Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Keeping Quick and Easy Dinners Healthy by Bloom Guest Meredith

Vegetable Lasagna

Weekdays can be hectic, to say the least. Even if you start the day early, it somehow always manages to hit 4 p.m. before most of us have even started thinking about dinner! And when you’re pressed for time and in no mood to spend all night in the kitchen, it can be tempting to head straight for the takeout menu.
But most of us don’t need to be spending a big chunk of change on dinner each night. And what’s more, ordering out can get unhealthy fast. Not only do restaurant portions tend to be unnecessarily huge compared to what you’d serve yourself at home, but they’re also usually loaded with much higher amounts of sugar, fat and calories.
Luckily, it’s completely possible to hit a balance between meals that are quick and easy to make but that are also nutritious. Good-for-you meals don’t need to be complicated, time-consuming or call for obscure ingredients. Need some inspiration? The following are simple tips for incorporating a little nutrition into quick and easy weeknight dinners:

Fill up on veggies
Casseroles and pasta bakes are some of the easiest weeknight dinner options out there since they usually require basic ingredients and minimal effort. They’re also a prime opportunity to sneak in some extra nutrition! Add some frozen peas and chopped carrots to a tuna noodle casserole or layer some mushrooms and zucchini into your favorite easy lasagna recipe. Odds are, picky eaters won’t notice a few extra vegetables when everything’s mixed together, and filling up on extra veggies is better for you than filling up on extra cheese, bread or meat.

Use your slow-cooker
Slow-cookers are an excellent healthy cooking tool because they eliminate the need to add excess fat. Meats cook in their own juices in a slow-cooker, so you don’t have to use a lot of butter or oil like you may on a stove-top. And if you think slow-cooker recipes are just for dinner, think again! Yes, they’re great for soups and chili, but you can also use a slow-cooker to make everything from sides like potatoes and carrots to main dishes like falafels and shredded chicken for tacos.

Substitute leaner meats
One of the best ways to make your favorite meals slightly more nutritious is to substitute leaner meats like turkey and chicken for red meats. By using ground turkey rather than beef in your favorite easy meatloaf recipe or grilled chicken breast in fajitas instead of steak, you’ll shave off fat and calories without sacrificing your go-to meals.

Choose whole grains
Whole grains are high in fiber and are chock full of nutrients that refined grains lack. They have also been linked to lowering the risks of multiple diseases, so it only makes sense to incorporate them into your cooking whenever possible. It’s easy to do so, too; use whole grain bread for grilled cheese, whole grain crust for a homemade pizza and whole ground pasta for spaghetti and meatballs (try turkey meatballs!).
The next time you need a quick, nutritious dinner, try this recipe for an easy vegetable lasagna; it’s stuffed with fresh veggies and is much lighter than your typical lasagna recipe. Plus, it only takes 30 minutes to put together, meaning it’s a great healthier choice for busy weeknights. Enjoy!

Vegetable Lasagna
  • PAM® Original No-Stick Cooking Spray
  • 2 medium zucchini, quartered lengthwise, sliced
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 4 ounces sliced fresh mushrooms (4 oz = 1-1/4 cups)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 container (15 oz each) part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 can (24 oz each) Hunt's® Traditional Pasta Sauce
  • 8 dry no-boil flat lasagna noodles, uncooked
  • 1/3 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray 8x8-inch baking dish with cooking spray; set aside. Spray large skillet with cooking spray; heat over medium heat. Add zucchini, onion, mushrooms and garlic; cook 5 minutes or until vegetables are crisp-tender, stirring frequently. Set aside.
Combine ricotta cheese and parsley in small bowl; set aside.
Spread about 1/2 cup pasta sauce evenly onto bottom of prepared dish; top with 2 of the noodles. Cover with layers of 1/4 of the remaining sauce, 1/3 of the ricotta cheese mixture and 1/3 of the vegetables. Repeat layers 2 more times, beginning with noodles and ending with vegetables. Top with remaining 2 noodles and remaining sauce; sprinkle with mozzarella cheese. Cover with aluminum foil sprayed lightly with cooking spray, sprayed-side down.
Bake 30 minutes. Remove foil; bake an additional 15 minutes or until hot and bubbly. Let stand 10 minutes before cutting.

This is a guest post by Meredith K. on behalf of Hunt’s®. For simple, good-for-you weeknight recipes, visit