Speedy solutions for healthy suppers

By: Aileen Brabazon Aug 11, 2010

Go, go, go! Here’s how to whip up nourishing meals when you’re starved for time.

By Aileen Brabazon

Drive-thrus have one thing going for them: They deliver dinner on the double. That’s very alluring for busy parents who have an empty fridge, hungry kids and little time to cook. While the food is fast, it’s far from healthy – a steady diet of fries, burgers and pop can lead to hefty health problems, including diabetes and obesity.

When you need a quick supper fix, head to your kitchen rather than the golden arches. It’s actually simple to prepare a nutritious meal in minutes.  Here are some tips to help you preserve time along with suggestions on what to make when you’re swamped.

Time-saving tips

  • Be a forward-thinker and doer. On the weekend, get prepared for the busy week ahead. Here’s what to do on Saturday or Sunday to ensure that suppers to come are fast, easy and healthy.
  • Map out a meal plan for the week and shop for the necessary ingredients. Be realistic and decide on dinners that require minimal time in the kitchen, such as the three that follow.
  • Make large batches of food, such as soups, burgers and casseroles, and freeze them in portions. (Try the delicious recipe at the end of this article.) Defrost meals in the fridge the night before you plan to have them for dinner.
  • Cook a whole grain, such as brown rice, quinoa or millet, and store it in the fridge for up to 4 days. “Leave it plain, so that you can top it with different things throughout the week,” says Marni Wasserman [www.marniwasserman.com], a Toronto-based natural personal chef and holistic nutritionist.
  • Chop vegetables for salads and stir-fries, and store them in sealed containers in the fridge.
  • •Stock your pantry. “Always have staple ingredients, such as beans and grains, and condiments so you can doctor food up quickly,” Wasserman says. Her favourite condiments include tamari, olive oil, vinegar (balsamic, red wine or apple cider), Dijon mustard, onions, garlic, fresh ginger, herbs and spices.

Three quick and healthy meal ideas

1. Simple stir-fries

Packed with vegetables and lean protein, stir-fries provide a lot of must-have nutrients. What’s more, they take less than 20 minutes to whip up, as long as the vegetables are pre-chopped. (If they’re not, add an extra 10 minutes to your kitchen time for veggie prep.)  For a complete and balanced meal, serve over a whole grain. If you don’t have pre-cooked brown rice or millet on hand, cook a batch of quinoa – it takes just 15 minutes to prepare, so it’ll be ready when the stir-fry is.

To make: In a large wok or frying pan, heat grapeseed oil over medium-high heat, instructs Wasserman. Add minced garlic and chopped onions, lean protein, such as chicken breast, salmon, tofu or beans, and flavourings like grated ginger, tamari or soy sauce and a drop or two of toasted sesame seed oil. Toss in heartier veggies of your choice, such as carrots and celery. Towards the end of cooking, include softer veggies like zucchini, green beans and bok choy. Cook until veggies are tender but still crispy, she says.

2. Perfect pasta salads

Noodles are fun to eat and they make a great base for hearty and refreshing summertime salads. To ensure your dinner is nutritious, choose pasta made from whole grains, such as whole wheat or brown rice. Prepare a big batch so you have plenty for lunch or dinner the next day.

To make: In a large mixing bowl, combine cooked pasta with heaps of pre-chopped veggies of your choice, such as carrots, radishes, spinach, tomatoes and cucumber. However, if you plan to keep your salad in the fridge for a day or two, reserve watery veggies like cucumber and tomatoes (they’ll make it soggy), adding them before eating, says Wasserman. Toss in legumes, such as chickpeas or white beans, crumbled feta or goat cheese, and cooked fish or chicken, if you wish. Finally, dress the salad. “Prepare a light vinaigrette with red wine vinegar, olive oil, Dijon mustard and some herbs,” she says.

3. Wonderful wraps

When you only have 5 minutes to spare, serve wraps. They’re almost instant – simply fill and wrap – and they’re very healthy if you pack whole wheat or brown rice wraps with lots of veggies. Enjoy them alone or with a tossed salad made with mixed greens and chopped vegetables.

To make: Pile wraps high with anything you like, including last night’s dinner. Here are some ingredients to consider: Spread on mashed avocado or a bean dip like hummus, says Wasserman. Add a cooked grain, such as quinoa, for extra texture and fibre. Try veggies like sprouts, grated carrots, baby spinach, arugula or leftover grilled veggies. Use goat cheese when you want more flavour and creaminess. For protein, go for tofu, chopped boiled eggs, tuna or a (defrosted) pre-made burger, such as the one that follows. 

Black bean veggie burger

Stock your freezer with these tasty burgers, which were created by Marni Wasserman. When you want them for dinner, defrost them, quickly reheat and serve them in a wrap, on a whole grain bun or on a salad.


  • 1 cup black beans, soaked overnight or 1 can Eden organic black beans
  • 1 cup sweet potatoes, shredded
  • 1/2 cup almond butter
  • 1/2 cup red onion
  • 1/4 cup spelt flour
  • 2 tablespoons tamari
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 tablespoon cumin


1. Rinse soaked beans, place in a pot with water (cover by 1-2inches). Bring water and beans to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for 1-11/2 hours. Remove from water and drain. Or rinse and drain can of organic black beans.

2. Place beans in a bowl and mash. Stir in remaining ingredients.

3. Scoop 1/3 cup of batter at a time to form burger patties.

4. Place burgers on a baking sheet (you may need two).

5. Bake in oven on 350 F for approximately 45 minutes.
*Recipe courtesy of Marni Wasserman

Aileen Brabazon is a freelance writer based in Toronto who's work has appeared in glow, Hello! Canada, Viva, Oxygen, Rouge and on homemakers.com. Her favourite things to write about are nutrition, alternative health and green living, which isn't a surprise considering she's also a certified holistic nutritionist. Between writing, helping clients improve their diets and wellbeing and teaching children with autism, Aileen loves to cook organic foods, hike in nature, volunteer at Evergreen Brick Works farmers' market, unwind with yoga and meditation and dance to Stevie Wonder and Al Green. You can reach Aileen at brabazon.nutrition@gmail.com.