Last Minute Meals!
You prefer not to spend too much time cooking or preparing recipes—the less you have to do the better. Whether you have a lot of demands on your time or just do not enjoy cooking, you often find yourself in the kitchen hungry without a plan for what to cook. You want to make nutritious meals, but sometimes you have to make do with convenience foods or take out.
Whether you are eating take out or preparing a meal, the basics of healthy eating are the same. Healthy foods are nutrient rich—they have a large amount of vitamins and minerals for their calories. The more nutrient-rich foods you can include in your diet the more balanced and healthy your overall diet will be. Nutrient-rich foods are:
It is possible to make tasty, healthy meals with little time in the kitchen. Consider what makes it easier for you to prepare meals. Prepackaged entrees and salads available at the deli counter of your local supermarket offer healthier alternatives to take out or fast food. Try picking up a roasted chicken and a pre-made salad for dinner. You could quickly microwave frozen broccoli or another vegetable to go with any pre-made entree. Frozen vegetables are a nutritious alternative to fresh and are easy to have on hand in your freezer.
The microwave can be a valuable time-saving tool. Use it to reheat precooked meat and vegetables, cook a baked potato that you then top with canned chili and sour cream, or heat a frozen burrito and add fresh salsa and guacamole.
When you have food on hand you are able to generate healthy meals with less meal planning. Keeping your refrigerator, freezer and cupboard filled with healthy foods will make it easier to prepare a healthy meal quickly. For example, fill your refrigerator with cheese, yogurt, precut vegetables, deli meats and eggs. Load your freezer with frozen fruits and vegetables, frozen burritos, precooked meats and even frozen ravioli and rice. Your cupboards can store soups, canned tuna or chicken, peanut butter, tortillas, crackers, rice, pasta, dry cereal, canned beans, vegetables and fruit.
Try one or two of the following tips this week to make simple healthy meals at the last minute:
You might also enjoy other features on Meals Matter that make planning meals easier. Our Quick Meals page offers suggestions for meals that can be made in about 30 minutes plus one dish meals and recipes that require six ingredients or less. The Meal Planner helps you organize your meals and balance your diet over the course of each week.
We also recommend using the online shopping list. Once you find recipes you like, just click the Shopping List icon to save the ingredients to your online list and print it when you go the store.
For more meal planning ideas read these related articles:
These recipes are handpicked for good taste and convenience for the Last Minute Meals personality. We feel they meet your need to make healthy meals quickly so they contain more short cut ingredients, such as pre-made sauce, shredded cheese or frozen vegetables.
You’re not a fan of cooking. Before you had kids, your idea of cooking was heating up a dish in the microwave. While life has changed, old habits do die hard. So as much as you try to whip up a couple meals per week from scratch, you often find yourself relying on family-size frozen dinners, serving packaged kids’ meals, or creating casseroles using canned foods.
What’s great about your cooking style: When cooking can feel like a chore, moms prefer to use frozen and canned foods for convenience. “The great thing is you can still get your vitamins and nutrients from frozen fruits and vegetables as well as certain canned foods,” says Liz Weiss MS, RD, co-author of The Moms’ Guide to Meal Makeovers: Improving the Way Your Family Eats, One Meal at a Time (Broadway, 2003) and creator of Meal Makeover Moms’ Kitchen Blog.
In fact, Weiss incorporates canned foods into her meals almost daily! She enjoys canned pumpkin and squash that gets pureed into muffins and pancakes. And she loves canned beans, because of the fiber and protein they offer. Baked beans are even a side dish she sometimes heats up for her family.
What to keep in mind: It’s just as important to incorporate frozen and fresh produce when cooking meals, and it isn’t very healthy to live off of canned foods only. “It’s crucial to check the labels and compare brands for the least amount of sodium and saturated fat,” says Weiss. “I love to rinse and drain the canned food I’m using because it rinses away 40 percent of the sodium.”
Kid-friendly tip: Don’t spend time heating up individual “kids’ meals” for picky eaters, advises Weiss. Kids’ meals you buy are typically unhealthy prepackaged food that children love such as chicken fingers and mac and cheese.
Instead, find foods that every family member likes, and make a meal out of it so that the whole family can enjoy together. “It’s important to find foods that kids love, but don’t let them control what’s being cooked for dinner that night. Ultimately you are the boss,” says Weiss.
To get your kids involved in eating healthy, Weiss recommends that you “hire” them as “taste testers” so that they feel like they have some input to offer. This way they have some control, and you aren’t just forcing them to eat whatever is in front of them. “I tend to ask my kids if they would like carrots, peas, or both as a side,” says Weiss.
How kids can help you cook: Fortunately, there is plenty children of any age can do to assist you in the kitchen. Depending on their age, children can identify and gather ingredients, chop, dice, whip, measure, and stir ingredients together. Weiss also suggests expanding the food experience outside of your kitchen and into the grocery store or local farmer’s market. “When out grocery shopping, I ask my sons for assistance like picking out five delicious ripe pears or apples, because it makes them feel responsible and useful,” says Weiss. Her family also planted a vegetable and herb garden, and maintains a compost bin. “Not only are we being more environmentally friendly, but the kids are being more active in the entire process of cooking food—from where we get it to how we cook it, and how we dispose of it,” says Weiss.