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Can you suggest some quick, nutritious meals for busy families?
Q: Our family is so busy with work and after-school activities that we seldom have time to cook a meal at home. Do you have any ideas for fast, easy meal ideas or nutritious food to have on-hand when we’re on the run?
Abby Bedford
A: Thank you for asking this question, Abby, on behalf of thousands of families also living this too-fast lifestyle! The key to eating healthy when you’re very busy is prior planning.

I know, you don’t have the time to do that—or so you think. But how about writing a weekly menu while watching the soccer game? You could also discuss it with your kids in the car on the way to an activity and have one of them write down the ideas. In reality, this kind of preparation takes less time than running to get take-out!

Now, for some meal ideas: First of all, learn to make a white sauce! Melt 2 to 3 tablespoons butter in a saucepan, whisk in 2 to 3 tablespoons flour to make a paste then gradually add milk or fat free chicken broth, stirring constantly to keep it from burning. Add more liquid as the mixture thickens until you get the amount and texture you need. Remove from heat.

I will assume that you and your family are meat eaters. On your cooking day, start with something big, like a roast. For example, for the week, plan for roast turkey with stuffing, pork chops and spaghetti with meatballs

. Sunday: Roast turkey with stuffing. Make extra stuffing and cook outside the turkey, and serve with steamed fresh vegetables. Refrigerate the extra stuffing and leftover turkey.

Monday: Spaghetti, or any pasta, with lots of pre-packaged turkey meatballs in jarred sauce—more than you would eat at one meal—and fresh fruit. Refrigerate the extra sauce and meatballs.

Tuesday: Stuffing with pork chops. Buy two extra chops but refrigerate before cooking. Put the leftover stuffing in a casserole dish, put the pork-chops on top, cover with ½ can of undiluted mushroom soup, cover and bake for one hour at 325 degrees.

Wednesday: Turkey potpie. Make a white sauce with canned chicken broth. Cut up the leftover turkey, add to the sauce along with frozen mixed vegetables. Season and pour into a pie plate. Cover with a pre-made puff pastry sheet. Cut slits in the top, bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes until golden brown. Serve with prepackaged salad greens.

Thursday: Meatball Subs. Warm the leftover meatballs and sauce. Put into sub rolls, top with grated low-fat mozzarella cheese and broil until the cheese is melted. Serve with raw cut-up carrots, celery and green peppers (or steamed carrots for toddlers).

Friday: Pork stir-fry: Thinly slice the remaining, uncooked chops and quickly stir-fry on a hot skillet with a tablespoon of olive oil until cooked through; remove and set aside. Using frozen stir-fry vegetables, put into skillet and heat through until crisp-tender. Mix in the cooked pork strips and heat through. Season with low-sodium soy sauce and serve with rice.

Saturday: leftover night or take-out!

While many gourmet cooks would wince at this menu, it requires little preparation time, allows for other activities while dinner is heating, is healthier and cheaper than convenience foods and takes less time to pull together than driving to the local pizzeria!

When preparing menus, get your kids involved in the planning. It teaches them about nutritious foods and allows their input into the foods they prefer to eat. The key is to start the week with items that can be used twice, and purchase timesavers like precut veggies.

You can also prepare large quantities of potatoes or rice in advance, chop up the meatballs in the sauce, add a can of kidney beans and a can of tomatoes to make chili, or make turkey-salad wraps with lettuce and grapes.

Great on-the-run snacks are dry cereals with naturally dried fruits, nuts and a small amount of chocolate bits, pre-portioned by you in plastic sandwich bags to grab and run. Fresh cut vegetables also work well but should be kept refrigerated until ready to eat. Sliced fresh fruits dipped in low-fat yogurt are also a good option.

Susan M. Leisner RD, IBCLC, RLC Nutritionist & Lactation Consultant