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Expert Q&A

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How doI prepare quick and nutritious meals?

Asked by Emily Compton , FORT WAYNE, Indiana

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I am a single woman who works full time and goes to school part time. How do I prepare nutritious meals when I barely have time to go through an unhealthy drive-thru joint? Any suggestions on what kinds of foods are good for packing in the a.m. and then eating later? I would love to start cooking for myself, but it just seems like such a waste if it's only me that's eating. Thanks!

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Diet and Fitness Expert Dr. Melina Jampolis Physician Nutrition Specialist

Expert answer

Hi, Emily. Like you, I'm a single woman who is super busy, and frankly, I don't know a lot about cooking. So even if I had the time to cook, I would be somewhat lost in the kitchen trying to prepare complicated recipes.

But I truly believe that even the busiest person can find a little time to eat healthy, and in my practice, I try to help people make healthy choices no matter how busy they are. My book, "The No Time to Lose Diet: The Busy Person's Guide to Permanent Weight Loss," contains some quick and easy recipes (none of which require more than 10 minutes) and healthy eating out options (including fast food believe it or not). There are other books out there as well, for example, this one from the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association.

Since you are single, one time-efficient strategy would be to prepare a quick and easy dinner recipe for two and bring the leftovers for lunch the following day.

Here are a few more easy options for packing a healthy day's worth of food. I've provided options that require refrigeration and/or a microwave and options that don't, in case you don't have access to either at school or work.

Breakfast options: Hard-boiled eggs, high-fiber cereal bars (aim for at least 3 grams of fiber), fruit, single-serving cups of low-fat cottage cheese (to save money, buy a big container and put ½ cup to 1 cup in Tupperware the night before or in the morning), instant oatmeal packets.

Lunch options: Leftovers, peanut butter and jelly sandwich on whole-grain bread, whole-grain turkey pita pocket with mustard, low-fat frozen meal (see my previous answer on healthy microwave dinners), a can of minestrone soup or low-fat turkey chili (beans are an excellent source of fiber and nutrients).

Snack options: ¼ cup of nuts + fruit, low-sugar/low-fat yogurt + ½ cup high-fiber cereal (aim for about 5 grams per serving), carrots and hummus, energy bar, ½ peanut butter and jelly sandwich on whole-grain bread, string cheese + 1 serving whole-grain crackers.

Mix and match to make sure that you get at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables daily, try to get a little protein and fiber at every meal, and snack to keep energy levels and blood sugar stable throughout the day.

The key to success for busy people like you is planning. If you spend a little time on Sundays (or whatever your day off is) shopping and planning out your week so that you don't have to spend a lot of time during your busy week trying to make healthy choices, those choices will already be built into your life.

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