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Tips for Busy Cooks

We know how busy you are—that’s why we’ve gathered some of our best time-saving tips in one place.

How many times have you rushed to the grocery store after work, then wandered the aisles wondering what you were going to make for dinner? The fact is, we're all busy, and meal planning often gets pushed to the back burner.

A few simple shopping and preparation tricks are all you really need to make meal planning and preparation a lot easier. By planning ahead, you’ll see just how simple it is to make delicious meals all week long.

 

At the Grocery Store

  • Buy a rotisserie chicken. One 2- to 3-pound chicken will yield about 4 cups of shredded meat. Most recipes call for 2 cups—freeze or chill the remaining meat to use in another meal.
  • Purchase twice the amount of meat called for in a recipe. Freeze what you don’t use for the night’s dinner and plan on using it the following week.*
  • When you’re at the deli counter stocking up on sliced meat and cheeses for lunches, have the attendant cut small amounts of different varieties of cold cuts, like turkey, salami, and roast beef. Then grab a loaf of artisan bread and plan on panini sandwiches for dinner.
  • Pick up an assortment of fresh bagels—they’re not just for breakfast anymore! Use them as an interesting alternative to hamburger buns.
  • Buy frozen meats like fish fillets and boneless, skinless chicken breasts that have been individually frozen. That way, it will be easy to pull out the quantity you need and leave the rest frozen for another meal. It also really speeds up defrosting times—when you only need to defrost a piece or two, it goes a whole lot quicker!
  • Grab a bag of frozen meatballs. You’ll be able to get spaghetti and meatballs on the table in record time, but they’ll also be the base for hearty meatball sandwiches. Add a jar of Prego® Italian sauce from the pasta aisle, shredded mozzarella and Parmesan cheese from the dairy case, and a few crusty hoagie buns from the bakery.
  • Stock up on resealable plastic bags, freezer bags and storage containers. They’ll come in handy for foods you prepare ahead.
  • Buy fresh fruits in season—they make nutritious, ultra-speedy desserts, not to mention that they’ll be at the peak of flavor and reasonably priced.

*Tip
  • Before freezing raw ground beef, remove it from its packaging, put in a resealable plastic bag, then press flat to an even thickness. Storing the meat in the freezer is easier and it thaws in no time.
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Prepping for the Week

  • Brown two pounds of ground beef at a time—use one for dinner tonight, then package up the remainder in resealable plastic bags or containers and freeze. Now anytime a recipe calls for browned ground beef, you’re one step ahead of the game.
  • Buy a rotisserie chicken, and pull the meat off of it. Divide into 2-cup portions. Freeze in labeled freezer bags or containers and use in soups, stews or casseroles.
  • Hard-cook a few eggs to keep on hand in the refrigerator. They’re great for adding protein to salads, or can be made into quick egg salad sandwiches.*
  • If you’re sautéing chicken breasts for dinner, cook a few more, then slice into strips and freeze or chill to add to fajitas, tacos, salads and pasta dishes.
  • Take a cue from restaurant chefs and chop fresh vegetables, like onions, carrots, celery, and bell peppers, packaging them in separate containers or bags in the refrigerator (do not freeze—the vegetables will turn mushy). Your pre-chopped veggies will make soups, stews and chilies so much easier.
  • Get in the habit of roasting a bit more beef, pork or turkey than a recipe calls for—use the extra in sandwiches, pot pies and pasta dishes.
  • If a recipe calls for half a package of pasta, go ahead and cook the full box and use the remainder in a pasta salad.
  • When meatloaf is on the menu, double the recipe and make meatballs out of the remaining mixture. Brown them off, freeze on a wax paper-lined baking sheet until solid, then package in large resealable plastic bags. You'll be that much closer to spaghetti and meatballs later!
  • Wash and spin-dry lettuces, then store in plastic bags lined with paper towels.

*Tip
  • To hard-cook eggs, place eggs in a saucepan (do not crowd) and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, then remove from heat and let stand, covered, for 10 minutes. Drain, cover with cold water, and let stand 5 minutes before peeling.
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Smart Storage

  • If you’ve cooked food to be used later or frozen (ground beef, chicken, etc.), wrap it only after it has reached room temperature. Wrapping food while still warm can cause harmful bacterial growth. Bring foods to room temperature as quickly as possible by removing them from their cooking vessels and spreading out on baking sheets or pouring into shallow containers. Chill or freeze as soon as they cool down. Learn more about food safety from the USDA
  • If freezing brothy mixtures like soups and sauces, divide them into storage containers, leaving at least 1/2 inch at the top of the container to allow for expansion. Let cool to room temperature before freezing.
  • Always mark packages clearly with the name of the contents and the date on which it was packaged. Write directly on the bag or on a piece of masking tape on the package using a permanent marker.
  • As a rule of thumb, freeze items for no longer than six months; refrigerate for up to three days. Generally speaking, most foods can be frozen without worry—casseroles, soups, stews and chilies do very well; thaw completely before reheating. Breads, cakes, and cookies freeze well too. It’s best not to freeze fresh vegetables unless they’ve been cooked briefly (blanched) first. Milk- or dairy-based items, like cream soups and cheese sauces tend to separate after freezing; this doesn’t affect flavor but it does affect appearance. And never refreeze meat that’s already been frozen and thawed—refreezing makes its texture mushy.
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Leftover Makeovers

Leftovers are a smart (and delicious!) way to stay ahead of the dinner curve. By turning one meal into two, you can save lots of time in the kitchen, and bring fresh new flavors to the table. Try these great leftover ideas:

  • Make flavorful fajitas by sautéing sliced onion with taco seasoning in a little oil; add strips of leftover roast beef (or chicken), and serve with tortillas, lettuce, cheese and Pace® Picante Sauce.
  • Stir together chunks of leftover roast beef, Campbell’s® Beef Gravy, and some frozen mixed vegetables. Pour into a greased casserole dish, then top with leftover mashed potatoes or refrigerator biscuits from a can—instant shepherd’s pie or pot pie!
  • Sauté sliced onion in oil with Sloppy Joe seasoning mix, then add barbecue sauce and leftover roast beef that you’ve shredded into strips. Serve on Pepperidge Farms Sesame Rolls for outstanding BBQ beef sandwiches.
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Working for the Weekend

Time is tight enough during the week—sometimes your best bet for getting a start on dinners for Monday through Friday is to spend a little time on Saturday or Sunday getting prepared. These ideas can help you do just that:

  • Plan the menu for the week, then shop according to your plan.
  • Chop vegetables, brown ground beef, cook chicken breasts—do anything you can ahead of time, then package, label and refrigerate or freeze.
  • Wash lettuces for salads; make vinaigrettes and salad dressings.
  • Stir together ingredients for sauces so they’re ready to add to dishes.
  • Serve a roast on Sunday, then plan to use the leftovers in a casserole or stew on Tuesday. Or freeze the leftovers to use later.
  • Prep everything you’ll need for a stir-fry—chop onions, peppers, carrots, celery, mushrooms and meat—and place in individual plastic bags. Store all the small pouches in a larger bag in the refrigerator, and you’ll have dinner on the table in about 15 minutes.
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