Food Preparation

Dinner Options: Simple Tips for Making Healthier Meals

March 14, 2018   /
Lemma McLean, dietetic intern, based on Quickflip™ to Delicious Dinners by Eileen Faughey, MA, RD, Nutrition Connections

Have you ever said, “I want to eat healthier meals, but I do not have the time or the creativity to prepare delicious dinners at home?” 

With this simple meal planning method, you will learn how to use one recipe to prepare a variety of healthy and tasty dinners in a short amount of time.

Stock your pantry
The first thing you need to do is stock your pantry. You cannot cook healthy food if the ingredients are not there. If you stock your pantry with some basic ingredients, such as canned beans and vegetables, pasta, rice, nuts, olive oil, vinegars, dried fruits, herbs, and spices, it is surprising how many dishes you can make at home with little effort.

To demonstrate this, we will make two versions of the same pizza recipe. 

Here are the items from your pantry that you need to prepare two international variations of a pizza recipe (Greek and Italian).

Canned Goods

Dried/Frozen Fruits and Vegetables

Nuts and Seeds



  • Artichoke hearts
  • Black olives
  • Tomato sauce 
  • Raisins
  • Sun-dried tomatoes
  • Pine nuts
  • Olive oil
  • Allspice
  • Oregano Pepper
  • Salt

With a well-stocked pantry, all you need to pick up the next time you are at the grocery store, or on your way home, are some fresh ingredients. Then you will have everything you need to make your meal!

Fresh Ingredient Shopping List for Greek Pizza Fresh Ingredient Shopping List for Italian Pizza
Feta cheese Carrots
Fresh spinach Fresh basil
Lemon juice Mozzarella cheese
Onion Ready-to-use pizza crust
Pita breads  

Now it is time to prepare the two different pizzas!

Cooking directions for basic pizza
These are the cooking steps for making basic pizza. Follow them to make the Italian and Greek versions.

  1. Prepare crust. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. Prepare spread (see table below for directions on preparing spread). 
  3. Spray a large cookie sheet with a vegetable oil spray. Place the crust or crusts on the sheet.
  4. Cover crust with spread (or use pizza sauce for basic pizza).
  5. Add toppings and cheese, if used.
  6. Bake at 400°F for approximately 12-15 minutes or until bubbly. 

Ingredients for Greek and Italian pizzas
Using the cooking directions just described, it is easy to make two different pizzas just by changing the ingredients. The ingredients needed to make each pizza are listed in the following table.

Greek Pizza Ingredients Italian Pizza Ingredients


Use six pitas or one ready-to-use crust


Use one ready-to-use crust or one large Italian flat bread


Puree in blender:

  •  ½ cup (C) raisins
  • 2 tablespoons (Tbsp) chopped onion
  • ⅓ C water

Cook the following over medium heat for 5 minutes:

  • 16 ounces (oz) canned tomato sauce
  • One carrot, grated
  • 3 Tbsp fresh basil, chopped
  • ½ tsp oregano
  • ¼ tsp pepper


Chop finely in large bowl:

  • 2 C fresh spinach (tightly packed)
  • 1 C scallions
  • 1 Tbsp pine nuts
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • ¼ C lemon juice
  • ⅛ teaspoon (tsp) allspice
  • ⅛ tsp pepper
  • Pinch of salt


  • 1 C artichoke hearts, quartered
  • ½ C thinly sliced sun-dried tomatoes
  • 2 Tbsp chopped black olives


Sprinkle ½ C crumbled feta cheese on top (optional)


Grate ½ C mozzarella cheese and sprinkle on top

 Now you have two very different, delicious dinners from the same recipe!

Other variations
Using the cooking directions for basic pizza, you also can make endless flavor variations. For example, try a Mexican version on tortillas or a Hawaiian version with pineapple. 

Here are some other tips for adding flavor and variety to your pizza. Experiment by adding or substituting different healthful ingredients that you and your family enjoy:

  • Cheeses—choose goat cheese or cheddar cheese, or use tofu instead of adding cheese
  • Vegetables and fruit—add olives, tomatoes, spinach, bell peppers, broccoli, or pineapple
  • Herbs and spices—season with your favorites
  • A different crust—try flat bread or tortillas
  • Seasonal produce—take advantage of local produce, farmers’ markets, and store specials to vary your ingredients
  • International variations—create a vacation in your kitchen by trying other international variations

Family time
Get your family involved in planning and cooking meals. Make cooking an activity you do together, something you can look forward to every night!