Planning meals ahead of time increases the chances of having something healthy on the dinner table. Waiting until the last minute often results in a trip to the drive-thru on the way home from work. The key is looking at your calendar and planning meals that fit into your schedule.

Pre-planning meals before going to the grocery store is a good idea. Taking an inventory of your pantry and organizing your shopping list before going to the store will save time and money. Create a master list to guide your shopping and to increase your efficiency.

Include categories such as meats, dairy foods, produce, canned goods, cereals, frozen foods, nonfood items and baked goods. This will help prevent backtracking in the store.

Healthy meals start with good choices. Remember the “5-A-Day” slogan and try to incorporate fruits and vegetables into every meal.

Fruits and veggies provide essential vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals to promote health and heart disease.

Be sure to keep milk and milk products on your menu. Having milk, yogurt and cheeses is an easy way to meet your daily calcium needs.

Milk does a better job of supplying Vitamin D and Protein than calcium-fortified juices.

Make half your grains whole. Whole grains provide more fiber, vitamins and minerals than refined grains. Whole grains are now available in products from bread to pastas.

Don’t forget to make healthy breakfast choices. Look for cereals that include whole grain or bran as the first ingredient on the list.

Also make sure you’re getting at least 2 grams of fiber per serving. Use the microwave to make hot cereals, like oatmeal, quickly.

Make sure your kitchen is stocked with healthy items. Fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grain snacks are much better for you than high-fat, high-sugar snacks.

To help make sure your quick meals are healthy, try some of these suggestions:

Main-dish soups- Soups can be delicious and nutritious. Make them more healthy by adding plenty of vegetables, whole grains and legumes.

Soups can be made ahead and reheated quickly when you’re in a rush.

Main-dish salads – Main-dish salads can be light and nutritious. Add plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. Limit the high-fat and high-calorie

items such as meat, cheese, bacon bits, croutons and high-fat dressings.

Stir-fry is always quick and easy. Choose a variety of fresh or frozen veggies and stir fry with a fat-free Italian dressing.

Serve over rice or pasta.

Precooking your ground beef can be another time saving tip. Drain, rinse and freeze it to get a jump start on a meal later in the week.

After thawing, rinse in warm water to remove any additional fat.

If you buy meat in large packages, separate it into small bags before freezing. You may wish to go ahead and marinate some

before freezing. This will save time after thawing.

Select any of these tips that fit into your lifestyle. Try them out to see if they can help you save time while still considering your

good health.

Source: West Virginia Cooperative Extension


Classic Macaroni Salad

2 cups uncooked elbow macaroni

1 cup fat-free mayonnaise

2 tablespoons sweet pickle relish

2 teaspoons sugar substitute

¾ teaspoon ground mustard

1/8 teaspoon salt

½ cup chopped celery

1/3 cup chopped carrot

¼ cup chopped onion

1 hard cooked egg

Dash paprika

Cook macaroni according to package. Drain and rinse with cold water. For dressing, in a small bowl, combine the mayonnaise, pickle relish, sugar substitute, mustard, salt and pepper. In a large bowl, combine the macaroni, celery, carrot and onion. Add dressing and toss gently to coat. Refrigerate until serving. Garnish with egg and paprika. Yield: 8 servings

Sandra R. Cain is the Extension agent for Family and Consumer Sciences in Bladen County.
Time-saving tips for healthy meals