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Six Fast and Easy Meals continued...

4. Ziti Bake. Pasta is filling, inexpensive, and well liked, so it's a great choice when cooking for a crowd. Prepare some whole wheat ziti and combine it with a low-sodium spaghetti sauce. Add any green vegetable you have, whether it's sauteed spinach or broccoli florets. Place this mixture in a casserole dish and top with grated mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. Bake until bubbly. Round out this meal with a salad and crusty bread.

5. Crowd-Pleasing Sandwich. A favorite of Weiss', she prepares this sandwich by pounding a chicken breast thin and grilling it. Then grill or carmelize onions sliced into half-moon rings. Next. spread a layer of basil pesto, which you can buy ready-made, on a bulky or ciabatta roll. Add chicken and onion, and top with either arugula or baby spinach. "It's a real crowd pleaser," says Weiss. "You get the smokiness of the chicken, pepperiness of the arugula, and sweetness of the onion along with a garlicky pesto sauce."

6. Nicoise Salad. Adults will go for the flavors of this French-inspired salad. On a base of lettuce greens, add diced cooked potatoes, sauteed or blanched green beans, olives, sliced tomatoes, and chunks of either Italian-style tuna (canned in oil) or boneless, skinless pink salmon. Drizzle with vinaigrette dressing.

Stay Calm and Be Creative

"It doesn't take a lot to extend a meal, add a chair, or bring good nutrition to the table," says Wendy Bazilian, DrPH, RD, nutrition advisor to the Golden Door Spa in San Diego and author of The SuperFoodsRx Diet . "You can be creative with a few key ingredients from your pantry, freezer, and fridge." Her suggestions:

Repurpose the original meal. Take what you were planning to eat and rethink the ingredients. If you already thawed out fish, meat, or chicken, these protein foods will serve more people if you slice them into small pieces, explains Bazilian. You can turn it into taco night or make-your-own burritos by adding some beans and fresh chopped vegetables.

Extend the meal on either end. Soup to begin the meal or dessert to end it can stretch a meal. Keep some lower sodium canned and carton soups in your pantry. Make them a little homemade by adding dried herbs and spices or more filling by adding vegetables and canned beans, says Bazilian. For a fruit-based finale, bake some apples in the microwave or create a quick crumble with frozen berries, sugar, and oats.

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