Preparing a well-balanced dinner on most days of the week is a challenge for many working adults. Unless you plan ahead, healthy intentions can quickly end in a less than healthy plate. How do you provide healthy meals quickly? Two popular cooking methods may help.

Cookie Sheet Cooking. You don’t have to use multiple pans or multiple methods to make a great meal. A simple cookie sheet is sufficient to bake or broil an entire meal. Spray or oil the pan, toss foods with a small amount of oil and seasoning, arrange the foods in 3 sections on the pan, and slide it in a pre-heated oven. Most meals will be ready in 15 to 40 minutes, depending on type of foods roasted. Clean-up is as easy with only one pan to wash. YES.

As you select foods, think about the amount of time it will take to cook each. The density of the food and the size of the pieces matter. Use smaller, thinner cuts of dense foods to decrease cooking time. You can add quicker cooking foods later during the roasting process. Fish, for instance, requires a relatively short cooking time compared to many vegetable choices.

Roasting in a preheated oven at 425 degrees F is sufficient for most one-sheet meals. Avoid over-crowding the food to ensure even heating and browning. Glazes or seasoned breading can be added prior to cooking. Consider using a foil “boat” for foods that may release too much water, such as frozen vegetables or greens. Always use a food thermometer for meat, poultry, and fish. These can be removed and kept warm if other food items need additional roasting.

For variety, you may want to include a protein source (fish, seafood, chicken, tofu, meats, meatballs or sausage), and two or more vegetables. White or sweet potatoes, parsnips, radishes, winter squash, carrots and cauliflower are denser, while summer squash, broccoli, onion, celery, tomatoes, and peppers are less dense. When fresh vegetables are not available, canned beans, drained and tossed with a bit of oil and seasoning, do well when roasted. Many other items can add flavor and variety, such as dried fruits, shallots, garlic, Parmesan cheese, chopped nuts, herbs and spices.

Try these cookie sheet cooking combinations:

* Chicken breast cutlets, broccoli/carrot-coin mix, grape tomatoes (sprinkle with Parmesan cheese near the end).

* Fish fillets, red-skinned potato wedges, zucchini, lemon wedges and capers on top.

* Sliced pork loin, sliced sweet potatoes and apples – spoon crushed pineapple over the loin and sweet potato.

* Reduced-fat sausage, sliced onions and green peppers (warm tortillas or buns on the lower oven shelf near the end).

* Try your own ideas and seasoning techniques for a healthy dinner is ready in a flash!

Batch Cooking is when you prepare large amounts of food at a time. This allows for lots of left-overs and fast meals. Try making extra brown rice, dried beans, and quinoa or mixed-grain noodles, to pair with large batches of vegetables. Cook a whole bag of frozen veggies, so you have some to warm up and mix with meat and grains. When grilling or baking chicken breasts, pork chops, or ground beef, double the quantity and refrigerate or freeze the rest for a later meal. Many vegetable, fruit or grain-based salads will store safely 2 or 3 days in the refrigerator.

Prepare quick breakfasts or snacks by hard-boiling half a dozen eggs ahead or making extra whole grain pancakes and muffins. Cooked grains, including pasta, freeze well in meal-sized batches. Freeze foods that have not been eaten within 2 or 3 days for future quick meals.

As you experiment with these two food preparation methods, you may discover some unique food and seasoning combinations that you and your family will enjoy.

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