On average, the American family throws out about $640 of leftovers a year. Ever heard of the phrase, “Cook it once; use it twice”? Most of us can think of lots of other more enjoyable things to do than spending time in the kitchen, dicing, cooking and cleaning. Truth be told, one of the biggest reasons families rely on take-out or fast food is because the thought of cooking and cleaning after a long day is just too much. Yet, what if one plans to cut down on the time they are in the kitchen? What if one targets their efforts in the kitchen to be as efficient and effective as high intensity interval training (HIIT) is for our muscles?
The key is planning. If you are cooking one casserole, pot of soup or chicken, how much extra effort does it take to double the batch? The extra batch can be frozen for a quick meal that is at the ready or carried into lunch for the next couple of days. In addition, cooking an extra few pieces of chicken lends to having cooked ingredients on hand to add to salads, wraps, or casseroles in the following few days. A great strategy is when baking a whole chicken, bake an extra one and pull the meat off the bones to freeze. This way, it will be on hand to add to soups and other dishes. Rice can also be cooked in large batches and frozen for later use.
Rather than spend every day chopping and dicing fresh produce, plan a day in the kitchen to cut up the items you will use in your meals for the following week while planning to use the ones that spoil the soonest first. Also, be sure to cut up extra raw fruits and vegetables to have on hand for a low calorie, nutrient-dense snack. Studies show that having prepared cut-up produce available can significantly decrease sugar and fat intake. Be sure to keep it at eye level for all family members.
During an upcoming week, plan your meals using 2-3 animal proteins, like chicken and beef, and one plant-based protein, like legumes:
- On Sunday, cut up all the produce you will need for the week and make your batches of rice and pasta that will be needed for the week. Cook one of your animal proteins in enough quantity to be used for two dinners and to top a salad for lunch.
- On Tuesday, cook enough of your second animal protein, like lean ground beef, and use it for the next two dinners, such as tacos one night and spaghetti the following night.
- Designate Thursday as your leftover night, where the family eats what is left from the meals.
- On Friday, serve a breakfast meal for dinner or make sandwiches; and, then on Saturday, make a big dish using your plant protein, such as three-bean chili.
This meal makes use of leftover turkey or chicken that is on hand or that has been frozen for a later use: