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Fast dinner fixes for busy moms

Sandy Smith is a food writer, editor, recipe developer, and pastry chef. She lives in New York's Mid-Hudson Valley with her awesome family of painfully honest, unfailingly supportive taste-testers.

Stress-free meals

Here are five stress-free ways to get dinner on the table and still have enough time and energy left to enjoy it with your family.

Fish Taco

Fish tacos

If you're tired of the same old ground beef version, try these bistro-style fish tacos. Start with fresh or frozen fish fillets. Prepare them in the oven, according to package directions. (You can use breaded or plain fillets, whichever your family likes best.) Warm a stack of flour tortillas in the microwave while your fish is cooking in the oven. Serve each fish fillet folded into a flour tortilla, accompanied by sour cream and a fruity salsa; look for jarred versions that contain mango or pineapple.

Oatmeal

Think it's a cop-out to serve breakfast for dinner? Think again! Oats are full of cholesterol-fighting soluble fiber, contain valuable antioxidants and phytochemicals, and are an excellent source of manganese. Serve up big bowls of heart-healthy steel-cut or rolled oats along with a selection of yummy toppings so everyone can add her favorite. Some great choices to consider: dried cranberries and blueberries; toasted coconut; honey; real maple syrup; toasted walnuts, pecans and/or almonds; cut-up apples, pears or peaches; vanilla yogurt; cinnamon; raisins and dates; chocolate chips; and natural peanut butter.

Mini meatloaves

Craving meatloaf but pressed for time? Think small, and you'll have dinner on the table even faster. Press your favorite meatloaf mix into regular or jumbo muffin cups and bake at the temperature your usual recipe indicates. For moist, tender meatloaf, don't over-handle the mixture, and pack it fairly loosely. To prevent crumbling, add in a handful of cracker crumbs, cornflakes, bread crumbs or rolled oats along with one beaten egg. To boost the nutritional value, add grated or chopped carrot, zucchini, mushrooms, or red and green bell pepper. Beef, lamb, pork and veal mixtures are done when the interior temperature registers 160F on an instant-read thermometer. Cook ground chicken or turkey to 165F. And while you're at it, make a double or triple batch and freeze the extras for future meals!

Huevos rancheros

This dish is quick, different and packed with protein -- just the thing when you need a meal on the table fast. Preheat oven to 350F. Stir some salsa (mild, medium or hot -- your choice) into fat-free canned refried beans. Spread this in a generous layer on corn or flour tortillas. Sprinkle with shredded Cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese and place in the oven to melt. While the cheese is melting and the beans are warming, heat a nonstick skillet and brush or spray with vegetable oil. Fry eggs over easy (or however your family prefers). Serve one or two eggs on top of each tortilla. Garnish with salsa, sour cream, hot sauce, chopped green onion and sliced black olives.

Chicken fillets: fabulous

Keep some Tyson breaded chicken fillets in your freezer for those really rushed nights. To put together a speedy dinner featuring the classic flavors of Chicken Cordon Bleu, simply follow this shortcut: Preheat oven to 425F. Place one breaded fillet per serving on a baking sheet and heat for 10 minutes. Remove from oven. Using tongs, turn each chicken breast over. Carefully, using an offset spatula, spread a thin layer of Dijon mustard on each chicken breast. Top with a slice of Black Forest or other high-quality ham and a slice of Swiss cheese. Return to oven for 10 minutes. Serve garnished with a sprinkling of chopped parsley, if desired.

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