Part 1: Make a plan

Eating healthy with limited time begins with one simple step, planning. By personally adapting these basic planning stages, you’ll be the hero, serving your family healthy meals even with no time to spare.


Part 1: Make a plan

Eating healthy with limited time begins with one simple step, planning. By personally adapting these basic planning stages, you’ll be the hero, serving your family healthy meals even with no time to spare.

• Plan a weekly menu. Examine your family’s schedule that week to determine how much time you actually have to prepare a meal. You don’t want to choose recipes that need hours of cooking when you only have 15 minutes. Involve your family in this process by letting each member pick out a meal. Think about your cooking style. Are you a “from-scratch” cook, or do you like convenience items? Neither is right or wrong, but knowing yourself is the key to success in the kitchen.

• Plan your trip to the grocery store. Make a list based on the menu you prepared. Keep an eye out for fresh fruits and vegetables on special for a healthy snack. Purchase salad ingredients like lettuce, grape tomatoes, cucumber, baby carrots and a light vinaigrette for a quick dose of vitamins to accompany your meal.

Keep your family’s health in mind when purchasing breakfast and lunchbox items and snacks. If you only keep good-for-you foods in the house, your family will have more opportunities to eat healthy.

• Plan for the unexpected. Sometimes plans fall through, situations change or you just don’t feel like cooking. Here are a few suggestions for handling the unexpected.

• Grab a rotisserie chicken on the way home. Serve with a salad and whole-grain bread.

• Keep prepared pizza crusts on hand. Get the kids in the kitchen to assemble a healthy vegetable pizza and have fruit for dessert.

• Bring out the can opener for a soup and sandwich night. Try to choose low-fat and low-sodium soups.

• Keep a well-stocked pantry and refrigerator. Just be sure you read labels for prepared items like sauces and seasonings mixes.

Basics to keep on hand include whole grain starches, fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy items and lean meats.

Part II: Bring It All

Together

• Choose the entree you want to serve each night the following week. When you get to the grocery store, look for the specials on vegetables, fruits and meat. Even if your recipe calls for a specific meat, if a comparable meat is on sale, you can substitute.

Choose turkey or lean pork for chicken, ground chicken for ground beef, fish for shrimp, chicken thighs for chicken breasts. Chicken thighs contain more fat and calories than chicken breasts.

The good news is cooking healthy usually requires little cooking time. When using lean meats, such as chicken breasts, the cooking time is shortened. Vegetables retain their nutritional value and their vibrant, appealing color when minimally cooked.

You now need to know some quick-cooking methods so you can utilize all of these staples.

• Pan-fry or saute.

You will need a hot pan and a small amount of oil just to coat the pan.

This is good for quick-cooking meat such as boneless chicken breasts, pork loin cutlets, lean steaks, fish or shellfish.

• Bake.

It may require some baking time but little preparation time. Pop the food in the oven and do another household chore while it is baking.

You will need a baking pan and either oil or non-stick cooking spray and dry food. Preheat your oven to 375 to 425 degrees. This high temperature allows the sugars and proteins in your food to react to each other, producing beautiful color and delicious flavor.

This is good for chicken breasts, pork loin, beef loin, vegetables, such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, summer and winter squash, broccoli, asparagus, cauliflower and tomatoes of any variety.

• Crock pot.

If you can prepare early and return when the food is done, crock pots are great.

This is good for beef or pork roasts or meats that need moist cooking methods to enhance tenderness. You can add vegetables and seasonings for a one-pot meal. To increase flavor, season the meat with salt and pepper and coat lightly with flour. Cook until browned on all sides using the saute cooking method, then transfer to the crock pot. It is also great for soup, stew, or chili.

Susan M. Jackson is the Harvey County Extension agent, family and consumer science and community development.