Quick, inexpensive healthy meals at home

First Posted: 1/15/2009

I once saw paper cocktail napkins that read, “If we are what we eat, I’m fast, cheap, and easy.” The message amused me so much that the napkin now hangs on my kitchen wall with other food-related sayings.
The message is taking aim at all the fast food we Americans consume. It is fast and easy, but it’s certainly not cheap in the long run.
Our fast food habit is considered by health experts to be a major contributor to the current obesity epidemic. In one two-year period, U.S. taxpayers paid $127 million in hospital costs for care associated with overweight children and adolescents. That’s a lot of money, but it’s only part of the picture.
For a truer view of obesity costs, you’ll need to factor in hospital care for overweight adults and the cost of lost productivity due to time away from employment.
My Heart Healthy Cooking Class partners and I are out to change the napkin’s message from negative to positive. We want you to know that home-cooked food can be quick to prepare, low cost, and good for you. You can be fast, cheap, easy, — and healthy.
The following recipes are from the most recent class in the heart healthy series I teach with the Health Department and Southeastern Regional Medical Center. Several participants who had attended previous classes said these were the best recipes yet, proving healthy food can also taste great. That’s a necessary requirement in my book.
Meat loaf is an American favorite. I always requested it on weekends I came home from college. Somehow over the years, mother quit making meat loaf. This recipe is guaranteed to put meat loaf back in her oven…and yours.
Old-fashioned meat loaf called for tearing up bread and soaking it in milk to add moisture to the meat. Skip these steps and just reach for commercial picante sauce. You’ll get moisture and zing.
Squash is a great tasting summer vegetable. But when the garden overflows with the stuff, we sometimes grow tired of even a good thing. Try Greek seasoning on squash to perk up tired taste buds.
The rice pilaf gives you the chance to sneak veggies by those who, for some strange reason, refuse to eat them. Though the dish is speedy enough to prepare, you can put it together even faster by purchasing shredded carrots and chopped mushrooms.
Give these recipes a try. Then help us spread the new message. Maybe we could all go together and buy boxes of the napkin to proclaim our new attitude.

meat loaf

2 pounds very lean ground beef
1/2 cup Pace Picante Sauce – mild
2-3 tablespoons plain bread crumbs
Mix ingredients together and fit into loaf pan. Bake at 400 degrees F for 1-1 1/4 hours or till meat is no longer pink. How’s that for simple?

Greek-style squash

2 pounds zucchini and/or yellow summer squash, cut into bite-size chunks
1 sweet bell pepper, sliced into strips
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons Greek-style seasoning blend
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Place squash and bell pepper in a large shallow roasting pan. Drizzle with oil; sprinkle with Greek seasoning and black pepper; toss to coat. Roast, uncovered, at 425 degrees F for 15 minutes or just till tender, stirring once.

Rice pilaf

1 cup (low-sodium) chicken broth
1/2 cup long-grain rice
1 cup chopped fresh mushrooms
1 cup shredded carrots
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup sliced green onions
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

In medium saucepan over high heat, bring chicken broth to a boil. Add rice and cover. Reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand 5 minutes. Stir in remaining ingredients. Return to low heat and cook another 5 minutes. Fluff with fork and serve immediately. Serves 6.

- Susan Noble is a county Extension agent with the Robeson County Center of the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service. She may be reached by calling 671-3276.

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