Make Meals in Minutes

BBQ Ranch Quesadilla Wedges

Balancing the demands of family and careers may leave little time for meal preparation. Days are busy and there is less time than ever to prepare a nutritious dinner, but mealtime doesn't have to be difficult or time consuming. With a little planning, easy home meals can become a reality.

Meals prepared at home are more budget-friendly than restaurant meals and provide other benefits as well. Kids who eat more meals at home tend to eat more fruits, vegetables, fiber and calcium-rich dairy foods. Eating meals together increases the enjoyment of the meal and encourages conversations about the day's activities. Follow these tips to prepare meals in a hurry:

*Plan -- this increases the likelihood that meals will be nutritious. Be sure to include a variety of foods from all of the food groups for the forty-plus nutrients you need for good health. If you leave a Food Group out of your meal plan you may miss out on key nutrients. For example, Dairy Group Foods are excellent sources of bone-strengthening calcium and provide other essential nutrients important for good health.

*Love your leftovers -- use leftovers to save time and money. Make planned leftovers by doubling the recipe; serve half for a meal and refrigerate or freeze the other portion to use later. Leftovers from roast beef or chicken can be used to make soups or sandwiches. Roasted chicken leftovers can be used to make tortilla soup or chicken quesadillas. To turn leftover roast beef into Italian beef sandwiches, place sliced beef on a hard roll, top with sautéed onions and green peppers, and add shredded mozzarella cheese. Pop in the oven open-faced for ten minutes until cheese is melted. Round out the meal with a side salad and a glass of ice cold milk.

*Keep a well-stocked pantry and fridge -- this will help you put meals together in a flash. Keep a variety of pre-shredded and sliced cheeses, plain yogurt and low-fat sour cream, fresh vegetables, ready to eat salads, tortilla, fresh fruit, eggs, milk and flavored milk in the fridge. Stock the pantry with potatoes, whole grain pasta, brown rice, pasta sauce, canned fruits, vegetables and beans.

*Take some shortcuts -- not all meal components have to be made from scratch. Shop for pre-cooked items like deli roasted chicken or fresh pizza. Purchase a prepared salad from the grocery deli and grab bread or rolls from the bakery. For a simple dessert pick up fresh berries or other fruits and top with vanilla yogurt.

*Try these quick and easy recipes for dinner:

BBQ Ranch Quesadilla Wedges

1 bag (16-ounce) frozen pepper stir-fry blend (green, red and yellow peppers and onions)

1/4 cup barbecue sauce

1/2 cup light ranch dressing

1 tablespoon butter, softened

8(8-inch) flour tortillas

1 cup prepared barbecue shredded beef

3/4 cup shredded Cheddar cheese

Prepare stir-fry pepper blend according to package directions. Mix barbecue sauce and ranch dressing and set aside. Spread butter evenly on 1 side of each tortilla and layer barbecue beef, stir-fry blend, and cheese evenly on unbuttered side of 4 tortillas and cover with remaining tortillas, butter side up. Grill each quesadilla in large skillet over medium heat for 3 minutes on each side or until golden and cheese melts. Cut into wedges and serve with barbecue ranch dipping sauce. Makes 8 servings.

Nutrition Facts: 340 calories, 15g fat, 15g protein, 20% daily value for calcium

Easy, Cheesy Calzone

16 ounces prepared pizza dough

1/2 cup pizza sauce

2 cups shredded part-skim mozzarella

3 cups cooked, chopped broccoli, drained

1 tablespoon butter, melted

Preheat oven to 400°F. Grease a baking sheet. On a lightly floured surface, roll dough to form a 9"x 14" rectangle, about 1/4" thick. Transfer to prepared baking sheet. Spread pizza sauce over half of the dough. Sprinkle cheese over entire piece of dough to within half inch of all of the edges. Layer broccoli on one half of the 14"' side (the long side) of the dough. Fold dough in half over the cheese and broccoli filling. Seal edges of the calzone by pressing with the tines of a fork. Prick top. Brush top with butter. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until crust is lightly browned. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before cutting. Makes 8 servings.

Nutrition Facts: 325 calories, 10g fat, 20g protein, 20% daily value for calcium.

For more information on the health benefits of dairy, visit or contact Kelly Maher RD, LD with St. Louis District Dairy Council: call (314)835-9668, or