I'm a Dietitian & These Are My Favorite Time-Saving Instant Pot Dinners
Welcome to Thrifty. A weekly column where assistant nutrition editor and registered dietitian, Jessica Ball, keeps it real on how to grocery shop on a budget, make healthy meals for one or two, and make earth-friendly choices without overhauling your entire life.
If you know me, you are probably well-aware that I am highly skeptical of trendy food gadgets or diets. I partially blame this on being a dietitian. The more you know, the more you realize there are no "quick fixes" or "hacks" that are more beneficial or realistic than a balanced, consistent healthy eating pattern. When Instant Pots became all the rage, I had my doubts. Could it really be that much better than a slow cooker? Is it actually safe and easy to use? I found myself vividly flashing back to my college cooking lab where we used old school pressure cookers for the first time without all of the modern safety features. Talk about an intense hour.
I had roommates and colleagues rave about their Instant Pots, but never felt the urge to try one myself. That is, until my friend was moving and gave me their brand new Instant Pot, free of charge. I decided to give it a shot and quickly became a believer. It is fast, fool-proof and great for nights when I need something simple, flavorful and fast. As a bonus, budget-friendly ingredients like grains, dried beans and chicken become tender and delicious in a fraction of the time of the stove or slow cooker. Not to mention, the Instant Pot is incredibly versatile. Here are my favorite time-saving dinners to make in my Instant Pot. If you don't already have one, this is the instant pot I use plus a more affordable option:
I love making risotto, but it can be seriously fussy to make on the stove. Since it requires so much stirring, it is hard to multitask or leave the kitchen while it's cooking. Now I turn to the Instant Pot to do the work for me. I love this Instant Pot Butternut Squash Risotto recipe for nights when I want a plant-based comforting main with minimal active time. The butternut squash adds a sweet, earthy flavor and a serving of vegetables to make it more nutritious and filling. Serve it with a lean protein like chicken or salmon for a protein boost. Oh, and did I mention that it saves me 30 minutes of active time compared to risotto on a stovetop?
White Chicken Chili is an Instant Pot all-star, and that is for good reason. The pressure cooker function allows meats to become tender and shreddable in minutes, compared to hours in the slow cooker. It also prevents meats from getting dry and overcooked, like they sometimes can get on the stove. This recipe takes only an astonishing 15 minutes of active time, and leaves you with freezer packs to save for dinner in a pinch. It is ready over an hour sooner than a comparable White Chicken Chili recipe in the slow cooker. Plus, this recipe makes the most of nutritious, affordable foods like beans, frozen corn and chicken breast. It packs on veggies for a flavorful, balanced main.
The Instant Pot isn't just for stews or grain dishes; the stuffed pepper recipe is proof that it can work well for other mixed dishes, too. Pantry staples like quick cooking rice and tomato sauce work with budget-friendly ingredients like ground beef to create a quick, nutritious meal that is easy on your wallet. It is ready 15 minutes faster than a standard stuffed pepper recipe, and you only have one pot to clean from the Instant Pot. Not only does serving dinner in a pepper look and taste great, but also it is a fun way to up your veggie intake for the day.
I love lentils. So much so that at one point, I wrote an ode to them because I truly feel that they are the broke cook's best friend. They are packed with nutrition, shelf stable, affordable and incredibly versatile. The one downside is that they can take a while to cook… but not in the Instant Pot! This Instant Pot Lentil Soup takes only 10 minutes of active time and is on the table in 40 minutes. This is nearly half of the time that it would take to make our Vegan Mediterranean Lentil Soup (which is another recipe I love when I have more time). Protein-packed lentils are paired with root vegetables, greens and herbs for a soup as healthy as it is delicious. If that wasn't enough of a selling point, this soup freezes well and makes excellent lunch leftovers at home or on-the-go.
Sometimes, you just need a comforting bowl of mac and cheese to cap off a long day. But making mac and cheese from scratch can get messy and complicated (looking at you, homemade roux). Lucky for us, this Instant Pot version comes together in 30 minutes with only 15 minutes of active time total. That is a whopping one third of the time that a classic baked Mac and Cheese recipe typically takes. This recipe opts for whole grain noodles and adds frozen broccoli for a budget-friendly fiber and nutrition boost, too. As an added bonus, it only leaves you with one pot to wash so cleanup is a breeze.
I don't always turn to my Instant Pot to make dinner, but it is definitely my go-to appliance for nights when I'm short on time. It cooks grains, means, soups and vegetables in a fraction of the time of the stove or oven and only leaves you with one dish to clean. Aside from full meals, the Instant Pot is a great shortcut for making meal prep classics like brown rice, chicken breast and beans. They are ready in a fraction of the time without sparing any flavor. I had my doubts about Instant Pots before I tried one, but now I can confirm that it is definitely worth a spot on your shelf. These recipes help save me time and allow me to make the most of budget-friendly ingredients.
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