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For Healthy Dinners, Plan to Succeed

For Chicago's Janet Helm, a working mother of 2-year old twins, planning is paramount for preparing healthy meals, particularly dinner. "You can't make nutritious foods without a well-stocked pantry, refrigerator, and freezer," says Helm, who is also a registered dietitian and nutrition consultant. "Knowing what you have on hand and where it is streamlines meal preparation."

Helm notes that a well-stocked kitchen doesn't mean every meal is made from scratch. Frozen seafood, store-bought roasted chicken, and pre-cut and frozen fruits and vegetables are high on her shopping list because they are good for you and easy to use.

She tosses sautéed or frozen vegetables into store-bought spaghetti sauce for a healthy pasta dish. In a rush, she'll defrost veggie burgers, marinated meats, and frozen fish fillets for quick entrees (Tip: place individual pieces in a sealed plastic bag and immerse in a bowl of hot water. The meat or fish will defrost quickly without par-cooking).

Relying on Fast (but Nutritious) Food

When you're short on time and have not yet stocked your kitchen, prepared and take-out foods can serve as the centerpiece of a meal or as a side dish. A quick trip to the supermarket or a phone call to the local pizza parlor can be the beginning of a balanced meal as long as you include the right side dishes.

Nothing's quicker than a roasted chicken from your local supermarket, served with pre-washed mix greens. And one slice of pizza served with a large garden or fruit salad will both please and nourish your children.

Also, don't be shy about serving breakfast foods, such as French toast and waffles, for the evening meal. They're healthy and kids love the idea of having breakfast at night. Here are some tips for building healthy dinners:

  • Store-bought roasted chicken; fresh or frozen vegetables; and a quick-cooking grain, such as packaged couscous or quick-cooking brown rice
  • Frozen spinach and cheese pie (available at Trader Joe's and supermarkets); rice; fruit
  • Thin-crust cheese pizza topped with veggies; garden salad with reduced-fat dressing; milk or 100% juice
  • Whole-grain frozen waffles topped with low-fat vanilla yogurt and fruit, such as sliced strawberries; milk
  • Cheese and vegetable omelets or scrambled eggs; fruit or vegetables; whole-grain toast or rolls; milk
  • 100% ground turkey breast burgers or prepared veggie burgers on whole-wheat buns; cooked broccoli; milk
  • Pasta and prepared marinara sauce with leftover chopped roasted or grilled chicken or garbanzo beans added to it; garden salad
  • Homemade pizza: whole-grain English muffin or pizza round topped with pasta or pizza sauce or sliced tomato and shredded cheese; garden salad

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