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Quick and healthful meal tips for busy families

July 15, 2011|Lynn Little

Today, many people feel overworked, over scheduled and over-frazzled, and as a result, family meals at home often get squeezed out. You want to serve your family healthful, nutritious meals, but you're out of time and ideas on what to serve.

Try setting aside a time each week to organize the coming week's meal plans. Get menu ideas from family members. They'll be more likely to eat what is prepared and more interested in helping with preparation and clean-up if their food preferences have been considered. You can also visit www.choosemyplate.gov for sample menus.

Food that keeps your family healthy can be quick to fix. One quick and healthful meal idea starts with a whole-wheat tortilla (carbohydrate), topped with refried or black beans and cheese (protein) and microwaved until hot. Add chopped tomatoes, peppers and onions (vegetables) and serve with salsa and a glass of milk (dairy).  

  • Cook when you have more time. On weekends or your day off, make soups, stews or casseroles to freeze ahead for use in the next week or two. If making meat sauce, brown some extra ground meat for use in tacos or on pizza. Freeze the browned meat in meal-sized portions in plastic freezer bags.
  • Plan for leftovers. Cook a big meal on the weekend and use the leftovers as the basis for one or two additional meals later in the week.
  • Buy partly prepared foods as a timesaver. Try grated cheese, jars of Alfredo or spaghetti sauce, and bagged salad greens to save time. These foods often cost more, so check the price.  
  • Stock your kitchen. Keep foods on hand that you can make and serve in a hurry. Examples include canned fruit, vegetables and beans, canned chicken, tuna and salmon, dry pasta and rice, and frozen entrees or meals.
  • Another time saver is to cook once for everyone. Does your child like plain food? If so, set some of the cooked food aside before adding other ingredients. That way, you won't need to take time to prepare different foods.  
  • Cook the fast way. Broiling, stir-frying and microwaving usually require less cooking time than roasting or baking. If you have a convection oven, use it. Foods cook more quickly than in the conventional oven.  
  • Prepare no-cook meals. There's no rule that says family meals need to be hot, especially when it's hot outside. Consider whole meal salads with canned tuna, chicken or beans, or cold sandwiches served with raw vegetables and chopped fruit.  

Above all, enlist the help of family members. Ask your child to set the table, pour milk or do other simple tasks. Not only will it help you, but you will be helping your child develop an interest in cooking. Preparing family meals together also gives you time together.  

Check out  http://lancaster.unl.edu/food/ciq.shtml lfor "cook it quick ideas" to help you prepare healthful foods in a hurry.

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

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