Ways to create easy mealsBy Ann Henderson

Summer heat can dampen the desire for extensive meal preparation. Luckily, there are simple ways to make a tasty, healthy meal without heating up the kitchen. Consider these tips.

Put your slow cooker to work. Pull out the crock pot and prepare ingredients for wraps, salads, and sandwiches.

Use your microwave. It can be used for many quick and healthy meals. For a baked potato bar, cook the potatoes in the microwave. Top with shredded cheese, sour cream, chopped chives, green onions, chili, or other toppings your family enjoys. Or have everyone build their own burrito. Begin by filling a whole-grain flour tortilla with black or refried beans, fresh veggies, peppers, green onions, grated carrots, olives, shredded cheese, etc. Then wrap it up, put it in the microwave, and heat.

Create a main dish salad. Tasty options include Chinese salad, taco salad, or chef’s salad.

Whip up a stove-top dinner. Some include hot sandwiches, fried rice, fajitas, pancakes, French toast, or waffles.

Chop or spiralize raw veggies in advance. Chopped veggies in the fridge make preparing a healthy meal easier, whether it’s a sandwich, salad, quesadilla, omelet, or stir fry. Some favorites include bell peppers, green onions, jicama, celery, carrots, zucchini, and tomatoes.

Grill it. Heat up the grill instead of the kitchen to cook your favorite vegetables or even fruits.

Use frozen vegetables. They can be quickly added to any meal. They come in a variety of mixes, so you can get many options in just a few bags. Having stir-fry mixes on hand can significantly reduce prep time.

Use convenience products when the price is right and time is tight. It is generally less expensive to prepare foods at home, but pre-cut produce can be a time saver. Weigh the cost to your budget and the time saved to decide if the trade-off is worth it.

Serve a low-fuss fruit salad. Easy options include raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, red and green grapes, bananas, pineapple chunks, strawberries, or apple slices. The fruit can be put in bags ahead of time for easy options at meal time.

Ann Henderson is a Utah State University Extension associate professor.

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