Quick, Easy Recipes: More Halfway Homemade Dishes

Healthy 15-minute dishes that taste great, too.

By Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column

All I'm asking for is about 15 minutes. That's all the time it takes to put recipes together when they're what I like to call "halfway homemade." Basically, this means you're using products from your supermarket that make home cooking faster and easier -- like canned broth, bottled marinara, roasted chicken, pre-shredded reduced-fat cheese, and bags of salad mix. Get the picture? Although I call them halfway homemade "recipes," you aren't really cooking so much as assembling these quick and easy recipes. You throw some things together and voila! It's dinner or dessert!

What's the benefit of making things at home instead of buying them already made from a restaurant, fast-food outlet, or supermarket? You get to make choices about the foods and the amounts you use, so that the dish can end up being more healthful.

The way I see it, there are at least five health reasons to choose "halfway homemade" instead of store-bought:

1. You can have your favorite comfort foods and eat light, too!

I feel so strongly about the importance of having comfort foods that I wrote a whole cookbook about it (Comfort Food Makeovers). These days, there seems to be a renewed interest in comfort foods -- those mood-lifting dishes associated with pleasure, consolation, and/or childhood. I believe both psychological and physiological forces are at work when we're attracted to certain foods, and that our love for them tends not to diminish even as we become more health minded. But with a few smart cooking tricks, you can put a new healthy twist on beloved classic dishes.

2. You can cut down on fat while adding more fruits and vegetables.

Even when people do this without setting specific goals for fat grams or servings of fruits and vegetables, it leads to significant weight loss with less hunger, according to research from Pennsylvania State University.

3. You can eat out at restaurants and fast-food chains less often.

Increasing evidence links restaurant food with overweight. A recent study with families in San Diego County in California found that children in families who ate at fast-food chains most often were at most at risk of overweight. And there's also no surprise here: eating at American restaurants, primarily buffets, seemed to put parents most at risk for obesity.

4. You can use healthier cooking oils and fats.

Your goal here is to use oils with the least amount of saturated fat, and the most monounsaturated fat (olive oil and canola oil), plant omega-3s (canola oil), and/or powerful phytochemicals (olive oil). The good news: just by switching to a cooking oil with more of the preferred fatty acids (plant omega-3s and monounsaturated fat), you can cut the amount of saturated fat you take in, according to research from the 1999-2002 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Not only that, taking this step can change the ratio of omega-6 fatty acids to the healthier omega-3s in your diet from almost 10-1 to a much healthier 3-1, the research showed.

5. You can add fiber and phytonutrients to your meals.

Diets that are rich in whole-grain foods, fruits and vegetables, and beans -- and limited in red meat, full-fat dairy products, and sugar -- have been linked to a lower risk of chronic diseases like heart disease and stroke. When you cook instead of ordering out, you can use whole-grain pasta or bread in recipes calling for those ingredients, and you can add beans, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to your dishes whenever possible.

Convinced? Here are six "halfway homemade" recipes, ranging from appetizers to desserts, that I think you'll agree are a great use of your 15 minutes.

Halfway Homemade: 6 Quick, Easy Recipes

Hot Pizza Dip

8 ounces light cream cheese, softened
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1 1/2 cups shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
1 cup shredded reduced-fat cheddar cheese
1/2 cup finely chopped green pepper
1/2 cup finely chopped sweet red pepper
1/2 cup bottled pizza sauce
Multigrain tortilla chips or whole-wheat Boboli pizza crust, cut into dipping sticks

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