4 Dinner Ideas for an Easy & Speedy Midweek Meal

Once you’re over the…well, hump…of Hump Day, it’s often downhill in the dinner department. We’ve all experienced that struggle of keeping things semi-creative in the kitchen when all we really want is to order take-out and pretend it’s Friday.

However, there’s no reason for a midweek meal to suffer just because schedules are tight or “foodie” inspiration is lacking.  The following recipes are super simple to make, have “proven crowd pleaser” written all over them, and take up less than 20 minutes of your precious time. Plus, they feature wholesome ingredients for a guiltless chorus of “I’ll have seconds!”

A couple caveats: These are single serving recipes, so if you’re cooking for more than just yourself, double (or triple or…quadruple?) the ingredients. Also, some recipes call for cheese, so if you prefer vegan or dairy-free diets, you’ll need to either find a suitable substitution or omit the cheese altogether.

Now, without further ado, I present your solution to that infamous Is it the weekend yet???” din-din dilemma…


For a Mexican Fiesta:

Mango & Avocado Quesadillas

  • Ingredients
  1. 1/2 mango
  2. 1 hass avocado
  3. 2 whole wheat tortillas
  4. 1 block low-fat Gouda
  • Preparation
  1. Peel and dice the mango into bite-sized chunks, then do the same with the avocado.
  2. Grate the Gouda cheese and measure out 1/2 cup of the resulting shreds.
  3. Grease a small skillet with cooking spray, then heat it on a medium stove-top setting.
  4. Place 1 tortilla in the pre-heated skillet, then spread the shredded cheese evenly on top.
  5. Layer the avocado and mango chunks over the cheese and top with the other tortilla.
  6. Cook the bottom tortilla for approximately 3 minutes, or until the cheese starts sizzling.
  7. Flip the quesadilla over and cook the other tortilla for the same amount of time.
  8. Allow the quesadilla to cool slightly before cutting it into triangular  slices.

* Side Suggestion: serve this dish alongside a black bean and corn chutney


For an Asian Chow Down:

Vegetarian Thai Red Curry

  • Ingredients
  1. 1 cauliflower head
  2. 1 red potato
  3. 1/2 red onion
  4. 6 mint leaves
  5. 2 tbsp Thai red curry paste
  6. 2 cups light organic coconut milk
  • Preparation
  1. Chop the cauliflower into small florets, then wash the florets in a strainer.
  2. Peel the potato and chop it into bite-sized chunks, then do the same with the onion.
  3. Grease a large skillet with cooking spray, then heat it on a medium stove-top setting.
  4. Add the cauliflower, potatoes, and onions to the pre-heated skillet, then sautee for 10 minutes.
  5. Pour in the coconut milk and Thai red curry paste, then turn the heat up to a boil.
  6. Stir this mixture vigorously until the coconut milk starts to bubble, then reduce the heat to medium.
  7. Continue sauteing this mixture, while stirring constantly, until the coconut milk has thickened.
  8. Allow the curry to cool slightly before mincing the mint leaves and sprinkling them on top.

* Side Suggestion: serve this dish alongside honey-infused jasmine rice (brown variety)


For a Mediterranean Spread: 

Garlic Couscous Greek Salad

  • Ingredients
  1. 2 cups couscous
  2. 1 block low-fat feta
  3. 1 cup spinach
  4. 1/2 red onion
  5. 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes
  6. 1/2 cup kalamata olives
  7. 1 tbsp lemon juice
  8. 2 tbsp olive oil
  9. 1 clove garlic
  • Preparation
  1. Fill a medium-sized pot with 3/4 cup of water, then heat on a high stove-top setting.
  2. Once the water has reached a rolling boil, add the couscous, garlic, and olive oil.
  3. Stir this mixture vigorously for approximately 1-2 minutes, then reduce the heat to low.
  4. Cover the pot and allow this mixture to simmer for approximately 10 minutes.
  5. Grate the feta cheese and measure out 1/2 cup of the resulting shreds.
  6. Finely slice the cherry tomatoes, red onion, spinach, and kalamata olives.
  7. Once the couscous has absorbed all the water, add the feta and vegetables to the pot.
  8. Stir this mixture thoroughly until all the ingredients are combined evenly.
  9. Allow the couscous salad to cool slightly before pouring in the lemon juice.

* Side Suggestion: serve this dish with a grilled whole wheat pita toast point


For an Italian Trattoria: 

Margherita Flatbread Paninis

  • Ingredients
  1. 3 basil leaves
  2. 1 Roma tomato
  3. 1 piece whole wheat Naan
  4. 1/2 part-skim mozzarella ball
  5. 1 tbsp organic basil pesto
  • Preparation
  1. Spread the basil pesto evenly over the smooth side of the Naan flatbread.
  2. Thinly slice the tomato and mozzarella, then place each slice on 1 half of the Naan.
  3. Layer the basil leaves side-by-side on top of the tomato and mozzarella slices.
  4. Fold the other half of the Naan over the layers of tomato, mozzarella, and basil.
  5. Transfer the Naan onto an open panini press or George Foreman grill.
  6. Close the lid of the panini press or grill and cook for approximately 3 minutes.
  7. Once grill marks appear on both sides, remove the panini from the heat.
  8. Allow the panini to cool slightly before slicing it in half, diagonally.

* Side Suggestion: serve this dish alongside balsamic vinegar-drizzled tomato wedges

Hasta la Vista, Candy Corn. Make It a Healthy Halloween.

So, you just carved that jack-o-lantern, huh? You chiseled, sawed, and sliced away. You also gutted its innards, so now stringy orange slime has taken up residence on your kitchen floor.

Awesome.

Well, you could trash the goop. Or, you could extract the pumpkin seeds and turn them into something fabulous. I don’t know about you, but Option #2 has my personal vote!

Many of us already associate roasting pumpkin seeds as a tasty fall tradition. But, were you aware that these festive little munchies are also nutritional powerhouses? Uh huh. They’re regular superfoods. According to an article posted on the alternative medicine website, Mercola.com, here are some health benefits of our pal, Mr. Pumpkin Seed:

  • Magnesium for cardiovascular circulation, DNA/RNA synthesis, and skeletal strength
  • Zinc for immune system support, cell growth/division, insulin regulation, and enhanced senses
  • Omea-3s for anti-inflammation, blood oxygenation, and defense against cognitive aging.
  • Tryptophan for melatonin/seratonin production, resulting in a restful sleep cycle
  • Fiber for bowel normalization, decreased cholesterol, and maintaining a healthy weight
  • Antioxidants for protection against free radicals and harmful UVA skin exposure

There. That’s all the persuasion you need. Now, go roast those seeds for a savory afternoon pick-me-up that you can feel great about!

(And, just in case you need pointers on pre-cleaning the seeds before cooking them, I borrowed this simple strategy from SimplyRecipes.com: After scooping out the pumpkin’s flesh, transfer a large handful of seeds into a colander and run them under a strong stream of water until they have been separated from the flesh).

  • Ingredients:
  1. 1 tbsp. Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
  2. 1/4 tsp. Sea Salt
  3. 1 tsp. Chili Powder
  4. 1 tsp. Smoked Paprika
  5. 1 c. Pumpkin Seeds (pulp removed)

roasted pumpkin seed ingredients

  • Preparation:
  1. In a small skillet, pre-heat the olive oil on a medium stove-top setting.
  2. Add the pumpkin seeds into the pan and season them with sea salt.
  3. Reduce the heat to low, then saute the seeds for 3-5 minutes, while stirring.
  4. Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees and coat a baking sheet with cooking spray.
  5. Transfer the seeds onto the baking sheet and spread them around evenly.
  6. Sprinkle the seeds with chili powder and smoked paprika, to taste.
  7. Place the baking sheet in the oven and allow to roast for 5-10 minutes.
  8. Once these seeds have turned golden brown, remove them from the oven.
  9. Let them cool before eating, then nibble to your heart’s content on this healthy seasonal snack!

roasted pumpkin seed saute

roasted pumpkin seed pre-bake

roasted pumpkin seed cooled

Fall Has Fallen Into My Kitchen…

This past weekend, I visited a farmer’s market in the historic downtown section of my Southwest Florida stomping grounds. Even though autumn in my neck of the woods doesn’t necessarily mean colorful leaves and blustery wind gusts, we beach babes still get into the seasonal spirit.

So, – like I was saying before I went off on a “Floridians love this time of year too” tangent – I went to a farmer’s market. And I came home with an butternut squash, a bag full of apples, and other freshly-picked, locally-sourced fall-ish produce.

Then, I set to work putting these farmer’s market finds to use. And if you’re gonna whip up some autumnal comfort food, you might as well do it right. You might as well make soup.

Butternut squash soup. Butternut squash soup with apples. Sprinkled with aromatic spices on top. Warm, hearty, soothing. Ahhhhhh!

So, yeah. From my “fall friendly” kitchen to yours…here’s the recipe:


  • Ingredients:
  1. 4 cups vegetable or chicken stock (low sodium)
  2. 1 butternut squash (peeled and cubed)
  3. 1/2 red onion (chopped)
  4. 1 apple (peeled and chopped)
  5. /2 tbsp. ground nutmeg
  6. 1/4 tsp. black pepper
  7. 1/4 tsp. sea salt

butternut squash soup ingredients

  • Preparation: 
  1. Combine the butternut squash, apple and union cubes in a medium-size pot, then pour in the vegetable/chicken stock.
  2. Cover the pot and place it on a stove-top burner, then turn the heat up to high until the stock has reached a rolling boil.
  3. Uncover the pot and reduce the heat to low, then let this mixture simmer for approx. 10 minutes, or until the squash is tender.
  4. Remove the pot from heat and pour this mixture into a blender, then puree until the soup is thick and smooth.
  5. Pour the soup back into the pot and turn the heat on low, then simmer for a few extra minutes, while stirring constantly.
  6. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg, then give the soup another quick stir. (Side note: I also found that tossing in 2-3 packets of organic Stevia added a lovely sweet and savory combination to this recipe.)

butternut squash soup before

butternut squash soup after

  • Serving Suggestion:

I prefer my winter veggie soups on the slightly sweet side, so I mixed 1/4 cup plain coconut milk into the soup, which added some creaminess to the texture and perfectly complemented the squash’s already nutty flavor.

butternut squash soup with coconut milk

Move over, Pumpkin Pie. There are new Fall Favorites on the menu!

Now that school is back in session and September well underway, it’s time to give into that quintessential pumpkin craving we (try to!) suppress all year. Fall has almost fallen…let’s usher in this glorious season with some good ol’ comfort food.

And, on that note: the following recipes are figure-friendlier twists on classic autumn indulgences. So, you can satisfy your sweet tooth without souring your waistline!

Warm Mulled Cider

mulled cider ingredients   

  • Ingredients:
  1. 3 cups 100% apple juice (I used Simply Apple brand)
  2. 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  3. 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
  4. 1/2 tsp. ground cloves
  5. 1 tsp. orange zest
  • Preparation:
  1. Combine all the ingredients in a saucepan and bring the stove-top heat to a boil.
  2. Stir this mixture constantly until it has reached a rolling boil.
  3. Reduce the heat to medium-high, then simmer for approximately 15 minutes.
  4. Stir the mixture occasionally throughout these 15 minutes.
  5. Remove the saucepan from heat and allow the cider to cool slightly.

mulled cider   

Pumpkin & Carrot Bars

  • Ingredients:

pumpkin bar ingredients   

  1. 3 egg whites
  2. 1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
  3. 1 tsp. baking powder
  4. 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  5. 1 cup whole wheat flour
  6. 3/4 cup organic Stevia powder
  7. 3/4 cup pumpkin puree
  8. 1/3 cup carrots (shredded)
  9. 1 1/2 tbsp. applesauce (unsweetened)
  • For the Frosting:
  1. 1/4 cup fat-free cream cheese (softened)
  2. 2 tbsp. organic Stevia powder
  3. 1/2 tbsp. skim milk*

*If your dietary needs or preferences exclude dairy, you can substitute 1/2 tbsp. soy milk whisked with 1 tsp. apple cider.

  • Preparation:
  1. In a mixing bowl, whisk together the baking soda and powder, flour and pumpkin pie spice.
  2. In another bowl, combine the applesauce and sweetener, until the texture is smooth.
  3. Add the egg whites, carrots and pumpkin pie filling, then continue mixing.
  4. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, then mix again until everything is thoroughly blended.
  5. Spread the batter onto a greased jellyroll pan (a baking sheet will also suffice), then set aside temporarily.
  6. Combine the cream cheese, milk and remaining 2 tbsp. of sweetener.
  7. Spoon the frosting on top of the batter, then swirl them together with a butter knife.
  8. Bake for approximately 25 minutes, or until the batter has cooked thoroughly.
  9. Allow the cake to cool completely, then slice it into even squares.

pumpkin bar before   pumpkin bar after 

 

Satisfy that Sweet Tooth the (Almost) Vegan Way

I say “almost” because this recipe uses 1 egg, which qualifies as an animal by-product, but true vegans need not despair. Simply substitute 1/4 cup pureed banana, 1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt or 1/4 cup oil of your choice, and you’ve got a bona fide vegan party-in-the-mouth!

And, for all you other foodies out there, meet the answer to your ongoing dilemma: Do I eat dessert and regret it later, or skip dessert and regret it RIGHT NOW? These Avocado & Almond Butter Cookies deliver all the indulgence of your favorite guilty pleasure…only without that pesky guilt-part. Rejoice!

  • Ingredients:
  1. 1 egg yolk
  2. 1 tsp. baking powder
  3. 1/4 cup almond butter
  4. 3 tbsp. raw honey
  5. 2 packets Stevia
  6. 1/2 cup almond flour*
  7. 1/4 cup dates (chopped)
  8. 1/2 avocado (mashed)

*You can easily and inexpensively make your own almond flour by grinding 1/2 cup slivered almonds in a blender or food processor until finely powdered.*

avocado cookie ingredients

  • Preparation:
  1. Combine the mashed avocado, egg yolk, honey and almond butter together in a mixing bowl.
  2. Add the baking powder, Stevia packets and almond flour, then stir until the batter is smooth.
  3. Fold in the dates, then spoon the batter onto a greased baking sheet in the shape of cookies.
  4. Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 15 minutes, or until the cookies have cooked thoroughly.

avocado cookie batter

avocado cookies pre bakingavocado cookies post baking

  • Serving Suggestion:

In addition to a sweet mid-afternoon snack or lighter after-dinner dessert, enjoy these tasty treats in the morning for an omega-3 and protein-packed breakfast.

avocado cookie taste test

(And, of course, I was obligated to take these babies out for a test chew, now wasn’t I…?!)

It’s Meatless Monday. Make It Marvelous.

Even sworn carnivores won’t be asking “Where’s the beef?!” with this zesty twist on a classic Asian stir-fry. It’s loaded with protein (from the Edamame and Greek Yogurt), whole grains (from the Brown Rice), fiber (from the Sugar Snap Peas), and Vitamin D (from the Mushrooms). So, serve up a heaping helping of vegetarian deliciousness on this – or any – Meatless Monday. Going “green” never tasted so good!


Kickin’ Horseradish Stir-Fry (yields approx. 4 servings)

horseradish stir fry

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp. Horseradish
  • 1 cup Sugar Snap Peas
  • 1/4 cup Rice Wine Vinegar
  • 2 tbsp. Plain Greek Yogurt (non-fat)
  • 1/2 cup Edamame Beans (shelled)
  • 1/2 cup Shitake Mushrooms (chopped)
  • 1 tbsp. Soy Sauce (low-sodium)
  • 1/2 cup Brown Rice (cooked)

Preparation:

  1. In a medium-sized saucepan, boil the rice, according to the cooking instructions on the packaging.
  2. In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the yogurt, soy sauce, horseradish, and rice wine vinegar.
  3. When the rice has finished cooking, add the peas, edamame, and mushrooms then stir thoroughly.
  4. Stir the sauce into this mixture, then sautee the rice on low heat until the vegetables have softened.

Meal Prep: Learn It, Love It, Live It

When you plan ahead and prepare meals in advance, it’s simple to formulate a diet around whole foods and balanced nutrition.

Rather than calling for take-out, throwing together whatever’s been taking up space in your pantry or – worse yet – stopping at the drive-through window, just set aside a couple hours each week to whip up some easy-to-store-enjoy-anytime recipes. Then, simply heat your creations in the microwave as needed throughout the coming days.

I’ve compiled a list of instructions, along with corresponding visuals, to walk you through the steps of proper meal prep. The recipe below is just one example of a make-ahead meal that’s convenient, satisfying, and completely guilt-free – whether on its own as a filling lunch or as a tasty side dish for dinner.

And here’s more fabulous news: all you need to pull this off are a few basic, fresh ingredients!


  • Step 1: Chop your vegetables of choice (any veggies you have on-hand will work; I used onions, mushrooms, carrots, tomatoes, and corn).

food prep step 1

  • Step 2: Transfer the vegetables into a Tupperware container and store in the fridge while you continue with the remaining prep work.

food prep step 2

  • Step 3: Assemble your seasonings (I used olive oil and garlic) and whole-grain carb (lentils are my go-to, but quinoa or couscous will work too).

food prep step 3

  • Step 4: Rinse off the grains, transfer them into a Teflon pot, and allow them to soak in water for approximately 10 minutes.

food prep step 4

  • Step 5: Place the pot on a stove-top burner and turn the heat on high until boiling, then lower to a simmer and cover, stirring occasionally.

food prep step 5

  • Step 6: Add the seasonings (1 tsp. garlic and 1 tbsp. olive oil), then re-cover and let the mixture simmer for approximately 30 minutes.

food prep step 6

  • Step 7: Once the lentils (or another whole-grain of choice) have softened, add the vegetables you prepped earlier and stir thoroughly.

food prep step 7

  • Step 8: Allow the vegetables to simmer for approximately 10 minutes, then strain this mixture to remove any excess liquid.

food prep step 8

  • Step 9: Transfer the lentils (or another whole grain of choice) into a Tupperware container and store in the fridge until your next meal.

food prep step 9

*** 1 16-oz. package of lentils yields at least a week’s worth of lunches/dinners. ***