Out of dinner ideas? Try these healthy — and inexpensive — options

These nutritionist-approved ideas will save you time and money.
Midsection of man serving fresh salad for friend at dining table
Research suggests that people who prepare dinner at home consume fewer calories and unhealthy additives than those who regularly order takeout or dine out.Cavan Images / Getty Images
By Keri Glassman, R.D.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, most of us have spent more time at home this year than ever before, which also means we’ve been in our kitchens a lot more. The upshot of this is that an influx of home-cooked meals can result in a healthy shift in habits. In fact, research suggests that people who prepare dinner at home consume fewer calories and unhealthy additives than those who regularly order takeout or dine out. Plus, cooking at home is saving you money.

However, we’ve been home for almost six months now, and we're all getting tired of our go-to recipes. To help inspire you to get over your quarantine cooking fatigue, here are five easy ideas for making dinner a little easier and less expensive.

1. Create a plentiful platter

Do you have a packed pantry and a fridge full of tasty — but maybe random — items? A themed platter is a perfect way to use leftovers and make a festive meal. Add some nuts, olives, feta, crackers, tomatoes and artichoke hearts to your plate, and you’ve got a Mediterranean meal. You’ll get a mix of healthy fats, protein, and veggies with minimal effort. Lean into different flavors each week by rotating themes like Mexican or Italian.

2. Try breakfast for dinner

Who said eggs were only for brekkie? Eggs are an inexpensive, low-calorie option packed with protein, healthy fats and hard-to-find vitamins like B12 and K. Whip up a simple scramble, opt for a sandwich or bake a quiche using leftover veggies, meat and cheese. Try this zoodle recipe to creatively incorporate veggies. The options are endless, which will make the same ingredient feel new again at each meal.

3. Use a family meal kit

Need a day off? Let the prep be done for you with a meal kit. If you’re looking for new flavors to try, it’s a great way to mix up your typical menu. One meal kit that is great for the entire family is One Potato, which gives you organic, perfectly-portioned meals that the kids will enjoy too. The best part is, it can save you time — meals can be made within 30 minutes (thank you pre-chopped and pre-measured ingredients). Something to note, while meal kits are great, just be mindful of the cost if you’re looking to save on cash. One Potato is about $7.32 per serving, but others can be more pricey.

4. Make your own salad bar

Please a family full of picky eaters by adding some personalization to dinner. A make-your-own salad bar can help you clean out the fridge each week by using a variety of leftovers like brown rice, boiled eggs and berries. Get creative—add seasonal fruit like watermelon and cherries, healthy nuts for crunch or even make up a great “poke” bowl with seaweed flakes and tofu.

5. Heat up a frozen meal

It’s best to consume fresh, whole foods as a rule, but sometimes a premade meal is all you can handle. That’s OK... just be mindful of those you choose. Most frozen options contain upwards of 25% of your daily sodium allotment, so you want to make sure you’re reading labels. A basic rule is to choose a frozen meal that has less than 600 milligrams of sodium, under 500 calories and no more than 3 grams of saturated fat.

A few that are tasty and meet all the requirements: