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What to Cook When You Don't Feel Like Cooking

U.S. News & World Report - Health logo U.S. News & World Report - Health 10/2/2017 Bonnie Taub-Dix

Bowl of lentil soup on a table.: Soup, chili and other "bowls" are easy, nutritious options when cooking motivation is low. © (iStockPhoto) Soup, chili and other "bowls" are easy, nutritious options when cooking motivation is low. Nutrition pros share 14 healthy dinner ideas.

Just give me a glass of wine, good music and some company, and I could stand at my countertop for hours putting together a decadent meal. But give me a hectic weeknight, and I neither can nor want to spend hours in my kitchen. Apparently, I'm not the only one who occasionally suffers from what I call "the dinner doldrums." Here's what other nutrition pros make when the feeling strikes them: 

1. Vegetable Frittata

"I'm an empty nester, and many nights it's hard to put forth the effort to cook for two, or just myself. One of my favorite quick and easy meals is a frittata. It's satisfying because it's so rich in protein (egg); it's a really flexible dish (add any leftover veggie and seasoning); and it's the ultimate one-pan, no-recipe meal that even looks good enough serve to company. Frittatas let you be as simple or creative as you like in the kitchen by playing around with different vegetable combinations and types of cheese, or by adding a starch like potatoes, leftover rice or pasta. The best part about a dinner frittata is that any leftovers are perfect for breakfast the next day."

– Anne Danahy, nutrition communications consultant who blogs at CravingSomethingHealthy.com 

2. Pasta Primavera

"Pasta, shrimp and veggies in a white wine sauce is a quick meal I make when my schedule changes and time is tight. I pull out some frozen shrimp, place them in a colander and run them under cold water till thawed, which takes less than five minutes. Meanwhile, while the water boils for whole-wheat noodles or zoodles, I saute onion and garlic in a saucepan with a little olive oil. I cut up and add whatever veggies I have in the fridge – broccoli, red or yellow bell peppers, and carrots. I add a basic white wine to the pan and usually add chicken or vegetable broth if I need extra fluid. I cook the veggies until tender (but not mushy) and may even throw in some grape tomatoes at the last minute. I top it with Parmesan cheese. The combo of vegetables, whole grains and dairy supplies three food groups that Americans don't get enough of. This meal takes just 15 to 20 minutes and my whole family loves it."

– Isabel Maples, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

3. Lemon Tahini Lentil Dip

"One of my easy, go-to weeknight dinner ideas is a lentil dip that can stand on its own, be paired with microwaveable rice or even thrown in tortillas for tacos. I make it in less than 30 minutes with lentils, oil, tahini paste, spices and kale. I love that it's packed with plant-based protein, fiber, folate, iron and B vitamins. It's also easy to make in bulk, which makes great leftovers or lunch for the next day. And most importantly, it's filling and tasty!"

– Sarah Schlichter, registered dietitian and healthy blogger at BucketListTummy.com

4. 5-Minute Slow Cooker Chili

"When I don't want to cook, I find the easiest thing to do is focus on meals that are quick to prep, cook themselves and make enough leftovers that they can be repurposed for a variety of meals throughout the week. My chili is so easy to make. You simply toss together canned beans, salsa and a can of diced tomatoes along with a bit of chili powder. You can also add in fresh onions and bell peppers, which can be chopped in under two minutes in a food processor (or use a bag of frozen onions and peppers for an even faster way to boost the vegetable content). It's packed full of fiber, plant-based proteins and costs less than a buck per serving. Can't beat that!"

– Erin Palinski-Wade, registered dietitian and author of "2 Day Diabetes Diet"

5. Speedy Broiled Fish With Vegetables

"My broiled fish with vegetables is mouthwateringly exquisite and a snap to make. I put the fish on a sheet pan, surround it with cut-up or spiralized veggies, drizzle everything with olive oil, salt and pepper, and place the whole pan under the broiler for five minutes or less. Sometimes I will whip up farro or quinoa to serve as a whole-grain side. It's a full-flavored, exceedingly healthy meal, produced all in about 15 minutes."

– Judith Scharman Draughon, registered dietitian and author of "Lean Body, Smart Life"

6. Frozen Fiesta

"When stuck in a rut for cooking last-minute meals (and fast), I go the 'frozen fiesta route.' This is when you go into your freezer and get out frozen items to warm up in less than 10 minutes. For example, you can throw together frozen turkey meatballs, frozen brown rice and frozen vegetables for a delicious, well-balanced meal. Add a sauce (I like reduced-sodium soy sauce, mirin sauce and red pepper chill flakes) to the dish and you have a fabulous meal in no time."

– Sarah Koszyk, registered dietitian and founder of Family. Food. Fiesta.

7. Sheet Pan Chicken

"I just started a weekly series on my blog called 'Weeknight Rescue' designed to address those dinner doldrums. My go-to dinner in this situation is a sheet pan chicken dinner. Everything goes onto one sheet pan – a whole chicken, Brussels sprouts and potatoes – and it gets cooked at once. The juices of the chicken flavor the vegetables, the chicken browns nicely and you only have a single sheet pan as far as cleanup goes. Nutritionally, it stacks up really well too."

– Katie Sullivan Morford, registered dietitian and author of "Rise & Shine: Better Breakfasts for Busy Mornings" and "Best Lunch Box Ever"

8. Lazy Girl's Enchilada Pie

"My enchilada pie is one of my kids' favorites. It's also easier on the cook than 'real' enchiladas because you layer everything in an unfussy stack instead of filling and rolling each individual tortilla. Just saute onions, zucchini, corn and beans, layer them in a pan with corn tortillas, beans, enchilada sauce and cheese, and bake it for 35 to 40 minutes. I usually serve it with a cabbage slaw dressed with lime juice, olive oil and chopped cilantro, which means even more veggies on the plate!"

– Katie Sullivan Morford

9. Broccoli, Barley and Beans

"I make an Italian-flavored dish with pantry staples and frozen broccoli florets in 15 to 20 minutes. You basically just cook barley, saute broccoli and add beans. If there's an athlete in the house, I recommend using extra beans or adding an egg. Either way, the dish provides fiber, protein, healthy fats and plenty of nutrients without skimping on flavor."

– Kelly Jones, sports dietitian and co-creator of the Fit Fueling course for active females

10. Farro Fried Rice

"Another easy dish using pantry grains, frozen veggies and eggs is farro fried rice. It simply requires cooking the farro, thawing frozen veggies and adding scrambled eggs. Farro is a grain rich in fiber and higher in protein than most grains, and the mixed vegetables provide a medley of antioxidants. Whole eggs contain a variety of nutrients, especially in the yolk, and it's one of the easiest ways to boost high quality protein in a meal."

– Kelly Jones

11. Pumpkin Maple Pancakes

"I love making breakfast for dinner. I like following my recipe, which includes pumpkin (a vegetable!), whole-wheat flour and ground flaxseed. The best thing about this recipe is that each stack of pancakes provides a canvas for adding lots of fresh fruit on top."

– Liz Weiss, registered dietitian, food and nutrition blogger at Liz's Healthy Table, podcast host, author, speaker and spokesperson.

12. Last-Minute Black Bean Soup

"I make a last-minute black bean soup that relies on pantry ingredients including a can of black beans, salsa and frozen corn kernels. It comes together in minutes, and everyone in the family can choose from a medley of toppings: shredded cheese, luscious diced avocado, fresh cilantro and plain Greek yogurt. Each serving has 7 grams of fiber and 10 grams of protein. Serve with a salad on the side and you're good to go."

– Liz Weiss

13. Lentil Bowl

"One of my favorite busy weeknight meals is a lentil bowl, which takes under 20 minutes to make (and we always make enough for lunch the next day). It mostly involves cooking lentil and throwing it together with any leftover veggies you have on hand. Topped with a sunny egg and spicy harissa sauce, it's full of flavor and sure to hit the spot – even on busy school nights."

– Kristina Todini, registered dietitian and green eating dietitian at ForkintheRoad.com

14. Catch-All Salad 

"A catch-all salad is what it sounds like: A big bowl of salad greens topped with protein sources like tuna or beans and healthy fats like nuts and seeds. Go wild and throw in any fruits and vegetables you'd like to create a simple, yet balanced, meal."

– Lauren Manganiello, registered dietitian in private practice in New York City

No need to sacrifice taste for good nutrition.: Even a <a href="http://health.usnews.com/health-news/health-wellness/slideshows/dietary-guidelines-do-over">diligent dieter</a> can be derailed in his or her effort to avoid <a href="http://health.usnews.com/health-news/health-wellness/articles/2016-01-22/9-reasons-to-eat-less-sugar-that-have-nothing-to-do-with-weight-loss">sugar</a> and <a href="http://health.usnews.com/health-news/health-wellness/slideshows/9-simple-ways-to-reduce-your-sodium-intake-now">salt</a>, too much of which can lead to <a href="http://health.usnews.com/health-news/blogs/eat-run/articles/2016-09-27/check-your-privilege-before-talking-about-obesity-and-personal-responsibility">obesity</a>, <a href="http://health.usnews.com/best-diet/best-diabetes-diets">diabetes</a> and heart disease. Fortunately, you don’t have to choose between tastiness and health. “We know that the number one driver for making food choices is flavor, and there’s the perception that healthy foods just don’t stack up,” says <a href="http://www.wendybazilian.com/">Wendy Bazilian</a>, chief corporate dietitian for McCormick, a spice company. “Adding flavor with herbs and spices makes food taste better, and adding spices to foods makes it easier to reduce added sugars, excess salt and saturated fats without reducing appeal.” These Healthy Seasonings Are Tasty Substitutes for Sugar and Salt

Copyright 2017 U.S. News & World Report

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