If Thanksgiving dinner prep has you feeling wiped out and the last thing you want to do is get back in the kitchen to cook more meals and clean more dishes, we hear you! The holidays can be an exhausting time of year. You want the foods you eat to give you the fuel you need to keep you going without allowing the stress of planning and preparing them to drag you down.
But, balanced and delicious meals don’t need to be time-consuming and complicated. There are lots of ways to get quick and easy meals on the table without sacrificing taste or nutrition. Here are a few fuss-free meal strategies and ideas.
Make Your Own Salad Bar:
Supermarkets are becoming increasingly well stocked with many pre-prepped ingredients to make salad assembly quick and easy. That also makes preparing other ingredients that can’t be purchased ready-to-use feel more manageable. To build your own salad bar:
- Start with pre-washed boxed or bagged greens or salad mix to save you the headache of washing and drying it yourself.
- Look for other pre-prepped ingredients in the produce section to add variety such as shredded carrots, sprouts, sliced cabbage or slaw mix, cut broccoli florets or cauliflower pieces, etc.
- Ingredients like cherry tomatoes and snap peas only need a quick rinse before being tossed in whole.
- For ingredients that likely won’t be pre-prepped, like cucumbers, celery, and bell peppers, make a point of preparing them as soon as you get from the store so they are ready whenever you want them.
- Other easy add-ins that can balance out your salad and make it interesting include fresh and dried fruit (strawberries, grapes, apples and dried cranberries, raisins, and apricots), olives, shredded or crumbled cheese, nuts, canned tuna or chicken, canned beans, and, or course, leftover Thanksgiving turkey.
- Don’t forget the dressing – either the supplies to make your own, or your favorite store-bought versions.
When you bring home all of your goods, get them all in ready-to-use form. For example, wash and slice your celery, drain and rinse your canned beans, and put everything in one place in the refrigerator so you can find and grab it all quickly.
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The combinations for creative salads are really endless – it’s usually just a matter of making sure we have access to the ingredients we need to make a yummy salad when we want it.
A couple of my favorite combinations are:
- Mixed greens with shredded carrots, bell pepper, cucumber, tomatoes, artichoke hearts, olives, feta cheese, canned tuna fish, with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
- Baby spinach with diced apples, cucumber, celery, raw shredded beets, shredded carrots, dried cranberries, pecans, and diced cheddar cheese, with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and a touch of maple syrup. A little leftover turkey would be delicious on this salad, too!
I usually balance my salad out with a piece of whole wheat bread with butter.
Breakfast for Dinner
This is an especially great option if you have kids because kids seem to really love breakfast for dinner. It’s a win-win – easy for you to make fun and special for them to eat. But, if we are being honest, most adults love breakfast for dinner, too. There is just something comforting and maybe a little nostalgic about it, but more importantly, it’s usually far quicker and easier than traditional evening meals.
Eggs any way with a couple pieces of whole grain toast or whole wheat freezer waffles and a piece of fruit – it’s quick, easy, balanced, and requires little clean up.
Or, rolled oats cooked with cinnamon and nutmeg, chopped apples, and walnuts. Topped with a little maple syrup and milk or a dollop of Greek yogurt.
If you have access to a supermarket with a well-stocked prepared foods section, it may be worth checking out their selection. Many stores will have a variety of prepared grains and starchy vegetables, non-starchy vegetables, protein foods, ready-to-eat salads, casseroles, quiches, and other dishes that have already been prepared and are ready to go. All you need to do is re-heat (and in some cases you may not even need to do that!).
If you know you are going to be particularly busy and will not have time to cook, or you are burned out from Thanksgiving meal prep and just don’t want to cook, this might be the perfect solution to getting nutritious and tasty food on the dinner table.
These are meals for which you always have the ingredients on hand. They are your “I didn’t make it to the grocery,” “I am too tired to cook,” meals that can be ready quickly without a lot of fuss and without a lot of mess.
The best ingredients for staple meals are those that are shelf-stable, frozen, or have a long shelf-life so that when you do go to use them you don’t discover that they have spoiled.
Some examples of staple meals include:
- Stir-fry: frozen vegetables, canned beans, stir-fry sauce, and 1-minute brown rice
- Quesadilla: whole wheat tortilla, refried beans, cheddar cheese, salsa, and a side of peppers and onions (cooked from frozen)
- Pasta with fish: whole wheat pasta, prepared pesto, steam-in-bag broccoli, and baked salmon (from frozen)
Below is a chart of ingredients that lend themselves well to this concept. You can mix and match ingredients and come up with different combinations that would work for you.
By no means am I suggesting that you keep all of these ingredients on hand. However, you may find it helpful to come up with a few combinations that sounds enjoyable to you.
Tip: to create well balanced meals include a starchy vegetable or grain, fruit or vegetable, and protein food in each meal.
Starchy Vegetables & Grains
Vegetables & Fruit
Seasonings, Condiments, & Other Ingredients
|Quick cooking grains:
Frozen fruit & vegetables
Plain, without added sugar or sauce. For veggies, look for steam-in-bag varieties for even more convenience.
Try infused oils for an easy way to add a lot of flavor.
Choose no sodium added varieties. (Canned tomatoes are very convenient to keep on hand.)
| Canned fruit
Choose varieties canned in juice over syrup.
Canned or boxed.
Like raisins, cranberries, apricots, and dates.
Choose varieties that have a long shelf-life, like:
|Herb and spice blends
And any other favorite herbs, spices, and condiments