Cooking Tips: Dinner On The Table In 15 Minutes

By Michèle Turcotte, MS, RD/LDN

At the end of a long, busy day, the last thing you want to do stand in the kitchen for an hour or two and cook dinner. Cooking a variety of low-fat, quick dinners that your family will love is a lot easier when you stock up on

  • Lean cuts of meat
  • Fish
  • Several varieties of pasta
  • Lots of vegetables.

Next, simply learn to prepare them all in five ways: bake, broil, boil, steam and stir-fry. With these tips, you're on your way to healthy meals in a jiffy!

General cooking guidelines

  1. Eat a variety of vegetables (cabbage, dark green, leafy, and yellow orange families), sprinkle with lemon juice and herbs for flavor.
  2. Prepare whole-wheat pasta and casseroles made with legumes, vegetables, brown rice, bulgur, and top with light white sauces or tomato-based sauces. Plan a meatless meal at least twice a week.
  3. Choose desserts that are nutritious, such as baked apples with cinnamon, brown rice pudding made with skim milk, or fruit crumble/crisp.

Shop for convenience

  • Skinless, pre-cut poultry and lean meats make for quick meals (kebobs, stews, and stir-fries).
  • Buy pre-cooked meats (such as grilled chicken strips). Watch the fat and sodium content and season with herbs, spices, and low-salt marinades, when possible. It's a little more expensive, but it saves time.
  • Buy prepared produce: It saves time and encourages you to eat your 5-10 recommended daily servings. Look for pre-washed, pre-cut salad mixes, baby carrots, and other veggies you can use in a hurry.
  • Stock up on frozen vegetables. Look for interesting combinations without butter and cream sauces. Just open the bag, pour out as much as you want, and close up the bag with a twist tie.

Dinner preparation tips

1.   Double up on recipes and save time later on

When you have time to cook, make twice as much and freeze the leftovers.

2.   Make your own frozen pizzas for a quick meal

Use prepared pizza crusts and top with your own tomato sauce, low-fat cheese, and veggies. Wrap and freeze for a quick meal.

3.   Time saving and inexpensive meals - focus on soups, stews, and beans

These can make great low-fat, time saving, inexpensive meals. Load the soups with veggies and grains.

4.   Tenderize lean meats with marinades - it's the low-fat way

Flavored vinegars, fresh-squeezed lemon/lime juice, soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, and Worcestershire sauce make great marinades and add flavor to meat.

5.   Other low-fat flavorings for quick meals

Peppers, herbs, mustards, salsa, capers, and BBQ sauce all add flavor and texture, without the fat.

6.   For healthy, quick meals use alternative frying methods

Frying doubles the fat, coating with flour and frying triples the fat, and batter dipping increases the fat content five times! Try "Katahn-frying" by dipping chicken/fish in milk and egg whites and coating with seasoned breadcrumbs. Then oven-fry by spraying a baking dish with vegetable oil cooking spray and baking at a high temperature, turning at least once.

7.   Sauté vegetables - quick and low-fat

Use a nonstick skillet with cooking spray or a small amount of olive oil, water, or broth.

8.   Use cheese substitutes or smaller amounts to keep meals healthy and low-fat

In recipes calling for shredded cheese, substitute with reduced-fat cheese or use a smaller amount of a strongly flavored cheese.

Quickie recipes

Glamorous Baked Potatoes
Wash and poke with a knife; cook in microwave on high heat about 3-4 minutes on each side. Slice open and top with low-fat cottage cheese, lemon and herbs, or make it a meal by topping with chili and raw vegetables, such as cauliflower and broccoli or reduced-fat shredded cheese and salsa.

Pesto Pasta
Cook 1/2 pound fresh pasta in boiling water until it's al dente (2-3 minutes). Drain in a colander, reserving 1/2 cup of water. Pour 1/4 cup of the reserved water back into pot and turn up to medium-high heat. Add 3 tablespoons commercial pesto sauce, 1/2-pint cherry tomatoes (halved) and 1/4 cup pre-washed, torn basil leaves. Stir to combine and turn heat off. Add pasta and stir well. Add remaining reserved water to pasta if dry. Season to taste. (Serves 3)

Turkey Salad á la Orange
Chop ½ cup cooked, skinless white meat turkey into ½" chunks. Toss with orange vinaigrette: (whisk together ¼ cup nonfat, reduced sodium chicken broth, 5 tbsp orange juice, 1 tsp each olive oil and white wine vinegar, ¼ tsp dried mint, salt & pepper to taste); serve atop salad greens.

Black Bean Roll-Up
Preheat oven to 400ºF. Spread 2 tablespoons of fat-free black bean dip, 1/4 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese and 2 tablespoons salsa each on 4 whole wheat tortillas; bake for 10 minutes. Add 1 cup shredded romaine lettuce, roll up and serve with extra salsa on the side. (Serves 4)

For further ideas on quick and healthy meals see the following articles from TheDietChannel: Health Eating Shortcuts: Top Pick From The Freezer Section and Healthy Fast Food: Best Fast Food Choices for Quick Meals.