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Meals can be fast and healthful

January 28, 2009|By LYNN LITTLE

You are busy. You work hard at home or at the office, you carpool, volunteer, workout, pick up and clean up. You don't have time to think about dinner.

A few time-saving steps can help you prepare easy family meals with less stress. Use the time you save to enjoy your family.

Keep meals simple. Food that keeps your family healthy can be quick to fix. Three quick-to-fix family foods include:

o Hearty soup: Add canned or frozen vegetables to tomato or chicken soup.

o Pasta dish: Mix chopped lean ham or deli meat and cooked vegetables into macaroni and cheese.

o Hearty stuffed potato: Serve homemade or canned chili over a baked potato or rice.

Cook when you have more time. Make soups, stews or casseroles to freeze for the next week.

Do some tasks ahead of time, a few hours or the day before. Wash and trim vegetables or make fruit salad. Cook noodles for pasta salad. Cook lean ground meat for tacos.

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Shop for time savers. Buy partly prepared foods. Try grated cheese, cut-up chicken and mixed greens to save time. These foods often cost more, so check the prices.

Stock your kitchen with foods that you can make and serve in a hurry, such as:

o Canned fruit

o Canned or frozen vegetables

o Canned meat, poultry and fish

o Canned soups or stew

o Whole grain bread

o Pasta and rice

o Cheese

o Low-fat yogurt

Save time in your kitchen. Cook once for everyone. If your child likes plain vegetables, meat, rice or noodles, set some aside before you add other ingredients. You won't need to take time to prepare different foods.

Broil, stir-fry or microwave when you can. These are faster preparation methods than roasting and baking.

Make no cook meals such as salads with canned tuna, chicken or beans: cold sandwiches; raw vegetables and/or fruit with yogurt dip.

Double or triple the amount you are cooking. Cook for today and later. You can make enough meat sauce for spaghetti today and for topping a baked potato tomorrow.

Involve your family. Preparing family meals gives you time together, even on busy days.

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

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