This may have happened to you before (it has to me): It’s the end of long day, you’re tired and you walk to the fridge to see what’s for dinner. You’ve got a few random things, but no idea what to do with them. Too drained to think about what to make, you turn to that lone frozen meal tucked in the back of the freezer or dial-up your favorite Thai place.

While there’s nothing wrong with that frozen meal or your favorite Thai place, week after week this can add up and affect your health (and your wallet). With a little bit of planning each week, you can make sure you’ve got enough for at least one meal that, depending on how many people you cook for, serves you for a few meals after as well.

In times of “Oh my God I’m too tired to think,” it’s good to have a few meals in your back pocket that are flexible enough to swap out a few ingredients based on what you have on hand, and still make a great meal.

A big key to this is constantly stocking your pantry and fridge to have some basic essentials on-hand. This makes it so much easier to throw a healthy meal together at the last minute.

To make sure your pantry is stocked with the essentials, you’ll probably want to go grocery shopping once a week. I usually do this on a Sunday to get me prepared for the rest of the week. Pick a day that works for you. Carve out between 10-30 minutes to figure out what you’re cooking that week, and from there make your shopping list.

My list is made up of the ingredients I need to make my weekly meals, some snacks, and restocking pantry essentials. Pantry essentials are the fresh and shelf-stable foods I keep stocked at all times. If for any reason, I don’t have time to make the dish I originally planned, things changed or maybe I wasn’t able to make it to the market that week, I’ll always have staples that can be made into a nourishing and healthy meal or two.

My pantry essentials include garlic, carrots, greens (depending on my mood, this could be kale, spinach, swiss chard, or what’s seasonal at the time), a grain (for me rice and quinoa), canned organic tomatoes, eggs, dried or canned beans, and occasionally a few cans of high quality tuna or sardines.

While your pantry essentials will look different than mine (based on any dietary restrictions and what you like to eat), I would encourage you to keep a few things in mind.

First, make sure you’ve got vegetables in your essentials. These will be good for your body and keep your energy up. Choose vegetables and a green that you could use in a lot of different ways so you can get the most use out of it. If you eat grains consistently, I would suggest keeping that handy because that can add some fiber to a meal. Keep a few different kinds of protein on hand (beans, eggs, tempeh, or fish) so you can have some variety.

Now that you’ve got some essentials, what do you make? If you don’t have your own back pocket recipes yet, start with something simple. I’m a big fan of quinoa salads. They have endless flavor combinations and are flexible enough to adapt to any seasoning or cuisine style.

Quinoa salads are easy to put together. Cook the foods you want and toss it with some cooked quinoa and there you go, quinoa salad. They’re also high in protein from the quinoa, and, depending on what you add, can have a lot of great nutrients your body needs.

Here’s a quick equation that helps me to make most of my quinoa salads:
Quinoa + Sauteed Greens + Roasted Vegetable + Protein (Beans/Tempeh/Meat)

This structure helps me figure out what to buy and gives me room to play. I can change out the greens, roast a seasonal vegetable that I love, and switch proteins pretty easily. The recipe I’m giving you is a great starting place. Feel free to make it your own. Don’t like black beans but love chickpeas? Swap it out. Prefer some roasted carrots or brussels sprouts instead of broccoli? Go for it. Turn this into a go-to meal you love.

I make a pretty large quantity because I love leftovers and I also have a pretty ravenous boyfriend. Adjust the portion size to work for you and the people you feed. I eat this as a meal as is, and I also top this salad with a fried egg or half of an avocado. I also use it as a side dish with roasted chicken or soup as well.


Roasted Broccoli, Kale and Black Bean Quinoa Salad
Serves 4-6 as main dish 

  • ½ cup dry quinoa, rinsed and drained
  • ½ bunch of kale, ribs removed and cut into bite-sized strips
  • 2-3 medium-sized bunches of broccoli, stalks removed and cut into florets
  • 1 15 oz can of black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 2-3 tsp paprika
  • 2 tsp chili powder, cayenne or chipotle (depending on heat preference)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Olive oil for sauteing and roasting
  • Juice from half a lemon

Preheat oven to 425.

Prepare quinoa in rice cooker or on the stovetop per the packaging’s instructions.

Arrange the broccoli florets on a baking sheet in one layer. Sprinkle salt and pepper and lightly drizzle olive oil over them. Roast for 20-25 minutes or until fork tender.

In a sauté pan, bring 1-2 tsp of olive to medium heat. Add kale and sauté for 5-10 minutes, until the kale is wilted. Add black beans to the pan and cook for 2-3 minutes or until heated through. Move kale and beans to a large mixing bowl.

Add the roasted broccoli and warm quinoa to the bowl and stir to combine. Add the paprika, your choice of chili powder and lemon juice. Taste and add salt and pepper and more of any seasoning until it tastes good to you.

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Do you have a great back pocket recipe ready for whatever life throws your way? I’m sure you have a few you love! Share them in the comments below!


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