Planning Meals When You're in a Rush

While there have always been 24 hours in a day, to many it feels that fewer minutes or even hours are available each day as time goes on. Cooking often takes a back burner for busy families because it is easy to pick up processed and fast foods. Planning meals is not that hard, even when you're in a rush, once you get organized.

Foods to keep in the freezer. Boneless chicken breasts and ground beef are some of the most versatile freezer staples for protein sources. To save even more time, cook up batches of chicken and beef and freeze them. Make sure the meat is well-done before freezing in order to prevent food-borne illness.

Also keep a stock of frozen vegetables on hand. According to Dr. Mehmet Oz, these are the better than canned vegetables when you can't get fresh ones.

Fresh foods. Many people don't think they have time to deal with fresh fruits and vegetables because they spoil quickly. To save time, you can get the fresh or frozen chopped, packaged varieties. Also, choose smartly what you buy when time is of the essence. Fruits like apples last a long time, and fresh berries can be frozen. Carrots, rutabagas, parsnip and sweet potatoes last much longer than cucumbers and peppers, for example.

Spices and seasonings. Create your own flavor blends to make the same meals taste different every time. If you don't have time, buy the blends and label them according to use. For example, one jar for for chicken, one for fish, one for ground beef and one for vegetables.

Olive oil. Olive oil keeps longer than butter or margarine and is a healthier alternative. Use it for everything from frying foods to topping salads.

Simple recipe ideas. Having the right staples on hand only works when you know how to use them without having to search for recipes. Here are some easy ideas:

  • Beef up a grilled cheese sandwich. A grilled cheese sandwich can have just about any toppings you want. Try frying up onions, celery, peppers and other vegetables and pair them with any kind of meat, like turkey or ham, while toasting the bread with the cheese. Add it all together to create a satisfying meal.
  • Think beyond the restaurant salad. A salad can have just about anything in it and fill you up without creating extra dirty dishes. Combine any vegetables, dried fruits, nuts and cooked meat leftovers to create a meal. You are only limited by your imagination and taste buds.
  • The crock pot is your friend. Use legumes like beans, peas and lentils, frozen veggies,and soup cubes or vegetable stock to make a hearty meal. Since you have to stir once in a while, it's not recommended to do this while at work, but it will leave you with lots of extra time on weekends.
  • Chicken ideas. To create tasty, tender chicken, you'll only need two ingredients: a marinade and seasonings. After heating some olive oil, put the chicken in the pan and drizzle with lemon juice, orange juice, cooking wine or whatever liquid your family likes, and add the seasonings. After the appropriate cooking time, turn the chicken over and repeat the steps. Rotate the marinade and seasoning combinations to keep this dish appealing.
  • Easy soup. Don't buy canned soups that are expensive and high in sodium. Simply heat up canned tomato sauce with chicken stock and frozen vegetables to create you own. You can also add leftover cooked meats and poultry to this soup.
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