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Quicker, Healthier Dinners

Getting easy-to-fix meals on the table in a snap

A big challenge to healthy eating can be that daily question: what can I quickly fix for dinner? Sure, you might know where to find diabetes-friendlier recipes. But the ingredients for those recipes don’t just appear in your kitchen, nor do the dishes instantly cook like they do on TV (that would be so nice!). In my experience, putting healthy meals on the table every night calls for planning.

Tip #1: Keep a well-stocked kitchen

Think about the foods and ingredients you consistently need on hand in your pantry, freezer, and refrigerator. Read The Well-Stocked Kitchen for a great starter grocery list. Add some strategy to your shopping with the below steps:

  • Create and maintain a “favorite foods” inventory/master shopping list. Consider keeping the list in your glove compartment or on your phone, so it’s always with you when you hit the stores. I find that week after week, we’re all likely to buy similar foods at the supermarket. So instead of straining your brain each week, create your food inventory with the items you always want on hand.
  • Plan meals for the upcoming week when you have some time, perhaps over the weekend. Think through your food needs to create those meals: what foods are you out of from your master list? What do you need to add to the list for the week?
  • Shop! With your list in hand, head for the store, preferably when you aren’t too hungry, and thus won’t be tempted to buy foods not on your list.

This may sound like a difficult multi-step process, but give it a try. You might find, like I have, that when you spend a bit of time upfront to plan meals, stock up, and shop regularly, you save time and money and can more easily put healthy meals on your table.

Tip #2: Stock foods, ingredients for five family favorites

We’re creatures of habit when it comes to meals we regularly prepare. Think about your family’s easy-to-fix favorites: choose a few that have just a few ingredients, preferably ingredients you can keep in the freezer and/or pantry or items you regularly stock in the refrigerator. When you review your food inventory, check to make sure you have the necessary ingredients or make a note to buy them. This way, you always have something on hand to make a pleasing dinner!

Tip #3: Cook once, eat twice

When you take the time to prepare a meal, make enough for two (or more) meals. Perhaps you have time on the weekends to make a soup, stew, or casserole. Make enough for a couple of meals that week. Or eat the meal once that week, and stash enough in the freezer for a future meal. And don’t think just about doing this with entrées. Cook enough brown rice, couscous, or other healthy whole grain to serve on another night. Roast winter squash and beets, or make a double batch of sautéed spinach or chard, steamed broccoli, or cauliflower for two dinners that week. Any time you have foods at the ready, it’s a plus for spending less time preparing dinner. Read more about creating tasty one-dish meals.

Tip #4: Mix and match ready-to-eat with quick-to-prep foods

To meet the demands of our harried and hurried lifestyles, supermarkets have added many ready-to-eat foods. The produce aisle has ready-to-cook vegetables, baby carrots, and cherry tomatoes. The meat aisle offers marinated chicken and fish ready for the grill. In the deli, there’s the ever-present rotisserie chicken. And some markets boast a food bar with salad bar fixings, main courses, and sides. Easy, yes! But to keep a lid on your food bill and limit fat, sodium, and processed foods, focus on the ready-to-eat items that can help you prepare quick and healthy meals without harming you nutritionally. Then pair these foods with quick-to-fix unprocessed foods. For example: rotisserie chicken can come in handy as the centerpiece of a meal with sweet potatoes, a steamed vegetable, and salad. Another night, shred the chicken for chicken quesadillas or soft tacos.

Tip #5: Keep it simple, serve a salad as an entrée

We think of salad as a side dish, but salads can make a quick and filling entrée. Many easy-to-stock ingredients work well in salads. Go ahead, splurge on ready-to-eat pre-washed greens. Top them with crunchy and colorful vegetables – pieces of red pepper, red cabbage, carrots, cucumber, and more. My secret to easy salads is to weekly chop my “salad accessories” and keep them in a plastic container, ready at a moment’s notice.

Want some protein? Think about that rotisserie chicken, hard-boiled eggs, canned tuna, or salmon (or leftover grilled salmon). A few bites of starch? Use leftover rice or other whole grain, canned beans, frozen corn, peas, or edamame. Other healthy salad toppers include olives, nuts, and raisins. The combinations are endless, but watch out for surprisingly unhealthy salad additions!

Tip #6: Serve breakfast for dinner

No reason you can’t serve breakfast for a quick-to-fix dinner. How about an omelet loaded with sautéed vegetables such as cherry tomatoes, onions, peppers, mushrooms, or spinach (either frozen or fresh)?  And don’t forget: leftover cooked vegetables will work in that omelet just as well.

The mighty egg offers many more quick and healthy options. Try making an egg and vegetable frittata, or consider serving an egg dish with oven-roasted potatoes tossed in herbs and a side of fruit. Why not make a batch of whole-grain pancakes, top them with sliced bananas or strawberries, and serve an egg or turkey sausage on the side?

Here’s to faster, diabetes-friendlier dinners!

Hope Warshaw, MMSc, RD, CDE*, is the author of several best-selling books published by the American Diabetes Association, including Diabetes Meal Planning Made Easy and Guide to Healthy Restaurant Eating. She’s a frequent contributor to Diabetic Living. Warshaw is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.

*“Certified Diabetes Educator” and “CDE” are certification marks owned and registered by the National Certification Board for Diabetes Educators (NCBDE). NCBDE is not affiliated in any way with Sanofi US. NCBDE does not sponsor or endorse any diabetes-related products or services.

© 2013 The DX: The Diabetes Experience

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