7-Day Dinner Plan: Quick 20-Minute Dinners

By: Katie Webster, EatingWell Recipe Contributor

Healthy shortcut ingredients you can feel good using help cut down on cook time for fast & easy dinners all week long.

Quick 20-Minute Dinners

Life is busy and sometimes, "What's for dinner?" is decided on your way home from work or as you stand in your kitchen poking through the pantry to see what you have on hand. Don't stress! You can still get a healthy dinner on the table quickly. In this 7-day dinner plan, we use shortcut ingredients, like precooked brown rice, jarred salsa and canned chickpeas, for fast and delicious dinners ready in about 20 minutes. To keep things healthy, we follow a simple formula for building a balanced meal:

  1. Choose a quick-cooking whole grain.
  2. Add in a healthy protein.
  3. Include plenty of veggies.
  4. Finish it all off with big, bold flavor elements.
     

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Sunday: Salmon Tacos with Pineapple Salsa

spicy salmon tacos with pineapple salsa

Salmon Tacos with Pineapple Salsa

Ready in: 20 minutes

An easy-to-make slaw made with bagged coleslaw mix is served on the side of broiled salmon tacos to create a fast and simple dinner. Pick up a jar of premade pineapple salsa from the grocery store for a quick taco topper. If you prefer more heat in these fish tacos, simply add a pinch or two of chipotle chile powder or cayenne or top with your favorite hot sauce.

Monday: Vegan Coconut Chickpea Curry

vegan chickpea coconut curry

 Vegan Coconut Chickpea Curry

Ready in: 20 minutes

To make this 20-minute vegan curry even faster, buy precut veggies from the salad bar at the grocery store. Serve the curry over cooked brown rice to create a satisfying dinner. When shopping for simmer sauce, look for one with 400 mg of sodium or less, and check the ingredient list for cream or fish sauce if you want to keep this vegan. If you like a spicy kick, add a few dashes of your favorite hot sauce at the end.

Tuesday: Quick Shrimp Puttanesca

shrimp puttanesca

Quick Shrimp Puttanesca

Ready in: 15 minutes

Refrigerated fresh pasta cooks much faster than dried pasta—use it in this recipe to get this Italian pasta dish on the table in a quick 15 minutes! Puttanesca, traditionally made with tomatoes, olives, capers, anchovies and garlic, gets a makeover with shrimp for extra protein and artichoke hearts to boost the vegetable servings (and the fiber!). If you can't find frozen artichoke hearts, sub in drained canned artichoke hearts.

Wednesday: Warm Chicken Salad with Peas & Polenta

spring chicken with peas polenta and pesto

Warm Chicken Salad with Peas & Polenta

Ready in: 15 minutes

Typical kid-friendly fare gets a zap of fresh flavor from pesto in this easy 15-minute dinner. Make a quick creamy chicken salad with Greek yogurt, jarred pesto and peas and serve over pan-fried polenta. To round out the meal, serve with a salad of greens and balsamic vinaigrette for a healthy dinner the whole family will love.

Thursday: Spanakopita Scrambled Egg Pitas

spanakopita scrambled eggs in pita pockets

Spanakopita Scrambled Egg Pitas

Ready in: 15 minutes

This meatless dinner comes together in only 15 minutes, thanks to the convenience of frozen chopped spinach and crumbled feta. We added a flavorful boost with sun-dried tomato tapenade to spread over the whole-wheat pita before nestling the scrambled eggs inside. If you can't find it, basil pesto or sun-dried tomato pesto will also work well.

Friday: Beef Pad Thai

beef pad thai

Beef Pad Thai

Ready in: 20 minutes

We've bulked up the serving size of beef pad thai by adding in lots of healthy veggies like matchstick carrots, snap peas and scallions. Look for quick-cooking whole-grain brown rice noodles and bottled pad thai sauce, which helps make this recipe come together super-fast. When shopping for a pad thai sauce, compare labels and choose the option with the lowest sodium per serving.

Saturday: Honey-Mustard Chicken with Couscous & Carrots

honey mustard chicken tenders with couscous and orange butter carrots

Honey-Mustard Chicken Tenders with Couscous & Carrots

Ready in: 25 minutes

Thanks to the quick-cooking power of chicken tenders and bottled honey mustard, this chicken dinner comes together fast and easily for a family-friendly weeknight meal. The baby carrots are cooked in a simple orange-juice-and-butter sauce which is lovely drizzled over the chicken and couscous.

 

Tips for Healthier 20-Minute Dinners

1. Take Advantage of Convenience Ingredients—But Always Check the Labels!

Most of the time, we tell you to keep your shopping list focused on the ingredients that can be found along the perimeter of the grocery store—namely, the produce department, meat and seafood counters and dairy section. But that doesn't mean shopping in the other aisles of the store is off-limits. There are plenty of healthy convenience items you can rely on to help get dinner on the table quicker. Think pesto, simmer sauce and pineapple salsa—just be sure to take a peek at the ingredient lists and nutrition labels. You'll want to compare products and go for those with less sodium and simpler ingredients (ideally, ones you can recognize and pronounce).

2. Read the Recipe from Start to Finish Before You Begin

Read the recipe all the way through, get out the ingredients you'll need and then start cooking. A lot of time can be saved in the long run if you familiarize yourself with the recipe first and have all your ingredients easily accessible. Chances are you'll have two pots or pans going at once to speed things up, and knowing the recipe flow means you won't need to stop after each step to go back and read the recipe or gather ingredients from the fridge.

3. Create New Meals with The Same Formula

Following a formula (like we did with the recipes in this meal plan) makes it easy create a healthy meal every time. For each serving, you'll want about 1/2 cup of cooked whole grains, 1 or more cups of vegetables, 3 to 4 ounces of protein, and enough of the added flavorful boosters to make the recipe taste great without going overboard on calories or sodium. Follow the serving-size suggestions on packaged convenience items like sauces, dressings and other condiments and, from there, get creative in how you fill out your meal and add flavor (think fresh or dried herbs and spices).

 

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