Healthy Meals…In a Flash

Studies show that people who eat meals cooked at home rather than at a restaurant tend to make healthier food choices and consume fewer calories. And in one study, for each dinner prepared at home, the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes decreased by 4%. Home-cooked meals tend to be lower in carbohydrate, sugar, and fat than meals prepared in a restaurant or at fast-food chains. Plus, you have more control over how much you serve yourself and how much you eat. But with everyone short on time, is it possible to get a healthy meal on the table without slaving over the stove? You bet! Use the tips below to help you get started:

Have a game plan. The first step for any eating plan is to set aside some time and prepare. Ideally, do this on the weekend when you might have more time to think about the upcoming week and what your and your family’s schedules look like. Then, decide on meals that you’d like to try for the upcoming week. Once you have your menu set, write up your grocery list and head to the supermarket.


Cook once, eat twice. You don’t necessarily have to cook a different meal every night of the week. For example, try doubling or even tripling a recipe, such as chili or a soup or stew. Homemade chicken soup on Monday night can do double duty on Wednesday night, as well. Another tip is to cook a beef or pork roast for the first night; use the leftovers for a stew or to make sandwiches for another night.

Dust off the slow cooker. Slow cookers are an ingenious kitchen tool that lets you pretty much throw together a bunch of ingredients, pop on the lid, and set the dial to “slow cook.” Six to eight hours later, you have a meal that’s ready to go with very little time or fuss.

Keep your pantry and cupboards stocked. Many simple meals can be put together in less than 30 minutes, but it means that you need to have the ingredients ready to go. Here’s what to keep on hand:

Condiments and seasonings. Olive oil and flavored oils; unsalted butter; vinegars, Dijon mustard; herbs and spices.

Canned goods. Canned tomatoes and other veggies; tomato paste; beans and lentils; tuna and salmon; reduced-sodium chicken, beef, and vegetable broths.

Grains. Brown rice; bulgur; quinoa; whole wheat pasta; rolled oats; barley.

Nuts and seeds. Walnuts; pecans; almonds (or whatever nuts you prefer); sesame seeds; nut butters.

Refrigerated and frozen foods. Low-fat milk or unsweetened milk alternatives like soy, almond, or rice milk; low-fat plain or Greek-style yogurt; Parmesan or Romano cheese; eggs, tofu; frozen vegetables.

Use convenience foods. You don’t have to cook everything from scratch. Take advantage of prepared foods to make your life a little easier. For example, buy precooked chicken or turkey breast; cut it up or shred it as needed for your recipes. Ask for thick slices of roast beef at the deli counter or scout out precooked shrimp at the seafood section. Don’t forget that vegetables and fruit also come prepared: Buying bags of precut carrots and celery, salad greens, cherry tomatoes, cut-up potatoes, and precut broccoli and cauliflower florets are big time savers. You can even find precooked grains that only require a quick heating-up before serving. However, be prepared to pay more for the convenience.

Go meatless. Vegetarian meals can often be much quicker than meat-based meals to prepare. Bean burritos, veggie burgers, tofu stir-fry, or an omelette are easy and fast to prepare.

Take advantage of frozen foods. The freezer section of the grocery store holds many healthy options (once you look past the ice cream, pizzas, and Hungry-Man style dinners). Frozen vegetables and fruits are a great option and so fast to fix. Skip the veggies packed in butter or cheese sauce, however, and go for frozen fruit minus any syrup. Frozen fish and seafood are also great options.

There are plenty of fast and healthy recipes available — do a quick search on the Internet and you’ll come across plenty of ideas. This website is a great source for delicious recipes. Keep in mind the importance of balance as you plan your meals; using the plate method can help. For example, make a point to include vegetables, lean protein, and a healthy carb food at each meal. Add a piece of fruit and maybe some yogurt or milk. Don’t overlook fat, either; just choose healthy fats, like olive oil, avocado, nuts, and seeds.

Finally, be open to trying new things. You may not enjoy every new recipe that you try, but then again, you might be pleasantly surprised, too. Keep track of the recipes and meals that you like and include them on a rotating basis as part of your weekly meal planning.

The Nutrition Facts panel contains a lot of good information, if you know what to look for. Bookmark and tune in tomorrow to find out how to evaluate food labels from registered dietitian Regina Shirley!