Some tips for getting dinner on the table

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Getting dinner on the table quickly is a challenge faced by everyone. Whether your household includes a single person, a couple or a larger grouping, our families are busier than ever. Balancing work, social events, spiritual wellness, starting or keeping up an exercise regimen, and getting enough sleep leaves little to no time for extra activities. Oftentimes, planning meals and cooking dinner gets put on the back burner, and convenience meals are consumed more often than not.

Unfortunately, eating convenience meals is taking a toll on our health and our budgets. Eating out and eating frozen meals greatly increase your sodium intake. Sodium should be limited to no more than 2,300 mg per day as recommended by the American Heart Association.

For those with high blood pressure and pre-hypertension, the American Heart Association recommends no more than 1,500 mg of sodium per day. The average American consumes far more than the recommendation. Americans consume an average of 3,400 mg of sodium per day.

Even if you don’t currently have high blood pressure, limiting sodium will help to prevent problems in the future. High blood pressure raises your risk of other heart-related illnesses including, stroke, heart attack, heart failure, kidney damage, vision loss, erectile dysfunction and even raises your risk of diabetes. Eating more meals prepared at home will help you save money and protect your health. Planning is what makes it happen.

Each Sunday afternoon, my husband and I sit down for a few minutes and plan our dinners. We start by listing the days of the week and filling in nights that we know we already have plans. For example, if I will be working late on a Tuesday night, we plan for leftovers.

If we have a family dinner on Thursday night, we know not to worry about dinner for Thursday night and cross it off the list. We then plan the rest of our nights based on what we already have in the freezer.

On Monday night, we may have shrimp tacos because shrimp was buy one get one free at Food Lion, paired with guacamole and salad. For Wednesday night, we have sweet potatoes on hand, so we will have baked sweet potatoes, mixed vegetables (because we have those on hand too!) and baked salmon. Friday night is the start of the weekend, and we are likely not going to want to cook dinner. We still want to eat healthy and limit sodium, so we decide to have a slow cooker meal. Slow cooker meals are great because you simply dump your ingredients into the slow cooker before you leave for work, turn it on, and when you come home from work, you have dinner ready to eat.

Below is one of our favorite recipes. This Southwest chicken is a balanced meal where you can sneak beans into your diet. Beans are a great source of protein and fiber, but if using canned beans or vegetables, always be sure to choose “no salt added” to reduce sodium. If those options aren’t available, you can rinse your canned goods and wash away 40 percent of the sodium content.

For more nutritional learning opportunities, stay up to date with Wilson County Cooperative Extension’s Family and Consumer Sciences Program on Facebook or our website.

Crockpot Southwest Chicken Recipe:

1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast (must be thawed)

1 15-ounce can corn (no salt added), drained

1 15-ounce can black beans (no salt added/reduced sodium), drained

1 16-ounce jar salsa

Place ingredients in slow cooker and cook on high six to seven hours or on low for eight hours. Serve with fruit and or grilled vegetable kebabs. Also delicious over a bed of brown rice or quinoa.