Tips and Tricks for Healthy Weeknight Dinners for Two
Got two diners at home? We rounded up tips and recipes to make it easy, healthy — and delicious.
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Marisa Moore is a registered dietitian, nutritionist, and communications and culinary nutrition expert. Her integrative and practical approach to food and wellness with science-based nutrition advice is regularly featured in leading media outlets. You can find her in front of and behind the camera as a media dietitian, on-camera talent, and content creator at marisamoore.com.
I get it. When you’re cooking for two, takeout is tempting. However, if you’re like me, you’re trying to order out less often these days, but you're also short on time.
Whether you’re cooking with a partner or roommate, are a new empty nester, or are just getting back into the groove of the workweek, I’ve got tips and strategies that can help you prepare healthy weeknight dinners for two — and make it fun. Looking for healthy dinners for two on a budget? These recipes all apply. Want to step up date night at home while keeping health in mind? We’re covering that as well!
Tips for cooking for two
Before getting into the recipes, here are a few of my top tips for cooking healthy dinners for two.
Prep ahead. It may sound like a chore at first, but meal planning makes healthy eating easier. You don’t have to make everything on Sundays and eat the same recipe on repeat. But sometime on the weekend, take a little time with your partner to chop onions, peppers, carrots, or celery to cut down on prep and clean up during the week.
Shop with waste prevention in mind. Buy smaller packages of protein foods such as chicken or salmon that spoil quickly, or be ready to portion some out and freeze it. Keep an inventory of what you have to prevent duplicate purchases. With fewer people to feed, you can make the most of pre-cut vegetables and salad mixes without breaking the bank.
Consider one-pot meals. Sheet pan, skillet, and multi-cooker/Instant Pot meals often require less fuss and less clean up in the kitchen. On busy weeknights, easy clean up is key. I cook. You clean. The next night, let's switch. Sound good?
Create leftovers — on purpose. You’ve heard the saying, cook once, eat twice. Though you can do this when cooking for any number of people, it’s one of my favorite tricks to make healthy meals for two more accessible using the same effort.
These next eight smart strategies for creating a healthy dinner for two can help you mix it up as you start building your repertoire of weeknight meals.
1. Serve breakfast for dinner, with eggs
Breakfast ingredients tend to cook quickly, making them ideal for weeknight meals. With eggs in the fridge, dinner is never more than a few minutes from done.
A Middle Eastern dish, vegetable- and spice-rich shakshuka is good for breakfast, lunch or dinner. This version is packed with red bell pepper, onion, spinach, and a generous amount of tomatoes, lending a brilliant color and flavor for the eggs to poach in. Be sure to serve it with a few slices of grilled or toasted bread to scoop up every single veggie.
Enjoy the flavors of an Italian Caprese salad? This frittata version adds eggs to the mix for a simple one-pan vegetarian dinner that’s ready in just 15 minutes! Made with mozzarella, tomatoes, pesto, and olive oil, it’s perfect solo or with a side of greens
2. Fake out takeout
I’ll admit it’s hard to resist the lure of takeout after a long work day. But since many of us are spending more time at home and deliveries can take awhile, now is the perfect time to make some of your favorites at home — healthier!
Pull out your spiralizer to whip up a veggie-centric, low-fat, and flavorful zucchini version of the Chinese restaurant classic. The low-carb dinner for two starts as a stir-fry, and then you make a quick sauce. If you’re not watching carbs and want a more filling meal, add a side of brown rice or mix in some brown rice noodles.
If you’re missing the hot foods bar or deli meals at your grocery store, you’ll appreciate this sheet pan dinner. You can make the same food for less money, fresh and ready with very little hands-on time. With two tasty vegetable sides cooked right on the same pan, odds are this one will be in regular rotation!
3. Make a (small) batch of soup
Many soup recipes are designed to feed a crowd. But if you’re short on fridge or freezer space, storing an extra gallon of soup might not be the best fit. These recipes serve just two.
Roasting tomatoes and onion in a hot oven with balsamic vinegar, fresh garlic, and herbs intensifies their flavors before you blend them with a food processor or blender. Serve with crusty bread and a sprinkle of Parmesan or feta cheese if you like, and dinner is done.
This one uses lean ground beef and all of the usual ingredients such as chili powder, garlic, tomatoes, and beans to make a savory pot of chili, but you won’t have to figure out how to deal with leftovers after dinner. Ladle it up and top with fresh cilantro, cheese, or jalapeño chilies just how you like it, and serve with tortillas if you're in the mood for them. You could also make the chili with ground turkey instead of beef if you prefer.
4. Think salad-plus
When you’re in the mood for salad but it doesn’t sound quite filling enough for dinner, try one of these options.
With creamy cannellini beans for a generous measure of protein and fiber, and lots of flavor from diced salami and cheese and a mustard vinaigrette, this hearty Mediterranean salad can easily carry dinner on its own. But it also pairs well with a bowl of soup.
If your local pizza shop knows your order before you say it, maybe it’s time to switch things up. Using a pre-made pizza crust is the key to getting a semi-homemade pizza on the table faster than you can get delivery. The thin, crispy crust is topped with a heaping serving of peppery arugula (baby kale would be great here, too), which makes it a lot like eating salad on top of pizza. It’s a win-win.
5. Design for date night
If you’re spending an evening in with your partner, add a little elegance with these dishes. Each comes together in less than an hour.
Fresh cilantro, pistachios, and a little jalapeño offer a fresh spin on traditional pesto. Paired with shrimp and pasta, it’s the perfect fancy but easy recipe for date night. The recipe calls for brown rice spaghetti, so the dish is gluten-free, but you could go with regular or whole-wheat pasta if you prefer. Bonus: This one makes leftovers so you’ll get to take the next night off from making dinner!
Many people are surprised to learn that pork tenderloin is one of the leanest cuts of meat you can buy. It’s given the date-night treatment here with a sweet and tangy maple Dijon glaze that is sure to impress. The sheet pan supper includes green beans and apples for a complete meal. As with the previous recipe, it makes enough to enjoy on a second night.
6. Raid the pantry
Use what you have on hand to whip up an easy, healthy pantry meal with plenty of flavor.
This bright and flavorful dish featuring boneless skinless chicken breasts sounds fancy but requires just a handful of ingredients that you can stock in the pantry or refrigerator such as kalamata olives, anchovy fillets, and the star, canned San Marzano tomatoes. (Of course, if you don’t have genuine San Marzanos from Italy you can use regular canned tomatoes.) Just add a salad.
I keep canned beans and a number of spices on hand for quick, satisfying meals. This vegan beans and rice dish can be customized so you and your fellow diner can each add the toppings you like best. If you have avocado, salsa or fresh tomatoes, corn, or pickled red onions, add them on. On Yummly, the ingredients for this recipe can easily be cut down to make the perfect meal for two; next to the servings on the ingredient list, hover your cursor over the number and change it using the pencil icon.
7. Take a trip, from your kitchen
If you can’t go on vacation to another country right now, take your fork on a world tour. You can add a new spice to the kitchen or try a new ingredient to keep meals interesting.
Made with canned chickpeas, Madras curry powder, and fresh ginger, this vegan Indian meal for two is ready in 30 minutes. And it includes a whole package of frozen spinach, so you’re getting your veggies, too! Mop up the sauce with a piece of warm naan for a simple and flavorful meal, or serve with a side dish of rice or quinoa.
Curries are common around the globe. Bring the warmth and spice of a Thai-style curry into your kitchen in minutes using a store-bought yellow or green curry paste. You can find Thai curry pastes in the international section of most major supermarkets, online, and at your local Asian grocer. This one-pot healthy chicken recipe packs plenty of vegetables from sweet potatoes, bok choy, and green beans. It would also be great with cauliflower, eggplant, red pepper, or other favorite vegetables. Serve it solo or with rice or noodles.
TIP: You can also make your own curry paste to have on hand to whip up a variety of dishes from chicken or seafood curry to soups, stews and more!
8. Treat yourself to something sweet
Sometimes weeknights call for a sweet ending. These mini desserts for two are just the right bite, and won’t leave you with loads of tempting leftovers.
If you’re thinking that cheesecake isn’t healthy, you’re right. But desserts are fine on occasion. And these perfectly portioned no-bake cheesecakes make it easy to not eat too much. Dress up the cheesecakes with berries or your favorite seasonal fruit.
With hazelnut flour as the base, this comfort-food dessert is surprisingly filling and caters to fans of a certain popular hazelnut-chocolate spread. Cocoa powder plus dark chocolate deliver rich chocolate flavor.
More tips and recipes for healthy weeknight dinners
Keep exploring your options for cooking healthy, delicious dinners with these helpful articles.