Healthy meals can be made without cooking

May 07, 2003|by Lynn Little

More and more people report they don't cook anymore. So what are they eating - all fast foods and restaurant meals? Most budgets (and waistlines) can't sustain a long period of eating every meal out, so what's one to do?

Many people have discovered the art of healthy eating without all the hours in the kitchen. By combining the skills of layering a sandwich, chopping fresh fruits and vegetables, you have the recipe for a healthy meal - no cooking required. Add a few more skills like heating up precooked, canned, frozen or deli foods, microwaving fresh or frozen vegetables, or adding a topping to a microwave baked potato and create a multitude of healthy menus with little work.

Breakfasts are easy. Try a bowl of cereal with milk or instant oatmeal. Serve toast, bagels or toasted frozen waffles with a variety of toppings such as cheese, cottage cheese, peanut butter, fruit spread or fruit-flavored yogurt. Make yogurt parfaits with layers of yogurt, fruit and cereal. Blend up a batch of fruit smoothies using fruit, tofu or yogurt, and juice, milk or soymilk. And don't forget leftovers like cold pizza for breakfast.


Washed fresh vegetables, deli meats and a can of soup, make lunchtime meals a snap. If you have time to cook on weekends, save and freeze leftover cooked meats and vegetables to add to canned soup or purchased salad. If leftover cooked meats and vegetables aren't available, visit the deli department for sliced meats and marinated vegetables to top a green salad. Most people are able to come up with easy breakfasts and lunches, but they cite the evening meal as the most difficult to prepare without hours for preparation and cleanup.

Here are a few ideas. Stock the kitchen pantry with canned meats like tuna and chicken. Tuna is now available in a pouch instead of a can; it costs more but tastes better.

Have a selection of bottled pasta sauces handy. Some even come with directions for microwave heating in the jar (use safety precautions to avoid burns). If boiling water to make pasta is too time-consuming, buy some precooked noodles. Just heat and serve. Or try freezing your own cooked pasta in single-serving portions. Cooked pasta can be easily frozen if it's tossed with a little vegetable oil.

As well as being some of the healthiest foods you can eat, most fruits and vegetables are also the easiest to prepare. Most fruits can be washed and eaten out of hand. Some vegetables need only be washed and sliced before serving. Try serving these raw vegetables with a bottled salad dressing or herbed yogurt for dipping.

While many canned and frozen food items are convenient to prepare, they also can be high in sodium and fat. Look for versions of your favorite foods that are lower in sodium and fat. If a low-salt, low-fat version isn't available, plan a menu that also includes other foods that are naturally low in salt or fat, like carrots and peaches.

Menu ideas that require minimal cooking include:

  • Lunch - chicken noodle soup (canned, low sodium); carrots (peeled, baby); applesauce; cinnamon roll; milk, coffee or tea.

  • Dinner - baked (microwave) potato topped with canned chili and shredded cheese; melon; salad; salad dressing; low-fat frozen yogurt; low-fat milk, coffee or tea.

Grape, Cheese and Salsa Pita Sandwiches

  • 1 cup seedless grapes, halved

  • 1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese

  • 1/4 cup chopped celery

  • Salt and pepper to taste

  • 4 pita bread, halved

  • Prepared salsa

Lightly mix grapes, cheese, celery, salt and pepper; store in a reusable container until mealtime. When ready to eat, fill pita halves with grape filling and salsa. Serves 4.

Lynn F. Little is an extension educator with Family & Consumer Sciences of the Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

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