One of the most annoying things you'll hear from experts if you ask them about tips for easy weeknight cooking: "Just cook with what you have on hand." Please. When I opened my fridge this morning, I only had cottage cheese, Gatorade zero, and some lentil salads to my name. Sounds more like the makings for a next-level Chopped challenge than it is a satisfying healthy dinner.
The point is that it's hard to cook from your fridge if you don't really know what to stock up on (or how to use said stockpiled ingredients). That's why I called up Maggie Michalczyk, MS, RD, and blogger at Once Upon a Pumpkin for help. She created a healthy grocery list of tasty, approachable ingredients (no fennel pollen here!) that could then be used for simple dinners every night of the work week. With staples that all complement one another, you can mix and match to make a whole week’s worth of meals. And don't worry—her healthy dinner meal plan includes the full recipes, too. Cooking at home just got a little bit easier.
What you should buy:
- 1/2 lb lean ground turkey
- 1 lb shrimp
- 5 medium-sized zucchini
- 3 bell peppers (any colors you like)
- 1/2 lb low-sodium deli-style chicken
- 1 14.5-oz can diced fire-roasted tomatoes
- 1 small onion
- 1 lemon
- 1 package sprouted or whole wheat tortillas
- 1 bag baby spinach
- 1 bag slaw or crunchy slaw mix (like cabbage, shaved Brussels sprouts, etc.)
- 2 avocados
- 1 tub of hummus (any flavor)
- 1 container grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 single-serving container plain Greek yogurt
- 1 bulb garlic
- 1 bag frozen sweet potato fries
Ingredients from the pantry:
- Red pepper flakes
- Olive oil
- Garlic powder
- Onion powder
- Smoked paprika
- Chili powder
Dinner #1: Stuffed Peppers With Turkey and Zoodles
Different flavors and textures make this stuffed pepper recipe really satisfying and delicious! Swap in quinoa to make it plant-based, if you want. Either way, it makes great leftovers the next day for lunch, Michalczyk says.
- 2 bell peppers
- 2 zucchini
- 2 Tbsp olive oil, divided
- 1/2 lb ground turkey
- 1/2 can fire-roasted tomatoes
- 1/2 small onion, chopped
- ¼ cup Parmesan cheese
- Salt and pepper, to taste
1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Cut around the top of the peppers, removing the stem, and all of the seeds, then rinse.
2. Lightly sprinkle the inside of the peppers with kosher salt and place in a microwave safe dish with ¼ cup water. Microwave for 5 minutes until they start to soften. Remove and set aside.
3. Spiralize the zucchini. Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the zucchini noodles and season with a sprinkle of salt. Toss the zucchini and cook until it just begins to soften, about two minutes, then transfer to a bowl and set aside.
4. In the same pan, heat the rest of the olive oil until hot, then add the ground turkey, garlic, and season with salt and pepper. Cook for about five minutes or until cooked almost through, stirring often.
5. Add the onion and continue to cook until the onion softens. Stir in the tomatoes and cook for another minute. Remove from the heat and stir in the zucchini noodles.
6. Add the peppers to a baking dish and fill them with the zucchini noodle and turkey mixture. Bake for 20 minutes, remove from the oven, and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Serves two.
Dinner #2: Zoodles Shrimp Scampi
Shrimp scampi is traditionally loaded with heavy cream sauce and lots of extra calories when you're ordering it out at a restaurant. This at-home version ups the nutrition by using zucchini noodles and nixing the creamy sauce for simpler flavors.
- 8-10 shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 3 zucchini
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/2 Tbsp olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Red pepper flakes (optional)
1. Use a spiralizer to spiralize zucchini.
2. In a large pan over medium heat, add the olive oil and garlic. Sauté for two minutes until softened and fragrant, then add the shrimp. Season with salt and pepper. Cook for 5 minutes.
3. Add the zucchini noodles to the pan and cook for two more minutes, until shrimp is fully cooked and zoodles are just starting to soften. Top with grated Parmesan cheese and red pepper flakes, if desired. Serves one to two people.
Dinner #3: Pepper Sandwich aka "Pepperwich"
Just came back from spin and feeling too tired to make dinner? Meet the pepper sandwich. It's a crunchy and nutritious alternative for when you want to change it up from bread, and holds all of the healthy and filling toppings perfectly.
- 1 bell pepper
- 1 cup spinach
- 1/2 avocado, sliced
- 2 Tbsp hummus
- 4 slices deli-style chicken
1. Cut the pepper in half, and scoop out the seeds and ribs.
2. Add hummus to the inside of both pepper halves. Top each with deli-style chicken, spinach, and avocado slices. Eat both halves like an open-faced sandwich. Serves one.
Dinner #4: Shrimp Tacos with Avocado Crema
Some tacos might get a bad rap, but fill them with protein and veggies like this recipe and you've got an equation for tacos that you can replicate in the future with any protein and veggies on hand. “I love this recipe because it's simple, flavorful, and provides a well-rounded meal,” Michalczyk says.
- 2-3 tortillas
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp onion powder
- 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
- 1/2 tsp ground cumin
- 1/2 tsp chili powder
- leftover raw shrimp
- 3/4 avocado, mashed
- 1 container plain Greek yogurt
- 1/2 lemon, juiced
- 2 cups crunchy slaw mix
- Red pepper flakes (optional)
1. Heat up tortillas by wrapping in a damp paper towel and microwaving for a few seconds until warm.
2. Add the shrimp to a skillet, along with the olive oil and spices. Cook for about 5-6 minutes until the shrimp are no longer pink.
3. Make the crema: Mix Greek yogurt with 1/2 avocado and lemon juice. Add red pepper flakes (if desired) for a kick.
4. Assemble the tacos: Fill the warmed tortillas with shrimp and slaw mix. Top with a spoonful of crema. Serves one to two people.
Dinner #5: Crunchy California Chicken Wrap With Sweet Potato Fries
This wrap recipe can double as a great lunch recipe, too. Switch it up with different proteins (like leftover steak or tofu) and sauces and dressings (like hummus, salsa, or yogurt) in the future.
- 1 sprouted tortilla
- 1/2 avocado, sliced
- 2-3 slices deli-style chicken
- 1 cup spinach
- 1/2 cup crunchy slaw mix
- 1/2 cup frozen sweet potato fries
1. Cook sweet potato fries according to package directions.
2. Assemble the wraps: Adding chicken, avocado, spinach, and slaw mix, then fold wrap. Enjoy with fries on the side. Serves one.
Looking for more healthy meal ideas? Check out these Mediterranean diet Instant Pot recipes. And a registered dietitian explains exactly what a portion size looks like of some of your favorite healthy foods.
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