We wanted to follow up our previous meal planning post with some of our standby healthy dinner recipes. We are focusing on dinner in this post because at the end of the day, we are tired from work and sometimes tempted to go out if there isn’t an easy option available. Does that ever happen to you? These are our standby recipes that we enjoy frequently. Since we like variety, there are actually over 25 ideas in this one post! I’m including recipes for some, but they are so easy that there is no need to measure everything out.
After participating in the Whole30 and reading It Starts with Food (let me know if you would like to borrow it!), our whole dietary perspective changed. Our typical dinner recipes are Paleo inspired. We maximize veggies, while minimizing carbs and dairy. According to the FDA, half of our plate for each meal should be vegetables and fruits. Including salads as a first course to dinners and lunches is an easy way we get more veggies. We have also ditched the starch side on dinners for double veggie sides. I also wanted to mention that we always make double the amount we would need for dinner so we can eat leftovers for lunch. Its so easy to just pack up our leftovers and bring to work the next day, rather than hunting around for something healthy to eat at the last minute at work. Because we are eating healthy daily, we have no guilt enjoying ourselves when we do go out or have company over, such as this past holiday weekend.
Freezer friendly dinners
- Sausage & veggie bake – This can be customized in so many different ways. Our favorite is kielbasa with peppers, asparagus and potatoes. We chop everything up into a tupperware, store in the freezer, then thaw in the fridge for 2 days or so before baking. [GF/Paleo/Whole30]
- Balsamic chicken and veggies – We prep this recipe and throw it into the freezer before cooking. All different types of chicken will work, just adjust the cooking time. Since there weren’t many leftovers the first time we made it, now we serve it with quinoa. (Pictured with recipe link above) [GF/Paleo/Whole30]
- Soups are great to prep ahead and freeze – We cut up all the veggies, brown any meat, and freeze. Then thaw, add broth and any grains, simmer a little while and enjoy. Some of our favorites are pasta fagioli (Pictured with recipe link above), zuppa toscana, enchilada soup, and beef stew.
- Leftovers – We always save any extras we may have in the freezer, especially meats. Other things that freeze well are mexican dishes, pasta, sauces, chopped up veggies. It will come in handy when you’re shopping your pantry next week for meal prep.
Slow cooker dinners
We use our slow cooker at least once a week. There are so many recipes out there, but we specifically need ones that are hands off for 8-12 hours. All of these recipes we just throw in the crockpot in the morning before we leave for work, typically 10 hours. Some people worry about leaving it on unattended, but our crockpot is fairly new and we haven’t had a single problem in the 5+ years we have been using it this way (even when we were using a hand-me-down from the 70s). All of these recipes go on low, hands off for 8-12 hours, and are quick to finish up after cooking.
- Coq Au Vin – This is a French favorite of ours that we have adapted to be super easy, no need for a recipe. Bacon and onions go in the bottom of the crockpot. Then chicken, spices (herbs de provence or poultry seasoning + rosemary), a bag of baby carrots (plus mushrooms if you like them) and a generous splash of red wine. The original dish is with duck, I think, but we use any chicken we have on hand. Even boneless skinless chicken is fine. If your meat has less fat, just add more liquid. We serve with quinoa. (Pictured with recipe link above)
- Pork Carnitas – Grab a pork butt or shoulder roast, cut off especially fatty parts, throw it in the crockpot. Just add the juice of a lime, garlic, salt and pepper. (Pictured with recipe link above, but really no need for a recipe). Use it to make burritto bowls like Chipotle. Freeze the leftovers to use again. We love to make stuffed sweet potatoes the second time. [GF/Paleo/Whole30]
- Beef Short Ribs – Onions on the bottom, ribs, then splash of wine. When you take out the ribs, you can thrown the juices in a frying pan to reduce into a gravy. We typically have potatoes and a fresh veggie with this. [GF, if omit wine for broth: Paleo/Whole30]
- Sausage and Peppers – Italian sausage and tons of peppers and onions, with some liquid (we typically pour a beer in there, IPAs are great). Get hoagie rolls for sandwiches, or serve with a grain. We also like to do tomatoes in the slow cooker, then serve with pasta. [can be GF/Paleo/Whole30]
Pasta/Spaghetti Squash dishes
Rather than making pasta, DJ & I enjoy spaghetti squash instead. If you are trying it for the first time, I would recommend making the spaghetti squash with regular spaghetti. Mix them together and serve with sauce as normal. That way you can get used to the taste and texture while still adding some extra veggies to your meal! There are many ways to prepare spaghetti squash, but our favorite is in the oven or on the grill.
- Oven – Cut the squash in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds, then brush butter or olive oil on the inside. Season with salt and pepper (plus any other desired spices). Put the squash on a cookie sheet facing cut side up at 400 for 45-60 minutes, until starting to brown.
- Grill – Prep is the same as baking. First put the squash cut side up on medium-high heat for 20 minutes. Then flip it face down for 5 to 10 minutes longer to brown. Once the squash is cooked, let it sit a few minutes to cool then shred with a fork and enjoy!
Here are some of our favorite meals with pasta or spaghetti squash:
- Meatballs (or meatloaf) and spaghetti squash over baby spinach – Make the meatballs ahead and freeze! [GF/Paleo/Whole30]
- Chicken picatta and spaghetti squash over arugula [can be GF/Paleo/Whole30 depending on how you bread chicken]
- Slow cooker Bolognese sauce with spaghetti squash – Save time by chopping/food processing the veggies ahead of time and freezing [GF/Paleo/Whole30]
- Shrimp diavolo with spaghetti squash and red pepper strips [GF/Paleo/Whole30]
Entree salad dinners
If you hate salads, you obviously just haven’t had good salads in the past! Salads are not just boring diet food, you can add in anything you want. Just deconstruct your favorite meal, put it on a bed of lettuce and you have yourself a delicious salad. We look forward to salad days, and in the summer they are especially great because we don’t heat up the house making them. If you’re packing up leftovers, put dressing on the bottom, then sturdier proteins and vegetables, then lettuce on the top. That way the lettuce won’t get soggy.
- Caprese salad – Chop up tomatoes, baby spinach, basil, red onion and chicken. Toss with some balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper. Add mozzarella.
- Chicken ceasar salad – Chicken, romaine, hard boiled egg, and parmesan. We also like to add kale or arugula sometimes. Making your own ceasar dressing is easy and much better than store bought, if you’re up for it. [GF, Paleo/Whole30 if omit cheese and make dairy-free dressing]
- Cobb salad – Iceberg, romaine, red onion, avocado, grape tomatoes, hard boiled egg, and chicken. Serve with blue cheese dressing on the side and some blue cheese crumbled on top. [GF, Paleo/Whole30 if omit cheese and use balsamic dressing]
- Taco salad – Credit to my mother in law for this favorite of ours. Ground beef, bell & jalapeno peppers, iceberg, avocado, onions, cheddar, salsa, and chips. Rather than dressing, we drizzle some hot sauce on the top. [GF, Paleo/Whole30 without chips & cheese]
- Italian chopped salad – Iceberg, romaine, cubed prosciutto, tomatoes, artichoke hearts, red onion, banana peppers, olives and parmesan. Enjoy this with some nice italian dressing.
- Asian salad – Spring mix, chopped cabbage, scallions, carrots, almonds or cashews, dried ramen noodle for crunch! Drizzle on some sesame vinagrette. [if omit ramen – GF/Paleo/Whole30]
- BLT salad – You guessed it, bacon, lettuce, and tomatoes! We add other vegetables like onions, carrots, and spinach since they are almost always on hand. You can even add a chilled pasta to this for some filler. A slice of avocado, some ranch/ceasar/blue cheese dressing and some cracked pepper should help personalize it nicely. [GF/Paleo/Whole30 depending on dressing or pasta]
Sandwiches for dinner
Since we’ve made the switch to a Paleo diet, we have experimented with what to replace bread with. After trying sweet potatoes, romaine, iceberg, and just going without, we found that iceberg wraps are our favorite. The lettuce holds together surprisingly well! The trick is to use big pieces. Regular old white bread or rolls are boring; I don’t miss them one bit. But I will admit that I definitely have to make an exception for some good sourdough once and a while! Sweet potato fries and chips are our favorite side to have with sandwiches, to sneak a few extra nutrients in over the standard white potato. If you’re trying to minimize dairy, avocado makes a great substitute for cheese.
- Lettuce wrapped burgers – Buy some ground beef and form your own patties before throwing them in the freezer! Much better tasting, healthier and cheaper. (Pictured above) [GF, Paleo/Whole30 if omit cheese]
- Chicken sandwiches – So many different options. Our favorites include chicken ceasar (romaine/kale, parmesan and ceasar dressing), buffalo chicken (hot sauce, celery and blue cheese), chicken cordon bleu (ham and swiss with spinach), chicken with pepperjack and bell peppers, chicken salad (Pictured with recipe link above), chicken pesto.
- “BALTs” – Bacon, avocado, lettuce and tomato is the best combo. We have converted to making our bacon in the oven, and it is so much better that way. Also in the winter, we roast the tomatoes rather than having them raw. Anything to heat up the house a little bit!
- Pulled Pork – Take a good size pork butt or shoulder and rub it down with a blend of spices. Paprika, cayenne pepper, dry mustard, white pepper, salt and black pepper are all good. You can let it sit over night or throw it right in the crock pot. To help keep the sugar content low, use apples as a natural sweetener by throwing them in the bottom of your pan with some chopped onion. After cooking on low 8-12 hours, this pulled pork is great stuffed into sweet potatoes with some BBQ or hot sauce. [GF/Paleo/Whole30]
What are your go-to dinners? We are always looking for more ideas! Thanks for reading!
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