On The Table

A collection of knowledge-based articles to inspire overall wellness.

What to Cook When You Don't Feel Like Cooking: Healthy Edition

Don’t stress over cooking! Instead, look to these ideas for inspiration without losing sight of health goals.

What to Cook When You Don't Feel Like Cooking: Healthy Edition

Hmmm... What meal to make...?

Everyone has been there—whether at the end of the day, during a busy one, or simply wanting to enjoy life but still needing nourishment—when cooking alternatives sound most appealing. Instead of cooking, these healthy food alternatives and cooking substitutions make healthy eating easier. They provide quick, nutritious options without compromising on taste or quality.

Read on for 29 cooking substitutions that cut down time spent in the kitchen.

What To Do When You Don't Feel Like Cooking

Home-cooked meals provide a sense of comfort. However, no-cook meals can be even better. Instead of fretting over what to serve for dinner, use these cooking alternatives to find healthy food for one or for the entire family. 

Whether on the road or trying to save time, there are many options for making nutritious meals that do not involve cooking.

Stock Smart Convenience Foods

Not all convenience foods are created equal. Look for nutritious choices and choose foods with few ingredients when possible. Experts recommend avoiding excessive calories, fat, salt, sugar, and unnecessary additives. 

Healthy meals can include quick foods, for example: 

• Microwaveable grains (i.e. brown rice, quinoa)
• Canned pulses (i.e. lentils, chickpeas)
• Ready-made salad kits
• Pre-cut vegetables (frozen, fresh, or canned)
• Bake-in-the-bag fish or vegetables
• Vegetable soups (low-salt and non-cream-based varieties)

Pre-made and convenient options can be nutritious. However, it is wise to examine the food label closely for nutrition content. Particularly, check the nutritional value and look closely for levels of salt, fat, and sugar. 

Order Subscription Services

For those with a busy schedule but a desire to eat well, subscription services—like bistroMD—might be a perfect fit. With different pricing and packages to fit unique needs, most meal plans can be customized. Tasty options often arrive with next to no preparation before enjoying. 

Prep Snack Platters

A weeknight meal does not always have to appear traditional! Snack platters can be fun and filling! Try the following options for a wholesome, healthy array of foods: 

• Fresh fruit
• Pre-cut vegetables and hummus/bean dip
• Unsalted nuts
• Unsweetened dried fruit
• Low-sugar granola or cereal bar
• Low-fat, low-sugar yogurt 

Blend Smoothie Kits

Especially great for sick or quick days, smoothie kits make meals easier. On the go and easy to transport, smoothies make for a digestible meal plan. 

Options such as Daily Harvest provide pre-made smoothie kits with nutritious ingredients. 

Batch or Bulk Cook

Instead of laboring in the kitchen day in and day out, choose one day a week to do the cooking. This can save time, money, and make busy schedules a lot more manageable. 

Great options for batch cooking include: 

• Soups
• Stews
• Chilis 
• Casseroles 

Try Grocery Delivery

Sometimes, half the battle is just getting out of the house in the first place. Instead of braving the supermarket during peak shopping hours, have groceries delivered. Another option is to purchase non-perishable foods online.

Use Non-Fresh Options

Not everything has to be fresh to make an enticing and nutritious meal. Try using frozen, canned, or jarred foods as ingredients such as:

• Frozen fruit
• Frozen vegetables
• Canned beans
• Jarred peppers, olives, tomatoes, or mushrooms
• Hummus or vegan dressings

Healthy Food Alternatives for Less Time in the Kitchen

When making healthy meals, many people discover that the cooking method they use plays a big role in their enjoyment in the kitchen. Cutting down on time in the kitchen while also making healthy meal choices leaves more time for leisure. 

Try these quicker cooking methods to spend less time cooking!

One Pan Meals 

Just as the name suggests, one pan meals (also called sheet pan dinners) mean that all the meal components fit neatly on one pan! Instead of cooking each piece separately, these meals cook all components simultaneously.

One pan meals are an easy way to eat healthier while also saving time. 


Stir fry is a popular method of cooking featured in Asian cuisine. Instead of ordering takeout, create healthy frozen vegetable medleys to be used as a last-minute, easy dinner recipe. 

Simply toss the veggies, add protein if desired (i.e. chicken, lean cut of beef), and enjoy with rice or another grain of choice. 

One-Pot Pasta 

Most people think of macaroni and cheese as the only quick and easy pasta meal. One-Pot pasta recipes, like penne and vegan alfredo, take under 20 minutes and only dirty one pan.

Make a meal more nutrient-rich by using whole wheat, legume, or vegetable-based pasta. 

Skillet Dinners

Quick to heat means quick to eat! Cast-iron skillets heat up quickly, making them great for bakes, casseroles, penne pasta, and beyond. 

Plus, cooking with a cast iron means extra iron is added to the meal. 

Transform Leftovers (Challenge!)

Add an element of competition to the kitchen by livening up leftovers. Even a small leftover serving can be turned into an appealing meal or amazing appetizer. 

A new favorite meal may even be created using this exciting method!


Eggs are versatile and contain many essential nutrients. From omelets to quiche to an easy scramble, the possibilities are endless. Crack the mealtime madness by using eggs in a new and creative way. 

Baked Potatoes

From Idaho to sweet potatoes, microwave-baked potatoes are a meal that is ready in minutes. Load it up with nutritious toppings such as sliced grilled chicken breast or black beans and any veggies.

Also, opt for low-fat cheese or fat-free sour cream to lower grams of fat and overall calories. 


Tacos can make a great last-minute meal. Stores often sell pre-cooked and pre-cut meat or veggies. Another option is to meal prep ahead of time and then pre-heat taco ingredients easily using the microwave. 


Mason jar meals and salad kits make for an easy lunch or weeknight dinner. Assembled in less than 10 minutes, most salads have a great variety of ingredients that help meet daily nutrient needs. 

Add a Side of Slaw

Easy to make and simple to season, healthy cabbage slaw is an incredible companion to almost any dish. Purple cabbage and apple slaw adds a fun pop of color as a side dish. Greek yogurt slaw is another protein-packed option, which makes for a great lunch dish. 


A salmon and kale wrap, for example, uses ingredients that taste great hot or cold. Wholesome wraps are quite refreshing and can make meals on the go much easier.

BBQ pulled pork crepes are another option similar to wraps that can utilize leftover pulled pork. 


A quick fix for fresh ingredients, salsa can add a side of nutrients to many dishes. Think outside the box to liven up wraps, microwave meals, and more. Peach, mango, or fruit salsa can add a fun, sweet twist. 

Rotisserie Chicken

Inexpensive and easy to utilize, snag a pre-made rotisserie chicken at the store. It tastes great the day of purchase and can be added to new meals throughout the week.

Rotisserie chicken also provides an element of protein to wraps, salads, chicken dinners, and much more. 


Protein-packed and easy to customize, hummus is a superstar side and dish. Dessert hummus complements sweet dishes, while savory flavors, like roasted red pepper, taste great with whole-grain toast. 

Breakfast for Dinner

Preparing breakfast for dinner can be a great way to add some excitement to the evening meal. Breakfast items are often designed with quick preparation times in mind.

Having breakfast for dinner is also a great opportunity to try more savory-style morning meals

Slow Cooker or Instant Pot 

Chilis and soups can be prepared and then left to cook while other activities are accomplished. Crock-pot-ready services, such as Real Food Ready, are on the rise as well. Everyone loves "set-it-and-forget-it" satisfying Crock-Pot meals

Vegetable Sushi Rolls

Rolls filled with sprouts, carrots, zucchini, bell pepper, and avocado slices are surprisingly filling. Add a twist to the traditional roll by using riced cauliflower instead of sushi rice. For a heart-healthy addition, add asian tuna steak to the meal.

A Fridge Feast

It is okay if everyone wants something different for dinner. However, there is no need to cook a separate dish for everyone.

Instead, empty out the fridge and let each person pick and choose the items they want to eat and call it a "fridge feast"! 


Delicious and nutritious, parfaits are a refreshing treat. They are also filling, with layers of fruit, dairy, and even protein-packed granola.

While traditionally thought of as breakfast food, parfait can really be enjoyed at any time of day!

Sandwiches and Quesadillas

Between two tortillas or slices of bread, throw a medley of vegetables and protein. It is hard to mess up a sandwich or quesadilla when sticking to staple ingredients like ham and cheese or chicken and cheese.

Winning combinations like peanut butter and jelly are also hard to beat.

Boxed Meals

Pre-made options have become much more nutritious over the years. Especially for children, check the ingredients list and avoid added sugars.

Supplement a pre-made meal with sides like fresh berries or sliced bananas prepared at home. 

In Conclusion on Cooking Alternatives

A home-cooked meal tastes great, but a no-cook meal can be even better. Save time, money, and sanity with 29 stress-free cooking substitutes. 

Healthy and nutritious meals, such as mason jar salads and one-pot pasta, can be made in minutes!


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