There are countless diets in existence, all touting various and often contradictory methodologies aimed at improving well-being. The do's and don'ts of what and how and when to eat can be dizzying, and it can be incredibly overwhelming to try and simply figure out what to have for dinner.

Specific diets aside, the best way to sustain a healthy and vibrant lifestyle is to cook as much of your food from scratch as possible using whole-food ingredients. That's it. Not a plant-based diet or a gluten-free diet or a paleo diet. Just simple, regular food prepared and seasoned with love.

This notion isn't just intuitive, it's backed up by numerous peer-reviewed studies. For example, a study published in the Journal of Public Health Nutrition in June 2015 found that "...cooking at home more frequently is protective regardless of weight-loss intention. In other words, if a person or someone in their household cooks dinner frequently, regardless of whether or not they are trying to lose weight, diet quality improves."

While this may sound like simple advice, the realty is that getting a scratch-made dinner on the table every night is hard. Like most good things in life, it takes planning and commitment to pull it off. Here are my best tips for getting supper on the table with minimal stress:

Plan ahead

Spend a few minutes on Sunday night thinking through the schedule for the week, such as who has a late meeting or practice, and what you've got on hand (such as items in the back of the freezer that need to be used up). Jot down a quick menu for the week and stick it on the fridge. It's useful in remembering to pull things out of the freezer ahead of time, and it's helpful to have a game plan when you walk in the door at the end of the day.

Make a double batch

While we do eat primarily scratch-made meals in my house, at least half of those meals come straight from the freezer. Whenever I make soup, stew, curry or casserole I make a double or even a triple batch to stash in the freezer for a busy night later on.

Invest in good equipment

You don't need a food processor, multicooker or immersion blender to cook delicious scratch-made meals, but they do help save an incredible amount of time in the kitchen.

Sheet pan pork tenderloin supper
1 ½ pounds baby potatoes, washed and trimmed into one-inch pieces
1 onion, cut into 1/4-inch slices
2 firm tart apples, such as pink lady, cored and cut into 1/2-inch wedges
½ head green cabbage, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 teaspoon caraway seeds (optional)
1 pork tenderloin, about 1 1/2 pounds
½ teaspoon each salt, garlic powder, onion powder and thyme

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Toss the potatoes, onions, apples and cabbage with a tablespoon of olive oil, the caraway seeds and a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Arrange the vegetables on a foil-lined baking sheet. Brush the pork tenderloin with the remaining olive oil and season it liberally with the salt, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika and thyme. Place the tenderloin on top of the vegetables on the tray, then pop it all into the preheated oven.

Roast, stirring the vegetables and rotating once, for 20-25 minutes, or until the internal temperature of the tenderloin reaches 150 degrees. Let rest 15 minutes, then slice the tenderloin and serve.

Quinoa sweet potato salad

This salad is my salvation. I usually make a big batch on Sunday to have throughout the week. I vary it to suit my mood, sometimes swapping out the sweet potatoes and cranberries for black beans, frozen sweet corn and diced bell pepper, seasoned with lime juice, cilantro and cumin, or take it in a Mediterranean direction with roasted peppers, artichokes, pearl mozzarella and balsamic vinaigrette.

2 cups cooked quinoa, cooled (from 3/4 cup dry quinoa)
2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into ½ inch cubes
¼ cup olive oil, divided
¼ cup each minced scallions and parsley
½ cup each crumbled feta and dried cranberries
5 ounces baby kale
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon cider vinegar
2 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment or foil for easy cleanup. Toss the sweet potato cubes in a tablespoon of the olive oil and season liberally with salt and pepper. Roast in the preheated oven for about 15-20 minutes, until the sweet potatoes are brown on the edges and just tender. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool to room temperature.

Combine the cooled sweet potatoes, cooked quinoa, scallions, parsley, feta, cranberries and kale in a mixing bowl. In a smaller bowl, whip together the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil, lemon juice, vinegar and minced garlic. Pour the dressing over the quinoa mixture and toss gently to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Keeps well in the fridge for up to five days.

Ashley Meyer is a Springfield mom of two and chef.

About The Author

Ashley Meyer

Ashley Meyer has been cooking as long as she has been walking. The daughter of beloved former Illinois Times food columnist, Julianne Glatz, Ashley offers a fresh, inspired take on her mother’s culinary legacy. Ashley studied winemaking at Lincoln University in Christchurch, New Zealand and recently achieved the...

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