In a perfect world, we would plan 5-6 perfectly balanced meals, make a list, go shopping on Saturday, and then prep our food on Sunday to set us up for an awesome week. We would then sit down to a peaceful meal with our family each night, while our kids and significant others throw praise at us for what a fantastic partner, mom (or dad), and cook we are for putting such delicious perfection on the table.
Laughing yet? While I do strive to meal plan most of that time, sometimes life gets in the way and I have to do things on the fly. Not to mention the fact that the above isn’t usually what meal time looks like in my household. My toddler is often yelling that she wants food and climbing dangerously into her high-chair to get attention while I cook. Usually upon receiving her plate she eats so quickly that she is done before my husband and I even sit down to eat. So much for that advice we all hear to eat slowly and enjoy your food in a calm environment, eh?
Let’s not forget to mention that by 5 p.m. you’ve likely made hundreds if not thousands of decisions throughout the day already and you are TIRED. One study showed that we actually make over 200 FOOD-related decisions each day alone (1). That’s freaking crazy! The last thing you really need at the end of the day is to rack your brain for ONE more decision about what you are going to make for dinner, or better yet, do you even have anything in your house you can scrap together for dinner? One thing that makes life easier for me is having a few back-up meal ideas on hand in the pantry or freezer that can be quickly thrown together.
Back-Up Meals (that take 20-minutes or less!)
1) High-protein lentil or legume pasta (such as Tolerant Foods green lentil pasta or Banza chickpea pasta) + sauce of choice (red, pesto, or garlic/herb/olive oil). Serve with a frozen vegetable (I like mixing broccoli in with it) or salad.
What to keep on hand: Boxed pasta, sauce or oils, frozen veggies or bagged salad
2) Canned tuna – (my favorite brand is Safe Catch). Mix the tuna with mayo or a mashed avocado and add in whatever chopped veggies you have on hand. Shake in some seasonings (salt/pepper/garlic powder/whatever really). Serve over whatever greens and vegetables you have on hand or with bread or whole grain or almond flour crackers.
What to keep on hand: tuna
3) Eggs (any way you want). I eat eggs for lunch or dinner at least 2-3 times per week. Buy organic/free-range or pasture-raised eggs if you can swing it. Scramble some eggs up with some chopped veggies and serve on a bed or greens or with a sprouted grain or gluten-free English Muffin and fruit.
What to keep on hand: eggs
4) Bagged salad or spinach. Sometimes you don’t have time or straight up don’t feel like washing and spinning your lettuce dry. Keep some pre-washed greens in your fridge for busy nights.
- Spinach + fruit in fridge + nuts/seeds (like hemp seeds/sunflower seeds) + fresh mozzarella + dressing or vinaigrette of choice
- Spinach + veg in fridge + hard boiled eggs + seeds + dressing of choice
- Pick up a rotisserie chicken on the way home from work, remove the skin and shred the meat to serve on top of above salad.
5) Loaded potatoes (white or sweet).
- Sweet potato + canned (rinsed) black beans + avocado mashed with lime/salt/garlic (make-shift guacamole) + cilantro + sauce of choice (salsa/sourcream, etc).
- Sweet potato + canned (rinsed) chick peas + tomato/parsley + tahini
- Russett potato + fried egg + broccoli (or whatever veggies!) + grass-fed butter
Sometimes life gets hectic, but that doesn't mean you can't quickly throw together a balanced meal on busy nights by making sure your fridge and pantry are stocked with some of the staples discussed above. These meals don't have to be used exclusively for busy nights either, afterall, who wants to spend hours in the kitchen any night? Do you have a favorite go-to week night or back-up meal you make on the regular? If so, comment below because I'd love to hear about it!
Sobal, J. & Wansink, B. (2007). Mindless Eating: The 200 Daily Food Decisions We Overlook. Environment and Behavior, 39:1 (January), 106-23.