Cooking Healthy Foods in a Hurry

The task of cooking a big meal after a full day of work might seem kind of daunting. You might be tempted to make a side trip to the closest fast food restaurant or maybe order a pizza. While that might be OK once a month or so, don't make it a habit. Those fast foods are loaded with saturated fats, sodium, sugar and calories.

Does that mean you are doomed to spend an hour and a half in the kitchen every night if you want to feed your family healthy meals? Nope. Not at all. Some tasty and healthy shortcuts can make cooking easy and delicious. All that is required is the right kitchen equipment and a little smart shopping at your grocery store to make healthy choices.

Here are some tips for healthy, quick and tasty meals:

Need dinner now because you are in a big hurry? Don't go the fast food route; stop at your grocery store instead. Most grocery stores have deli sections with lots of dishes that are ready to heat and serve. Be sure to choose foods that aren’t loaded with creamy sauces or gravies, and don't buy the fried chicken and greasy potato wedges. Instead, pick up a hot fresh rotisserie chicken. These chickens are low in fat, often nicely seasoned and all you have to do is carve the bird and serve it with vegetables and a salad.

The freezer section of your store has several varieties of healthy vegetables. There are blends of vegetables with their own sauces (watch for fat and sodium) as well as brands that steam right in your microwave. My favorite is Birds Eye Steamfresh vegetables.

Make your own salad at the grocery store's salad bar or grab some greens and pre-cut vegetables. Wash the greens and fresh vegetables, toss and serve. Serve with low-fat salad dressing on the side.

What if you have a little more time to prepare dinner?

Choose fresh meats that are ready to cook in your oven. Go to the meat department of the grocery store and look for skinless seasoned chicken breasts or healthy salmon fillets. Place them in a baking dish and pop it in the oven. There is virtually no prep time and little clean up so you have plenty of time to make your side dishes.

Use a vegetable steamer/rice cooker (buy direct) that can prepare two healthy side dishes at once. The steamer does the work while you relax or get your other errands done. Get a steamer with a built-in timer so your vegetables will be ready when you get home.

Buy a slow cooker (buy direct). Make your own hearty soup with some low-sodium broth, chunks of lean beef or chicken, potatoes, carrots, onions, garlic and celery or try an easy slow cooker recipe. You can also buy dinner mixes meant for your crock pot. But read the labels; they usually are high in fat and sodium.

Do you have a bread maker (buy direct) hiding on the back shelf of your pantry? Bring it out and make your own fresh bread. Set a timer so that when you get home the bread will be warm and ready to serve with a meal or a simple bowl of soup. There are boxes of bread mixes all ready to go; just add a bit of water and some canola oil and press the start button. Have fun with your bread mixes by adding extra ingredients such as a quarter cup of chopped nuts or shredded cheese. You can also substitute a cup of room-temperature beer for the water and maybe some chopped chili peppers for a little kick. My favorite bread mixes are Hodgson Mill’s Nine Grain Bread mix, and Honey Whole Wheat.

What about buying frozen meals?

When you go to the freezer section of your grocery store, you will find lots of frozen meals. Some are small and low in calories, others are huge with lots of calories and fat and high in sodium. Lean Cuisine, Weight Watchers and Healthy Choice offer frozen foods that are healthier than most other brands. Make them even healthier by adding some extra vegetables or salad and a slice of whole grain bread.

The best frozen meals are ones you make yourself. If you can devote a whole weekend in your kitchen (and you have a big freezer), you can try once a month cooking. As always, choose healthy recipes that are low in calories and high in nutrition. Look for recipes that use lean meats, poultry or fish and lots of vegetables.

If you don't have a whole weekend to prepare meals, but you do have a few hours, find a meal preparation store. These stores offer delicious recipes, high quality ingredients, helpful staff, and best of all, someone else cleans up. Look for a meal preparation store near you (if your city has any).

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