Most busy families hit the ground running from daylight to dark, so complicated meal preparation is the last thing they want to face at day’s end. Particularly in a world that scatters the family between school and work, sports matches and church events, the evening meal takes on added meaning – a time to “cool down”, reconnect, share the day’s news and enjoy a healthy meal. With a little advance planning and some smart pantry and freezer habits, you’ll be able to satisfy the hungry and enjoy your time with family.
For three types of spontaneous meals, keep some basics in supply – rice, pasta, potatoes, soup – clear and cream. Take advantage of vegetable, fruit and sauce sales to salt away a few extras that are life savers for your quick-fix meals. Crushed or diced tomatoes, mixed vegetables, beets, lite pears and apricots will come to the rescue as your star entree or side-dish “coup de grace”.
The same is true of your freezer, where it really pays off to ease meal preparation on busy days. As long as you’re expending the effort and energy to cook, make extra. While baking your favorite chicken dish, throw a couple of pieces in a saucepan with water, parsley, carrot, onion and spices. Simmer, cool and freeze with the savory broth, and you’ll have the heart of a delicious dinner at your fingertips. Freeze extra sauces and broths in stackable plastic containers. Next time you pull out the ground beef, saute plenty with garlic, onions and spices to freeze for a variety of dishes. Take a look at Cookinglight.com for some imaginative 5-ingredient dishes that are easy, hearty and healthy. With new ideas and habits engrained, you’re ready to tackle three types of quick and healthy dinners.
The Power of Pasta. Grab your bowtie, vermicelli or noodles to produce a satisfying, healthy meal with time to spare. Toss together cooked chicken, peas and pimiento with mushroom soup or a basic white sauce, and you need only add salad and rolls to complete your dinner. For a taste of Italy, take the time to jazz up that jar of spaghetti sauce with your frozen ground beef mixture, parmesan cheese and your own favorite spices. Even a nice creamed tuna dish with English peas and pimiento works well served over buttery noodles. Don’t forget the ever popular macaroni and cheese, made extra special with a little cream of mushroom soup, ham and tomato slices.
One-dish Magic. Your basic pantry and freezer hoarding pay off handsomely with hearty casseroles. Add beef broth and mixed vegetables to your ground beef mixture, thicken, top with mashed potatoes, and you have a tasty Shepherd Pie that will wow the entire family. Bake with a touch of grated cheese, and wait for the applause! Your frozen chicken and broth are only waiting for cooked broccoli spears, cream of chicken soup and fluffy rice. Add a touch of lemon, mayonnaise and top with buttered bread crumbs for an elegant “Chicken Divan”.
Ever-popular Potatoes. What can’t you do with good old-fashioned potatoes? Bake and top with steamed vegetables and cheddar cheese or that ground beef mix with chopped tomatoes. Creamed chipped beef or minced ham also provides tasty variations. You can expand baked, scalloped potatoes with ham and vegetables for a filling dinner.
Don’t forget healthy sides. Tossed salads round out pasta and casserole dishes with healthy greens and a crunchy texture. Or top lettuce pieces with cold beets and vinaigrette or pear halves and a slight drizzle of thousand island dressing. Top either with grated cheese, and you’ve added a beautiful salad and a healthy dose of vitamins.
Finally, eggs and cheese can always come to the rescue for a delicious hearty omelet loaded with chopped tomatoes, broccoli or spinach, sauted onions and ham bits. Top with parsley and serve with toasted whole wheat muffins and melon slices – delicious!
For more ideas that fulfill the quick and healthy meal ticket, take a look at www.healthy-quick-meals.com. It’s a nicely organized site with plenty of recipes, as well as time-saving blender, crockpot and food processor hints. You will be surprised at the growing number of healthy meals you can whip together at the end of a busy day.