A Guide to Healthy, Balanced No-Cook Meals
There are many reasons no-cook meals may be ideal for your current situation. Whether you have a busy schedule that doesn’t allow for much time to cook, you don’t have access to an oven or stove, or you simply want a little break from cooking, no-cook meals are a great option to meet your nutrient needs without spending hours in the kitchen.
A balanced diet should include a variety of foods from the following food groups: fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy, and protein. By incorporating a bit of each of those categories into your meals and snacks throughout the day, you can ensure a well-rounded diet for you and your loved ones. Here are some examples of foods from each of the five categories that can be enjoyed with minimal preparation.
Fruit is not usually cooked, so incorporating fruits into the diet shouldn't add much time to an already busy schedule! Here are a few on-the-go fruits that do not require any preparation (i.e., peeling or slicing) besides washing:
There are plenty of fresh vegetables that are easy to prepare and don’t require cooking. Several go well with a dip or dressing. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Bagged lettuce or kale
It is recommended that at least half of your grain intake comes from whole grains. Here are a few ideas of grains that can be used as a side, topping, part of a sandwich, part of a burrito, or on their own!
Pre-made rolls (whole wheat, potato, Hawaiian)
Breads (sourdough, focaccia, whole wheat)
Pre-made corn bread
Dairy products go well with many meals or on their own as a snack. Dairy products also contain some protein, fat and important nutrients like calcium and vitamin B12. Here are a few that are easy to incorporate into the diet:
Crumbled cheeses like feta and goat cheese
Pre-shredded cheeses like mozzarella and parmesan
Sliced or blocks of cheese like provolone and cheddar
When protein is paired with grains, fruits, and/or vegetables, it helps to keep us feeling fuller and satisfied longer than if we were to eat these food items without it. Here are some foods that are high in protein and don’t require cooking to prepare:
Canned fish like tuna, salmon and sardines
Precooked or rotisserie chicken
Beans like garbanzo beans, pinto beans, black beans
Nuts and nut butters
Now that we have some food ideas, here are a few examples of ways we can use them in balanced, no-cook meals! Feel free to change it up by swapping certain foods with others, or coming up with your own ideas using the lists above. You can make the meals more simple or more complex depending on your needs and preferences.
Kale smoothie: 1⁄2 cup milk, 2 tbsp peanut butter, 1 cup finely chopped kale, and one frozen banana mixed in a blender.
Yogurt parfait: 1 cup plain Greek yogurt, 1/4 cup granola, and a handful of your favorite berries. Add a sprinkle of cinnamon and drizzle of honey for extra sweetness!
Focaccia sandwich: 2 sandwich-sized slices of focaccia bread, romaine lettuce, smear of mayonnaise, 3-4 slices deli turkey, 2 slices provolone cheese and sliced red peppers on the side.
Chickpea salad: 1/2 cup chickpeas, 1 cup of chopped celery, grape tomatoes and red onion, and a sprinkle of crumbled goat cheese on top. Add a side of pita chips and hummus for dipping to make a well-rounded, balanced meal!
Burrito bowl: 1 cup precooked chicken, 1⁄2 cup canned corn, 2 tbsp black beans, 2 cups shredded romaine lettuce, sprinkle of shredded cheddar or Mexican blend cheese, green onion and canned green chiles as needed. Wrap in whole wheat tortilla and your burrito is complete!
Caesar Salmon Salad: 2 cups kale, 1 can salmon, tossed in a creamy Caesar salad dressing with a sprinkle of shaved parmesan cheese on top. Have leftover focaccia bread? Toast a slice or two to have on the side or cut it up into chunks to add as toasted croutons!
Here are a few easy snack combinations that will keep you going throughout the day:
Banana with peanut butter
Apple and string cheese
Baby carrots or pretzels with hummus
Broccoli with ranch dressing
Spinach salad topped with red onions, pears, strawberries, and feta cheese
Vanilla yogurt topped with granola
The great thing about these meals and snacks is that you can prepare them ahead of time if necessary. For example, you can store all the ingredients for the kale smoothie (except for the milk) in a bag in the fridge or freezer so it is ready blend when needed, or prep the chickpea salad in bulk and have it for several lunches. These are just some ideas to get you started. Get creative and find which combinations you like best!
Learn more about healthy eating and other wellness programs offered by Wellness Workdays.
Written By: Haiden Gonzales, Wellness Workdays Dietetic Intern