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Need Help With Healthy Dinners

Hi guys. I'm new to the board and have a dilemma that I'm sure many of you also have been through. We have a six month old daughter and prior to her arrival we both were very much into exercising and diet. We don't seem to have time to get back into the gym right now as with our jobs and staying up late with baby we barely have energy to move. We need recipes for healthy meals that we can either make ahead and freeze or make quickly when we get home. I'm not opposed to healthy slow cooker recipes either. Any help would be appreciated as we need to get back on track and get back in shape. Thanks.

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  1. Soups are great. This is a favourite of ours and freezes well. It's low calorie and fairly inexpensive.

    I also like Italian bean based soups. They normally use broth not cream and the beans make them filling enough to not need bread alongside. I've also frozen and defrosted those.

    I've got a two year old and do understand your situation. The soups were what got us back into shape after too many takeaways because we didn't have the energy to cook.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Frizzle

      Lentil soup is a great idea. Thank you for the fast reply.

      1. re: Frizzle

        That lentil soup does look good, enough to make me stray from my usual favorite red lentil soup, which has ginger and chutney.
        One question, though: In the article, author mentioned dried mint, but I don't see it in the recipe. Do you add mint?

        1. re: almond tree

          I don't add mint to mine.
          I would love to hear your recipe too.

          1. re: Frizzle

            I use veg stock or water instead of chicken stock, and find that this soup is plenty flavorful as is. I also add a peach or 1/2 mango, chopped, instead of the chutney, because fresh fruit is much easier to find and cheaper where I live.
            It freezes well.

      2. What is "healthy" to you? Low calorie? Low carb? Low fat? Paleo?

        1 Reply
        1. re: weezieduzzit

          Basically anything that isn't loaded with sodium or fat. A good alternative to a frozen pizza or another night of tacos.

        2. I make a lot of kale salads, my stores have mixes already made up with a packet of dressing. All you need to do is have some protein with it. Nice thing about kale salads is they hold up to being dressed for a day. Or two. And you can stir fry them, when you are sick of eating them cold.

          Another good strategy is to buy pre cut veggies or pick up some at the salad bar of your store, and use those for a stir fry. Many stores also sell the meat already cut in strips for this purpose. We also do a lot of fajitas with the same veggies and meats. All you need is some rice for the stir fries, if you like. And some tortillas and beans for the fajitas. Best of luck with the new baby!

          5 Replies
          1. re: Dirtywextraolives

            2nd the kale salads. I make a batch of farro (boil and drain just like pasta, takes no time and all) and store the farro in an airtight container in the fridge. When I'm ready to eat, I just combine chopped kale with a few tablespoons of farro and toss with a dash of olive oil and apple cider vinegar. Sometimes a dash of Braggs. And you can add whatever you have on hand-I like shaved parmesan and sausage, but you could go with avocado, diced chicken, veggies, whatever. Kale also lasts a while in the fridge, so as long as you have a bag of that and the cooked farro in your fridge, half the work is done!

            1. re: schrutefarms

              Great idea to add farro, I'm going to try that, thanks!

              1. re: Dirtywextraolives

                Adds a nice density on what would be too light of a dinner to satisfy me normally!

              2. re: schrutefarms

                I add quinoa. Love, love, love Kale salads. Toss in some chopped nuts (walnuts, almonds, pine nuts, pecans) and some chopped egg whites and a little bit of currants and then I mix with a lemon honey vinaigrette. So good.

                Here is my favorite recipe that keeps well in the fridge. Especially if you don't toss in the salad until ready to eat:

                Kale Salad with Currants, Parmesan and Almonds

                Juice of 1/2 lemon or more to taste
                1/2 shallot, chopped
                11/2 teaspoons honey
                1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
                1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
                1 bunch kale, stems removed, leaves finely chopped
                8-10 ounces brussel sprouts, remove & discard ends, finely chop
                2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
                1/3 cup slivered almonds, or chopped raw almonds
                ΒΌ cup currants, or to taste
                2 1/2 ounces Parmesan, shaved with a peeler

                In a bowl, whisk juice, shallot, honey, salt and pepper flakes. Add kale & brussel sprouts; toss well. Let sit 20 minutes. Mix in oil. Refrigerate for up to 1 day, or serve immediately. Add almonds, currants and Parmesan to kale; serve.

                1. re: lynnlato

                  Wow, that sounds great! I will definitely be making that this summer!!

            2. How about frittatas? I like this one, though it requires the extra step of cooking the wild rice: http://www.eatingwell.com/recipes/mus...

              But there are a million out there: http://www.epicurious.com/tools/searc...

              Roast a chicken or two on the weekend. Shred some in 1-2 cup increments for the freezer. This one is foolproof--I don't even bother with trussing or the herbs or mustard: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo...

              We eat a lot of chili, too. This http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/el...

              or this: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/el...

              I like this in the crock pot for 10 hours to use for tacos, burritos etc. I make the rub in big batches ahead of time. I never bother making the sauce. I just use commercial BBQ sauce: http://homesicktexan.blogspot.com/201...

              Welcome to parenthood. I'm about a year or two ahead of you on this wild ride. I'd like to say it gets easier, but I think you just get better at adapting. Sleeping does get better, thank goodness!


              6 Replies
              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                I hope that your chili is Texas style...NO BEANS. Beans do not belong IN chili. Beans are to be served as a side dish.

                That being said, I have beans every morning for breakfast. Yes, BREAKFAST. My breakfast consists of something I concocted several years ago to lower my total cholesterol level, and it works. The total cholesterol dropped from over 250 to 111 in 3 months. My cardiologist could only say in a whisper "I'm amazed."

                Breakfast is called 'arrabbiato minestrone denso' (thick spicy soup) and consists of beans, lentils, split peas, aromatic vegetables, cabbage, barley, and of course, garlic and diced chiles (hot peppers).

                For some odd reason the Italians use the word 'arrabbiato' which means 'angry' to describe a very spicy comestible.

                Buon appetito!

                1. re: ChiliDude

                  Also, appliances can make your life a little easier. You can cook grains in the rice cooker. (Except that I haven't been happy with wild rice in the rice cooker, alas...)

                  And even beans in the slow cooker.


                  And of course, a coffee pot on timer.

                  I'm pretty sure my chili isn't Texas style. But, I doubt the sleep-deprived new daddy OP will notice or care. :)


                  1. re: The Dairy Queen

                    I forgot to mention that I too like 'le frittate' (plural in Italian). They are great for using leftovers as well as fresh ingredients.

                    1. re: The Dairy Queen

                      The new daddy appreciates any tips whatsoever. Even though I live on Texas I also add BEANS to my chili and its great. Don't let them tell you any different. Thank you for all of the help. Everyone has been overwhelmingly helpful with ideas and I've started some already.

                    2. re: ChiliDude

                      Could you please give recipe or approximate proportions for the soup?

                    3. re: The Dairy Queen

                      Here's a bunch of recipes for using leftover pork:



                      http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/me... (click on the thumbnails of the photos).

                      And if you google on "leftover chicken recipes" you'll get a million hits, here are a couple:




                    4. I happen to really like the minestrone recipe from Aida Mollenkamp right here on chow.com: http://www.chow.com/recipes/11482-min... I use canned beans, and at least one more can of tomatoes than the recipe calls for. When family members came home from the hospital with their first-born, this was their favorite dish, and they've already requested it for when their second child arrives in late June/early July.

                      It's not the fastest recipe, but it freezes really well. Going that route, I'd cook the pasta separately and add it to the thawed soup, otherwise the pasta might get overdone.

                      1. I see. Healthy meals with little time, right? Slow cooking meals usually store a bit better in the freezer than pan frying meals. For example, beef stew does not change its texture and favor by freezing and reheating.

                        Still, there are plenty tasty, simple and healthy pan fried dishes, such as pan fry green beans and blanched Chinese broccoli. Personally, I find this recipe very simple to do, tasty and fairly healthy. I know it refrigerate well, but I don't know if it will freeze well: Corn with Mustard Seed.


                        Keep your recipe simple is the key for healthy busy meals.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                          <blanched Chinese broccoli>

                          Opps, I must be sleepy last night. Blanch Chinese broccoli is not pan fried. It is blanched. That's all. In fact, I just microwave heated the leftover Chinese broccoli right now. :)

                        2. A vegetable lasagna is great for make ahead/freezer meals. Some recipes call for thinly sliced, layered zucchini instead of traditional lasagna noodle sheets. Others use the traditional lasagna sheets but add in diced zucchini, mushrooms, yellow squash, onions, etc. You can use low-fat cheeses if that appeals to you.

                          1. Also, here is a link to the blog Kalyn's Kitchen-- a healthy food blog-- and specifically to her slow cooker section. You might find this useful.

                            1. You may want to look at the approaches used by Robin Miller
                              who has you prep veggies, etc. in an hour on the weekend for use in meals during the week, and also cook / package extra meats and sauce the first meal, then provides mix-match recipes to make other meals later.

                              or Rachel Ray who had a long-running series featuring 30-minute meals starting with fresh ingredients.

                              1. Wow great ideas guys. Thany you so much for the ideas. You've motivated me to start back on the right path. Keep em coming.

                                1. I just shared this in another thread yesterday, but this Asian BBQ chicken is so quick and easy http://www.dinneralovestory.com/eatin...

                                  You can make the sauce ahead of time and keep in the fridge, and either grill or bake the chicken. Would work fine w/ breasts too. I served w/ rice and some green beans that I stir fried with some soy sauce and sriracha and sesame oil. If you do the sauce ahead, the night of cooking is pretty much the time it takes to do the rice since the chicken, especially grilling thin boneless skinless thighs cook really fast.

                                  1. BTW - carrying groceries up stairs counts as exercise, as does carrying laundry down to be washed & up to be folded. Picking up that baby daughter is "weight-lifting". Give yourselves credit for having the fitness & stamina for tackling the challenge of parenting.

                                    1. Tamar Adler's minestrone soup is easy and very healthy and good. You literally make it with whatever you have around and it always works. I often use vegetable stems (like kale and parlsey stems, fennel stalks, cauliflower cores, all chopped small). Recipe here:


                                      Note that for the first ingredient on the list, you do not need all those different vegetables, you just use whatever you have. Also the meat is completely optional, I never use it. I do use the parmesan rinds though.

                                      For the beans, you can use canned or make your own. I usually make them from dried -- combine beans with water, salt, a big glug of olive oil, a few garlic cloves, parsley stems, some peppercorns, whatever other aromatics you might have around -- or if you don't that's ok too -- then I use the beans and their broth for the soup.

                                      This sounds like a lot of effort but I do the beans one night and convert them to soup a day or two later ... it's actually very easy because there's not a lot of chopping or tending, and its one of the first meals I was able to put together with baby underfoot.

                                      Other meals I can endorse for your situation are:

                                      Roast chicken -- the recipe TDQ posted is good.

                                      Frittatas -- fast and healthy, pack them full of greens, I use Mark Bittman's recipe but with more greens, and I especially like it with swiss chard: http://www.today.com/id/9549014/t/spi...

                                      Marcella Hazan's tomato sauce, which is delicious and also the easiest sauce ever -- http://smittenkitchen.com/blog/2010/0...

                                      This Kale Quinoa pilaf -- http://food52.com/recipes/2434-one-po... -- I usually use regular lemon instead of meyer (and skip the zesting) and olive oil instead of walnut oil, I also sometimes sub out the nuts, cheese, or scallions depending on what I have on hand.

                                      1. Yesterday I found a website that suggests a healthy diet called the 'Cave Man Diet.' The reason for the search was to due to my body rebelling and causing old age pains. It is my opinion that tho the foods suggest to be ingested and those to be avoided would make my life dull.

                                        1. My suggestion is to take time once or twice a week to prep vegetables for easy weeknight cooking. When my kids were smaller, I usually did this SAT afternoon or early SUN morning using produce picked up at the farmers market or grocery store.

                                          Wash salad greens, dry, and wrap in a paper towel, then store in zip lock bags. Prep green beans, broccoli, carrots, etc. for easy steaming or stir frying during the week. You get the picture. Then even if dinner ends up being something less than ideal (frozen pizza anyone?), you'll be able to do a fast salad or veggie side about which you can feel virtuous.

                                          Extend the "prep ahead" philosophy to farro, rice, your grain of choice. You are then well-positioned to make a quick grain salad (farro, black beans, corn, cilantro, onion) or fried rice meal.

                                          4 Replies
                                          1. re: tcamp

                                            For those weeks when you're just really slammed and don't have time to run to the farmers market and/or do all that prep, it's also totally okay to buy pre-chopped and/or prewashed, or even frozen, produce. It's not the same, of course, but in a pinch it will do.

                                            Also, a grocery delivery service can be a big help if you have that option.

                                            These conveniences will eat into your budget, and perhaps your pride, but they might be nice to have in your back-pocket for when you're super overwhelmed.

                                            Tofu is great because it's healthful and shelf-stable. Here are my favorite super quick (some even no-cook) tofu recipes:

                                            Dunlop's silken tofu with avocado: recipe summarized in the OP to this thread: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8522...

                                            Berley's "Tofu with Lemon, Soy, White Wine and Butter"

                                            Chang's Cherry Tomato and Tofu salad: http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/20...

                                            Also, I like those chubs of pre-cooked polenta. Perhaps not very chowhound'ish, but good in a pinch. You can make something Italian'ish or Mexican'ish.

                                            We always have great intentions, but, then, the whole household (or even just baby or even just one parent) comes down with a nasty flu or something like that and suddenly all the good intentions fly out the window.


                                            1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                              Wow, I am so all over that cherry tomato and tofu salad (as soon as cherry tomatoes arrive at the FM that is). I know my kids will love this. Thanks, TDQ! I've tried the other two tofu recipes recommended above and can confirm they are good and easy. The Dunlop tofu avocado salad is especially brilliant and it's great for babies if you leave out the wasabi.

                                              1. re: Westminstress

                                                What's amazing to me, is that I have no problem wracking my brain to come up with these recipes and strategies in order to offer advice to someone else here on chowhound, but I have a hard time remembering my own advice when it comes to my own meal planning.

                                                I really need to remember this stuff when I'm desperate and exhausted. (Which I am today! Baby sick all weekend+lousy weather=cooped up all weekend with dishes and laundry piling up and germs everywhere!! I should just go home and do everything in this thread!)

                                                Also, the OP didn't really ask for breakfast recipes, but we are definitely coming up on smoothie season... Need more veggies? Have a green smoothie!

                                                And you can do steel cut oats overnight in the crock pot. My fav is with a can of pumpkin (to amp up your veggie intake), a little sweetener and pumpkin pie spice, http://allrecipes.com/recipe/slow-coo... but there are many variations. http://food52.com/recipes/3062-overni... (it freezes splendidly, btw).

                                                And, finally, with summer coming up, I love Jillian Michaels Breakfast in a Bowl http://www.food.com/recipe/breakfast-... (if you want individual portions) or the family-style version: http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/ch... It's infinitely flexible in terms of what dairy you want to use, etc. No nuts for baby of course...


                                                1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                  Yes, it's a lot harder in the heat of the moment! I find keeping a short "emergency list" on my phone helps -- I can look through it when the pressure's on and see if anything appeals.

                                          2. Do you like chicken sausage? I've found these are very versatile and its a very quick protein source. They are available in different flavors so no need to marinate or season.
                                            Last night we broiled Italian chicken sausages til the skin blistered a bit, covered in marinara sauce and mozzarella/Parmesan then put back under the broiler.
                                            Served with rice and it was enjoyed by all!

                                            They are also good chunked and skewered with veges on the grill (or under the broiler), or sauteed and tossed into pasta.

                                            1. I recommend batch cooking as I assume you are strapped for time as new parents. The day that you do the bulk of your food shopping, set aside time to make large amounts of whole grains, beans, and the weeks proteins (not cooked, just portioned and ready to go.) Some great low-fat, plant heavy meals include steam sauting with broth or water instead of oil, and using olive oil spray instead of coating veggies with oil. Low-fat cooking methods like poaching, roasting, steaming, and grilling are all great. Having fruits/veggies within reach, prepped and ready to go in clear containers in the fridge will make you more apt to reach for those instead of the ice cream or potato chips.

                                              1. Wow such great ideas!! I made a pot of red lentil soup and added some cut up chicken breast for extra protein and also added smoked paprika for flavor. Turned out great. Using it for lunches rest of the week as my job keeps me more than busy during the day. Tried the fiesta chicken recipe tonight and let me tell you it is awesome! Made some brown rice and by time wife got home with the baby dinner was served. She loved it too. Thanks again for everything. You guys rock!!