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You have a busy schedule and use a lot of pre-packaged meals, but worry about the nutrition and the cost. Your family seldom sits down to eat all at the same time. With work and activities you just don't have time to cook. How can you cut costs and provide good nutrition for your family with the limited time you have to spend in the kitchen preparing meals?

Plan a weekly menu: Don't forget to figure in the nights when everyone eats at different times. On nights when you have a little more time, cook extra and freeze, on nights when you don't have time, reheat a meal that is already cooked. Make sure that everyone in the family knows where to find the menu and the first one home can start dinner, even if it is just popping it in the oven or making the salad. Everyone eats, so make sure everyone helps. It saves time and becomes a valuable skill for your children later.

Here are a few hints to help you out: Your crockpot or slow cooker is your best friend, especially on nights when everyone eats at a different time. Start your pot roast or spaghetti sauce in the morning, after work toss in the potatoes, and carrots, or start the noodles (you can keep the cooked noodles drained in the pan with a little olive oil until everyone is ready. Dinner is ready in about an hour and a half. Want dessert with that pot roast, but don't have time to make anything? Save a vegetable can, make sure the lid is cut off cleanly, grease the inside and flour, fill 1/2 full of cake batter tie a piece of foil over the top and stand it inside the crockpot with the pot roast when you do the potatoes. By the time the potatoes are done the cake will be done (test by pushing a toothpick into the cake through the foil), cut the bottom of the can off and push the cake out, drizzle chocolate, or butterscotch ice cream topping over the cake, and you have dessert.

Love the convenience of baking mixes, although the cost makes them expensive, make your own. Take your favorite biscuit recipe and combine the dry ingredients, place in a food storage bag and label. Make several up, all you will have to add is the milk. Better yet, you can mix it in the bag and then toss the bag. Less dishes to wash and a real time saver in the morning if you like egg sandwiches. While the biscuits are cooking in the oven, fry an egg, cook some bacon, add a slice of cheese, wrap and go.

You can do the same thing with cake and cookies. Next time you make a cake, use separate bowls and measure and mix the dry ingredients. Put the extra mix in a bag, label and store. Instead of reaching for a cake mix, use your mix. You can add spices, raisins, or cocoa powder to create your own packaged cake mix.

Use your freezer to make your own individual meals. Put them together from meals that you are cooking already, go ahead and cook a couple of extra pieces of fried chicken, instant mashed potatoes, and vegetable with a pat of butter on the potatoes, and the vegetable. You have a ready to heat and eat meal, and the portions fit your family. You can do the same with roasts, fish, almost anything. Package with gravy over the meats to keep them from drying out and freeze, don't forget to label.

Need a quick dessert and no time to cook. While dinner is cooking cook some rice, add a 1/4-cup of sweetened condensed milk to the cooked rice toss in a few raisins, chopped candied fruit, or some drained crushed pineapple and coconut. Dessert that is attractive, nutritious, and tasty.

When you chop vegetables, chop a few extras; keep them in a bag in the refrigerator for the next time you are in a hurry. You can freeze onions, peppers, and tomatoes (if you are cooking them). Just add your frozen vegetables to your meal straight from the freezer and cook as usual.

Making all your meals taste as if you spent hours in the kitchen is not hard, neither does it have to be time consuming. Think ahead, prepare ahead, and enjoy the praise from your family.