How to Make a Balanced Meal in a Hurry


For all you busy dads who can’t find the time to master the art of roasting and basting and chopping and sauteeing to get a meal on the table like your mother used to make, take heart.  I have some short cuts to offer so you can get a healthy meal on the table in just 30 minutes.

What is a healthy meal?  Consider the following characteristics: you want adequate protein, carbohydrates, and fats, and moderation so you don’t go overboard on any one of these; you want variety so there’s a good chance of getting plenty of vitamins, minerals and fiber in each day; a balanced meal will have a small portion of meat, fish, or chicken and a hefty side of vegetables along with a side of starch; and you don’t want your family to have loads of extra calories every night at dinner that can lead to obesity and all the risks it brings.

If you’ve been counting on fast food drive thru windows and going out to grab something quick most nights, you can see why these haven’t been healthy meals: they rarely contain fruits or vegetables; they’re heavy on the starch (usually a sandwich plus fries); high in fat (from fries, mayonnaise and other sauces, and higher-fat cuts of meat or fried chicken/fish entrees); and as a result they are high in calories.  Plus, there isn’t a lot of variety if you’re ordering the same items frequently during a typical week.

The solution?  Find ways to get a balanced meal on the table almost every night without taking hours our of your day using these shortcuts:

1) Try simple recipes that include all the components of a healthy meal in one dish.  There are many casseroles with pasta and rice that include a protein food and a vegetable as well.  Examples of this would be a chicken and rice casserole with mixed veggies contained, or shrimp and pasta with spinach tossed in.  For many casserole dishes you toss all the ingredients in a dish and place it in the oven for 30-45 minutes and, voila!  Dinner is served.  It doesn’t take much time to prepare, but you do have to be home an hour before dinner to let the casserole cook.

Other options include crock-pot recipes that are also very simple, and take just a few minutes to pour together at the beginning of the day.  The crock pot stews your dinner for 5-8 hours during the day and you come home to a cooked meal.  If the recipe doesn’t call for any vegetables, modify it and throw some in!

Check sites like Campbell’s soup for many of these fast and easy recipes.

2) One of the fastest ways to cook meat, fish, or chicken is using the George Foreman grill.  Almost any entree can be cooked in less than six or seven minutes: hamburger, chicken breast, fish steak, beef steak, or pork chop.  It gets cooked all the way through with no mess, no fuss, no saucepans, and easy clean-up.

You can season with your favorite combination of spices or you can marinate the meat in the refrigerator during the day while you’re busy out of the house.  To balance the meal, add a side of your family’s choice of frozen vegetables: these can be microwaved in less than six or seven minutes as well!  And the starch side can be made instantly, literally: rice, cous cous,  stuffing, mashed potatoes, even mashed sweet potatoes can be fixed as fast as it takes to boil water and “let sit 5 minutes”.  Then you have a balanced meal on the table in less than 10 minutes… and it’s low in fat in calories since you haven’t fried any of the foods served,  So far, you’ve vastly improved over driving through to big up a bag of burgers and fries.

3) Take advantage of the deli counter in the supermarket.  Most of the time you can find some tasty entrees that are prepared with limited added fat.  Of course, you want to avoid the fried chicken and creamy coleslaw and stuffed potatoes.  But it’s easy to find roast chicken (usually whole chickens are available for just $6 or $7 in most grocery stores) or sliced ham that you can just bring home and serve with your own fast and healthy side dishes (see #2).

4) Get in extra nutrition with healthy desserts.  There are some easy recipes that incorporate peaches, pears, apples, berries and other fruits.  It takes a few minutes to put together some type of crust or crumble and briefly bake these cobbler-type dishes.  Reduce some of the fat and sugar the recipes call for and you’ll be serving your family more vitamins and fiber and less fat and calories for a tasty way to get in an extra serving of fruit.

Another way to get plenty of nutrients into your family’s diet is to make smoothies with fresh fruit and low-fat milk.  Cut the fruit into chunks and freeze at least a day ahead of time.  Then, put a cup or two of fruit in a blender and add milk to cover.  The result is a smoothie the kids will love that is chock full of calcium and vitamins.  No need to add anything fancy or sweet–it’ll taste great, naturally.

There are many simple ways to get your family low-fat entrees, a healthy amount of starch for energy-yielding carbohydrates, and vitamin-packed fruits and vegetables.  You don’t have to be a genius in the kitchen or a talented chef!  Keep chicken tenderloins, ground beef, instant rice and potato boxes, and plenty of frozen fruit and vegetables on hand:  Any night you need a healthy, balanced meal in a hurry you’ll be able to whip one up in less than a half hour.  Providing healthy meals for you and your family instead of those high in fat and low in nutrition is another notch in your belt for being a great dad! the end

Image credit: Jay Simmons

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