8 Tips for Simple, Quick, Healthy Cooking

AndieM.Ed., RD, LDN, CLC, RYT-200

Read time: 6 minutes

What to know about healthy cooking at home

  • Benefits of eating at home and with family

  • Tips for simplified grocery shopping and meal preparation

  • Healthy staples for quick meal preparation

With our busy family schedules and kids needing our attention non-stop, it can be tough to find time to make a meal at home. Not only that, but it’s often not very appealing to cook when you’re tired or limited to the use of one hand (because you’re holding that sweet baby).

But with a few tips and tricks, cooking family meals at home can be convenient and nutritious. Read on to help build your confidence in the kitchen, save time, and get a healthy meal on the table.

The benefits of cooking at home and eating as a family

The research is clear that eating together as a family can have a lasting impact not only on your health but also on your child’s. A regular family meal a few times a week helps promote healthy food choices and eating habits, as well as your child’s behavior, academic success, and psychosocial well-being.1,2,3,4

Additionally, research indicates that eating home cooked meals more often is associated with a better diet quality as well as a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.7,8

The benefits are many, and it’s never too early (or too late) to implement a healthy eating routine for and your family.

Read more:

Family Meals: Healthy Eating Patterns

Helping Your Child Learn to Love Healthy Foods

How Can I Get My Baby to Love Veggies?

If you have questions about easy and quick meal planning, our team of registered dietitian nutritionists, fellow moms, and lactation specialists, are available from Monday – Friday 8 am – 6 pm (ET) to help provide some guidance. Chat now!

8 tips to help you cook healthy at home

1. Meal Plan

Weekly meal planning can help keep you on track, especially on those nights when you’re too tired to think of what to make for dinner. Planning for the week doesn’t have to be intricate, it can be as easy as choosing which recipes to make on which nights, writing it down on a sticky note, and posting it on the fridge.

Meal planning and recipe ideas: Healthy in a Hurry

2. Grocery shop

Take a few moments before you go to the grocery store to find the recipes you’ll be making and record any ingredients you’ll need. Don’t forget to think about which vegetable sides you’ll add each night as well.

It will also help to maintain a list of groceries you’ll need for other meals and snacks each week, including perishables and other foods that need replenishing.

Think about whether keeping a list on your phone, a notepad, or a white board in your kitchen will work best for you.

3. Meal Prep

A meal doesn’t need to be prepared all at one time. This is especially useful if you are tired in the evenings or know you’ll be short on time.

If you are able, wash and chop veggies or measure items in advance. Store these pre-prepared items properly, such as covered in the fridge, until you are ready to finish cooking the meal.

Pre-chopped foods like sliced mushrooms, cubed butternut squash, pre-washed and chopped lettuce, and peeled garlic may cost slightly more than their whole counterparts, but the time-savings could make it worth your while. Many grocery stores even have fresh-chopped veggie medleys, or spiralized vegetables, that you can easily add to a meal.

Meal planning ideas for your little one

Meal Plan for 6- to 9-Month-Old Baby

Meal Plan for 12-Month-Old Toddler

Meal Plan for 18 to 24 Months Old Toddlers

Picky Eater Meal Plan: Recipe and Snack Ideas

4. Keep track of recipes you like

Find a recipe that sounds good or that the family loved? Bookmark it on your computer or print it out. Build your recipe repertoire so that meal planning in the future becomes easier and quicker.

5. Consider a grocery delivery or ‘meal kit’ service to help save time

Sometimes getting to the grocery store is the biggest obstacle. The good news is that there are many options to help with this part of meal planning. Try one of the following grocery delivery services to help you get healthy foods into the house:

  • Community supported agriculture (more commonly known as a CSA), provides a weekly or bi-weekly delivery of seasonal, fresh produce direct from a farm or a group of farms.5

  • Websites that enable you to shop from the comfort of your home, cell phone, or office. You can choose a delivery window that works for you.

  • “Meal Kit” delivery services that provide all the ingredients, in the required amounts, needed to put together a complete, healthy meal. You then cook the meal at home using the included instructions.

6. Keep your kitchen stocked with healthy foods

Think about the foods that your family enjoys and eats most often. Which herbs and seasonings, proteins, grains, and produce get the most use in your household. With these foods in mind, here is the general timeline of how often foods may need to be purchased, depending on how fast you go through them in your home.

Highly perishable foods, such as those below, may need to be purchased weekly (or more frequently):

  • Fresh vegetables and fruit

  • Fresh and pre-cooked meat, poultry, and fish

Moderately perishable foods may need to be purchased every few weeks, or as needed:

  • Eggs

  • 100% whole grain bread

  • Plain non-fat or low-fat yogurt and cottage cheese (or their plant-based dairy alternatives)

  • Cheese

  • Hummus

  • Tofu and tempeh

  • Whole garlic cloves (or pre-peeled or pre-chopped)

  • Miso

Non-perishable, frozen, and refrigerated foods with longer shelf-lives may only need be purchased as needed every few weeks or months. (Remember to read the packages to ensure proper storage and to determine when and whether items need to be refrigerated):

  • Shelf-stable milk and plant-based milk alternatives like almondmilk or soymilk

  • Nuts and nut butters like peanut, almond, sunflower, or cashew

  • Dried beans. Remember that lentils don’t need to be soaked before cooking.

  • Ready-to-eat canned beans. Look for BPA-free cans and “no salt added” on the label

  • Dried fruit. Stick with varieties without added sugar

  • Frozen fruits, vegetables, and grains

  • Refrigerated fermented foods such as kimchee and sauerkraut

  • Dried whole grains like quinoa, brown rice, buckwheat, and millet

  • Whole grain pastas. For a change of pace, try pastas made with legumes instead of grains, they’re high in protein and fiber

  • Whole grain flours, including corn meal

  • Hot cereals. Choose varieties without added sugar

  • Cold cereals. Look for varieties with at least 5 grams of fiber and less than 5 grams of sugar

  • Canned fish like chunk light tuna, salmon, and sardines

  • Canned tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato sauce. Choose low-sodium, low or no sugar varieties

  • Olive oil and any other oils you enjoy

  • Dried herbs and spices

  • Condiments like mustard, sriracha, hot sauce, and vinegars

  • Jars of minced or chopped garlic and ginger

  • Olives in the can for your pantry, or marinated varieties for your fridge

Learn more:

How To Include More Beans/Legumes In Your Diet

Include More Whole Grains In Your Diet

How To Include More Dark Greens In Your Diet

7. Cook one large portion and enjoy multiple homemade meals

Cooking large portions to have leftovers for the next day (or two), or freezing leftovers for a later date, is a great trick for cutting down on the number of days you need to cook each week. Think of it as homemade convenience food.

You could even reuse the leftovers in a new way. For example, on the first day you could cook a whole chicken, on the second day you could use the leftovers to make chicken soup packed with veggies.

8. Home cooking doesn’t have to be complicated

Think of home cooking as simple, quality cooking – putting together whole ingredients with seasoning - rather than creating a fancy feast.

By saving the complicated or time-consuming recipes for special occasions, you’ll not only be helping family meals become a reality, but you’ll be also supporting good health and healthy taste development.

There’s nothing wrong with simply seasoning foods with some extra virgin olive oil, lemon, a dash of salt, pepper, spices and dried or coarsely chopped fresh herbs, and tossing them in the pot, the oven, or on the grill to cook.

Here are some quick and easy recipe ideas to try:

Quesadillas: Whole wheat or corn tortillas with a sprinkling of cheese (like Monterrey Jack, Colby, or cheddar), black beans, chopped tomatoes, sliced avocado and your favorite veggies like sautéed mushrooms or spinach (frozen spinach works well too).

Recipe Suggestion: Kale Pesto Chicken Quesadilla

Spaghetti Squash: Serve with pesto or pasta sauce, cannellini beans, and shaved parmesan (makes great leftovers). Add seasoned ground turkey if you’d like.

Fish Tacos: Pan-sear and season any white, flaky fish and serve with soft or hard tacos, black beans, lettuce, tomato, avocado or guacamole, and roasted vegetables like peppers, onions, or zucchini. For added fun, serve as a do-it-yourself buffet, and let your family build their own.

Recipe for your little one: Taco Tuesday For Baby

Black bean burritos: Rinse and drain canned no-salt-added black beans, place in a pot and cover with water. Add spices of choice, such as garlic powder, oregano, salt, and pepper; bring to a boil then down to a simmer until water is almost all gone, stirring occasionally. Place in a whole grain wrap and top with salsa, fresh cut tomatoes, cilantro, low fat plain Greek yogurt in place of sour cream (or low-fat sour cream), cheese, and any other vegetables you like. Serve with fresh baby spinach or side salad with an oil-based salad dressing.

Salmon Burgers: Use canned salmon with a small amount of mayonnaise or beaten egg to form patties, add seasoning of choice and (optional) a bit of bread crumbs, then pan-sear and serve on whole grain hamburger buns or bread. Serve with your favorite cooked vegetable or side salad.

Recipe for your little one: Crispy Herb Salmon Bites with Steamed Broccoli and Cauliflower

Miso-Marinated Fish: Marinate fish for 30 minutes (or up to 24 hours) in equal parts mixed mirin and miso with honey to taste and then broil. Serve with brown rice and sautéed spinach or roasted broccoli.

*Honey should not be given to babies under 1 year.9

Or try this recipe: Crispy Cumin White Fish with Pineapple & Avocado Chunks and Cilantro Rice

Quinoa Salad: Toss quinoa with your favorite roasted or fresh vegetables (zucchini, summer squash, eggplant, tomatoes, mushrooms, cucumber), dried cranberries, and feta cheese. Season with olive oil, lemon, salt, and pepper. Serve hot or cold and make in bulk to enjoy as leftovers. For added protein, top with grilled chicken.

Quinoa recipe for your little one: Cheesy Broccoli Quinoa Bites

Korean Tofu: Dry tofu, cut into pieces of desired size, and pan-sear until golden brown. Serve with roasted eggplant and sweet potatoes and top with sauce (3 parts low sodium soy sauce to 1 part sesame oil, seasoned with garlic, cayenne pepper, ginger powder, and honey to your liking). *Leave out the cayenne if your little one has a tough time with spicy flavors.

*Honey should not be given to babies under 1 year.9

Or try this tofu recipe for your little one: Thai Noodles with Broccoli and Tofu

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For more on this topic, check out the following articles:

The Division of Responsibility: Helping Avoid Picky Eating

How To Minimize Processed Foods In Your Diet

Protein: Getting Enough And The Best Sources