Fast and Healthy Meal Ideas


Healthy Meals In a Hurry

Chicken soup with vegetables is a quick meal.

It may seem like a lot of work to prepare healthy meals at home, especially when you don't have much time. Sometimes it can be easier to grab take out on the way home from work and school, and that's okay. However, you may be surprised at how quickly home prepared meals can come together.

Eating at home means you have control of the ingredients. You can control calories, fat, and sodium this way. And preparing something for yourself or your loved ones will leave you feeling accomplished and satisfied.

We can help by giving you some tools for putting together a balanced and quick meal. Satisfying meals need a protein source, plenty of veggies or fruits, some whole grain or another source of healthy carbohydrates such as legumes, or starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes.

Keep a variety of fresh, frozen, dried and canned foods on hand—you can mix and match to suit your mood.

Not sure what to make? Flip through the slideshow for a few easy meal ideas.


Start With Pasta and a Jar of Sauce

Spaghetti Bolognese
Christopher Hope-Fitch / Getty Images

Keep a few jars of pasta sauce such as marinara and Fra Diavolo along with some different varieties of whole grain pasta on hand. These tomato-based sauces are an excellent source of lycopene and vitamins plus they're typically low in calories (look for low-sodium varieties if you're salt-sensitive).

And there are great traditional pasta alternatives as well. Try a bean-based pasta or a pasta alternative such as zoodles.

You could just serve the pasta and sauce as a meal all by itself, but the nutrition and flavor will be so much better if you add a few fresh ingredients such as tomatoes, onions, peppers, olives or mushrooms. If you are looking for more protein in your meal, you can add ground turkey or chicken, or some beans for a meatless option.


Make a Big Salad and Serve as a Meal

Salad as a Quick Meal
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You may be used to serving a side salad as part of a meal, but if you use a big plate, add more veggies and a protein source, you've got your whole meal right there.

Think about your average simple side salad, probably something like lettuce or raw spinach leaves, tomatoes, cucumber, olives and onions topped with a zesty Italian dressing or a little blue cheese dressing. Bump that up to a chef's salad with a modest sprinkling of cheese, hard boiled eggs, and ham or turkey slices. You can also add some healthy fats such as avocado, seeds, or nuts for more flavor, fiber, and healthy fats.

Or create something fancier like the salad pictured here. Start with a bed of arugula and top with grapes, walnuts, and chicken, and finish with a light but flavorful vinaigrette. Add a slice or two of whole-grain bread (and maybe a glass of white wine) and dinner is served.

Try These Easy Recipes


Start With a Can of Soup and Make It Better

Chicken Noodle Soup
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It doesn't get any easier than opening a can of soup, pouring it into a pot and lighting the burner. The problem is that most of them don't taste all that good, tend to be too high in sodium, and they may be lacking in the nutrition department.

But, it's nice to have a few cans of soup waiting in your kitchen cabinet, and you can improve the flavor and nutrition by adding some healthy extras.

Start with a simple chicken noodle soup and toss in a sliced carrot for more vitamin A, and if you have some leftover chicken, you can add more protein and make your soup into a hearty meal. Top this soup with some chopped herbs for extra flavor, color, and antioxidants.

Actually, if you have a full refrigerator, you can make an almost-homemade soup if you start with a can or carton of chicken, beef, or vegetable stock and add vegetables, pasta, potatoes, legumes, meat or chicken. The beautiful thing about making soup like this is that you really can't screw it up -- you can always add more ingredients and seasonings as the soup cooks.

Try These Easy Recipes


Make Healthy and Hearty Sandwiches

Healthy sandwiches make for a quick meal.
Glow Cuisine / Getty Images

I think people often associate sandwiches with lunch time, but a big healthy sandwich can serve as a meal. Start with your favorite whole grain bread or a large roll and add some lean meat. Leftovers are fine or grill up some chicken breasts to keep handy for soups, salads, or sandwiches. Top with plenty of greens, onions, tomatoes, a little mustard or a dab of mayo, and dinner is on the table.

Other sandwich possibilities include canned tuna or salmon, sauteed portabella mushrooms, or frozen veggie burger patties that can be microwaved or warmed on a stove top.


Stir-fry Meat and Veggies and Serve Over Rice

Beef Stir-fry With Rice - Fast Easy Meal
Robert Linton / Getty Images

A meal like this may look like you spent all afternoon cooking but in reality, it's pretty easy. Any lean meat will work—beef, pork or chicken—and it's a great way to use up leftovers. For those people who do not eat meat, you can substitute, fish, tofu, edamame, or another protein source of your choice. Green or colorful veggies are best, such as broccoli, peppers, or carrots, but mushrooms are good too.

Simply heat up a little olive oil in a pan and cook your veggies. Add the meat stir-fry until the meat is done. If you are not using meat, add your protein source and cook until warm.

Add your favorite sauce and serve over rice that you've prepared on the stove top, or in a rice cooker. For super fast and easy rice, stock up on bags of rice that go right into the microwave. Does the type of rice matter? Basmati is my favorite, but be sure to choose brown rice occasionally. It has more fiber and an excellent nutty flavor. You can also use any other type of whole grain you have on hand, such as quinoa, farro, or whole wheat couscous.

Try This Easy Recipe


Grab a Meal to Go From the Grocery Store

Woman at Salad Bar - Fast and Easy Meal
andresr / Getty Images

Maybe you don't have time to cook dinner tonight, and you like the idea of bringing dinner home, but all you can think of is fast food.

But, you can bring back a healthy dinner without going the fast food route—your grocery store has plenty of foods that are ready to eat right now.

First, grab a hot rotisserie chicken. These chickens are low in fat, often nicely seasoned and all you have to do is carve the bird and serve it with a couple of sides. Grocery stores often have salad bars and plenty of hot and cold foods that you can take home and serve right away.

Alternatively, you can go to the freezer section and grab a couple of bags of vegetables that are ready to be steamed in the microwave. Finally, pick up a nice crusty loaf of whole grain bread from the bakery counter, and grab some Greek yogurt from the dairy section for dessert.

By Shereen Lehman, MS
Shereen Lehman, MS, is a former writer for Verywell Fit and Reuters Health. She's a healthcare journalist who writes about healthy eating and offers evidence-based advice for regular people.