David L. Katz, MD
Photo: Mackenzie Stroh
Q: I would love to cook homemade meals for my family, but I don't have the time. Since I'm always careful to buy low-fat, low-sodium, prepackaged convenience foods, are we okay?
— Anonymous

A: The nutritional quality of prepackaged meals varies widely. If you choose carefully, you can, indeed, get convenience along with excellent nutrition. Some of my favorite brands are Amy's, Cedarlane, Moosewood, Nature's Promise, and Weight Watchers Smart Ones.

But you might want to reconsider the idea that a home-cooked meal takes a lot more time. In a recent study from UCLA, researchers videotaped 32 families making dinner. They found that a meal made primarily in the home took only about 10 to 12 minutes longer to prepare than heat-and-serve dinners. And there is a huge nutritional advantage—you'd have a tough time adding as much sugar, salt, and chemicals as you'll find in the typical commercially prepared food.

There's no shortage of cookbooks focused on healthy, quick recipes. A couple of my favorites are Eat, Drink, and Weigh Less, by Mollie Katzen and Walter Willett (Hyperion), and the Quick & Healthy series, by Brenda J. Ponichtera (ScaleDown).

When I've included recipes and meal plans in my books, convenience has been an important consideration (go to DavidKatzMD.com/recipes for some examples). Familiarize yourself with simple, wholesome recipes, and you'll discover you can have a nutritious and satisfying home-cooked meal on the table in as little as 30 minutes, start to finish. Your abilities will improve with practice and smart preparation; learning how to shop properly so that your pantry and fridge stay well stocked with all the right ingredients is more than half the battle. What's more, you'll save money by preparing meals from scratch. Get more health answers from Dr. Katz, and submit your health and nutrition questions.