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Prairie Fare: Eat Smart on the Run

Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Service food and nutrition specialist Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Service food and nutrition specialist
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Consider speed scratch cooking when you need to get a meal on the table fast.

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist

NDSU Extension Service

“Don’t spoil your appetite. We’re having dinner in about 20 minutes,” I said to my 14-year-old daughter the other day when I returned home from work.

“I’m hungry right now!” she exclaimed as she ate a meal-sized snack that she prepared in our microwave oven.

I wasn’t going to dispute the issue. Growing teens need plenty of food, and she ate a second course later. I did, however, think about how to expedite our meal preparation.

Some days you can’t get the food on the table fast enough. On those days, consider “speed scratch” cooking methods when time is short and your family members are sitting at the table with their knives and forks in hand.

Speed scratch is a term used when you combine ready-to-use fresh foods (such as salad in a bag) with packaged foods (such as taco kits).

Some foods such as pasta and couscous cook in minutes. All you need to do is add some spaghetti sauce, a side salad and some fruit, and you have a healthful meal in short order.

If you are in a rush, shop the salad bar vegetables for presliced mushrooms, broccoli and cauliflower florets or chopped onions to be used in stir-fry or soup. Or open a jar of salsa and use it as an instant cooking sauce with chicken, ground beef or pork chops.

Here are some other ingredient ideas to get food on the table fast, but be sure to read and compare the Nutrition Facts labels. Some ready-made foods can be much higher in sodium than their homemade counterparts.

  • Prewashed, precut vegetables
  • Prepackaged stir-fry veggies
  • Frozen pasta with vegetables
  • Pasta salad mixes, which require oil or mayonnaise to be added
  • Prepared spaghetti sauce in jars or cans
  • Pre-chopped garlic in jars
  • Boneless, skinless chicken breasts or presliced stir-fry meats
  • Frozen bread dough
  • Pizza crust mix or ready-to-use crusts

Cost is a major factor in food selection for many people. Even if you choose “speed scratch” foods, which can cost a little more, you still will spend less money than if you ate at a restaurant. Shared meals don’t have to be elaborate. If your day leaves you frazzled, but your budget tells you to eat at home, simplify your cooking style. Make half your plate fruits and vegetables by serving salad or fruit on the side to round out your quick meals.

Try some speed scratch items, use your leftovers as the basis of new meals, divide up the kitchen duties and ring the dinner bell. For more meal ideas, visit Also check out the Prairie Fare blog at

Top this homemade pizza with your favorite veggies to ramp up the nutrition.

Speed Scratch Homemade Pizza

1 refrigerated pizza crust, 12-inch diameter

3/4 c. canned pizza sauce

1 small onion, sliced

1/2 small green pepper, thinly sliced

1 c. mushrooms, fresh, sliced

1 c. (about 4 ounces) mozzarella cheese, part-skim milk, shredded

Preheat oven to 450 F. Place crust on ungreased pizza pan or baking sheet. Top with sauce and vegetables. Sprinkle with cheese. Bake until cheese melts and vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes.

Makes four servings. Each serving has 410 calories, 11 grams (g) of fat, 20 g of protein, 59 g of carbohydrate, 4 g of fiber and 750 milligrams of sodium.

(Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.)

NDSU Agriculture Communication - Sept. 13, 2012

Source:Julie Garden-Robinson, (701) 231-7187,
Editor:Ellen Crawford, (701) 231-5391,
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