Between work, kids’ after school activities, and squeezing in a workout, time left to spend preparing meals is in short supply. Resorting to fast food or other restaurant options feels like you’re giving up, and it sort of is as far as your health is concerned. One 2015 study found those who frequently cook meals eat healthier diets than those who don’t, even on occasions when they eat out.
Surprisingly, cooking more doesn’t have to involve hours in the kitchen or even that many ingredients. The real secret to getting healthy meals on your table is learning how to use some smart supermarket finds like premade basil pesto. Usually found in the refrigerated section next to the salsas and hummus or by the jarred tomato sauces, this flavorful spread can easily turn basic ingredients into a complete meal. These seven recipes show you how.
1. Savory Oatmeal
A person can only eat so many bowls of brown sugar- and cinnamon-topped oatmeal before their taste buds cry out for something different. Luckily, the breakfast staple is easy to adapt. For something totally different, try this savory version with tomatoes, eggs, and pesto from Boston Magazine. Make it even healthier by adding a few handfuls of baby spinach. Bacon is also a nice addition, but we’ll leave that up to you.
- 1 cup rolled oats
- 1 tomato, chopped
- ½ onion, diced
- 2 tablespoons pesto
- Salt and pepper
- 1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- 2 fried eggs
Directions: Bring 2 cups of water to a boil in a medium pot. Add oats and cook, stirring occasionally, until oats have absorbed most of the water, about 8 minutes. Stir in pesto, season with salt, and remove from heat.
In a small skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant. Add onions, season with salt, and cook, stirring, until just softened. Reduce heat to low, stir in tomatoes, and let simmer until softened, about 10 minutes.
In a separate small skillet, fry eggs in a drizzle of oil to your liking. Season eggs with salt and pepper. Divide oats among bowls and top each serving with tomatoes and an egg. Serve.
2. Parmesan-Pesto Waffles
Waffles are another morning staple that can easily be transformed into something savory. They can even be speedy when you opt for ingredients like biscuit mix and jarred pesto. See for yourself with these hearty, herbed waffles from Betty Crocker.
While this recipe calls for topping the waffles with poached or fried eggs, it’s not the only option. You can turn additional pesto into a vinaigrette by mixing in a splash of vinegar or try using marinara sauce. If you’re really hungry, try using two waffles to make a hefty breakfast sandwich.
- 2 cups biscuit mix
- ½ cup milk
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 7 egg, 1 lightly beaten, 6 left whole
- ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 tablespoons basil pesto
- 7 eggs, 1 lightly beaten
Directions: Grease a waffle iron with cooking spray and preheat. In a large bowl, combine biscuit mix, milk, oil, and beaten egg. Stir just to combine, then fold in cheese and pesto.
Pour a scoop of batter, amount will depend on your iron, onto center of hot waffle iron. Close lid and cook according to manufacturer’s instructions. Remove waffle and keep warm. Repeat with remaining batter.
Meanwhile, fry or poach remaining eggs. Serve waffles with eggs over top.
3. Sheet Pan Pesto Chicken and Vegetables
One-pan meals make weeknight cooking so much easier, which is why we love this pesto chicken recipe from NeighborFood. By cutting the root veggies into big wedges, you ensure everything cooks at the same rate, meaning you don’t have to dash back and forth to the oven. Just lay down your veggies and chicken, add a pesto and balsamic vinegar mixture, then transfer to the oven. After about 45 minutes, dinner will be ready.
- 1 pound bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
- 1 pound bone-in, skin-on chicken wings or drumsticks
- 10 carrots, chopped into ¼-inch-thick sticks
- 1½ pounds baby red potatoes, quartered
- ½ cup prepared basil pesto
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- Kosher salt and pepper
Directions: Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a large baking sheet with aluminum foil or parchment paper. Add carrots, potatoes, and chicken, then season generously with salt and pepper.
In a small bowl, combine olive oil, vinegar, pesto, and garlic. Drizzle mixture over sheet tray and use your hands to toss everything together. Transfer to oven and bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until chicken registers 165 degrees Fahrenheit on an instant-read thermometer and vegetables are tender. Serve.
4. Creamy Lemon-Basil Potato Salad
Though creamy potato salads have a fantastic texture, they can fall flat in the flavor department. When you make this jazzed up version with lemon and pesto from The Pioneer Woman, you won’t have any issues. We particularly like the addition of pine nuts for a little bit of crunch.
When making potato salad, go for small, waxy spuds. They hold their shape much better than starchier varieties, which can turn to mush when tossed with the other ingredients. The small size also means less chopping because you only need to halve or quarter them.
- 24 to 28 ounces small potatoes
- Juice of 2 lemons
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- ½ cup mayonnaise
- Salt and pepper
- 1 tablespoon prepared pesto
- ¼ cup pine nuts
- Small basil leaves
Directions: In a large pot of salted water, boil potatoes until tender. Drain well, cut in half, and transfer to a large bowl.
In a small skillet set over low heat, toast pine nuts until golden and fragrant, tossing occasionally. Remove from heat, let cool briefly, then add to potatoes.
In a small bowl, combine lemon juice, oil, mayonnaise, and pesto. Season with salt and pepper and whisk to combine. Pour half of dressing over potatoes and toss to coat. Add more dressing, if desired.
Chill potato salad, covered, for a few hours. Serve garnished with basil leaves.
5. Roasted Salmon with Pesto and Vegetables
Nights when you’re short on energy shouldn’t mean you wind up eating something sad and flavorless. This salmon recipe from Real Simple keeps things easy with just a handful of ingredients, but delivers plenty of great taste with some store-bought pesto. It’s just a matter of roasting the fish, peppers, and bread, then drizzling the pesto over the top.
- 2 bell peppers, thinly sliced
- 1 small red onion, thinly sliced
- 4 bread slices, torn
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 (6-ounce) skinless salmon fillets
- Salt and pepper
- ¼ cup pesto
Directions: Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Toss peppers, onion, bread, and oil on a rimmed baking sheet. Nestle salmon into pepper mixture and season with ¾ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Roast until salmon is opaque and vegetables are tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Serve drizzled with pesto.
6. Spinach Artichoke Pesto Pizza
Anyone who’s ever found themselves wishing entrées were as delicious as appetizers will go nuts for this spinach artichoke dip-inspired pizza from Two Peas & Their Pod. It delivers all the flavors of the restaurant favorite with just six ingredients and about 20 minutes in the oven. To really take things over the top, try adding another Italian cheese to the mix. Provolone, asiago, or fontina would all be delicious.
- 1 (16-ounce) ball homemade or store-bought pizza dough
- ½ cup spinach basil pesto or other pesto
- 1 cup chopped spinach
- 1 cup drained, chopped artichoke hearts from can or jar
- 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
- ½ cup shredded Parmesan cheese
Directions: Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Use a stone if you have one. On a lightly floured surface, roll pizza into a large circle using a rolling pin or your hands. Transfer to a pizza pan or peel.
Evenly spread pesto over crust, then top with spinach, artichokes, and both cheeses. Transfer to pizza stone, if using, or transfer pan to oven. Bake until crust is crisp and cheese is golden and bubbling. Remove from oven, let cool briefly, slice, and serve.
7. Steak Baguettes with Pesto Mayo
If you think a basic steak sandwich couldn’t get any better, you’ve never tried adding basil mayonnaise. Taste what a difference it makes with this easy recipe from Cooking Light. Adding onion, arugula, and tomatoes gives this sandwich even more flavor and turns it into a complete meal. If the regular tomatoes at your store look lousy, try using halved grape ones instead.
- 1 (12-ounce, 1-inch thick) boneless beef sirloin steak, trimmed
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- ⅛ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
- 2 tablespoons refrigerated pesto
- 1 (12-ounce) white or whole-grain baguette, split
- 1 cup packed baby arugula
- 3 (⅛-inch-thick) red onion slices
- 2 plum tomatoes, thinly sliced
Directions: Heat a grill pan over medium high. Season steak with salt and pepper, add to pan, and cook for 2½ minutes per side, or until cooked to your liking. Remove from pan and let rest for 5 minutes. Slice thinly across the grain.
Combine mayonnaise and pesto in a small bowl and stir well. Spread pesto mayonnaise evenly over cut sides of bread. Layer bottom portion of baguette with arugula, onion, steak, then tomato. Top with remaining bread. Cut on the diagonal into four sandwiches. Serve.
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