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Fast Meals at Home

You’re running late at work and still need to pick up the kids, stop by the store, get dinner on the table, and take the kids to their activities. You WANT to serve your family healthy, nutritious meals, but you are in overload, out of time and out of ideas. If this sounds familiar, you are not alone. Today, with hectic schedules, family meals at home often get squeezed out and replaced by the drive thru of a fast food restaurant. This, in turn, can lead to unhealthy eating habits, poor access to healthy foods at home, and a higher risk of obesity.

Is there a solution to all this madness? Yes, follow these tips to help you prepare and enjoy fast, nutritious meals at home.

Each week, set aside a time to organize the coming week’s meal plans. Get menu ideas from family members. They’ll most likely eat what is prepared if their ideas have been considered.

Keep menus simple. Start with a whole wheat tortilla, top it with refried beans and cheese, and then microwave until hot. Add chopped tomatoes, peppers, and onions. Serve with salsa and glass of milk.

I always try to cook when I have more time.  Make soups, stews, or casseroles and freeze. Brown some extra ground beef for tacos or pizza. Freeze in meal-sized freezer bags.

Plan leftovers. Cook a big meal on the weekend and use the leftovers as the base for 1 or 2 more meals later in the week. Think beef stew from roast, or chicken tacos from baked chicken.

Cook once for everyone. Do you have a picky eater? Set some of the cooked food aside before adding the unwanted ingredients.

Make no-cook meals. There’s no rule that says family meals must be hot. Consider whole meal salads with canned tuna, grilled chicken or beans, or cold sandwiches served with raw vegetables and chopped fruit.

Use your slow cooker. Prepare your vegetables and potatoes the night before, combine seasonings, and store in a closed container in the refrigerator. In the morning, brown your meat in a pan. Put the veggies, potatoes, and seasonings in the crock-pot, then place browned meat over the vegetables. Lastly, add 2-3 cups of water, place lid on the slow cooker and when you come home, you have a home-cooked meal waiting for you.

For free information on fast meals at home, contact me at the University of Arkansas, Division of Agriculture, Miller County, 400 Laurel, Suite 215, Texarkana, AR. You may also call 870-779-3609 or email me at Be sure to follow me at or Twitter @carlahaleyhadley

One of my favorite fast meals goes in the slow cooker on low for 4-6 hours or in the oven at 350 for 30-40 minutes. I am giving directions for the slow cooker since it is one of my favorite time savers. Serve over whole wheat noodles, with steamed broccoli and garlic bread. Chances are your family will love this and it will become a go to meal for you also.

Holy Moly Its Good Chicken

4 chicken breasts, butterflied into 8 sections

1 packet dry Zesty Italian dressing

1 (8 oz) package cream cheese, softened

1-2 cans low sodium cream of chicken soup

Spray liner of slow cooker with nonstick cooking spray or use slow cooker liner. Place the chicken in slow cooker and sprinkle each side with Italian dressing. Combine cream cheese and cream of chicken soup in a small bowl and microwave 1 minute until cream cheese is melted, stir to combine well, pour over chicken. Cook on low in the slow cooker for at 4-6 hours. Once cooked serve over pasta. If you feel like the sauce is too thick, thin it down with a little milk. 

By Carla Haley Hadley M.S.
County Extension Agent
Family & Consumer Sciences
The Cooperative Extension Service
U of A System Division of Agriculture

Media Contact: Carla Haley Hadley M.S.
County Extension Agent
Family & Consumer Sciences
U of A Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service