let her taste each one in order to choose her favorite. Her favorite?? Beet Citrus Dressing & Marinade. Who knew? So, about once a week, her veggie side is a salad. Winning.
Grains and quinoa
Brown rice, barley, couscous, quinoa, and whole wheat pasta can all be cooked in bulk ahead of time. They are great when you add in some chopped veggies like peppers, onions, or even make a cold salad with them by adding flavored oil and vinegar with some nuts and dried fruit, like this Zesty Citrus Salad.
Batch cook the veggies on the weekend. Many folks will prep and cook a ton of veggies on the weekend to eat throughout the week. In a pinch, some oil, salt and pepper will be perfect. If you want to kick it up a notch, add in some more flavor. Here’s a great Catalina Roasted Vegetables.
5. Go for convenience!
Steamed bags of veggies
Some people have super strong opinions about the microwave and all things irradiated. Me…I’m in survival mode when it comes to dinner and I believe that a microwaved veggie is better than no veggie at all so….go ahead and press start! Do I use steam bags every night? No. But, if I’m trying to throw a quick meal together, I definitely consider them an option. When I’m feeling especially hesitant about microwaving plastic bags, because, when I type that, it does sound a little sketch, I’ll empty the bag in a pan with about an inch of water, cover it, and steam them for 5-10 minutes while I’m pulling together the rest of the meal.
Raw veggies and dip
Super simple and easily prepped ahead of time. Want some extra health benefits? Make your favorite dip with greek yogurt instead of sour cream or mayo. My little guy thinks he’s getting away with something when he uses a carrot as a spoon for the dip but…we know what’s up. 🙂
Parboiled brown rice
I’ll often cook a big batch of brown rice on the weekend but, when I don’t, I keep a stash of parboiled rice in the pantry. This option, which has been pre-boiled a bit, takes a fraction of the time to cook–usually about 15-20 minutes. White rice is even faster. You know…Minute Rice. 🙂 We usually season the rice while it’s cooking by adding a flavored grapeseed oil and some of our favorite spice blends to the boiling water. You can also use veggie or chicken stock instead of the water to boost flavor. Spoon some seasoned steamed veggies over some seasoned rice and voila! That COULD be dinner right there.
I hope this has given you some useful ideas on how to get veggies on the table just as quickly as your main dish. AND…once in a while, go ahead and use these veggie ideas AS the main dish. Whatever route you take, the key is to having these items on hand, so that when you’re in a pinch and need these options, they are actually in your pantry or freezer. So, pick a couple that sound do-able and add them to your next grocery list. Just having them on hand will make you feel more at ease with mealtime. I’d love to hear from you which of these ideas you’re planning to give a try!
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