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Prairie Fare: Streamline Meal Preparation to Keep Up With Spring Events

Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Food and Nutrition Specialist Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Food and Nutrition Specialist
The arrival of warmer weather brings more meetings, conferences, concerts, graduations and all sorts of activities.

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist

NDSU Extension Service

“Do you know that you were gone until 9 last night?” my 6-year-old noted, wagging her finger at me.

“I had a meeting, but I came home as soon as I could,” I explained, remembering that my dinner was eaten on the run.

“I was waiting for you!” she said.

“Next time, I promise to let you know my schedule. I came in your room and said good night, though,” I assured her as I handed her a bowl of cereal.

“Yes, that’s when I looked at the clock,” she said.

I felt like a teenager who had missed my curfew. I imagine this scene will be reversed at some point in the future, but I don’t think I will wag my finger at her.

Spring gets busy. After a long winter with often unknown weather conditions, the arrival of warmer weather brings more meetings, conferences, concerts, graduations and all sorts of activities prior to the arrival of summer.

Busy schedules can lead to erratic meal times. Erratic meal times, in turn, can lead to people making poor food choices

When you have less time for meal preparation, you may be tempted to pick up fast food or buy more convenience foods. That could strain your food budget, especially if you are buying for a family.

Unless you make careful food choices when eating outside of your home, you also may consume more calories, fat and sodium than recommended for good health. Many restaurants have nutrition information available to help you compare your choices.

When dining out or picking up takeout foods, try to choose items that are baked, broiled, grilled, roasted or steamed. Limit fried, braised, basted, creamed, scalloped, au gratin, sauteed or stuffed foods. Stay with regular-sized portions and opt for milk for your beverage.

At home, remember that streamlining food preparation takes some planning. However, the time invested is worth it for your health and budget.

How is your household doing at managing food preparation time? If you are the “managing chef” at home, try answering the following questions:

  • Do you plan menus and write grocery lists so you have meal ideas and the food you need?
  • Do you sometimes prepare portions of a meal in advance?
  • Do you sometimes use leftovers as the basis for another meal?
  • Do other people in your household help with meal preparation and cleanup?
  • Do you focus preparation efforts on one portion of the meal? For example, if the main course is time-consuming, do you fix a simple vegetable or salad?
  • Do you assemble equipment, cooking utensils and ingredients before you begin meal preparation?
  • Do you use time-saving equipment, such as slow cookers and microwave ovens?
  • To save on cleanup time, do you sometimes use the one-pot method? That means adding vegetables to pasta that is cooking.

If you could say yes to most of the questions, you are using time-saving strategies. Consider what other strategies might work for you.

If you could use some help with menu plans and recipes, check out our new “Cooking 101” publications. Visit and click on For Singles/Couples. The “Cooking 101” series has three weeks of menu plans, recipes and grocery lists.

If you are cooking for a family, click on For Parents/Caregivers and then on Now Serving. Five weeks of menu plans and recipes are included in the series.

For a meal that’s on the table in short order, consider this quick and easy stir-fry recipe. Using frozen veggies saves time.

Chicken and Vegetable Stir-fry

4 small chicken breasts

1 (16-ounce) package of frozen stir-fry vegetables

Cooking spray

1/4-1/2 c. teriyaki sauce (reduced-sodium)

2 c. brown or white rice

Prepare the rice as the package indicates. While the rice is cooking, add cooking spray to the skillet and cook the chicken. When chicken is fully cooked, add the package of vegetables to the pan. Add sauce to the vegetables and chicken when vegetables are tender. Serve the chicken and vegetables over brown or white rice.

Makes four servings. Each serving has 330 calories, 3 grams (g) of fat, 44 g of carbohydrate, 4 g of fiber and 400 milligrams of sodium.

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

NDSU Agriculture Communication

Source:Julie Garden-Robinson, (701) 231-7187,
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136,
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