Tips for Easy Living

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Save time with fast meals

Warm weather provides a great opportunity to slow down and savor time spent having fun in the great outdoors. But time spent away from home often leads to meals made on the fly or last-minute jaunts to a nearby fast-food  restaurant. Though last-minute meals or trips to the local burger joint might be convenient, they are not always healthy. Fortunately, there are other ways to eat well even when you're pressed for time.

* Choose fast-cooking foods. Stock the pantry with items that will cook quickly. Fresh produce can be steamed or grilled in only a few minutes and served alone as a vegetarian meal or mixed with other foods for a quick entree. Seafood tends to cook quite fast, and many seafood dishes make for a low-fat source of healthy protein and essential fatty acids. Seafood also is lighter on the stomach, which fits well with the smaller meals people tend to enjoy during warm weather. Even foods that take a long time to cook can be prepared quickly. Thick cuts of meat or poultry can be fileted or sliced to allow them to cook faster.

* Cook with high heat. Instead of slow-roasting or plugging in the slow cooker for hours on end, instant meal gratification often means cranking up the heat. That is why grilling is such a popular cooking method this time of year. Grilling will sear meats and vegetables over high heat, sometimes as much as 400 to 500 F, cooking foods rapidly as a result. Select meats that do well over high heat, such as those that are tender, because they will not require long cooking periods to break down the fibers in the meat. If grilling is not an option, then stir-frying is another way to cook fast over high heat. Invest in a wok or another deep frying pan for such meals.

* Have prepared items on standby. Keep the refrigerator stocked with already-washed vegetables and lettuce. Par-boiled potatoes or pasta can be mixed in with a number of different ingredients to create a filling meal. When free time allows, develop a plan so meals take less time to prepare. If frozen items must be defrosted, make sure to put them in the refrigerator the day before they will be cooked to begin the thawing period. Otherwise, use a microwave to safely defrost foods rather than leaving them out on the counter where bacteria can grow.

* Don't fret a no-fuss night. Not every meal has to be a three-course delight. A fast dinner could equate to a sandwich or salad. Breakfast foods for dinner are also quite popular and can cook up quickly. Surprise everyone with French toast or pancakes made savory with bits of bacon and spinach in the batter. When all else fails, a bowl of cereal can be adequate and fast.

* When dining out, go healthy. Sometimes takeout or a meal out with friends or family is the perfect ending to a great day. Restaurant food tends to pack more fat and calories into larger-than-normal portion sizes, so choose steamed or broiled foods whenever possible. Divide larger portions among other diners. Clear soups are better for you than cream-based soups. Try to fill up on vegetables rather than bread served before the meal.