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Eating Sustainably When You Need Quick Meals

“Why No Recipe Postings Lately?”


Ah, this is a question I’ve been asked several times in the last few weeks. The tasty soups, the yummy squash recipes, the pancrack… they were popular posts! Why have the recipes been lagging?


It boils down to my living a more active, busy lifestyle. The truth is: I have not had much time to experiment in the kitchen. In fact, I have not had much time to make much of anything!


There was a while there where I even fell off the wagon, and ate out several days a week. I admit it: when I work ten to twelve hours a day, sometimes I just don’t have the energy to cook. And I’ll admit also that I ate out for lunch several times a week. Gasp! Generally I ate sustainably-sourced foods, but still – not so sustainable for the bank account, nor my figure.


Now I am coming back into equilibrium. I’ve come to terms with my new lifestyle, and I’m finding ways to reconcile it with my own beliefs of simplicity and sustainability.  Several readers have expressed similar needs to live sustainably while living actively as well, so I’ve compiled some of my favorite quick and easy local meals.


5 Quick Lunches


1. Grill some veggies the night before, and then boil some pasta or rice while you’re eating breakfast in the morning. Then throw it in a reusable container, and you’re off.


Quick Seasonal Salad

2.  Quick salad. Rip up some lettuce and/or mixed greens into a reusable container, pour in several beans (I like garbanzos or favas), add some seasonal raw veggies (carrots, tomatoes, snow peas, etc), and top with a quickly made salad dressing. You can bring a couple slices of whole wheat bread for some added protein and grains if you like. For the dressing, I make it with 2-3 parts olive oil, 2/3 parts balsamic vinegar, 1/3 parts lemon juice, and a bit of salt and pepper. Alternatively, you can add a mustard instead of the lemon juice, or soy sauce instead of the vinegar.


Quick Tacos


3.  Eggs, salsa, and veggies with corn tortillas. This is one of my favorites. I scramble some eggs with zucchini, asparagus, onions, or greens. Then put them in a reusable container with a dollop of salsa on top, and some fresh cilantro if I have it. Then wrap up some tortillas that I can quickly throw in the microwave later at work. Viola, yummy tacos. You can also substitute beans for the eggs, and tortilla chips for the tortillas if you like.


4.  Raw fruits and veggies, with some cheese or meat. Now is the perfect season to cut up (or throw in whole) some raw veggies and fruit. Slice a bit of cheese or meat for protein, and you have a wonderfully balanced and tasty meal.


Pasta with Red Sauce

5.  Pasta with red sauce and grated parmesan cheese. You can make the sauce in large batches and freeze it. You can make extra sauce the night before. Or you can do what we often do, which is to buy locally-made sauce. Then boil the pasta while you’re eating breakfast in the morning, throw it in a reusable container, top it with cold sauce (you’re going to refrigerate it until lunch time anyway), grate a bit of cheese on top, and you’re off.



5 Quick Dinners


Aside from the same five meals above, which are equally good as dinners, here are some of my favorites:


Whole Wheat Pasta with Sauteed Tomatoes, Garlic, and Basil


1.  Sauteed veggies with whole wheat pasta. Boil the pasta as you saute the veggies (our favorites are asparagus and onions, or beans and garlic). Preserve a cup (or two if you’re making it for 4 people) of the pasta water before you strain the pasta. Then add the pasta water to the veggies, add extra salt and pepper to taste, and mix with the pasta. This gives it a nice pasta sauce flavor without having to make a sauce too. When tomatoes are in season, you can saute tomatoes, basil, and garlic for a quick sauce.


Grilled Eggplant and Mozzarella Sandwiches


2.  Grilled sandwiches. Roast veggies using this easy recipe, but slice them length-wise and fairly thinly. Roasted vegetables will keep for several days in the fridge. When you’re in need of a quick dinner, pull them out, put them on top of sliced whole wheat bread (you can spread the bread with mustard, mayo, pesto, or tomato sauce), top them with some mozzarella or other local cheese, and stick in the toaster oven for several minutes (on 400F or so) until the veggies are warm and the cheese is melted. Yum!




3.  Raviolis. We buy locally-made raviolis, usually filled with squash or mushrooms. While the raviolis are boiling, saute some mushrooms, garlic, and sage. When you strain the raviolis, reserve a bit of the pasta water and stir it into the mushrooms. Then mix the ingredients together and top with a bit of parmesan cheese. When tomato season starts, we saute tomatoes and basil with it. We usually eat raviolis with a simple salad (see #2 under lunches).


Grilled Veggies with Couscous


4.  Grilled vegetables with couscous. Roasting takes VERY little time, but you do have to put the veggies in the oven about an hour ahead of meal time – that is the only catch. Roast the veggies using this easy recipe adding some thyme or other fresh spices if you have them, and five minutes before they’re done, make a pot of couscous (follow the recipe on the package or bulk bin). Fluff the couscous, mix the veggies in, and voila.


Fresh Mozzarella, Tomatoes, Basil, and Bread

5.  Fresh Mozzarella, tomatoes, basil, and fresh bread. YUM. You can make your own mozzarella, but we usually buy locally-made mozzarella (from the farmer’s market, local deli, or You can drizzle it with a bit of olive oil if you like. This only works when tomatoes and basil are fresh and in season, either from the garden or from the market.


All of these quick meals can be made easily with local, seasonal ingredients. Enjoy!

In addition to these homecooked meals, we often eat simple pre-made foods from local companies that source their ingredients locally and/or organically. Our favorites include frozen pizza, red pepper and tomato soup, and hummus and pita bread. Check around your local grocery store or market – you may be surprised at how easy it is to find quick pre-made meals from local, sustainable companies.

What Else Would You Add?

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11 comments to Eating Sustainably When You Need Quick Meals

  • I always make sure to cook more than we need for dinner. That way I always have great leftovers to take for lunch or use in a pinch on nights when we have a lot going on. If I really have a lot extra, then I can freeze some in single serving containers for even further in the future. Today I was thrilled to have some frozen lasagna to bring to lunch that I had made about a month ago. What a treat!

  • I do #1 a lot, more often with a small red or gold spud and/or local tofu, diced. But lately I have been driven by schedule to making green drinks — whatever is calling to me from the garden goes into the whizzer with some thawed plum juice or whatever, is bottled up and goes into the bag-lady bag and onto the bus with with me.

    Today was:

    2 cups plum juice (works with water plus plum, pear or apple sauce too)
    Handful of romaine
    Handful of red lettuce
    Handful of Bibb
    Handful of sugar snap peas
    a spinach leaf
    a beet leaf
    a bok choi leaf
    a basil leaf
    Nasturtium blossom
    onion scape
    dollop of agave nectar


    Funnel into bottle.
    Cap and carry.

    What to do when you lack M’s talent, I guess. ;)

  • Rob H.

    Wow, great ideas Melinda! We may have to try a few of these. We are always in need of some quick dinner ideas that can carry over to lunch.

    Some of these ideas will definitely help me in my new healthier eating and living goals.

  • For eating quickly, I like bean salad – all it takes are mixed beans or whatever kind you happen to like (canned if you’re short on time) mixed with corn, peas, chopped tomato, sugar snap peas in the pod, or really any veggie you fancy. I like mine tossed with just a bit of rice wine vinegar, but balsamic would be nice too, or possibly a bit of salsa. Also, some chopped cheese is nice mixed in.

    I’m also a big fan of a scrambled egg burrito. Just take your normal scrambled eggs (I like mine with mushrooms, corn, and tomatoes, but the sky’s the limit) and put into a burrito with some spinach underneath. Top with your choice of cheese, and maybe a bit of salsa. Roll and eat.

    And, after all that, I need to go eat something. Yum.

  • bbjenae

    Great ideas for quick meals! I would have never thought about making the grilled sandwiches. I am picky when it comes to food, but these recipes are awesome. I find that when im cooking for a large group of people, they dont share the same interest in foods as I do. I really love to entertain and host events, I’m going to try the sauteed veggies with whole wheat pasta at my next gathering.Thanks!

  • I like to make big meals and then repurpose the leftovers. For example, I’ll make pot roast one night than transform it into beef vegetable soup for a bunch of servings. Yesterday, I made chicken chili with multi-colored peppers, and I’m making some quick homemade tortillas tonight to transform the leftovers into enchiladas. Salad or veggies from the garden and the meal is complete.

    For lunch, I take leftovers or make a big pasta salad to take all week. I try to cook when I have time so I’ve got leftovers to use.

    Even on a really busy day, I feel so much better when I cook.

  • These are fabulous ideas! I’d fallen off the wagon so to speak, and while we haven’t eaten out, our grocery bills are going way up…stupid considering we have a great farmers market AND a garden that’s starting to produce more than weeds now!

  • I eat simple Bean Burritos all the time- A tortilla with spread refried beans (sometimes I make my own “refried beans” I pulverize pinto beans in my cuisin art with a little olive oil and salt )Spread on the tortilla, add a little grated cheddar cheese some salsa heat and eat. Soups are easy as well- I like to make Leak and Potato soup and a bit of bread to work!

  • My grandpa would always put a fried egg that came from his chickens on top of everything. Meat, rice, salad. Always a fried egg from his chickens on top.

  • Xan

    One of my favorite things about gardening is walking through when I get home from work, to see what I can harvest, and then figure out what to cook from that. Today I had 2 dozen snow peas, some regular peas I had saved in the fridge, a couple big mustard greens and some onion. Sauteed them with a chipotle sausage, then tossed it with orzo and boiled the whole thing in a broth made from carrot greens. A little cream, season it with dried orange zest and coriander. Ten minutes to yum.

  • You can make your own mozzarella???!!!! Why have I never heard of this?! How, how how?

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