Quick, easy, and healthy meals that help keep you out of the kitchen.
By Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column
When you think about cutting down the time you spend in the kitchen, you might think that means buying more takeout and processed foods (with plenty of calories, fat, and sodium). But it doesn't have to be that way. You can prepare meals in your kitchen with an eye toward health while still keeping the time spent in a hot kitchen to a minimum. Here are a few fast-cooking tips and tricks to help you save on prep time while making healthy meals for yourself and your family.
Fast-Cooking Tip No. 1: Use Pre-cooked Meats
- In your grocery deli, you can often buy roast beef or roasted turkey, both of which are lean meat choices. You can even ask for extra thick slices so you can dice it and use in recipes.
- Fresh off the rotisserie or grill, skinless chicken breasts, whole chickens, and half turkey breasts are available in many supermarkets. Remove the skin, then shred or cut the meat as needed for your recipe.
- A couple of companies are now offering seasoned grilled chicken strips. Find the packages near the lunch meat section in your grocery store.
- You can buy cooked shrimp at the fish counter or in the frozen fish section.
Fast-Cooking Tip No. 2: Have a Main Dish Salad
Main dish salads are the perfect summer supper -- cool, light, and quick to fix. Salad greens are the base ingredient and that's easy: just open a bag of salad greens or spinach leaves and pour into a bowl. Then throw in the rest of the ingredients and toss. Convenient add-ins include reduced-fat cheese or crumbled blue cheese, grilled chicken, cherry tomatoes, baby carrots, dried cranberries, walnuts, etc.
Fast-Cooking Tip No 3. Make It Vegetarian
One way to save time cooking the meat portion of your meal is to skip the meat. Some easy vegetarian entrees include bean and cheese burritos, vegetarian burgers (they take about four minutes to brown in a nonstick frying pan), egg-based entrees like omelets, and vegetarian sandwiches featuring cheese and/or roasted vegetables.
Fast-Cooking Tip No 4: Heat up an Upscale Frozen Entree
You can find flavorful frozen entrees in many supermarkets. There are even great-tasting and lower-fat choices for people looking for vegetarian, fish, ethnic cuisine, or lean meat options. You'll find a plethora of vegetarian and ethnic cuisine selections in places like Trader Joes and Whole Foods Markets.
Fast-Cooking Tip No. 5: Add Some Store-Prepared Gourmet Items
Save time in the kitchen -- while cranking up the fancy factor -- by buying a few key gourmet items often prepared at Whole Foods Market and similar upscale markets. Look for items like:
- Freshly assembled avocado-mango salsa (great for gourmet style quesadillas, tacos, meat entrees, and more).
- Roasted vegetables (great for sandwiches, vegetarian quesadillas and tacos, and more).
- Grilled salmon and chicken breast (great for pasta dishes, main dish salads, Mexican-style entrees, and more).
Fast-Cooking Tip No. 6: Whip Up a Stove-Top Meal
Even on a hot evening, some of us are willing to spend five minutes over the stove if it means a freshly made meal. Armed with a nonstick frying pan, you can quickly whip up:
- Grilled sandwiches (you could also use a panini press)
- Fried rice (if the rice is already cooked)
- BLT sandwich (while the turkey bacon is cooking, toast the bread and slice the tomato)
- Fajitas take 5 minutes to make if you buy your meat already cut into small pieces and use bottled fajita sauce.
- Sloppy Joes
Fast-Cooking Tip No. 7: Make a Microwave Meals in Minutes
Three of my favorite microwave meals:
- Make mealtime nachos by layering multigrain tortilla chips, canned vegetarian refried beans or black beans, shredded reduced-fat cheese, chopped green onions and tomatoes, and grilled or roasted chicken breast (if desired) on a microwave-safe plate and cooking on HIGH for a minute or two.
- Make a burrito to order by filling a whole-grain flour tortilla with your fillings of choice, wrapping up into a burrito shape, and microwaving for a minute or two.
- A baked potato bar is easy to assemble. Pierce each potato a couple of times with a fork and microwave on HIGH until cooked throughout. Meanwhile, get your toppings ready (shredded reduced-fat cheese, fat-free sour cream, chopped chives or green onions, and/or turkey bacon bits.) Your favorite canned chili makes a good topping, too; just nuke it in a microwave-safe bowl.
Fast-Cooking Tip No. 8: Use Low-Fuss Veggies and Beans
These veggies are easy to use in recipes because they require minimal preparation:
- Bags of baby carrots
- Asparagus spears (just trim off the ends and they're ready to cook whole)
- Bags of washed spinach leaves
- Potatoes and sweet potatoes (just pierce each a couple of times and microwave)
- Cherry and grape tomatoes
- Canned tomatoes (for some recipes, you'll want the ones with seasonings added)
- Canned beans (just rinse them and add to recipes)
- Bags of precut broccoli and cauliflower florets
Fast-Cooking Tip No. 9: Serve a Low-Fuss Fruit Salad
With the following fruits, whipping up a side serving of fruit or a fruit salad is as easy as rinsing and tossing:
- Raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries
- Grapes (red and green)
- Apple slices in bags
- Bananas (just pull away part of the peel and then cut into slices in the peel).
- Canned pineapple chunks (in juice)
- Strawberries are easy to serve as a garnish. Just rinse, and serve them with their leafy tops.
Fast-Cooking Tip No. 10: Use Bottled Sauces, Dressings, and Marinades
These are some of the most convenient products available:
- Bottled light salad dressing (for green salads and pasta salads, or use as a marinade)
- Bottled marinara and pizza sauce
- Bottled salsa, taco sauce, salsa verde, and enchilada sauce
- Teriyaki sauce
- Fajita sauce
- Asian cooking and dipping sauces (hoisin, sweet and sour sauce, and more)
- Pesto sauce
Published May 16, 2008.
Elaine Magee, MPH, RD, is the "Recipe Doctor" for the WebMD Weight Loss Clinic and the author of numerous books on nutrition and health. Her opinions and conclusions are her own.
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