Helping to get Oklahomans back on track is the Oklahoma Nutrition Information and Education (ONIE) Project's “Choose Homemade” initiative, which aims to encourage families statewide to prepare healthy meals at home.

OKLAHOMA CITY – When it comes to the age-old question of "what's for dinner?" it can feel like the task of pulling together an affordable, convenient, and healthy family meal is like balancing a set of spinning plates.

Unfortunately, when wallets and hours in the day are tight, what is usually the first to be sacrificed are the benefits of a nutritious homemade meal. No one wants to short themselves or their families on delicious and healthy dinners, but what is ideal is not always practical, and over the long-term, those choices could have a serious impact on our overall health.

Helping to get Oklahomans back on track is the Oklahoma Nutrition Information and Education (ONIE) Project’s “Choose Homemade” initiative, which aims to encourage families statewide to prepare healthy meals at home.

ONIE collaborates with community, government, educational, business, and other non-profit organizations across Oklahoma sharing its nutrition and physical activity education programs.

Locally, you may have seen the ONIE recipe cards that have been available at the Ottawa County Farmers Market in Miami. Just one part of their multifaceted community outreach efforts designed to help Oklahoma families make healthier choices in a way that fits their budgets and their lifestyles.

“Oklahomans value having strong, healthy families,” said ONIE Project Director Robert John. “The ONIE Project seeks to help Oklahomans keep their families strong by providing choices for mealtime that are healthy, easy, and affordable. Choosing homemade allows families to know what is in their food, save money, and spend time together. Mealtime equals family time.”

Easy access is at the center of ONIE's efforts, having created more than 100 quick, tasty and healthy recipes for families to enjoy. These recipes are available online and distributed at farmers markets and community organizations through the ONIE nutrition education calendar and recipe cards.

The recipes are designed to keep meal costs low, use few ingredients, and in most cases take fewer than 30 minutes. Recipes are also selected using community feedback to ensure meals are not only lower in sodium, saturated fat, and contain limited added sugar, but will be something most families will also enjoy.

ONIE Project Coordinator Meredith Scott explained that recipes are developed using extensive research and community feedback.

"We pride ourselves on our resources. These are not meals that we just decided were good," said Scott. "Everything you see on our website we have made personally. We make the meals, take the pictures and develop them nutritionally. Our dietitian makes sure they all meet the criteria for being low in sodium and fat, and then we have families rank the recipes, and if a recipe doesn't rank high enough, it's not added."

Scott added that another significant component of the recipes is providing ways to make simple modifications to old favorites, like fried chicken and making adjustments to sauces and salad dressings to make them healthier while not losing their appeal.

"We want to make go-to favorites healthier and try not to compromise the flavor or change too much," said Scott. "So it's things like baking fried chicken, using spaghetti squash instead of pasta, or using yogurt instead of cream cheese. We want families to be really comfortable with using our recipes, and we use their insights to guide our recipe development."

The ONIE website offers all resources free, available in both English and Spanish and includes all of the project’s recipes, a weekly healthy living blog, cooking videos, up-to-date information on farmers market locations, and many other healthy living resources.

To learn more about the ONIE Project and "Choosing Homemade" or to become a partnering agency, visit their website at www.ONIEProject.org.

Dorothy Ballard is the managing news editor for the Miami News-Record. Contact her at dballard@miaminewsrecord.com and follow her on Twitter @dm_ballard.