If you have a busy lifestyle, healthy meals may take a backseat to convenience. Often, it's much easier to swing by the fast food place or pick up a ready-to-go meal at the grocery store. The problem is that these convenience foods tend to be loaded with fat and calories.

A better solution is to get in the habit of planning ahead for healthy meals. If you can sit down and make out a grocery list and menu plan once a week, your health will benefit and you'll save time and money.

Keep the major food groups in mind when meal planning. Try to have a lean protein source, complex carbohydrates, and at least one serving of fruits or vegetables at each meal. Round out your choices with low-fat dairy products, and use healthy fats such as olive oil whenever possible. Salads can be a great option for weeknight dinners. Choose dark green leafy lettuces, then pile on baby carrots, tiny tomatoes, sliced cucumbers, broccoli florets, garbanzo beans, mushrooms, cottage cheese, walnuts, whatever strikes your fancy. Or pick up a rotisserie chicken and whole grain bakery rolls, then microwave frozen vegetables and add a baked potato if you've got time.

Stir-frys are another great option for busy nights. If possible, chop vegetables and meats in the morning and store them in the refrigerator. Add quick-cooking rice such as jasmine or basmati to round out the meal. With a little thought and creativity, weeknight dinners can be quick, enjoyable, and healthy.

Marlene Veloso