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Creative Cooking and Shopping Techniques for the Busy Mom

When I was working outside the home and had a little one at home, my friends were always so impressed that I would cook 'real' meals several times a week. In all honesty, it wasn't that hard! Because I'm a person who dislikes wasting time and thrives on finding ways to increase efficiency, I just found ways to simply dinner preparation so that it became nearly painless!

Of course, you need to start with a good recipe or plan. Make sure you read through the whole thing before choosing to make it. There have been many times that I had all the ingredients ready and started to cook dinner, only to read "chill for 4 hours"! Oops - time to call the pizza place again! You probably also want to avoid those recipes where you have to chop, saute, assemble, bake for 45 minutes, uncover and add cheese, and bake for another 20 minutes. After a long day at work, this will seem like too much work, and will take too long to get to the table.

Once you've found some quick recipes to try, you can speed up meal preparation by using several creative cooking techniques:

1. When cooking both pasta and frozen vegetables (for example if you're making a tuna casserole with peas and carrots), add the vegetables into the pasta pot to cook and drain together.

2. If you cook pasta a lot, you might want to look into buying a pot specially designed for pasta - it has a locking lid with drain holes…no colander to wash!

3. Steam your fresh or frozen vegetables in the microwave instead of on the stovetop to save a few minutes, and some cleanup time.

4. When prep time is in short supply, shop for precut fresh veggies and fruits. You can usually find broccoli, carrots, snap peas, mushrooms, mixed fruit and many others like this in your produce section. Many stores also have a salad bar you can use to select the ingredients you need. I've even seen chopped onions and green peppers in the frozen food section - very handy for pasta sauces, omelets, fajitas, stir-fry's, etc.

5. Buy shredded cheese. It's a little more expensive, but the time saved on shredding and cleanup is well worth it.

6. When recipes call for chopped or minced garlic, you can usually get away with using a jar of prepared garlic. One exception I'd note is when garlic is a primary ingredient, such as to add flavor to steamed vegetables. In these cases, fresh just tastes better. You can also usually find bottled minced gingerroot - great for all those wonderful Asian recipes.

7. Use your deli! Turkey, roast beef, ham and whole roasted chicken (with the skin removed) can all fit into a healthy diet and make great, quick meals.

8. Buy a crockpot, or use the one you have. Crockpots probably rank up there as one of the most underused kitchen appliances. There's nothing like coming home to a house full of a tempting dinner aroma knowing all you need to do is serve it up! You'll need to find a few healthy recipes either in cookbooks or online and you'll be set to really simplify your mealtimes.

9. If your family likes seafood, it is nearly always quicker to prepare than beef, chicken or pork. Shrimp, crab, salmon, cod, flounder or other seafood selections are healthy and take very little time to prepare.

10. Start with low-fat prepared sauces, salads, or stir-fry's and jazz them up with healthy ingredients. Add fresh veggies and herbs to any of these prepared entrees and you'll have a quick meal with a homemade, more nutritious touch.

There are many other ways to speed up meal preparation and keep up the nutritional value. Just remember - it doesn't have to be hard or time-consuming. You'll feel great, look great and be setting a positive example for your kids.

© Health-E-Meals.com, 2002

Erin Rogers, a work-at-home mom of two, is the founder of Health-E-Meals.com, providing practical healthy living resources for busy people. Visit her website to sign up for the FREE newsletter, 'Dinners on the Double' - offering a quick and healthy, no-recipe dinner idea each week. Other available services include quick and healthy recipes, healthy cooking articles, fitness and motivation tips, healthy living web links, and lots more! Erin can be reached via email at erin@health-e-meals.com.

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