6 Nifty Ways to Get Dinner Done in 20 Minutes, by Debra Shapiro, MD, VLCE

posted February 20, 2024

I don’t like to cook or bake. There, I said it.

Learning how to prepare whole plant food meals that tasted good but didn’t require hours in the kitchen, was imperative. If you love to cook, you can just skip this post. I’m writing to those like me who don’t enjoy cooking or just don’t have the time.

1. Most Obvious: Skip Dinner

…or have something very simple. The best way to trim down is to eat most of your calories earlier in the day, so making your evening meal as light as possible can have real benefits in terms of weight management.

Consider broccoli dipped in hummus, for example, or a green smoothie. No one ever passed away from deliberately eating a less-caloric dinner. This option works best if you don’t have to prepare dinner for others.

2. Order From a Restaurant or Go Through a Salad Bar

Image by Alpha Creativa from Pixabay

There is no shame in this. Ask for low- or no oil and low-sodium. You can get an extra order of steamed vegetables from Asian restaurants to dilute some of the heavier combinations. Get enough for leftovers. Mexican restaurants have bean burritos (avoid lard and chicken stock), and many Japanese restaurants have vegan options. Never assume a dish is vegan; fish sauce may contaminate miso soups or Thai dishes.

3. Shop for Produce or Have it Delivered

Photo credit: Vecteezy

Always keep a variety of whole grains and legumes on hand. Then, to prepare dinner quickly, all you need are vegetables. Include cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, purple cabbage), leafy greens (kale, collards, chard), starchy vegetables (potatoes, yams and squashes), and non-starchy vegetables (carrots, celery, onions, tomatoes).

Mushrooms are nutritionally important, as well as tofu and tempeh. Keep low-sodium tamari or coconut aminos, miso, hot sauce, tahini, salsa, and flavored vinegars on hand as well. I like having oil-free hummus around, as well as herb and spice mixes.

Seasonal fruit makes a great dessert.

This list is just a start. You may not always have everything in your fridge or pantry, but I can always feed myself and my family a colorful, tasty, nutritious dinner in just a few minutes if I have these foods available.

4. Prep Beans and Grains

Photo credit: Envato

Beans and grains have to be cooked before you need them so, twice weekly, I batch cook both grains and legumes in my Instant Pot. You can use canned or frozen beans and quick-cooking grains, but dried beans are so good and leave less trash. Soak dried beans (8-12 hours at least) and discard the soaking water before cooking, as it helps with digestibility.

For grains, I often use Dr. Greger’s BROL Bowl recipe with equal parts barley, rye berries, oat groats and black beluga lentils. You can leave out the lentils if you just want just the grains, and experiment with other combinations of spelt, Kamut berries, farro, hard red wheat berries, sorghum…the mixtures are exciting textures for your mouth and terrific fiber for your gut microbes.

5. Prep Your Vegetables

Photo credit: Vecteezy

Wash what needs to be washed and cut up what needs to be cut. If you can eat most of your vegetables raw, that’s often even healthier, but cook mushrooms to destroy a toxin called agaritine. Have cooked potatoes/sweet potatoes/yams and squash also ready in the fridge.

Keep your vegetables in a glass container (I keep the onions separate), another can hold your washed greens. These prepped veg should last for about 4-5 days, and you can just pull out what you need and assemble your salad. Toppings of walnuts, hemp or ground flax seeds, wheat germ, berries and avocado add important nutrition, as well.

6. Put It Together

Photo credit: Envato

Make a large colorful salad with prepped beans and grains, hummus, avocado, nuts/seeds, and your favorite vinegar or salsa. If you prefer warm, heat up the grains and beans (or cut up some tofu or tempeh), some cruciferous vegetables, squash and mushrooms.

While this heats, make a nut/seed or miso-based sauce or sprinkle nooch and coconut aminos, or salsa/hot sauce. You can serve it on a bed of greens or with a side salad.

This works for me. Sometimes we eat out, get carryout from salad bars, or make something new and special from a recipe. Most days we eat grains, legumes, vegetables of all sorts, mushrooms, and a sauce to bring it all together. It takes 10 mins to heat up before serving, always delicious and always satisfying.


Photo credit: Meg Messina

Debra Shapiro, MD has practiced medicine for over three decades, and is Board Certified in both Obstetrics and Gynecology and Lifestyle Medicine. She has been studying Plant-Based Nutrition for 11 years, with a Certificate from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies.

Dr. Shapiro is a Certified Health Coach and a Main Street Vegan Academy Vegan Lifestyle Coach and Educator. Her passion is using plant-based nutrition and lifestyle medicine to prevent, treat and reverse chronic disease. In addition to individual coaching, she practices Lifestyle Medicine and Gynecology for the employees of a major corporation, and lectures at national conferences. She is a contributor to the 2022 ACLM textbook, Improving Women’s Health Across the Lifespan, and has appeared on numerous podcasts and in print magazines.

To start your transformation you can reach Debra through her website, A New View of Food, on Instagram, and Facebook.


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