On busy nights, it pays to have a few easy dinner ideas up your sleeve. Here are my go-to strategies for getting a healthy dinner on the table in no time.
If you’re like me, coming up with easy dinner ideas in the summer is simple. In summer, so many peak-season veggies and fruits are delicious raw, or they require little cooking to make them a delicious meal. Once fall arrives, though, my dinner cravings change. I want heartier, warming dishes, but I don’t have the time – or the energy – to spend an hour over the stove each night.
On busy evenings, I have 5 healthy dinner strategies that I turn to:
- Make a 30-minute recipe.
- Meal prep something that will keep well on the weekend, and enjoy it all week.
- Batch cook and freeze freezer-friendly recipes to reheat on busy nights.
- Have a bunch of prepped components in the fridge to mix & match into flavorful meals.
- Make one of my standby no-recipe easy dinner ideas.
If you’re looking for some new easy dinner ideas this fall, read more about these strategies below. Plus, find recipes to guide you along the way!
1. Make any of these 30-minute dinner recipes.
Nothing beats a good weeknight dinner recipe, one that comes together from start to finish in 30 minutes or less. These quick dinner ideas pack a punch of flavor despite their short cooking time and without any extensive meal prep. If you’re someone who enjoys cooking at the end of a long day or who wants to eat something different each night of the week, this strategy is a great one. I do recommend choosing weeknight dinner recipes ahead of time, so you know you’ll have the ingredients on hand when you’re ready to cook. Here are some of my favorite quick dinner recipes:
- Herb & Garlic Mushroom Pasta
- Lemon Linguine (use sun dried or pre-roasted tomatoes)
- Creamy Pasta Pomodoro
- One Pot Penne Pasta
- Butternut Squash Pasta with Chili Oil & Mint
- Orecchiette Pasta
- Pesto Pasta
- Creamy Broccoli Pasta
- Stuffed Zucchini Boats
- Portobello Mushroom Burgers
- Sesame Crispy Tofu
- Avocado Sweet Potato Tacos
- Chickpea Feta Shakshuka
- Vegan Pizza
- Turmeric Cauliflower Fried Rice
- Chana Masala
2. Meal prep dinner recipes that keep well ahead of time.
Certain dinner recipes keep well in the fridge for a few days, and some, like most soups, even improve as their flavor develops. I love making a big batch of soup for the week ahead on a Sunday, and veggie patties keep and reheat well too. The same goes for meaty, saucy jackfruit – I like to make it ahead to stuff into tacos or sandwiches throughout the week!
- Vegan Tacos – The jackfruit taco “meat” keeps well all week.
- Veggie Burgers – Store in the fridge for 4 days or freeze.
- Black Bean Burger – Store in the fridge for 4 days or freeze.
- Millet Cakes with Carrots and Spinach – Store in the fridge for 4 days.
- BBQ Jackfruit – The BBQ “meat” keeps well all week.
- Butternut Squash Soup – Store in the fridge for up to 5 days.
- Vegan Broccoli Cheese Soup – Store in the fridge for up to 5 days.
- Sustenence Sweet Potato Stew – Store in the fridge for up to 5 days.
3. Batch cook freezer-friendly dinner recipes ahead of time, and freeze them.
When you have a busy schedule, using your freezer is one of the best ways to prioritize eating healthily. Thawing a frozen slice of lasagna or big bowl of chili is cheaper and healthier than ordering takeout, and it’s just as good. When you cook a pot of soup or bake a lasagna, make a double batch, and freeze the leftovers in individual portions for quick healthy dinners on nights when you don’t have time, or you’re just not in the mood, to cook. Make sure to allow your food to cool to room temperature before covering it and freezing it in freezer-safe containers (I like these).
- Best Lentil Soup
- Roasted Red Pepper Soup
- Creamy Celery Root Cauliflower Soup
- White Bean Soup with Kale & Wild Rice
- Oyster Mushroom Soup
- Mixed Vegetable Curry
- Vegan Corn Chowder
- Roasted Vegetable Lasagna
- Tomato Soup
- Spiralized Zucchini Vegetable Noodle Soup
- Butternut Squash Black Bean Enchiliadas
4. Have prepped sauces or grains on hand to inspire creative healthy dinner ideas!
I like to think of this strategy as “component cooking,” and it’s a great way to go if you don’t want to eat the same thing every night of the week. On Sunday, prep components from each of the categories below:
- Roasted or grilled vegetables
- A starch or grain. Pasta, tortillas, cooked quinoa, brown rice, cilantro lime rice, or even cauliflower rice, zucchini noodles, or roasted spaghetti squash work here.
- A protein like roasted or cooked chickpeas, black beans, white beans, baked tofu, or eggs.
- A good sauce – Think tzatziki, cilantro lime dressing, chipotle sauce, pesto, etc.
- Flavorful extras – Cheese, olives, capers, nuts, avocado, or pickled vegetables like kimchi, jalapeños, or onions add great flavors and textures!
Prep components for a single recipe and assemble it at dinnertime throughout the week, or mix and match components into a different dish each night! For example, if you make roasted cauliflower and chipotle sauce over the weekend, you can top them onto quinoa bowls on Monday and Tuesday, and then stuff them into tacos or lettuce wraps later in the week.
Example component recipes:
- Taco Salad
- Spicy Mango Black Bean Avocado Tacos
- Mango Ginger Rice Bowl
- Cauliflower Rice Kimchi Bowls
- Adzuki Bean Bowls
- Buddha Bowl with Turmeric Tahini
- Kale Quinoa Salad with Pesto
- Roasted Veggie Grain Bowl
- Vegetarian Tacos
- Shawarma Wraps
- Sesame Orange Noodle Bowl
5. Learn how to come up with easy dinner ideas using what you have.
While I encourage you to try new healthy dinner ideas, know that it’s good to have a few quick standards to rely on. With a few tried-and-true quick dinner ideas, you can figure out how to mix and match leftover or fresh components in your fridge to make a yummy, healthy meal. Here are a few of my favorite no-recipe easy dinner ideas:
- Stuff leftover ingredients into quesadillas with avocado or guacamole and salsa.
- Toss pasta with sautéed or roasted veggies, cheese, and a squeeze of lemon.
- Use a leftover grain to make fried rice.
- Make a frittata with leftover roasted vegetables or any fresh vegetables in the fridge.
- Simmer a simple pot of many-veggie soup made with whatever veggies you have on hand.
- Make a classic grilled cheese, dressed up with green harissa or whatever sauce you have on hand.
- Bake a sweet potato and stuff it with a fun, flavorful veggie filling and quick sauce!
Do you have any go-to easy dinner ideas? Let me know in the comments!
Easy Dinner Ideas: Herb & Garlic Mushroom Pasta
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 16 ounces cremini mushrooms, de-stemmed and sliced
- 8 ounces spaghetti, plus ⅓ cup reserved pasta water
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- ¼ cup dry white wine (such as chardonnay or pinot grigio)
- ¼ to ⅓ cup cashew cream (recipe below)
- ⅓ cup chopped fresh tarragon
- ⅓ cup chopped fresh chives
- ⅓ cup shaved Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- ⅓ cup raw cashews + ½ cup water (or heavy cream)
- ½ clove garlic
- ½ teaspoon fresh lemon juice
- ¼ teaspoon dijon mustard
- ⅛ teaspoon sea salt
- Make the cashew cream by blending all ingredients in a high speed blender until smooth. Set aside. (note: it’s not going to be very thick, it should be the consistency of half & half or heavy cream).
- In a large pan heat the olive oil oil over medium heat. Add the mushrooms, a few generous pinches of salt and pepper, and cook until soft and wilted, stirring occasionally, about 8 to 12 minutes.
- Meanwhile, cook the pasta in salted boiling water 1 minute short of the package directions, until al dente. Reserve ⅓ cup of the starchy pasta water before draining.
- To the mushrooms, add the wine. Stir and let it reduce for 1 to 2 minutes.
- Stir in the garlic, then the cooked pasta and toss. Add a few splashes of the cashew cream and a few splashes of the pasta water and toss to create a light sauce. Add half of the fresh herbs and season to taste. Serve immediately with remaining fresh herbs and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese on top.
To make this vegan, skip the cheese and and serve with a few drizzles of balsamic vinegar.
Change up the herbs: rosemary and/or sage would be delicious here, but add those heartier herbs to the pan as you add the mushrooms so that they'll cook more than the softer herbs.