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Faster-Than-Takeout Option 1: The Potato Bar continued...

About 20 minutes after I got home from shopping, I was yelling, "Dinner's ready!" Then we all sat down at the table to enjoy our personalized potatoes. I will definitely be repeating "Potato Bar Night" in weeks to come (that 5-pound bag of potatoes is now a 2 1/2-pound bag).

End Time: 6:40 p.m.
Total Time: 35 minutes (20 minutes if you don't crisp the potatoes in the hot oven)
Total Cost for a family of 4: $12

Faster-Than-Takeout Option 2: Pick-a-Pasta Night

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.

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