By: Nicole Pin, Registered Dietitian
Can you relate to
the feeling of walk in the door after a long day at work, opening up the fridge
and staring aimlessly, hoping to find something—ANYTHING, that you can turn
into a meal; maybe one that has some ‘good-for-you’, nutrient boosting
ingredients but not too many steps?
As a dietitian, I
know just how often I’ve told clients, friends, families and even myself that
the key to success for weeknight meals is preparation and planning.
Step 1: Plan your meals;
Step 2: Make your grocery list; and
Step 3: Chopping, dicing, slicing and pre-cooking the key things you
need for the next 5 days.
Sounds easy enough,
right? Maybe it is for some of us, but for others this can be a real struggle,
especially if you don’t have the time or the patience to plan ahead. Thanks to
modern technology we have a simple solution for all this- the internet.
You know what I’m taking about, in milliseconds a simple Google search can
bombard us with meal solutions. From the Pinterest ideas to recipe blogs from
around the world, and the many apps we can download on our smart phones and
tablets. And of course, the temptation of chinese or pizza, which can be ordered
with just the click of the mouse and a credit card.
amazing, but it can also be overwhelming, especially on a Wednesday at 5:30 pm.
A busy weeknight is usually not the best time to experiment with a funky recipe
online (shout out to anyone who has experienced a Pinterest recipe fail).
I want something
healthy, fuss free, and ready before I get hangry (I think it’s fair to say
that many of my fellow busy Canadians would agree). So, what is the solution?
Something I like to call “Last Minute Meals” These are my fail-safe dinner
ideas when I’m running out of steam, running out of time, and maybe in need of
a trip to the grocery store.
How to Make a Last
Step 1: Keep meal
staples on hand. This
really is a lot less work than most people think, these may be items you
already buy on a regular basis, or are inexpensive canned/frozen goods with a
long shelf life. Choose lower sodium canned proteins (beans, tuna,
salmon) and frozen veggies (which retain nutrients, flavour and texture better
minute rice, couscous, or pasta (any quick to cook grains)
tuna or salmon
beans or lentils
grain pitas or tortillas (they keep well in the freezer)
vegetables (I like mixed varieties for their versatility and colour-
california mix, asian blend, winter medleys)
In addition to
these items, I find most people have things like dressings/sauces, oil,
vinegar, garlic and seasonings on hand. Don’t forget to consider using any
extra food items you may typically have on hand when making a last-minute
Follow the Guiding Principles. Regardless of what
you have or don’t have on hand, these are the key components for making a
successful Last Minute Meal
1.Start with the
chicken, eggs, cheese, beans, tuna or a combination.
creative and use inspiration from your favourite cuisines (Mexican, Asian,
Italian?). Sautéing in a non-stick pan is a great way to add flavour with
minimal fat. Use onion, garlic, fresh herbs, spices, citrus juices (lemon, lime
orange), vinegars, or salsa instead of excess oils or fats.
3.Back to Basic
it simple, almost any protein can be served over pasta, rice, or a bed of
veggies (greens, riced cauliflower, spiralized zucchini). What about making a
wrap, or using a baked potato as your base?
4.Garnish: Keep it fun with a
sprinkle of cheese, a dollop of plain greek yogurt, avocado, fresh herbs,
sliced fruit or a sprinkle of nutritional yeast.
Step 3: Find
your meal inspiration. Think about the kinds of meals and
flavours you like, and what ingredients might work. I’ve included my top
meal inspirations below:
Quesadillas: The possibilities
are endless- you can use tuna, beans, eggs, cheese, salsa, hummus, veggies.
Even a peanut butter banana quesadilla for a change! I typically use a Mexican
theme for my wraps and melts (a sprinkle of cheese and fajita seasoning can
make all the difference).
Pasta Dishes: Anything
goes, even just adding a smidge of olive oil or margarine, grated
cheese, and a garnish of parsley.
Stir Fry: It doesn’t
have to start with meat, try chickpeas with asian veggies over brown minute
rice. If you do have some leftover chicken, fish, or beef, try re-purposing it
into a stir fry (don’t have quite enough for your meal? Add some lentils or
beans to boost protein).
frittata, omelettes, egg wraps, French toast, or savoury oatmeal.
Bowls: Bowls are all the
rage. Make your own creation with a ‘little bit of this and a little bit of
that’ attitude. This is a great option if you find you’ve got some odd
leftovers at the end of the week. Sometimes you can theme these to a cuisine
(i.e. Mediterranean), other times it’s a bit more of a fusion style. Start with
a vegetable base (raw or cooked), add protein, heartier veggies, legumes, and
grains, finish with seasoning/dressing, condiments, and/or a sprinkle of
Now that you have
the tools to create your own meals in minutes, I'd like to share some of my
favourite Last Minute Meals.
Last Minute Meals
Tuna Melt (10
Combine 1 canned
drained tuna with 2-4 tbsp. veggies of choice (grated carrot, celery, diced
peppers onion) and 1 tbsp. pesto (1 tsp oil OR 1 tbsp. mayo also works) Spread
tuna mixture over toast, pitas, or a bakery bun. Top with tomato or avocado
slices (optional) and 2 tablespoons cheese. Place on a baking sheet and broil
until the cheese is bubbling and golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes.
Pasta a la Veggie
Put a pot of water
on to boil and cook pasta according to package directions. Meanwhile in a
non-sick pan, use cooking spray or a little oil to sauté onion and garlic.
Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add 1 can drained beans to the onion and
garlic and let simmer for 2-3 minutes. Add any other veggies you have on hand
(broccoli, peppers, tomatoes, grated carrot, mushrooms and zucchini work well).
Let simmer a few more minutes. Drain pasta and add to the bean and veggie
Garnish with a
sprinkle with cheese and a sprig of basil (optional).
Chickpea Stir Fry
This can be served
on top of rice or in a tortilla like a wrap. In non-sick pan, using cooking
spray or a little oil, sauté onion and garlic. Season to taste- I like to use
fajita mix, taco mix, or curry spice. Add in 1 can drained chickpeas and let
simmer for 2-3 minutes. Add in thinly sliced peppers or any other veggies you
have on hand (the more colourful the better) and let simmer for 5
minutes. Serve over brown minute rice or wrapped in a tortilla. Garnish
with salsa, sour cream/plain Greek yogurt or avocado (optional).
Using a large
non-sick pan on medium-low heat, sauté ¼ cup diced onion and 1 tsp garlic in a
1-2 tsp oil, season with salt and pepper (2-3 minutes). Add diced veggies of
choice (cooked broccoli, grated zucchini, peppers, tomato, mushroom, spinach
etc.) and cook until veggies are tender (3-4 minutes). Meanwhile beat 4 eggs
with 1/4 cup milk. Pour egg mix evenly over veggies. Cover and let cook 10
minutes. Sprinkle with cheese, cover and cook 5 minutes longer, or until eggs
are cooked through. Season with salt/pepper to taste, garnish with fresh
herbs or salsa (optional).