One of the main reasons fewer Americans cook at home is time. There just isn’t enough of it.

One federal agency reports that the percentage of households that cooks an average of once a day declined from 44.3 percent in 1993 to 40.5 percent in 2001. Those 4 percentage points equal about 11 million people.

According to the USDA, in 1959 Americans spent 26 percent of their food budgets away from home; by 2000, it had grown to 47 percent. Other researchers find that buying commercially prepared meals – including heat-and-eat packaged foods from supermarkets – has steadily increased.

We opt for convenience over nutrition. But it doesn’t have to be that way. It just takes a little advance planning and a well-stocked kitchen.

Buy frozen, chopped vegetables and fruits to defrost in the microwave. Or get bags of pre-cut and pre-washed fresh vegetables to mix into a salad or use in a 5-minute stir-fry.

One day per week, maybe over the weekend, take an hour to cook a large batch (double or triple the recipe) of a healthful dish. Then you can divide it into individual portions and freeze them. That way, you can just defrost a meal in the microwave on days you don’t have time to cook. Stock a variety of home-cooked items in your freezer for later use.

To save time, the following recipe uses pre-sliced mushrooms, a jar of minced garlic, and a bag of frozen mixed vegetables that includes zucchini and peppers.

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If you prefer to use fresh vegetables, substitute one large zucchini, diced, and 1 large red pepper, cored and diced.

10-Minute Italian Chicken Stir-Fry

Yield: Makes 4 servings

  • 1 Tbsp. canola oil
  • 3/4 lb. skinless, boneless chicken breast, cut in 3/4-inch pieces
  • 1 16-oz. bag frozen mixed vegetables for stir-fry
  • 1 tsp. finely minced garlic
  • 1/2 cup sliced fresh mushrooms
  • 1 tsp. dried basil
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1/2 cup fat-free, reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2 cups cooked hot rice, preferably brown
  1. Place large skillet over high heat. Add oil, swirl to coat pan and heat oil until very hot. Add chicken and stir-fry until it loses pink color. With slotted spoon, remove chicken from pan and set aside. Add garlic and stir-fry until garlic is fragrant, about 1 minute.
  2. Add vegetables to pan. Stir-fry about 2 minutes. Return chicken to pan. Add basil, oregano and chicken broth. Stir-fry until chicken is opaque throughout, about 4 minutes. Add cheese and toss. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  3. Serve immediately, including juices from pan, over hot cooked rice, preferably brown.

Nutrients Per Serving:
316 calories,
7 g. total fat (1 g. saturated fat),
27 g. carbohydrate,
27 g. protein,
6 g. dietary fiber,
244 mg. sodium

Diabetic Exchanges: 2 Bread/Starch, 4 Very-Lean Meat