Welcome back to the Challenge! We’re coming in to the home stretch this week. And there’s one key issue I haven’t addressed yet: time!

So far, time hasn’t really been a problem for me. My coworkers have been especially understanding when I’ve ducked out early to get home and make dinner. (What, “I’m doing the Greatist Challenge” doesn’t cut it in your office?) Not to mention, I work from home two days a week, so I have even more dinner-prep time. But not everyone has such a flexible schedule, so this week I’ll focus on meals that are ultra-quick, simple, healthy, and cheap. And here are some of my favorite quick-cooking tips:

  • Cook a big batch of a side dish or two (like last’s week’s kale-walnut pesto pasta) and reuse it all week. A side dish can develop a totally different flavor when it’s paired with a new main dish.
  • Do as much prep during the weekend as possible. Yes, it still takes just as long, but chopping all your veggies at once saves time washing utensils and makes prep even quicker on weeknights.
  • Use inactive prep time. If you’ve got tonight’s dinner in the oven for the next 30 minutes, go ahead and prep tomorrow’s dinner. Dishes like casseroles, soups, and pastas save and reheat really well— and some (like chili and soup) even benefit from two rounds of heating.

But before I jump straight into the week-four menu plan, let’s look at how I did this week. Alex and I spent $42.73 on groceries (just $21.37 for my half)— a record low for the month. (We had a ton of breakfast and lunch staples left over from last week.) We restocked a couple things (like jelly and onions), but almost everything we bought was for dinner recipes. Wednesday I treated myself to two meals out— lunch mostly because I’ve started to enjoy this hump-day treat, and dinner because I knew I’d be in the city all evening for an event after work. For lunch I spent $5.27 on Trader Joe’s sushi and ginger-peanut noodles, and for dinner I spent $13.88 on a wrap, soup, and drink combo from Press (delicious). With half a wrap leftover for the next day, it was worth it. That comes to a total of $40.52, making this week the cheapest Greatist Challenge week so far— despite some indulgences.

Now, onto the menu!

Baked Barley Risotto with Butternut Squash (Most of the cook time is in the oven, unlike the case with other risottos, which need to be tended to constantly. I’m substituting kale for spinach to save money— just add the kale before baking, as it needs more time to get tender.)

Pasta with Turkey and Broccoli (This recipe is courtesy of Real Simple, but it’s not yet available online. I’ll post the recipe to The Greatist Team blog this weekend.)

Turkey Frittata with Chard

Roasted Salmon with White Wine Sauce and Spicy Swiss Chard

Maple-Mustard Glazed Chicken and Honey-Roasted Root Vegetables (I’ll make the full-size recipe of the veggies over the weekend and eat it all week.)

Produce 1 small butternut squash

1 bunch Swiss chard

1 lemon

1 large sweet potato

2 medium turnips

2 medium parsnips

2 medium carrots

3 shallots

Dairy 4 eggs


Meat 2 5-ounce salmon filets

1 lb. ground turkey

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Freezer 1 cup frozen broccoli florets

Grocery Orecchiette (whole grain if possible)

White wine

Fennel seed

Mango chutney

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I Have/You May Need 2 onions

2 large handfuls kale leaves

1 cup pearl barley

3 ¼ cups chicken broth

¼ cup maple syrup

Orange blossom or other floral honey

Dried thyme

Curry powder

Dried or fresh chives

Bay leaves

Olive oil


Crushed red pepper

Stone-ground mustard

Cider vinegar

Salt and pepper