Before you line the minivan up at a fast-food drive-through window tonight, repeat this mantra: Food cooked at home is healthier and cheaper. It can be just as fast, too.
Registered dietician Amy Schmid of the Dairy Council of Nebraska said eating at home is a worthy goal -- and not much extra effort -- because it saves you money and calories.
And making it fast could be as close as your freezer.
"Make twice as much of whatever you are cooking and freeze half," Schmid said. "It doesn't take much more time or energy to make two batches of lasagna, a bigger pot of chili or a huge pan of tuna casserole, and later, all you'll have to do is thaw, heat and serve."
Cindy Brison, the extension educator for health and family classes in Douglas County, Neb., said her top tip for family chefs is to turn to boxing legend George Foreman. She said his electric grill will cook anything in a healthy way that appeals to youngsters.
"Anything normal you would make for a quick meal -- all of a sudden you've got lines on your food. Kids love that," Brison said.
Without heating up your kitchen, you can make French toast, or tortilla pizzas topped with grilled chicken.
Brison teaches the techniques, then heads home to twin 6-year-olds and a 2-year-old. The grill marks have helped Brison's kids try foods they never thought they would like. Grilling -- whether indoors or out -- is also one of the healthiest preparation techniques. It releases the flavor of food without the need for heavy sauces or additives.
It also allows fat in meats to drip away from the food, according to the Mayo Clinic's Web page.
When cold air sets in, crock pots and casseroles can expedite the cooking process, too. In either case, you can sneak in healthy foods children may not think they like.
"If you're making soups, if you add milk it adds nutrients," Brison said.
Both methods put leftovers and vegetables that aren't so fresh to good use, too. Plus, the advantage of throwing everything into one pot or pan cuts cleanup time.
"During the week, plan simpler meals," Schmid said. "One-pot meals, soup and sandwiches and frozen entrees (are good options). Save multi-step meals for weekends."
Other methods can cut cooking time without sacrificing nutrition or flavor.
"Bake your casserole at a higher temperature (400 degrees instead of 300 degrees) for 30 minutes instead of an hour or longer," according to the Web site Easy-Kids-Recipes.com "For healthier casseroles, use 2 percent cheese, yogurt in place of sour cream, and low fat, low sodium soups. You can also use a skillet to cook the main ingredients, add your soup, then put the skillet in the oven to bake. You can even serve it in the same skillet."
A little advanced planning also goes a long way when it comes to fast cooking at home. Schmid said jotting down a weekly meal plan can help you identify days you're not going to have time to cook. For those days, you can pre-make a meal and freeze it.
The plan will also make trips to the grocery store more efficient.
Don't forget to ask your family what they'd like to eat before you head to the supermarket -- they're more likely to eat if they get a vote.
Brison goes one step further. She notes that if you cart the kids along to the store they can they help choose foods they like and get a lesson in healthy eating.
"Have them walk through the produce aisle and pick out one thing you've never had before," Brison said. "Learn about how to make (it), try it and decide you do or don't like it."
Brison said her children discovered a love of kiwi fruit using this method.