Fix it fast and healthy

June 09, 2004|by LYNN F. LITTLE

Plan ahead to avoid the question, "What's for dinner tonight?," and increase the likelihood that meals are quick and nutritious. There's no magic formula. Choose what works best for you - a few days or a week at a time. The key is planning meals that work with your schedule.

Consider these guidelines:

  • Plan menus to guide your shopping and preparation.

  • Organize your shopping list to save time in the market.

  • Study your kitchen and organize it to maximize efficiency.

  • "Cook once; eat twice" as often as possible - use food later in the week or create quick freezer dinners.

  • Create five survival meals and keep the ingredients on hand.

  • Choose short recipes and fewer courses.

  • Clear out unused clutter, utensils and pans.

Create a master list to guide shopping and increase efficiency. Select categories, such as meats, dairy products, produce, canned goods, cereals, frozen foods, nonfood items and baked goods.

Group items. Grouping foods by category will eliminate backtracking at the market. The master list could reflect the store layout. If you don't need something in a category, skip that aisle.


Shop "super" markets. Shop markets you're familiar with so you don't waste time looking for items. Select markets with efficient layouts.

Avoid "rush hour." Shop when aisles aren't crowded and checkout lines are short.

Use prepared ingredients. When balancing time and money, buy some prepared ingredients. Consider prewashed fresh spinach for a salad, prepared chicken breast for stir-fry or shredded cheese for pasta.

The days of seven-course meals are long gone. To make a fast track to the dinner table, take advantage of main dishes, handy kitchen tools and healthy convenience foods. Here are some steps to make things easier:

  • Keep a well-stocked pantry and refrigerator.

  • Do some preparation the night before. Spend most of your time preparing one entree per meal.

  • Wash and prepare vegetables for quick snacks or additions to dishes.

  • Multitask while cooking.

  • Choose wide saucepans to speed heating.

  • Use ingredients and gadgets that save work and time.

  • Bake or chill the dessert while you're eating.

  • Combine cooking time and family time.

  • To save cleanup, mix, cook, and serve in the same dish.

  • Enjoy a rainbow of colors. Take advantage of the array of colorful fresh fruits and vegetables to get your five-a-day. Look for weekly specials at local farmers markets or in the produce aisle. Fruits and veggies provide essential vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals that promote health and help prevent diseases.

  • Keep milk on the menu. What could be easier than pouring a glass? Plan for three per day. Having milk, yogurt and cheeses is an easy way for everyone to meet daily calcium needs. Calcium-fortified juices don't contain milk's bone-building package of vitamin D and protein.

  • Go for the whole grains. Whole grains provide more fiber, vitamins and minerals than their refined cousins. From breads to pastas, the choices are endless. Look for grains such as whole-wheat flour, graham flour, oatmeal, brown rice, whole oats or barley listed as the first ingredient on the label.

  • Look for 100 percent. When buying juices, look for 100 percent on the label. Limit juice intake to no more than 4 to 6 ounces for 1- to 6-year-olds and 8 to 12 ounces for 7- to 18-year-olds and adults. Remember that fresh fruits provide fiber and nutrients.

  • Eliminate the competition. Don't buy high-fat, high-sugar or high-salt snack foods, or they may crowd out more healthy options. Keep precut, washed vegetables and fresh fruit visible and easy to grab.

  • Remember breakfast. The most important meal of the day can be the quickest. Look for cereals that list whole grain or bran as the first ingredient and contain at least 2 grams of dietary fiber per serving. The choices are endless, although whole-grain cereals top the list as the best choice for weight control and improving health. The microwave cooks hot cereals like oatmeal quickly.

  • Make good nutrition convenient. Pack the kitchen with nutritious foods that are ready to eat - fruits, vegetables, milk and whole-grain snacks - instead of high-fat, high-sugar snacks.

Fast, healthy meals

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