Fast, Healthy Meals for Busy Families
When mealtime is rushed, you can still put nutritious food on the table. Check out these 5 tips for homemade fast food.

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Fast, Healthy Meals for Busy Families

Long hours at work followed by long commutes. Lessons, practices and games for the kids. Evening meetings and events. Sound familiar? It's no wonder you barely have time to cook. But it is possible to get a fast, healthy meal on the table.

Here are five tips to help you.

1.) Stock the pantry, fridge and freezer with healthy foods.
Your first step should be to take stock of what you have at hand. Keeping a well-stocked kitchen is key to quick, easy and convenient meals and snacks. Is your pantry looking bare? We'll help you start making your shopping list.

  • In your cupboard. Make sure you have plenty of pasta (whole-grain is ideal), quick-cooking brown rice, lentils, canned tomatoes, canned tuna and beans, whole-grain crackers, whole-wheat breads, dried fruit and nuts.
  • In your fridge. Keep low-fat cheeses, fat-free or low-fat cottage cheese and yogurt, peanut butter, low-fat mayo, eggs, and plenty of fruits and veggies.
  • In your freezer. Stock frozen fruits and veggies, chicken breasts, lean hamburger, shrimp and salmon.

2.) Use convenience products wisely.
Canned and frozen foods can be a base for nutritious meals, but be sure to watch the sodium content. Just add fresh ingredients or side dishes to round out the meal. And get acquainted with the ultimate in home-cooking helpers: the slow cooker. In the morning, put canned, frozen and fresh ingredients into the slow cooker, and come home to a hot meal at night. Here are some ideas that mix and match fresh and convenience items:

  • Add fresh herbs and garlic to canned tomatoes for a quick pasta sauce.
  • Put chicken breasts, canned black beans, jarred salsa and frozen corn in the slow cooker to make an easy taco filling.
  • Top sautéed lean meat with a store-bought sauce or marinade.
  • Buy a rotisserie chicken and pair it with quick-cooking brown rice and fresh or frozen vegetables.

3.) Make extra food and use your leftovers.
Leftovers don't have to be ho-hum. With some creativity, you can turn them into a tasty new meal.

  • Use leftover chicken in a green salad.
  • Dice an extra baked potato and add it to an omelet.
  • Need only half an onion or bell pepper tonight? Chop it all and use the rest later in the week to add flavor to almost anything.
  • Make several servings of homemade oatmeal using rolled or steel-cut oats. Portion out one serving and store the rest in the fridge. Heat up a bowl for a hearty breakfast or fast lunch. You can add fresh or dried fruits and nuts to vary the taste.

4.) Cook in bulk and freeze it.
When you have the time, make bigger batches of food and divide them into single-serve or meal-sized containers. Be sure to label and date the containers and seal them well before freezing. Some freezer champs include:

  • Lasagna
  • Meatballs
  • Casseroles
  • Chili
  • Homemade muffins or quick breads
  • Meatloaf
  • Soup or stew (but cream-based soups don't freeze well)

5.) Think outside the box for dinner.
Your evening meal doesn't always have to be meat and potatoes. Get creative! You can grab ideas from breakfast and lunch, too. How about these familiar favorites?

  • Ham and veggie quiche with a side of fruit
  • Yogurt parfaits made with nuts and berries
  • Tuna salad on whole-wheat bread with carrots and apples on the side
  • Chicken Waldorf salad on a bed of greens. And there's a bonus: You can use leftover or rotisserie chicken.
  • "Clean out the fridge night" is a double bonus. You don't have to make something new and leftovers don't go to waste!
By Emily A. King, Contributing Writer
Created on 03/26/2007
Updated on 03/07/2013
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture. Freezing and food safety.
  • National Institutes of Health Department of Nutrition Research Coordination. Food for thought: Good nutrition starts at home.
  • Fruits & Veggies More Matters. The well-stocked pantry.
Copyright © OptumHealth.
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