Faster-Than-Takeout Dinners: Tips & Recipes (cont.)

It takes most types of pasta about eight minutes to cook -- pretty handy on a busy weeknight. I always have ravioli or tortellini in my freezer, along with dried pasta in my pantry, and I end up serving a pasta dish at least once a week.

If you try this option, try to find a whole-wheat blend or multigrain pasta that your family likes to up your fiber intake. You can choose from several convenient sauces, too -- bottled marinara, frozen or bottled pesto sauce, all in various flavors. You can even toss up a main dish pasta salad using a light bottled vinaigrette dressing.

Starting Time: 6:30 p.m. Start water boiling in large saucepan for the pasta. Meanwhile, prepare whatever ingredients you will be featuring in your pasta dish. If you'll be serving your marinara sauce with a healthier sausage (like less-fat, diagonally sliced turkey polska kielbasa) start cooking it in a nonstick skillet coated lightly with canola cooking spray. If you'll be adding cooked shrimp, diced tofu, or shredded chicken instead, get it ready now.

When the water boils, add the pasta noodles (like Barilla Plus Angel Hair) and set your timer for seven or eight minutes (or whatever the package directions say). While the pasta cooks, prepare your side dishes: micro-steam the veggies and wash and cut the fruit.

Drain the pasta, then put it back in the saucepan, and add whatever sauce you're using (straight from the jar) along with your meat or meat alternative. Stir, cover the saucepan, and heat your pasta mixture for a couple of minutes over LOW heat. Serve with veggies and fruit.

End Time: 6:50 p.m.
Total Time: 20 minutes
Total Cost for a family of 4: around $15 (depending on choice of sauce, pasta, meat, fruit, and vegetable).


Faster-Than-Takeout Option 3: Nacho Night
Here's the timeline; more specifics are in the recipe below.

Start Time: 6:15 p.m. Open a can of fat-free refried (or vegetarian) beans and heat it in a pan with a couple tablespoons of taco seasoning (available in packets at your grocery store).

6:18 p.m.: Start getting the rest of your toppings ready. You might try:
Shredded, reduced-fat cheese (Jack, cheddar, or a mixture of both)
Chopped green onions
Chopped tomatoes
Ortega canned chili peppers, chopped
Fat-free sour cream
Bottled or fresh salsa

6:22 p.m.: Arrange a serving of reduced-fat tortilla chips on a microwave-save plate. Top the chips with spoonfuls of the beans, a blanket of cheese, then whatever veggie-type toppings you're using. Microwave on HIGH for a minute. Garnish with sour cream, salsa, or similar, then repeat with remaining servings.

End Time: 6:28 p.m.
Total Time: 13 minutes
Cost for a family of 4: Around $13.

2 More Options

Here are a couple of more faster-than-takeout ideas to take you through the rest of the week:

  • Soup & Sandwich Night. Choose a high-quality canned soup (like Amy's brand or certain Wolfgang Puck varieties that aren't too high in fat) or any other brand that tastes homemade. Heat this in a saucepan while you put together a sandwich (hot or cold).
  • Stir-Fry Night. Use a great stir-fry recipe as your base, and add or delete ingredients based on what you have leftover or in the fridge. Try this Easy Mu-Shu recipe on for size, then check out two other Faster-Than-Takeout recipes below.

Easy Mu Shu

Journal as: 1 cup vegetables without added fat + 1 slice bread + 1 serving lean meat without added fat
OR 1 cup hearty stew OR 1 cup entree salad with meat, poultry or seafood with light seasoning OR 1 frozen dinner light, pasta or rice dish with fish.

I literally pulled this dish together in 10 minutes!

1 tablespoon canola oil
16 ounce bag Asian stir-fry veggies (available at Whole Foods and other stores)
2 teaspoons minced bottled garlic
2 cups meat or substitute of your choice (try frozen, cooked, tail-off shrimp that's been thawed; shredded roasted chicken or pork; or diced tofu)
3 cups shredded Chinese or Napa cabbage, packed (or substitute regular cabbage)
2 large eggs, beaten with 2 teaspoons water (you may use 1/4 cup egg substitute in place of one of the eggs)
3 tablespoons bottled hoisin sauce (available in most supermarkets)
6 flour tortillas

  • Start heating the canola oil in the middle of a nonstick wok or large nonstick frying pan or skillet. Add the bag of vegetables and the garlic; stir-fry for about 2 minutes.
  • Add the meat or tofu and the cabbage; stir-fry for about 2 more minutes. Push the vegetable mixture around the sides of the wok or pan to make a 4-inch wide opening in the center.
  • Pour the beaten eggs into the opening and let cook there for a minute. While you're waiting, grind some black pepper lightly over the top. Start tossing the mixture together to finish cooking the eggs (about 1 minute more). Drizzle the hoisin sauce over the top of the mixture and toss to blend well.
  • Soften tortillas by heating briefly in the microwave. Place some of the vegetable mixture into center of each tortilla and roll up like a burrito. Repeat with remaining tortillas and vegetable mixture.

Yield: 6 servings

Per serving (with shrimp): 283 calories, 18.5 g protein, 35.5 g carbohydrate, 7.8 g fat, 1.3 g saturated fat, 163 mg cholesterol, 6 g fiber, 460 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 25%.

Baked Potato Bar

Journal: as 1 cup "hearty stews, chili, bean soup" OR 3/4 cup "starchy foods without added fat" + 1 oz "low-fat cheese."

Potatoes:
4 medium russet potatoes with a couple of fork punctures in each
About 1 teaspoon canola oil

Toppings:
About 1 cup shredded, reduced-fat sharp cheddar cheese
About 1/2 cup fat-free sour cream
4 green onions (the white and part of the green), chopped; or 1/4 cup chopped chives
Black pepper to taste
2 cups broccoli florets, steamed (optional)
4 strips crisp turkey bacon, broken into bits (optional)
Mushroom slices, sauteed in wine or broth (optional)

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place potatoes into microwave/convection oven and set it to sensor cook for "hard vegetables" (or microwave on HIGH for about 10 minutes or until tender). Rub a little oil on the outside of each potato. Set them on a baking sheet and let the outside crisp up in the hot oven for 15 minutes.
  • Set out all of your potato fixings on the table along with the baked potatoes (options include shredded cheese, sour cream, green onions, black pepper, broccoli florets, crisp turkey bacon broken into bits, sauteed mushrooms, etc.).