Three steps to prepare healthful meals

May 17, 2006|by LYNN F. LITTLE

What do you do when it's time to eat? Stop at a restaurant on your way to wherever you need to be next? Pick up food at the grocery store or deli on your way home? Pull an "emergency" meal from your freezer and reheat it? Serve a meal from your slow cooker? Whip up something from your well-stocked pantry? Any of the above, depending on how much planning you have done?

Every choice has a cost in hours and minutes and in dollars and cents. Every choice impacts your health and planning ahead increases your choices. Healthy foods can be part of any schedule and cooking style. Planning is the key to creating menu options that fit your lifestyle. To help with planning ahead, here's a three-step guide:

1. Stock up on the basics. Smart shopping puts the ingredients you need where you need them - in your cupboards, refrigerator and freezer. Think about the foods you like to serve (or want to serve). Use the following list as a guide to create your own master shopping list.


In your cupboard or pantry:

  • Spaghetti, macaroni, other pasta

  • Packaged biscuit baking mix

  • Ready-to-heat sauces and reduced-fat, reduced-sodium soups

  • Rice, barley, lentils, split peas

  • Potatoes, onions

  • Canned fruits, vegetables, beans, tuna

  • Canned and bottled fruit and vegetable juices

  • Salsa, seasoning and sauce mixes, and other condiments

  • Cooking oil, nonstick spray

In your refrigerator or freezer:

  • Fresh and frozen vegetables, baby carrots, pretorn salad greens

  • Fresh and frozen fruit and fruit juices

  • Frozen chopped onion and green pepper

  • Tortillas, pita bread, pizza crust, bagels, ready-to-bake rolls, whole-grain bread, English muffins

  • Cheese (grated, sliced), yogurt, cottage cheese, milk, eggs, margarine

  • Cooked sliced meat or poultry, fish, ground meats

  • Skinless, boneless chicken or turkey breasts

  • Cooked pasta, rice, bulgur, barley

2. Plan "MyPyramid" menus. The easiest way to serve a healthful meal is to use the proportions suggested by the MyPyramid Food guidance system. Start with the grains group. Choose two or more grain products, with at least one of those being a whole grain. Add one or more vegetables and fruits. Add a dairy product and a meat or protein source. If desired, add small amounts of fats, oils or sweeteners (such as margarine, butter, salad dressing, vegetable dip, sugar) to enhance flavor.

3. Eat and enjoy! Below are some sample menus to start your own planning session:

Breakfast menu

Orange or pineapple juice, Fruit Parfait (recipe follows), whole-wheat bread toast, milk or hot chocolate

Lunch menu

Pizza on a Potato (recipe follows), garlic bread or corn muffins, apple slices and milk

Lunch-on-the-go menu

Garden Tortilla Wrap (recipe follows), grapes, oatmeal cookie and milk

Dinner menu

Chicken and Rice (recipe follows), lettuce or spinach salad, whole-wheat bread, milk, ice cream with strawberries

Lynn F. Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

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