My friend, the school teacher, brings home dinner every day in the form of Wendy’s, Burger King, Arby’s, Subway, McDonald’s, Taco Time, and Pizza Hut.  She feels guilty about it, but with a teaching job (read: bring your work home and keep working), and with three children, one of whom is two years old and requires a ton of attention when my friend gets her out of day care, and with a husband who works more than full time, how is she supposed to find time to make fancy home cooked dinners?

Well, I told her that she aims too high; she thinks she has to make slow cooked lasagne, fancy fajitas, and home made pie every night.  But often, those more time consuming productions are less healthy and not any more delicious than the faster, and healthier choices.

So, this is a challenge for my friend:  if you could throw together a healthy meal in ten minutes, and it ended up being cheaper, much more healthy, and delicious, would you?

It is not hard.  And I’m not even resorting to crock pot dinners or PB&J dinners, either.

You can do it.  All you have to do is a little bit of thinking ahead.  That thinking ahead will require one trip to the store, (acting ahead as well as thinking ahead) to keeping some essentials on hand.  I suggest making this a Saturday afternoon trip, so you are ready for your whole week.

For me, the list of fast-food healthy home cooking essentials would include my favorite frozen vegetables, whole-grain pastas, reduced-fat cheese, yogurt, canned tomatoes, canned beans, pre-cooked grilled chicken or turkey breast, nuts, whole grain tortillas or pitas, and bags of dried and fresh fruits and fresh salad greens.

From that list of essentials, you could mix and match to throw together whatever you wanted to.  The following is a sample list you can take ideas from, if you like:

Monday:  Turkey cranberry salad wraps with cranberry dressing and an icy orange banana smoothie for dessert

Tuesday:  Pasta Primavera with grapes and nuts for dessert

Wednesday: Greek Chicken Pitas and  dried apricot and mango bites for dessert

Thursday: Bean and Cheese Burritos with fresh broccoli-tomato salad – fruit for dessert

Friday: Summery Pasta Bean Salad with nut and raisin snack mix for dessert

Saturday:  Mexican Corn and Bean Salsa over Quesadillas and a berry smoothie for dessert

Sunday:  Chicken tacos with mango salsa and a banana nut yogurt parfait for dessert

If you have fast, healthy food ready to go, you don’t need to have less wholesome convenience foods on hand.

Consider, too, not replenishing that staple stash of cookies, candy or chips that many of us keep for those between-meal munchies.  You may not need the stash; your healthy foods are going to be so fast and available.  But if you do need snacks in the house, consider adding high-protein items like nuts, seeds, or yogurts.

Having some protein with a snack makes the feeling of fulness last longer because proteins are more satisfying and filling than carb- or fat-loaded snacks.  Remember “ants on a log”?  Celery with a little bit of peanut butter and raisins on top?  That’s a great example of how a little protein goes a long way.

Can’t make “ants on a log” while commuting from work to daycare and home again?  Keep a big ziploc bag of nuts/raisins/seeds/cheerios/dried fruits in the car.  Make sure you have some nuts, so you get that protein.

Last reminder of the day: keep a water bottle with you wherever you go, too, so munching doesn’t take the place of thirst; otherwise, by the time you get home, you may already be full from your nutty-dried-fruit snack.

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