Even when you're time challenged, you can still enjoy healthy meals at home.

Try These Healthy Weeknight Meals [INFO "OT: Family Friendly"]

Doris Pulido of Houston had a case of the bland dinner blues. That was until we arrived for a flavor and nutrition makeover sure to make her husband, Joe, and four kids say, "Thanks for dinner, Mom." Doris's goal was to prepare bold-flavored dishes not too high in calories that did not require a big time investment. "My kids think what I cook is boring, unless I make rich, creamy Mexican dishes such as cheese enchiladas," she says. "They like grilled meats, but I've never even turned on the grill." Joe usually fires it up, but he works long hours, and Doris often needs to get dinner started before he comes home.

As a registered dietician, my job was to create easy, grill-friendly recipes and to teach Doris how to prepare them with confidence. I aimed to include plenty of colorful, cancer-fighting, heart-healthy veggies and fruits. In less than two days, she learned how to infuse fabulous flavor into meats, seafood, vegetables, and fruits with a few spices, seasoning mixtures, and marinades.

Doris was pleased to see how quickly fish cooks, making it a perfect option for weeknight meals. She also enjoyed the new flavors produced by oven roasting sweet potatoes and red potatoes with just a hint of spices.

I thought teaching Doris how to prepare tasty, healthy dishes would be the most gratifying part of this project. But truthfully, what I enjoyed most was hearing her kids--Joshua, Jeremy, Daniella, and Joel--tell their mom how much they liked what we prepared for dinner.

Successful Cooking Tips

  • Rub lean meats such as pork tenderloin, flank steak, or chicken with spice rubs, or marinate them; freeze in zip-top plastic freezer bags. When thawed, meats will be perfectly seasoned and ready to go on the grill.
  • A good knife is a sharp knife. Visit www.cutlery.com for information about sharpening knives. A chef's knife is ideal for most chopping needs. Use a paring knife for coring and peeling fruits and veggies.
  • Flatten thick boneless chicken pieces with a meat mallet for more even cooking. When you pound them, the flesh becomes more porous so it absorbs additional seasonings from rubs and marinades.
  • Use a zester to remove the fragrant rinds from oranges, lemons, and limes to add flavor with virtually no calories. Look for one in the kitchen gadget aisle of department stores, or visit www.kitchengizmo.com.
  • Cutting meats into wafer-thin slices and threading them onto skewers allows for quick cooking as well as fabulous flavor. Marinades and spices come in contact with every surface, making each bite delicious.
  • Keep dinner interesting by trying one new recipe each month.
  • Sneak in the veggies and fruits. Doris says her kids won't automatically grab a piece of fruit out of the fridge or fruit bowl. Entice kids and grown-ups by preparing a fresh fruit salad. This is great as a snack or dessert. Stirring colorful peppers and beans into salsa offers another opportunity to add in vegetables.

Healthy Benefits

  • Beans and other legumes are rich in soluble (dissolves in water) fiber. A ½-cup serving of cooked beans provides 4 to 10 grams of fiber (adults need 20 to 35 grams per day). Incorporating soluble fiber into your diet is important because it helps lower bad (LDL) cholesterol, thereby reducing the incidence of some heart diseases. It also helps regulate blood sugar levels, which makes it an excellent nutrient for people with diabetes. Oats, barley, and citrus fruits also contain soluble fiber.
  • Iron plays an essential role in getting oxygen from the bloodstream to every cell in your body. Low iron can lead to anemia, weakness, and infections. Besides liver, the best source of readily absorbed iron is lean beef, such as flank steak. Non-meat sources of iron include fortified breakfast cereals, spinach, beans, and pumpkin seeds. Iron from these sources isn't absorbed as well, but when enjoyed with Vitamin C-rich foods such as bell peppers and citrus fruit, iron absorption increases.
  • Eat at least five servings of veggies and fruits daily. You've heard this before, but here's why you should take it to heart: Produce is rich in selenium and vitamins A, C, and E--powerful antioxidants that protect your body's cells from damage caused by smoke, pollution, sun, etc. They also keep your immune system healthy, reducing your risk of cancer and other diseases. To learn more about how foods and their nutrients affect your health, visit the American Dietetic Association's Web site at www.eatright.org.