My Top 3 Go-To Quick + Healthy Meals For Busy Week Nights

February 17th, 2015 - filed under: The Food » Recipes

grad school

This is me in grad school, basically.

Ahhh, graduate school. So far you have managed to live up to every terrifying horror story, every silly cliche, every comedic profundity. You have squashed my fragile ego, spat on my starry-eyed aspirations, and laughed at me when I’ve stubbed my toes. And I’ve stubbed many toes. But mostly, grad school, you have been an insatiable-like-cookie-monster black hole of time suckage that has caused me to have to basically completely restructure my life.

Yes, between the kiddo, grad school, and Jeremy’s new business, we’re pretty busy ’round these parts. And you know what? I’m willing to bet that you’re pretty busy too. Because I mean really, who isn’t?

But if you’re like me, eating healthfully is incredibly important to you, no matter how busy you are. This is something I ran into time and again when I was working with my clients: trying to balance eating healthy with cooking quickly. And so today, I’m going to share my top 3 go-to busy weeknight meals. These are client tested and client approved, but they’re also just what genuinely works for me. I eat some version of *each* of these meals pretty much every week. These are my week night standards. And they are quick and they are healthy and most of all – they are delicious.

Eating like this is just a matter of changing a few habits. That’s all! A little mindful shifting, and a little bit of planning.

For example, I always tell clients to grocery shop on the weekend so that they start the week off right, fully stocked. And I recommend that they make a big vat of grain (quinoa, wild rice, etc) and a few fun sauces on Sunday evening (or whenever is convenient for them), so that those are already good to go come cooking time. And I’ve found that truly, if they can just do that, then they are well on their way to eating real, wholesome, nourishing food for dinner every night.

Alright, so here’s my top 3 template meals:

bean green grain bowl

1) Bean / Green / Grain Bowl

I’m sure this isn’t news to you, as “hippie bowls” have been floating around the blogosphere for ages. And yet, it always surprises me to hear from clients that they’re just not making them.

YOU GUYS!! Bowls are the best. Like, the actual best. They are hearty and warm and comforting and endlessly customizable. This is where your big vat of grain comes in, and it make it so easy when you’ve got it all pre-cooked and hanging out in the fridge already. A scoop of grain (quinoa, wild or brown rice, millet, barley, whatever you like) – heated up of course. Then a scoop of a legume, like black or white beans, pre-cooked lentils (available at Trader Joe’s and most health food stores – I LIVE ON THESE), lima beans, etc – again heated of course. And finally, the only real cooking portion of the meal, some sort of steamed green. I like broccoli, brussels sprouts, and swiss chard the best, but many people are fond of good ol’ kale.

My most frequent and most favorite combo is white quinoa, brown lentils, and steamed rainbow chard.

And in case you’re thinking that it all sounds rather bland and boring, well you’re forgetting about the sauce! A divine, delectable, finger-lickin’ fine sauce to tie it all together. My absolute favorite for bowls is my old stand-by, the raw tahini sauce that done stoled my heart. It just never gets old.

But sometimes I like to mix it up, and I always want to give my clients lots of yummy options. So, other saucy stars include hummus (thinned out with a little water or stock), pesto or chimichurri or green herb dressing if you’re feeling like something herbaceous, butternut alfredo sauce if you’re wanting something rich, or piquant cilantro peanut sauce for a bit of Asian fusion. YUM.

And I don’t usually stop there. If you’re like me and you love some healthy fat, you’ve gotta top your bowl with some healthy, heavenly avocado.

Plus kimchi or sauerkraut or pickled veggies.

Plus a sprinkling of green onions.

Okay, NOW I’m done.

sesame noodle bowl

2) Spicy Sesame Noodle Bowl

This is another bowl type of meal, but this one features ramen or soba noodles tossed in a bit of toasted sesame oil, then topped with tofu and steamed broccoli, seasoned with tamari or soy sauce, and finished with sriracha. Because sriracha.

It’s all incredibly simple, but completely delicious. And it takes as long to prepare as it takes to boil noodles and steam broccoli. So like – under 10 minutes right? I often just steam the tofu as well, and I really love it this way. But if you’re feeling creative and have a little extra time, you can also do what I did in the picture above, which is tofu tossed in tamari/soy sauce, nutritional yeast, and garlic powder, then browned in a cast iron skillet (obviously you don’t have to use cast iron, but it’s my cooking vessel of choice) until crispy on all sides.

This is one of Jeremy’s favorite meals, and it’s really grown on me as well.

You can use any noodles you like, but our faves are these gluten-free jade pearl rice ramen noodles and these totally gluten free buckwheat soba noodles (both organic!)

Also, you can find healthier, organic sriracha at health food stores and online. Or, you can make your own raw fermented sriracha at home. (No but seriously, you should make that recipe – it is amazing)

high protein pasta

3) High-Protein Pasta With Steamed Greens

3-ingredient meal, y’all. Thanks goodness for high-protein pasta!

Vegan high-protein pastas are made from any number of legumes (black beans, chickpeas, etc), and usually just have two ingredients: dried legume + water. They are amazingly unprocessed and insanely convenient, because they function both as a “filler” and also as the protein. All you need to do is add sauce (an organic marinara for me, please) and a side of steamed greens, and you’re good to go. It could hardly be any easier.

And high-protein pastas aren’t messing around when they say “high protein.” For example, a serving of tofu typically runs you about 10 grams of protein. A serving of your average high-protein pasta? 21 grams. TWENTY ONE GRAMS YOU GUYS.

I’m telling you, this is good stuff. It’ll fill you up for reals.

But beware! There are a growing number of alternative pastas on the market, and you can’t just look at the front of the box and make assumptions about the nutritional stats. You have to really look at the back of the box. For example, you’d think that “quinoa pasta” would be made out of quinoa, and would be pretty high in protein, right? But no, most “quinoa pasta” is actually composed primarily of corn, and incredibly low in protein. So make sure you read those labels!

My two top protein pastas are these mung bean fettuccine and these red lentil rotini. And remember, high-protein pasta runs pretty pricey, but it’s also a just-add-sauce situation. It balances out in the end!


Alright my dears, now I want to hear from you guys. What are your super quick and easy – but healthy – week night go-tos? Please share! I’m always looking for new ideas for me – and hopefully in the future, after grad school – for my clients. So let us know in the comments below!


  • Rachel in Veganland

    Love these meal ideas, Sayward! And yes, all of those things you said about grad school are totally true. Especially the black hole of time deal. Whew. It’s a pretty insane process. I just used some of that fettucine the other week with a creamy “mac” sauce. I also do a “hippie bowl” several nights a week as I’m often at work until around 9 pm several nights. Food prep on Sundays, meals for the rest of the days. Love the soba idea. That’a quick fix I’ll definitely have to try soon. I often prep a casserole on Sundays and stick it in the fridge until Tuesday evenings. Then it’s as simple as turning on the oven and popping it in. (How i used my mung fettucine last week actually!) Thanks as always for the fantastic inspiration!

  • WookieWifey

    I want all of these in my face. *-*

  • Sarah C.

    Thanks for these. I’m just swimming out of the swamp of a major writing deadline, only to realize that I haven’t cooked a proper meal for my family in ages (the hubs has done, but it’s my turn to step up). But then I sat and thought “what is a meal made of, anyway?” (I’m telling you, swamp–the algae got into my brain). So this is perfectly timed reminders.

    Thanks too for the link to the all-buckwheat soba. I can’t find them in any stores where I am, and it bums me out. Ordering now.

    We LOVE the bean pastas, especially the black bean spaghetti and the mung bean fettucine. Not only are they easy and high protein, but they are DELICIOUS (contrary to expectation). Just olive oil and salt for my kiddo, sometimes some vegan parm sprinkle for me, add veggies–SUPER tasty.

  • The Minimalist Vegan

    Love these templates Sayward! We make similar meals when we’re pressed for time (which is quite often). Quinoa always seems to come to the rescue in these situations.

    We’re quite skeptical of noodle and pasta products, so we definitely agree with your point here. Make a habit of checking the ingredients people!

    Thanks for sharing :)
    M & M

  • Bianca

    Yum!! Love bean & grain bowls and noodle bowls. Those are my go-to meals too! Also, I’m a sucker for a good veggie burger on sprouted grain when I’m in a hurry (Field Roast makes the BEST). And I love making big-ass dinner salads with lots of veggies, tofu, vegan cheese, toasted sesame seeds (as the bacon bit stand-in), tahini dressing or vegan ranch, and sprouted grain croutons.

  • Rebecca Carnes

    Love these meal ideas!! I’m always very thankful if I’ve remembered to make a batch of grains ahead of time… so many possibilities! One of our fast, easy, healthy favs is stuffed potatoes or sweet potatoes. Baking can take a little time ( though we have microwaved on occasion;)) once that’s done you can stuff with ANYTHING:) We usually stuff with black beans, chopped bell pepper, onion, broccoli & top off with some Daiya cheese – P looves digging into the potato!

  • Claudia

    I have nothing better to say about this (other than yummy!!!) than I flipping love that dog meme thing.

  • stephie137

    Yup. Bowls. And just pile up the things as I prep to throw on the kids plates. Same meal, without spicy sauce.

  • Natalia

    Love this post!! Thanks :)

  • Suzi

    Miso soup with various veggies, tofu, and short grain brown rice!
    Our favorite meal.

  • Sarah

    I actually did a spit-take after seeing the first picture! I’m doing a PhD at the moment, and it’s exactly how I feel, too :) I’ve also been subsisting on cereal because I’ve been too tired to cook after studying all day, so this post is perfect. Thank you!

  • Olgui

    Looove those 3 meals!! Yum!!! The hippie bowl! I want it now!! :-D an “ultra” quick meal I prepare is a sandwich… yes a sandwich! with gluten free bread and with humus (prep. before or in the weekend) and with some slices of tomato and lettuce. Super easy and delicious!

  • Frugal Vegan Mom

    Tacos – in shell, burrito, or bowl version! Just heat up some canned refried beans, salsa, frozen corn, avocado (or packaged guac), nooch, and mix in some chopped romaine. We usually keep some brown minute rice on hand too if doing the bowl, otherwise whole wheat tortillas.

  • KitteeBeeBerns

    This is just a bowl, but it is my GO TO low on foods high on yums bowl:
    Brown rice
    Oil drizzle if you want of EVOO or EPA/EFA/DHA goodness.

    Put warm rice in a bowl, then toss with nooch so it’s coated. Add the kimchi (or kraut) and mix. The nooch and kimchi will blend and make a sauce. Then top with avocado and the oil if you want.


  • KitteeBeeBerns

    Obvs if you have chickpeas or what have you add it, but this is my bottom of the barrel no foods go to meal.

  • Katie

    I love these meal ideas!! I am having allergy testing done, and recently discovered I’m allergic to several things including wheat, soy, sesame seeds, cashews, almonds, pistachios (not to mention dogs, trees, grass, etc.) but I can definitely play around with these ideas…particularly the green/bean/grain bowls! I’ll have to get creative with the sauces since this will likely be a staple!!

  • Abby

    What an incredibly helpful post. I love your recipes (your kale chips and coconut dal are staples around here) but they usually are recipes that involve some amount of work. Reading about these meal ideas had me thinking “if she can do it with a kid, grad school, a business and a blog then I can do it with two kids and a business!” So thank you – I feel extra inspired and will definitely start actually incorporating this into my life.

  • Rowa

    That tahini sauce is amazing! I always liked bowls, but sometimes they are a bit of a hit and miss. the dressing really ties it together! omnomnomnomnom!

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Yes! Great ideas Rachel!

    I also loved your “how to pack for loooong busy work days” post and since I know you won’t post it here, I’ll do it! ;-)

    ^^ Everyone should check that out for some great tips and ideas!

  • Sayward Rebhal


  • Sayward Rebhal

    Those soba noodles are AWESOME. And yes, so hard to find wheat-free ones. Actually, the truth is that Jeremy got me a case of the soba noodles for Christmas! Is that weird? Haha.

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Quinoa to the rescue, indeed! We pretty much always have a bowl of cooked quinoa in the fridge. It’s a life saver.

  • Sayward Rebhal

    yeah, I’ve been getting into veggie burgers a lot lately! Now that I found some really good gluten-free buns and breads, the veggie burger door has opened back up and I am having a burger party, haha. Have you tried the porcini tofu burgers from Isa Does It? My god. So good!

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Potatoes! I was just talking to one of Waits’s teachers about how we under-utilize whole baked potatoes. Really want to get into these, so thanks for the reminder and the ideas. Putting it on the list for next week!

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Haha, me too! So adorbs

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Totally! And for us, components NOT TOUCHING. Haha

  • Sayward Rebhal

    You’re welcome!

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Mmm yes, we love miso soup. We do noodles instead of rice, but basically exactly the same. Tofu and mushrooms. Mmmm

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Haha, right?! Basically one long procession of “OMG WHAT AM I DOING HERE??!”

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Never underestimate the power and the glory of a good sammie! ;-)

  • Sayward Rebhal

    YES! We do tacos every Tuesday. So easy and Waits loves them. =)

  • Sayward Rebhal

    That sounds delicious. Kimchi basically makes everything perfect.

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Peanut sauce!

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Yay, glad you like it Abby! And yes, you can totally do it. A bit of a learning curve and getting into the groove of pre-prep/planning, but after that it’s so easy peasy.

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Sauce is always the key to a bowl – makes or breaks it. For sure.

  • Rachel in Veganland

    Aww, Sayward! Thank you so much! I’m so glad that you liked the post! :)

  • AuNaturelMel

    On the bean/green/grain dish, are those rice noodles by any chance? Mel at mothersheeporganics

  • Sayward Rebhal

    In the picture? It’s wild rice. =)

  • AuNaturelMel

    Oh, okay, thank you. I have no idea why it looked like flat noodles to me! Need either a new monitor…or new eyes! LOL!

  • Melanie

    I love this! Thanks for sharing. I tend to make a big batch of grains and a sauce or two on Sundays to make the rest of the week that much easier. That way I just have to cook up some veggies and I’ve a got a grain, veggies and sauce bowl ready to go. (The sauce really does make the whole thing feel so special!) My family loves this meal and whatever any one doesn’t care for can just be left out of his or her bowl. Very important when trying to feed five hungry vegans of various ages and tastes! I will now go put GF ramen noodles and high protein pasta on my grocery list :)

  • Guest

    Wow this is the best most helpful post ever. THANK YOU!!

  • Rebecca Weingart

    Wow this is the best most helpful post ever. Thank you!!

  • Rebecca Weingart

    Oops I thought I was uploading my avatar. I didn’t mean to post a giant photo of myself. If you could delete this comment, I’d appreciate it. I couldn’t delete myself. Sorry :(

  • Rebecca Weingart

    I forgot to post my favorite easy weeknight meals. My recurring bowl is brown rice, black beans & purple cabbage. It’s not “green” but purple cabbage is so inexpensive (99/lb. at my local store) and so easy to prepare! I just shred thinly and squeeze lemon or lime juice on top. I usually add avocado on top. And the sauce rotates.

  • Sara Binde

    Here are mine:

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