By Sarah Kessner, Dietetic Intern
Navigating cooking at home with healthful recipes and ingredients can feel like an impossible challenge when it comes to limited kitchen space or time. Whether you’re a busy student or parent or have a lot of mouths to feed on a limited budget and lack of time, I get how frustrating it can be to ensure you’re maximizing you and/or your family’s health.
Hi, I’m Sarah. I am a dietetic intern with the Department of State Hospitals currently interning at the Food Bank Coalition. If you’re like me and love to cook, but either don’t have the time or are dealing with limited kitchen space, you’re probably in need of some guidance. Or maybe you simply don’t want the burden of preparing complicated meals with lots of ingredients. Perhaps you’re not home long enough to spend time preparing new recipes you find inspiring. Creating healthful meals with limited kitchen space, a budget, and being low on time can feel like an impossible feat!
For the next 10 months, I am living with a “partial” kitchen meaning I am limited to a microwave and a sink. This means when it comes to complicated cooking that requires several burners or fancy equipment, I am strapped. Because of where I live, I am also not allowed to have a hot plate or a toaster/toaster oven because of the fire risk. You may think that leaves me in a pickle! But you’d be surprised how this limited kitchen space has forced me to prepare creative, affordable, easy, and quick nutritious meals and snacks that are actually perfect for any busy professional, student, or parent.
Thankfully, I am allowed to use a crock-pot, or in my case an Instant Pot, which is a crock-pot, rice cooker, and pressure cooker all-in-one. The things you can make in this device are endless.
Below are a list of meal and snack ideas with variations for whether or not you have access to a toaster and/or stove top. Here we go:
Basic Overnight Oats with Your Choice of Toppings
- 1/2 cup your choice of milk
- 3/4 Tbsp chia seeds
- 2 Tbsp your choice of nut butter (i.e., peanut, almond, etc)
- 1 Tbsp your choice of sweetener (i.e., maple syrup, honey, etc)
- 1/2 cup rolled oats
- Any fresh fruit of your choice! (i.e., sliced banana, sliced strawberries, blueberries, etc – frozen fruit works just as well!)
- Any nut of your choice (i.e., chopped almonds, cashews, etc)
- Cacao nibs or chocolate chips
- Cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla extract, etc
- Pumpkin pie puree
- Any dried fruit of your choice (i.e., raisins, goji berries, dried currants, dried figs, etc)
- To a mason jar or small container/tupperware, add oats, milk, chia seeds, nut butter, and sweetener and stir with a spoon to combine.
- Cover securely with a lid or plastic wrap and set in the refrigerator overnight (or for at least 6 hours).
- The next day, open and enjoy as is or with any other additions of your choice!
Whole Grain Toast or Rice Cakes with Nut Butter
- Two pieces whole grain toast or rice cakes
- 2 Tbsp nut butter of your choice (i.e., peanut, almond, hazelnut, etc)
- Fruit of your choice (i.e., sliced banana, strawberries, kiwis, etc)
- 1 Tbsp sweetener of your choice (i.e., maple syrup, honey, etc)
- Cacao nibs, chocolate chips, coconut flakes, etc
- Want a savory option? Try toast or rice cakes with avocado, red pepper flakes, and salt. Or get creative and add hummus, mayo and mustard, feta or parmesan cheese, or tahini with sliced cucumbers, pickles, or even cottage cheese for a uniquely tasteful, open-face sandwich.
Lunch/Dinners (Main Entrees & Sides)
“Everything but the kitchen sink…” pasta (adapted from “SWEEP THE KITCHEN” PASTA SALAD – from Budget Bytes)
- 8 oz. pasta, any shape (try whole wheat penne pasta or spaghetti noodles)
- 1 broccoli crown or cauliflower (about ½ lb)
- 1 small can sliced olives (optional)
- 2 oz. cheese of your choice (i.e., crumbled feta, parmesan, etc)
- 1/3 cup dressing of your choice (i.e., Italian, balsamic vinaigrette, etc)
- Any vegetable of your choice! (i.e., sliced carrots, shredded kale, shredded purple cabbage, etc)
- Any nut or seed of your choice (i.e., pine nuts, pepitas, sliced almonds, etc)
- Sun-dried tomatoes, roasted red peppers, etc
- Cook the pasta according to the package directions, drain in a colander, then rinse briefly under cool water.
- While the pasta is cooking, finely chop the broccoli/cauliflower (or any other large or tough ingredients like kale, sun-dried tomatoes, etc).
- Once the pasta is well drained, add it to a large bowl along with the chopped broccoli/cauliflower and other ingredients including cheese.
- Pour dressing over top and stir until everything is combined and coated.
- Serve immediately or refrigerate for up to 4-5 days.
- Any grain of your choice will work for this recipe. Try with quinoa, wild rice, or even soba noodles for a whole grain twist on this recipe!
- 1-2 cups chopped romaine, or greens of your choice
- ½ cup beans, canned, drained (i.e., black beans, pinto beans, etc)
- ½ cup coarsely crumbled whole grain chips
- ¼ cup shredded cheddar cheese (or any cheese of your choice)
- ¼ cup corn kernels, canned, fresh, or frozen thawed
- 1-2 Tbsp sour cream
- ¼ cup salsa or ½ cup cherry tomatoes (optional)
- Fresh lime wedge
- Cilantro, chopped (optional)
- Sliced olives
- Whole grain wild or black, forbidden rice
- Oregano and and/or chipotle powder
- Hot sauce of your choice
- Toss all ingredients in large bowl, except salsa and sour cream (dollop on top right before serving) and whole grain chips.
- Coarsely crumble whole grain chips using a knife or put into a small Ziploc bag and crumble with hands before pouring over salad.
- Squeeze lime wedge over salad.
- If adding a grain to your salad, wait until it has cooled before adding to salad – otherwise it might “cook” your lettuce!
Microwaved Sweet Potato with Fixings
- One sweet potato
If you like savory…
- ½ cup chili, canned
- 1-2 Tbsp sour cream
- Cilantro or chives, chopped
If you like sweet…
- 1 Tbsp maple syrup, honey, or brown sugar
- 1-2 Tbsp dates, chopped
- ¼ cup nuts, chopped, or trail mix
- ½ cup shredded coconut
- 1-2 Tbsp cacao nibs
- Pierce sweet potato with a fork.
- Heat in the microwave for 5-8 minutes. Remove from microwave and slice down the middle.
- Add additions of your choice at the end!
- If using canned chili, heat according to the can instructions.
Homemade-No Bake Bars
- 1 cup nuts of your choice (i.e., almonds, cashews, walnuts, Brazil nuts, etc)
- 1 cup dates (soaked in water for at least 10 minutes)
- 1 cup dried fruit (i.e., raisins, dried currants, dried cherries, etc)
- ½ cup nut butter of your choice (i.e., peanut, cashew, almond, etc)
- ½ cup dry cereal (i.e., brown rice puffs, oats, or quinoa flakes)
- ¼ cup cacao nibs
- ¼ cup coconut flakes
- 1-2 tsp vanilla extract, cinnamon, cardamom, or nutmeg (or all of the above!)
- Combine the nuts, dried fruit, and dates in a food processor and pulse until you get a chunky texture.
- Add fun additions as you like and pulse or blend until you have reached the consistency you desire!
- When done, transfer mixture to an 8×8-inch baking dish or other small pan lined with plastic wrap or parchment paper so they lift out easily.
- Press down firmly until uniformly flattened (I like to use a baking spatula for this part).
- Let firm up in fridge or freezer for 15-20 minutes.
- Remove and cut into square pieces of your liking.
- For a chocolaty twist, heat 2 Tbsp coconut oil with 3 Tbsp chocolate chips (with a sprinkle of sea salt, if you desire) on low to medium heat. Once you have your mixture pressed into the baking dish, pour chocolate over using a baking spatula. Refrigerate or freeze for at least 30 minutes.
- The chocolate layer with harden and voila! You have a nice chocolate coating for a yummy treat that hits the spot.