Fast and Healthy Meal Ideas

Healthy Meals In a Hurry

Chicken soup with vegetables is a quick meal.

I know it seems like it's a lot of work to prepare healthy meals at home, especially when you don't have much time. It seems so much easier to grab some quick and cheap on the way home from work or school, but of course, most takeout food is high in calories and not all that nutritious.

But I think I can help. All any healthy meal needs is a protein source, plenty of veggies or fruits and maybe some grains or healthy sources of carbs. Stock your kitchen with healthy foods and ingredients so you're always ready. 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
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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).

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.

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 averages 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.

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. Maybe 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.

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.
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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
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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. 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. Add your favorite sauce and serve over rice that you've prepared on the stove top, in a rice cooker, or 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 sue to choose brown rice sometimes -- it has more fiber and an excellent nutty flavor.

Try This Easy Recipe

Grab a Meal to Go From the Grocery Store

Woman at Salad Bar - Fast and Easy Meal
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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.

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