Have a Happy Meal and a happier wallet
foods that don’t come from a drive thru
Studies show that
eating together as a family is beneficial for both kids and adults. It
promotes good eating habits for kids, and it’s a great way for parents
to spend some time with their kids. But where do you find the time?
After a hectic day at work and school, it would be great to just go
home, kick off your shoes and relax around the dinner table, but for
most of us, there’s still another shift to go: homework, activities,
sports, lessons, and finally, a mad dash for dinner.
together as a family consists of shoving the contents of a Happy Meal in
your children’s faces on the way from one place to the next, leaving you
feeling bloated, unsatisfied and covered in grease. It can also get
expensive over time.
There has to be a
better, healthier way to dine together. But how, exactly, do you wedge a
quick, easy, affordable meal into your breakneck schedule?
It takes a little
advanced planning but creating fast, healthful meals at home can be
done. A few staples you should always have on hand to make the
preparation and cooking time faster and easier include instant
boil-in-bag rice; frozen pre-cooked chicken and shrimp, bags of shredded
cheese and pre-washed, pre-cut vegetables. Those bagged salad greens can
be a lifesaver when you’re in a hurry. Canned tomatoes and frozen
vegetables should be a permanent fixture on your grocery list, because
they can be so versatile in everything from soups to pasta dishes to
stir fry dishes.
can also make life easier. My husband bought me a food processor last
year, and it was one of the best things he ever gave me. I use it for
salads, soups, pies and everything in between. It’s also a good idea to
invest in a vegetable steamer. Not only is steaming a fast way to cook
vegetables, but they will taste so much better and retain more nutrients
than boiled vegetables. A wide variety of pasta can also be great for
quick side dishes, and it cooks in 7-12 minutes. You should always keep
an array of spices in the house, because they add flavor and
presentation points to even the most hastily thrown-together meal.
Swap out for health
difference between a fast food and a quick healthy meal is simply making
a few substitutions in your ingredients. Let’s take the Happy Meal, for
example. Instead of a processed, fatty hamburger, greasy fries and a
soda, use lean (80 to 95 percent) hamburger, served on a whole-wheat
hamburger bun, with a side of oven-baked fries and a glass of milk.
Total prep time for hamburger and fries: 15 minutes. Total cooking time
on burgers: 8-10 minutes. Total cooking time on fries: 20 minutes. You
can spend the same amount of time waiting in line at the drive thru.
It’s the same meal, but much happier for everyone.
2 baking potatoes,
1 tablespoon olive
Salt and pepper to
Prep: washing and
cutting potatoes: 5-10 minutes.
Preheat oven to 425
degrees. Coat a cookie sheet with nonstick cooking spray. Slice baking
potatoes lengthwise into 1/2-inch slices. Cut slices into French fry
shapes. Brush potatoes with olive oil. Season. Place on cookie sheet and
bake for 20 minutes turning once or until brown and cooked through.
Makes 4 servings.
Ziti Toss with
1 medium red onion,
1 medium red or
green bell pepper, cut into strips
3 tablespoons water
1/4 cup sliced green
1 can whole
chopped fresh parsley, divided
1 tablespoon chopped
fresh basil, divided
12 ounces ziti
1/4 cup diced
part-skim mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup grated
vegetables, boiling water: about 10-15 minutes.
Place pan with water
(for pasta) on high heat. Spray a large non-stick skillet with cooking
spray. Heat over medium heat. Add the red onion, bell pepper and water.
Cover and cook for 3 minutes. Add green onion. Cook for 2 minutes.
Transfer the mixture to a plate. Add the tomatoes with liquid and half
the herbs to skillet; break up tomatoes with spoon. Simmer for 10
minutes. While tomatoes are simmering, cook pasta to taste (7-10
minutes), but do not add salt. Drain pasta in a colander but set aside
1/2 cup of pasta cooking water. Place pasta in a large bowl. Stir in
onion mixture, tomatoes and enough of the pasta water to thin sauce.
Stir in mozzarella, sprinkle with remaining herbs and Parmesan cheese.
3 tablespoons sesame
reduced-sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon oriental
1 teaspoon minced
fresh ginger or 1/4 teaspoon dried ginger
1 clove garlic,
1/4 teaspoon black
4 skinless, boneless
chicken breast halves, cut into 1-inch chunks
Green onions for
chicken, slicing green onions: 5-10 minutes.
In a medium bowl,
combine sesame seeds, soy sauce, honey, sesame oil, ginger, garlic and
pepper. Mix well. Set aside 2 tablespoons of the mixture. Add the
chicken cubes to the remaining mixture and stir until well coated.
Preheat broiler. Remove chicken from marinade mixture and place on
broiler pan. Broil chicken 5 inches from heat, basting with reserved
marinade once, until meat is no longer pink in the center, about 10 to
12 minutes. Garnish with green onions and serve. (For a side dish, use
boil-in bag rice, which cooks in about 5 minutes.) Serves 4.
Grilled Shrimp and
1 pound large,
pre-cooked shrimp, with tails intact
1/2 pound turkey
sausage, cut into 1-2-inch slices
1-2 medium red bell
peppers, cut into 1-inch squares
1/2 cup medium
yellow bell pepper, cut into 1-inch squares
1/2 cup sliced
1 2/3 cup reduced
sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup olive oil
2 teaspoons fresh
rosemary or 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
1 teaspoon black
1/2 teaspoon salt
Fresh rosemary for
Prep time: prepare
marinade, cut vegetables and sausage: 15 minutes.
ingredients in a shallow glass dish. Reserve 2 tablespoons of marinade.
Add shrimp to marinade in dish and stir until well coated. Preheat
broiler or grill. Thread skewers with shrimp, sausage and vegetables.
Grill or broil kebabs 4 inches from heat, basting with reserved marinade
and turning once. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes. Sprinkle with rosemary
before serving. (Serving suggestion: boil-in bag rice, about 5 minutes.)
Fast and healthy
There are times when
you don’t even have time to turn on the stove, let alone make a meal.
Fear not — that doesn’t have to mean fast food hell. Here’s a roundup of
restaurants that offer takeout that won’t give you intestinal distress
or elevated cholesterol levels.
• Black Forest Café,
212 Route 101, Amherst, 672-0500
• The Daily Count,
49 E. Pearl St., Nashua, 578-0752
• City Room Café,
105 W. Pearl St., Nashua, 882-5016
• Quick and Healthy
Café, 12 Edward Lane, Merrimack, 424-1278