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Eating at home can save you money, and your meals can include more variety when you make them yourself. If time constraints are keeping you out of the kitchen, you may be relieved to learn that healthy eating can be easy with very little preparation. Here are some tips that can keep your family eating healthy meals at home, even with a busy schedule.

Grocery shop once a week: Go shopping prepared with a list of the groceries you will need for the week. Not only will this get you in and out of the store quicker, but you will save time by avoiding unscheduled trips to the grocery store later in the week.

Plan meals for the whole week: Plan at least five basic entrees and five side dishes for the week; you can use leftovers for unplanned meals. Recipes with five ingredients or fewer are typically less time consuming, so plan the quickest meals for the busiest nights of the week, and save the fancy meals for the weekends or special occasions. Check your recipes to make sure you have all of the ingredients. If not, add them to your grocery list for the week.

Double recipes: Consider making a double batch, especially for time-consuming recipes. You can save the leftovers for another night or freeze for a different week.

Stock up on mealtime staples: Keep fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables on hand as well as fruit canned in 100 percent fruit juice and low-sodium or no-sodium canned vegetables. Keep your cupboards stocked with items such as whole-wheat pasta and brown rice. You can keep a backup loaf of whole-grain bread in your freezer and enough milk in your refrigerator to last the whole week.

Use your tools: To save time, begin thawing meat in the refrigerator one to two days before you need it. When it’s a feasible option, use a tabletop grill or broiler to prepare meals quickly. You can broil or grill your meat while microwaving vegetables or preparing instant rice, potatoes or pasta on the stove. Another option is a slow cooker; add trimmed, lean meat, rinsed or peeled vegetables and potatoes, and your favorite seasonings to your slow cooker. Leave it cooking most of the day, and enjoy a hot meal when you arrive home for dinner.

Make themes for each night of the week: Having a theme in mind can simplify your menu planning. Friday night favorites often are pizza or fish. Expand that idea to each night of the week. Some menu theme ideas include pasta/Italian night, breakfast for dinner, Mexican cuisine night, stir-fry dinner, Asian cuisine night, sandwiches and slow cooker night. Or try oven-exercise-eat night — prepare a casserole or entree to bake while you enjoy a walk or a workout.

You can get family members involved in menu planning to help them buy in to the menu, and then post the menu on the refrigerator so everyone knows what to expect.

Italian Chicken Pasta Skillet

1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces

1 green bell pepper, chopped

1 tomato, chopped

1 onion, cut into thin wedges

3 cups spaghetti sauce

2 cups cooked mostaccioli pasta

1¾ cups shredded low-moisture part-skim mozzarella cheese

In a large skillet sprayed with nonstick cooking spray, cook chicken over medium-high heat for 5 minutes. Add green pepper, tomato and onion; cook about 5 minutes or until chicken is cooked through and vegetables are tender. Add spaghetti sauce and pasta; cook until heated through. Stir in 1 cup of cheese. Sprinkle with remaining ¾ cup cheese; cover and let stand 2 minutes or until cheese is melted.

Makes 6 servings.

Per (1-cup) serving: 390 calories, 12 grams fat, 33 grams protein, 36 grams carbohydrate, 5 grams fiber and 290 milligrams sodium.

French Dip

1 (3-pound) beef top round roast, trimmed

2 cups water

½ cup light soy sauce

1 teaspoon dried rosemary

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 bay leaf

3 whole peppercorns

8 whole wheat French rolls, split

Place roast in a slow cooker. Add water, soy sauce and seasonings. Cover and cook on high for 5 to 6 hours or until beef is tender. Remove meat from broth, thinly slice or shred and keep warm. Strain broth; skim off fat. Pour broth into small cups for dinner. Serve beef on rolls.

Makes 8 servings.

Per serving: 461 calories, 12 grams fat, 56 grams protein, 29 grams carbohydrate, 0 grams fiber and 884 milligrams sodium.

Nancy Ernst is a registered dietitian at Gundersen Health System. For more information about nutrition and healthy eating, call Gundersen Nutrition Therapy at 608-775-3447 or go to


Digital news editor

Digital news editor

(1) comment


great tips. you might also also want to read 20 things all healthy diet plans have in common

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