Busy families feeling the tug of the drive-through window need a battle plan to prevent unhealthy — though we admit very convenient — eating.
After the kids have exercised their hearts out for a couple of hours in the dance studio or on the playing field, why not follow with another good habit: a healthy dinner.
Here are some tips for providing home-cooked meals on busy nights in far less than 30 minutes, some of them in about five:
Cook big on the weekends.
That's the time to make more involved recipes or double whatever you are making and freeze the excess for later. Make a big pot of meat sauce and freeze smaller portions; use it for spaghetti, ziti or lasagna. Grill extra chicken pieces for salads or sandwiches or make a big pork roast so you can chop and freeze leftovers to use in soups, chili, burritos, quesadillas or stir-fries.
Prep tomorrow's dinner tonight.
After the kids are in bed or when they are doing homework, cook dishes that are easily reheated, such as soup, chili, meat loaf or lasagna. Save time in the morning by prepping ingredients headed for the slow cooker at night.
Place thawed chicken in plastic bags with a marinade and wrap sliced potatoes and veggies in foil packets with seasonings and a pat or two of butter. They'll be ready for the grill or the oven the next evening.
Double up on starches.
Each time you make pasta or rice, cook twice as much as needed and freeze the remainder. They reheat beautifully in the microwave on partial power in two minutes or less.
Menus don't need to be elaborate, just a jotted note of what you plan to have for the week. It can be as simple as Monday pasta; Tuesday tacos; Wednesday something on the grill; Thursday quesadillas; Friday takeout pizza. Or, write on a 3- by 5-inch card what meals you have the ingredients for and post it on the fridge: spinach frittata with sweet potato fries; pork tenderloin with applesauce; blue cheese burgers and onion rings. Cross off meal possibilities as you eat them.
It is a huge relief to know what you are having for dinner before you even leave the house in the morning.
Know your equipment.
The oven takes too long on weeknights. Use the stove, microwave, steamer or grill, and plan one-pot meals.
Stock these for nights you only have time to heat a little olive oil in a skillet. They all cook in minutes:
Eggs. Melt butter and make quick omelets or frittatas. Add any vegetables the kids will eat.
Pork. Cutlets or thin boneless chops can be sprinkled with seasoned salt or dredged in Italian bread crumbs and sauteed 2 to 3 minutes per side until golden.
Chicken. Buy thin cutlets or make your own by pounding chicken breasts between two pieces of plastic wrap. They cook in about 2 to 3 minutes per side. Squeeze lemon juice over them and toss in some capers for a quick piccata. Or slice sauteed chicken into strips for a salad or serve on their own with wilted spinach.
Frozen shrimp. Keep a bag of the easy-peel shrimp in the freezer. Thaw in a bowl of warm water while the pan is heating up. Melt about 3 tablespoons of butter in a saute pan, add three cloves of crushed garlic and saute for 20 seconds. Add the peeled, drained shrimp and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook until pink and serve with chopped parsley and a lemon wedge. Sea scallops are also quick-cooking shellfish and can be served over pasta or salads.
Couscous. Look for this Moroccan pasta near the rice. Use canned broth instead of water for more flavor, or buy already-flavored mixes. To make couscous into a main dish, add shredded chicken or cooked shrimp and diced or julienned red bell pepper.
Rice noodles. Also called pad Thai noodles, they only need to be soaked in hot water and can be used instead of rice with precut stir-fry veggies and chicken or shrimp. You'll have dinner on the table before the kids change out of their uniforms.
Pierogies. Pasta pillows filled with flavored mashed potatoes are found in the frozen food aisle and cook in 3 to 5 minutes in boiling water. Or they can be defrosted in the microwave and sauteed in a skillet with onions, peppers and sausage.
Pasta. Fresh, rather than dry, ravioli or tortellini cook in half the time and taste better, too. Keep prepared sauces in the pantry.
Veggies. Spinach, broccoli and asparagus cook in mere minutes. Toss grape tomatoes into hot pasta and the heat will cause them to soften and implode. Slice tomatoes and serve with a sprinkling of olive oil and coarse salt. Always have frozen peas in the freezer.
Janet K. Keeler contributed to
this report. Contact Sharon Kennedy Wynne at swynne@sptimes.