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Easy, healthy meals for busy families

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POSTED: August 11, 2013 8:30 p.m.
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Chicken can provide a health meal, depending on how it is cooked.

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The start of a new school year often means returning to a hectic family schedule that involves shuttling kids to and from school and other activities, clubs and sports.
In our family, it is a major struggle some evenings just to get dinner on the table. As a working mother of three, I can tell you that putting together a healthy meal when you don’t get home until after 5 p.m. can be nearly impossible.
Over the years, I have learned a few tricks to get tasty, nutritious suppers on the table, even on those hectic days.
• Be a planner: Having your schedule mapped out helps with weekday meal planning. If you know in advance which nights will be challenging, you can plan meals that will meet your needs. If you are super-short on time, search for recipes that can be made in advance and easily reheated or meals that can be fully prepared and cooked in 30 minutes or less.
Type “healthy 30-minute meals” into any online search engine and you’ll have days upon days of meal ideas at your fingertips. Grocery shop in advance based on a plan so you’ll have meal ingredients on hand. This leaves you with no excuse for hitting the fast-food drive-through window on your way home from work at the end of the week.
The Crock-Pot is a busy family’s best friend. There is nothing like coming home to a meal fully cooked and ready to serve. Plan ahead and throw your meal together in a Crock-Pot in the morning and when you come home, it will be ready to put on the table.
If you don’t have a Crock-Pot, consider picking one up. It will pay off in dividends of time savings. Most Crock-Pots are inexpensive and have removable crocks that are easy to clean. Check out Pinterest for inspiration, and be sure to search for healthy recipes.
• Prepare ahead of time: When you have a little down time, prepare ingredients for meals in advance, seal them in plastic bags or containers and refrigerate or freeze.
Trim down meat, chop vegetables and measure out herbs and spices all at once to minimize prep work when cooking on busy nights. If the meal is destined for the Crock-Pot, throw all the ingredients in a one-gallon storage bag. You can prepare dinner ingredients a week or a month in advance, freeze them and pull them out to thaw the night before you plan to cook them. It’s nice if you can throw together a few extra meals to freeze in case of emergency — you’ll always have an extra meal on hand in a pinch.
• Keep it healthy: Not all recipes you find online have your health in mind. Most recipes can be altered and prepared using organic, low-fat or low-sodium ingredients. If you are not sure of a healthy substitute for a particular ingredient, do an online search. There usually are plenty of tips and suggestions on blogs for healthy options.
My recipe for healthy Crock-Pot chicken can be cooked together with carrots, fennel, asparagus or any other vegetable, but the long cooking time would cook all the nutrients right out. Instead, steam the vegetables in the microwave and toss them in right before you serve it.

 

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