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Healthy cooking for those with little time

Everyone who has ever juggled home, family and kids knows how difficult it is to create healthy meals when pressed for time.  Cooking healthy, delicious meals can be difficult, but some advance planning can allow you to make the most of your cooking time.

One way to cook healthy meals that are easy to prepare is to plan your meals around several key foods that can be prepared in large quantities and used in several different recipes on consecutive nights.  This method of making meals last is totally different from the usual strategy of making a huge batch of food and living on leftovers for the rest of the week.  Your family will certainly appreciate the difference.

There are some key elements to cooking this way.  The first step is to promptly separate and refrigerate the portion that will be used for the next days meal before you place tonight’s meal on the table.  Refrigerating the unused portion of the prepared meal is important to preventing food borne illnesses, especially when serving meat, poultry, seafood or any meal containing eggs or dairy products.

The foods that have been prepared ahead of time should be stored in shallow containers to allow it to cool more quickly in the refrigerator.  Thicker foods like stews, puddings and meat slices should be stored in bowls no deeper than two inches.  The food should be stirred occasionally as it cools.

The left over refrigerated foods should be used within one to two days.  If the food is to be stored longer than that, it should be frozen for later use and thawed overnight in the refrigerator.  Thawing food at room temperature should be avoided, since it can be a gateway to food borne illnesses and other pathogens.

One of the easiest examples of the leftover strategy is chicken breasts or turkey cutlets.  Poultry works great for this strategy, since it is easy to cook large quantities.

Start by cooking extra chicken breasts or turkey cutlets.  Half of the chicken or turkey should be refrigerated overnight for use the next day.  The remaining half can be topped with your favorite spices, sauces and seasonings and served right away.

The brilliance of this strategy will become apparent the next evening, when the other half of the turkey or chicken can be used in an entirely different way.  One great way to use the other half is to cut it into strips, add lettuce and salad dressing and create a delicious Caesar salad.  Thus one staple food becomes two delicious and totally different meals.

Rice is another great staple that works well for planned ahead meals.  The rice dishes start with cooking and preparing a large quantity of rice.  While the rice is cooking, add some ground beef or ground turkey to tomato sauce and flavor it with some Italian seasonings.  Pour it over the rice and serve your family a great meal.

On the second night, take the remaining rice, fry it in a skillet and mix it will your favorite vegetables and perhaps a can of shrimp or crab for another, totally different rice based meal.

The leftover rice can also be saved and combined with turkey, chicken or beef from previous meals to create different flavor combinations, including casseroles and soups.

Rice makes a great staple for any meal preparation plan.  In addition to its versatility, rice is also easy to freeze.  After the cooked rice has been cooled in the fridge, it is easy to transfer to freezer bags and saved for future quick, easy and healthy meals.

No matter how short of time you are, it is still possible to create delicious, nutritious meals in no time.  Making a week’s worth of meals in only a few hours will give you more time to enjoy your food and your family.

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