Christine Patrick, County Extension EFNEP Agent
If you find meal preparation to be hectic after a long day at work and want to find a way to make it less of a drudgery, try a simple remedy: Cook once, eat twice. If you have to cook anyway, why not cook twice as much as you need for one meal? Save the extra for later, either in the refrigerator or in the freezer. This philosophy works best if you make plans for larger quantities that can be divided, then tweaked to make entirely different dishes. It isn’t the same as simply making large batches and eating leftovers day after day.
Divide the food into portions and refrigerate or freeze the extra before you put anything on the table for the first meal. Perishable cooked foods such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy products should not be kept at room temperature for more than two hours total – that means two hours total for both first and second use. Use shallow containers for storage so that the food will cool faster in the refrigerator. For thicker foods – such as stews, hot puddings, and layers of meat slices – limit the depth of the food to two inches. Loosely cover the food to allow heat to escape.
Stir the food occasionally to speed the cooling process, using a clean utensil each time. Cover it tightly once it has chilled. Use refrigerated portions within a day or two for the best quality. Freeze for longer storage, thawing overnight in the refrigerator when you’re ready to use it. And remember, never thaw at room temperature.
Would you like some examples of Act 1 and Act 2 meals? Let’s use poultry – chicken breasts or turkey cutlets. Cook them and refrigerate half. Top the portion you’re planning to serve immediately with your favorite seasonings or sauce. The next night, slice the cooked poultry into strips and combine it with salad greens, raw broccoli, and perhaps even your favorite fruit, and top with your favorite salad dressing.
How about rice? It’s a grain, one of the main food groups in the USDA’s MyPyramid. Make a large batch of plain rice. The first night – while the rice is cooking – prepare a hearty sauce so your rice can be served as the main dish. For example, add cooked ground beef to tomato sauce flavored with Italian seasonings. The second night you could make fried rice with your favorite vegetables and a can of shrimp from your cupboard.
Why not save the leftover rice from one night and the chicken or turkey from another night and put them together for night three of fine dining? The possibilities are almost limitless. Options include a rice-based casserole, chicken or turkey rice soup, or fried rice. And when using leftover rice, thoroughly reheat it before serving. Why not take some of these ideas and sit down with paper and pen to plan out a week’s menu ideas? Don’t just think it, ink it!
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