Staff Favorites: Quick & Healthy Dinners

Though weekends are reserved for making fresh pasta or braising a pot roast, Cooking Light staffers turn to quick and easy ideas during the week. Here are some of our favorite go-to meals.

Quick Taco Salad Recipes

Photo: Becky Luigart-Stayner

Quick Taco Salad

"My go to meal is taco salad made with ground chicken or turkey. Top with onion, sautéed bell pepper, reduced-fat sour cream, and tomato.”—Tiffany Vickers Davis, Associate Test Kitchen Director

Check out this salad for a similar version to Tiffany's that uses ground round and raw peppers.

View Recipe: Quick Taco Salad



Spicy Lemon Trout Recipes

Photo: Becky Luigart-Stayner

Spicy Lemon Trout

“If my neighborhood market has fresh trout fillets when I need a quick, no-fuss dinner, I buy them. Stuff the fillets with lemon slices and a handful of whatever fresh herbs you have in the fridge, and run under the broiler for a few minutes per side. Serve with a simple green salad.”—Phillip Rhodes, Deputy Editor

Phillip's go-to dish follows the same procedure as Spicy Lemon Trout. This recipe uses dried herbs but we love Phillip's version with fresh.

View Recipe: Spicy Lemon Trout


Farfalle with Cauliflower and Turkey Sausage Recipes

Photo: Beau Gustafson

Farfalle with Cauliflower and Turkey Sausage

“In a pinch in the colder months, I like to roast cauliflower in a 450° oven for about half an hour til it’s nice and brown, then toss it with some hot cooked pasta, extra-virgin olive oil, red pepper flakes, grated lemon rind, parm-regg, chopped parsley, and capers.”—Timothy Q. Cebula, Associate Food Editor

Use your favorite shaped pasta and if desired, throw in some lean protein (like turkey sausage or chicken) to create Tim's dish.

View Recipe: Farfalle with Cauliflower and Turkey Sausage



Tofu with Red Curry Paste, Peas, and Yellow Tomatoes Recipes

Photo: Randy Mayor

Tofu with Red Curry Paste, Peas, and Yellow Tomatoes

“I do a 20-minute vegetarian dinner by preparing Basmati rice in the rice cooker. I sauté vegetables, including canned chickpeas for protein, with plenty of aromatics. As the veggies cook, I make a quick cucumber salad of thinly sliced cukes with a little vinegar, salt, sugar, and chiles. Veggies done, I add a prepared curry simmering sauce and stir for a bit.”—Scott Mowbray, Editor

Check out this quick vegetarian curry dish featuring tofu for protein instead of canned chickpeas.
View Recipe: Tofu with Red Curry Paste, Peas, and Yellow Tomatoes

This side cucumber salad is similar to Scott's side. Sprinkle peanuts on the top for added crunch.
View Recipe: Spicy Cucumber Salad with Peanuts


Marinara Sauce Over Rotini Recipes

Photo: Becky Luigart-Stayner

Marinara Sauce Over Rotini

"Fresh cheese tortellini and marinara sprinkled with shaved Parmesan and a tossed salad. The fresh pasta cooks quickly once the water boils. Dinner can be ready in less than 30 minutes.” —Vanessa Johnson, Test Kitchen Director

This marinara sauce tops rotini but we love Vanessa's suggestion to use fresh cheese tortellini instead.

View Recipe: Marinara Sauce Over Rotini


Penne with Asparagus, Spinach, and Bacon Recipes

Photo: Lee Harrelson

Penne with Asparagus, Spinach, and Bacon

“I fall back on edamame pasta when I can’t think of anything else or if I’m short on time. I cook bacon in a skillet, remove and drain. Then I sauté garlic in the drippings and add frozen shelled edamame to that. I add a little white wine, if I have some around, and cook that off. Then a little chicken broth and cook a couple of minutes.  Add cooked pasta (usually penne or other short) and cook until the “saucy stuff” thickens a bit.  I sprinkle with a little sliced green onion, red pepper flakes, and crumbled bacon over the top.  And shave parm-regg over each serving.”—Julianna Grimes, Associate Food Editor

Follow the instructions on this recipe to make a dish similar to Julie's. Sub the asparagus for edamame and leave in the spinach for extra vitamins and fiber.

View Recipe: Penne with Asparagus, Spinach, and Bacon

Whole-Wheat Buttermilk Pancakes Recipes

Photo: Becky Luigart-Stayner

Whole-Wheat Buttermilk Pancakes

“I love making breakfast for dinner; it’s a year-round family favorite. I usually do pancakes (particularly Whole-Wheat Buttermilk Pancakes) with seared ham slices and whatever fruit is in season—mixed citrus in winter, berries in spring, peaches in summer, or pears in fall.”—Ann Taylor Pittman, Food Editor

View Recipe: Whole-Wheat Buttermilk Pancakes

Chicken and Couscous Salad Recipes

Photo: Becky Luigart-Stayner

Chicken and Couscous Salad

“Throwing a quick dinner together is always a cinch when I have a rotisserie chicken on hand. From soups to fajitas to salads, this ready-to-eat ingredient provides countless meal options. One quick dinner I like to make combines rotisserie chicken breast, cooked couscous, barley, or bulgur, crumbled feta cheese, chopped tomatoes and cucumbers, and fresh basil. I add a bit of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and lemon zest and then toss all of these ingredients together. This grain salad yields plenty of leftovers for lunch the next day.”—Holley Grainger, M.S., R.D., Nutrition Editor,

Swap the parsley for basil and toss in feta to make this salad similar to Holley’s.

View Recipe: Chicken and Couscous Salad

Jane's Vegetarian Chili Recipes

Photo: Randy Mayor

Jane's Vegetarian Chili

"One-dish meals are my go-to for busy nights so I don’t have to worry about making sides. I always try to keep the pantry and budget-friendly ingredients for Jane’s Vegetarian Chili on hand for an easy, satisfying meal. I prefer to leave off the cheese, and sometimes I’ll substitute a can of corn for the chickpeas as well.” —Mallory Daugherty, Production Assistant,

View Recipe: Jane's Vegetarian Chili

Roasted Baby Spring Vegetables Recipes

Photo: Becky Luigart-Stayner

Roasted Baby Spring Vegetables

“With a 3-year-old and a new baby at home, my husband and I tag team mealtime. My go-to dish is a roasted vegetable pasta. I take whatever veggies we have on hand—broccoli, cauliflower, grape tomatoes, peppers, and fennel are some year-round favorites—and roast them at a high temp. When they come out of the oven, I hit them with balsamic and olive oil and toss with hot pasta. I usually finish it by sprinkling in frozen green peas (they defrost while I’m getting the table set…or feeding the baby a bottle). I add some pasta cooking water if it’s a little dry. I like to take this basic recipe and adapt to whatever is in season. I add beans or chicken for protein and take as my lunch over arugula. Changing up the veggies makes it seem like a new dish every time.”

This recipe for roasted spring vegetables would be great mixed with pasta and topped with rotisserie chicken for a simple meal similar to Allison’s weeknight life-saver. —Allison Long Lowery, Editor,

View Recipe: Roasted Baby Spring Vegetables

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