Chances are you already know what goes into a healthy dinner, but there's one essential ingredient that's easy to forget: planning. Enter our no-nonsense prep guide. Follow it and see how easy it can be to make a tasty, nutritious meal at least five nights a week.
Sunday: Plan and Shop
Write down four favorite family meals you could easily prepare if you had all the ingredients at your fingertips (make sure at least one is something that freezes well). Then make a shopping list of everything you'll need for those meals and head to the supermarket to stock up. The goal is to buy everything you need for the entire week so you won't be stuck empty-handed later. Make sure the food lasts by using more perishable ingredients early in the week and those with a longer shelf life later on.
Monday: Cook Once, Eat Twice
You'll be eating the meal you make tonight again on Friday, so choose something that freezes easily, like turkey meat loaf or vegetarian chili. Make double and freeze half.
Tuesday: Keep It Fresh
Focus on foods with a short life, like meat, poultry, fish and fragile veggies like asparagus, tomatoes or delicate greens. Use them in easy-to-prep meals like a shrimp and snow pea stir-fry with brown rice, or turkey burgers with a side salad.
Wednesday: Take It Easy
Break out your slow-cooker in the morning so something like pot roast will be waiting for you come dinnertime. (Remember to use lean beef and add plenty of carrots, celery and other veggies.) No slow-cooker? Get in and out of the kitchen quickly by making pizza from ready-made crust (add your own lowfat cheese, lots of vegetables and a jarred tomato sauce that has as few ingredients on the label as possible).
Thursday: Turn to the Pantry
Now is the time to use some of the less perishable ingredients. Make a grain-based dish such as pasta primavera (use high-protein pasta and hardier veggies like zucchini and green beans) or curried couscous with almonds and dried cranberries.
Friday: Thaw and Enjoy
Defrost the leftovers from Monday and serve with microwaved frozen veggies.
Simple Ways to Get More Produce On the Table:
1. Top sautéed chicken cutlets with marinara sauce (1/2 cup counts as a full serving of veggies).
2. Put out a plate of sliced fruit or veggies for everyone to snack on before dinner.
3. Cut up fresh raw veggies like red and yellow bell peppers, grape tomatoes, baby carrots and snap peas. Toss with your favorite lowfat salad dressing and serve as a starter or side dish.
4. Start your meal with a cup of tomato or split-pea soup.
5. Sauté sliced apples and serve with chicken or pork.
6. Toss raw baby spinach with warmed balsamic vinaigrette.
Healthy Dinners Anyone Can Make
6 no-fail good-for-you options
1. Shrimp and broccoli stir-fry over brown rice
2. Turkey meat loaf with roasted potatoes and carrots
3. Chicken fajitas (made with skinless chicken breast and sautéed red, yellow and green peppers and onions) in whole-wheat tortillas; a side of black beans
4. Roast pork tenderloin with baked sweet potatoes and microwaved frozen peas
5. Whole-wheat pasta tossed with scallops, olive oil and diced tomatoes; small spinach salad
6. Baked honey-mustard chicken (made from skinless, boneless breasts) over couscous with asparagus
The Basics of a Healthy Dinner:
1 lean protein
Skinless white-meat poultry, lean beef or pork, fish or beans
+ 1 healthy carb
Whole-wheat pasta, whole-wheat couscous, brown rice or potatoes
+ 2 servings of veggies
1 cup veggies, or 1/2 cup plus a small salad
Eat Healthy America Challenge
Try It Today: Always starving before dinner's ready? Plan a smart snack ahead of time. Try lowfat cheese with grapes or an apple, peanut butter and celery, or a glass of low-sodium vegetable juice with a handful of whole-wheat crackers.