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Shelly Barnes: Hey family, let’s eat in tonight instead

Shelly Barnes • Updated Oct 3, 2017 at 11:00 PM

Eating out has become a way of life for many Americans as at least one in four people eat some type of fast food every day.  We live in a fast-paced, convenience-filled world. Most people don’t want to spend any more than 20 minutes to get dinner ready for their family. So it’s easy to turn to restaurants, take out delis and pre-packaged convenience foods.

In general, people consume 50 percent more calories, fat and sodium when eating out than when they cook at home. One fast-food meal can contain a day’s worth of saturated fat and far more salt than we need.

Cooking meals at home gives us complete control over what goes into our diet and usually leads to more healthy meals.  Not only do we have the options of healthier ingredient choices and cooking methods, but we also tend to have more variety and expand our culinary creativity.  Portion control is also easier at home compared to the super-size me fast food world.

There are many ways to get dinner on the table without a lot of time commitment.  Try pasta dishes or egg dishes that only take a few minutes to cook. Slow cooker dishes simmer all day and are ready when you walk in after work.

Another strategy is to cook enough for two dishes and freeze one.  This works especially well for casseroles and lasagna where it’s just as easy to make two as it is one.

Plan ahead and keep ingredients on hand to make meals quickly and easily.  Prewashed produce, frozen vegetables and other nutritious but convenient ingredients can help.

“What’s for dinner?” is probably the most common household question. We get into a rut and make the same things over and over so we get bored with making dinner.  Search out new easy recipes to try with your family from the internet, magazines and cookbooks.

You have 21 opportunities to make meals each week. So get cooking and try to make three more meals a week at home this month.

Some quick cooking methods include:

• Stir frying: To cook bite-sized pieces of food in a little hot oil in a wok over high heat. Make a sauce of ½-cup chicken broth, ¼-cup hoisin sauce, 2 tablespoons of soy sauce and 1 teaspoon of cornstarch. In a hot wok, cook 1¼ pounds of thinly sliced chicken or beef. Remove from pan and add two cloves minced garlic, ½-teaspoon red pepper flakes and 1½-cups favorite bite-sized veggies. When tender, add meat back with sauce and cook just until thickened. Serve over rice.

• Pan sautéing: To cook food in a skillet with a minimal amount of fat over relatively high heat. Pound boneless chicken breasts to ½-inch thick. Cook breasts in a large skillet with 1 tablespoon of olive oil until cooked through, turning once. Remove to platter. Add two diced carrots, 2 tablespoons of chopped fresh rosemary and two cloves of minced garlic to pan and sauté until tender. Add 6 tablespoons of apricot preserves and 4 tablespoons of Dijon mustard, heating through. Season with salt and pepper and pour over chicken.

• Grilling or broiling:  To cook food on a rack over (grilling) or under (broiling) a heat source. Simmer for 15 minutes, 1 tablespoon of brown sugar, 1 tablespoon of mustard seeds, 1 teaspoon of dried oregano, 1 teaspoon of chili powder, ½-teaspoon of salt, ½-teaspoon of ground cloves, ¼-cup red wine vinegar, 1 cup of ketchup, ½ cup water, 2 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce and one bay leaf. Cool and reserve ½ cup. Pour remainder over flank steak and marinate four to 24 hours. Grill over medium heat for eight to 10 minutes for medium rare. Slice thinly and serve with reserved sauce.

UT Extension provides a gateway to the University of Tennessee as the outreach unit of the Institute of Agriculture. With an office in every Tennessee county, UT Extension delivers educational programs and research-based information to citizens throughout the state and provides equal opportunities in all programming and employment. In cooperation with Tennessee State University, UT Extension works with farmers, families, youth and communities to improve lives by addressing problems and issues at the local, state and national levels.  Through its mission of research, teaching and extension, the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture touches lives and provides Real. Life. Solutions. ag.tennessee.edu.

For more information on this or other family and consumer sciences-related topics, contact Shelly Barnes, family and consumer sciences Extension agent for UT Extension in Wilson County. Barnes may be reached at sbarnes@utk.edu or 615-444-9584.

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