Food & Drink

Ideas for getting dinner on your table quickly, cheaply

In our time-crunched world, it seems like we are always rushing to get dinner on the table before the family runs off to football, soccer or cheerleading practice or evening meetings.

A great way to get dinner on the table quickly is to use the “cook once, eat twice” approach. It’s an economical and easy way to feed your family good food quickly.

This makeover meal plan involves cooking one meal then using (I call it disguising) the leftovers to make a delicious and different second meal. This does not mean you cook a meal and then warm up the leftovers the second night. Preparing the next dinner saves time and is less work because half the cooking is already done. In addition, using up leftovers saves money, and we all have to think about being frugal these days. This method does require a little bit of planning and creative thinking but it is capable of making your dinner hour less stressful.

Putting a plan into action is easy. For example, if you roast a chicken, why not roast two at the same time or roast a chicken larger than your immediate needs. The extra cooked chicken can be shredded or cubed for a number of dishes later in the week and the meat can be frozen for future use. Cooking once and eating twice also means you can save money by purchasing and cooking extra chickens, roasts or whatever is on sale at the time.

Here are some ideas for cooking with beef, chicken, fish, pork, turkey and beans.

Beef

Make a shepherd’s pie by mixing cooked, cubed beef with a ready-to-use frozen pea, carrot and corn medley and leftover or jarred gravy. Top the meat and vegetable mixture with leftover mashed potatoes or ready-to-use mashed potatoes and then top the potatoes with shredded cheddar cheese. Brown a double portion of ground beef and have tacos one night and chili another. Homemade or store-bought frozen meatballs can be made into a variety of dishes from spaghetti and meatballs to hot meatball hoagies. Combine sliced leftover roast beef with sautéed peppers, onions and seasonings for a delicious fajita or for an Asian flair, stir-fry chopped beef with a package of frozen stir-fry vegetables and hoisin sauce (this is also a good use for leftover chicken and pork) then serve over rice.

Chicken

Make a potpie by combining cooked, cubed chicken with leftover vegetables or frozen vegetables, chicken gravy or thickened broth or homemade white sauce. Top the mixture with a refrigerated ready piecrust, canned biscuits or make a biscuit topping from Bisquick (I always have a box on hand in my pantry).

Chicken salad is another great dish that is easy to prepare. Mix together cooked cubed chicken, celery, sweet or dill pickle relish and mayonnaise. Add fresh grapes, Craisins, apples, chopped nuts or bottled chutney for a flavor twist.

I have a delicious enchilada casserole recipe (a family favorite) that is made with leftover chicken or turkey. I also make quesadillas by topping warmed tortillas with cooked, shredded chicken, refried beans, shredded cheese, salsa and sour cream.

Fish

Fish is great in a taco shell or stuffed into a burrito with chopped tomatoes, sliced scallions, shredded lettuce, cheese and sour cream. Leftover fish can be mixed with minced celery, green onion, red or green bell pepper, whole egg or egg white and mayonnaise then formed into patties and pan-fried or baked. Add Cajun spice for some zing. My mom always made salmon patties from leftover mashed potatoes and salmon.

Pork

Barbecue pork sandwiches topped with coleslaw is a family favorite. Pork chops placed on top of canned apple pie filling, topped with prepared Stove Top stuffing, covered with foil then baked at 375-degrees for 30 minutes is another easy dinner.

Turkey

I substitute leftover turkey for leftover chicken in any recipe that calls for poultry. Turkey is tasty in everything from stir-fry, soups and casseroles to salads.

Beans

Beans are easy and inexpensive. Use them to make burritos, serve them with rice and salsa, mash for refried beans or use them in chili. Beans also freeze well for later use.

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