10 Quick Fixes for Healthy Weekday Dinners

    Photo: SweetOnVeg/flickrWith cooler evenings and busier schedules, it seems like the whole family is hungrier than ever at suppertime these days. How can you get everyone fed, healthy, and happy -- fast -- without wearing yourself out? Be prepared and creative with these ten quick, easy shortcuts.

    1. When you have a little downtime, sauté large batches of onions and garlic in a minimal amount of oil. Cool and freeze in flat, shallow containers so you can break off a piece easily. Adds fast flavor to purchased soup, tomato sauce, omelets, or just about any main course.

    2. Speaking of soup, many home cooks think of it as a slow food, requiring lengthy simmering on a back burner. Truth is, though, that a filling main course soup can be assembled in half an hour or less. Use prepared stock as a starter, to be enriched with fresh or leftover diced meat and vegetables, according to what you have in the fridge. Toss in a handful or two of raw pasta. Bring to boil, cover, and simmer for 20-30 minutes.

    3. Make friends with your oven. A roaster filled with sliced fresh vegetables can bake alongside a panful of chops, for a satisfying supper with a minimum of fuss and efficient use of electrical energy. TIP: While you have the oven on, throw in a couple of scrubbed whole beets in a mini baking pan. The roast beets will become the fixings for a simple yet unusually delicious salad tomorrow night.

    4. Save time but still make sure your family gets their vitamins. Wash a heap of salad fixings all in one shot to be used up over several days. Wrap romaine lettuce leaves in a damp towel to keep them crisp in the refrigerator.

    5. Remember that frozen vegetables are a much better option than none at all and in fact may have a higher nutritional value than fresh. Boston electricians advise that you must store frozen produce at temperatures below 0 degrees F until you are ready to use it.

    6. Yes, you can cook frozen fish without defrosting first. In fact, this is a safer -- and, in my experience, tastier -- method for small whole fish, steaks, and fillets than thawing at room temperature. Drizzle with a little oil (preferably olive), then panfry, bake, or broil. You'll need to add a few minutes to the total cooking time.

    7. Repackage fresh meat or seafood as soon as you bring it home from the store, before stashing it in your freezer. A few ready portions of skinless, boneless chicken breast or burgers you have preformed (make 'em thin!) can be a sanity saver on a busy night. These may also be cooked from a frozen state -- I can attest to the successful results.

    8. Alternatively, cook up a big batch of ground "beef." Combine beef with ground turkey in a 50/50 ratio for a heart-friendlier mix. Add in minced veggies like bell peppers and/or carrots and sauté till browned all the way through. Freeze in supper-size quantities, as fast fixings for spaghetti sauce, cottage pie, or tacos.

    9. Discover whole grain couscous. Just add hot water or broth and let it sit for 5 minutes. Voila! An instant complex carb! Serve as a base for a saucy main like tofu paprika, or stir in sliced green onions, cucumber and tomato chunks, pesto, and a generous sprinkle of feta to create a hearty salad.

    10. Whole wheat pitas are another great basic that make what is essentially a sandwich seem more like dinner. Stuff with cold cuts, leftover rotisserie chicken, or for a vegan alternative, fried Portobello mushroom slices, humus and fine-chopped salad.

    Laura Firszt writes for networx.com.

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