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Three simple steps to create quick, healthy meals

February 20, 2008|By LYNN LITTLE

What do you do when it's time to eat?

a. Stop at a restaurant on your way to wherever you need to be next.

b. Pick up food at the grocery store or deli on your way home.

c. Pull an "emergency" meal from your freezer and reheat it.

d. Serve a meal from your slow cooker.

e. Whip up something from your well-stocked pantry.

f. Any of the above, depending on how much planning you've done.

Fast foods, frozen pizza, carry-out meals, all are popular quick meals; some even have healthy options. But when you're ready for more, here's a three-step plan to guide you.


Healthy foods can be part of any schedule and cooking style. Planning is the key to creating menu options that fit your lifestyle.

Stock up on the basics. Smart shopping gets the ingredients you need into 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 the cupboard:

· Spaghetti, macaroni or other pasta

· Packaged biscuit-baking mix

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

· Rice, barley, lentils and split peas

· Potatoes and onions

· Canned fruits, vegetables, beans and tuna

· Canned and bottled fruit and vegetable juices

· Salsa, seasoning and sauce mixes, and other condiments

· Cooking oil and non-stick spray

In the refrigerator and/or freezer:

· Fresh and frozen vegetables, baby carrots, pre-torn 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 or English muffins

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

· Cooked, sliced meat or poultry, fish, ground meats

· Skinless, boneless chicken breasts or turkey breasts

· Cooked pasta, rice, bulgur or barley

Planning a meal

The easiest way to serve a healthy meal is to use the proportions suggested by the USDA food pyramid (

· Choose two or more grain products.

· Add one or more vegetables and fruits.

· Add a dairy product.

· Add 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.

Eat and enjoy. Use these sample menus to start your own planning session. (Menu items with ** have recipes that follow.)

Breakfast Menu

Orange or pineapple juice
Fruit parfait**
Whole wheat bread, toasted
Milk or hot chocolate

Lunch Menu

Pizza on a potato**
Garlic bread or corn muffins
Apple slices

Lunch To-Go Menu

Garden tortilla wrap**
Oatmeal cookie

Dinner Menu

Chicken and rice**
Lettuce or spinach salad
Whole wheat bread
Ice cream with strawberries

Visit and click on sample menus for an entire week of menu ideas.

Every choice has a cost in hours and minutes and in dollars and cents. Every choice impacts your health. Planning ahead increases your choices.

Garden tortilla wrap

1 10-inch flour tortilla (white or whole wheat)
1/4 to 1/2 cup rinsed spinach, shredded, torn or whole
1/4 to 1/2 cup chopped, raw vegetables such as shredded carrot, sliced or chopped tomato, or pepper strips
2 tablespoons shredded cheese (optional)
1 thin slice deli turkey (optional)

Cover flour tortilla with spinach. Add chopped, raw vegetables. If desired, add shredded cheese or deli turkey. Roll up. Wrap in plastic wrap and place in a cooler with an ice pack to keep chilled until ready to eat.

Serves 1.

Nutrition information per serving: 145 calories, 27 g carbohydrates, 4.5 g protein, 2.5 g fat, 3.5 g fiber

Fruit parfait

2 cups low-fat vanilla yogurt
2 cups cut-up fresh fruit (such as banana, grapes, blueberries) or unsweetened canned fruit, drained (such as peaches)

Wash fresh fruit and cut up, or drain canned fruit.

Put 1/4 cup of the fruit into the bottom of four glasses. Top each with 1/4 cup of the vanilla yogurt. Add another 1/4 cup of the fruit and top with 1/4 cup of yogurt.

Serve immediately or cover and chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Can be prepared the night before for a quick breakfast.

Serves 4.

Nutrition per serving: 116 calories, 23 g carbohydrates, 5 g protein, 1 g fat, 1.5 g fiber

Pizza on a potato

1 potato, scrubbed clean
2 tablespoons pizza or tomato sauce
1/4 cup to 1/2 cup frozen vegetable mix
1/4 cup shredded cheese (mozzarella or Monterey jack)

Bake or microwave potato until it is soft and cooked through. While potato is baking, place vegetables in a colander; run warm water over them until thawed; drain.

Split baked potato in half lengthwise and place in a small baking dish. Spread pizza or tomato sauce on each half of the cooked potato. Top with drained vegetables. Sprinkle shredded cheese over vegetables. Microwave until cheese is bubbly or bake at 375 degrees for 5 to 10 minutes until cheese is melted.

Chicken and rice

1 teaspoon vegetable cooking oil
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
1 10.75-ounce can cream of chicken soup
1 1/2 cups water
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon paprika
2 cups quick-cooking rice
2 cups fresh or frozen broccoli or vegetable mix

Heat oil in non-stick skillet over medium high heat. Add chicken; brown lightly on each side. Cover and cook 4 minutes on each side or until cooked through. Remove chicken to bowl or plate.

Add soup, water, pepper and paprika to skillet. Heat to boiling. Stir in rice and broccoli or vegetables. Top with chicken. Sprinkle additional paprika and pepper over chicken. Cover and cook over low heat 5 minutes.

Serves 4.

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