Dinnertime Shortcuts

August 28, 2023 | Christine Hradek

bags of frozen vegetables in freezer

All of a sudden it is time to go back to school and routines are changing for many of us. Schedules get a little busier and we have less time to cook. The temptation to grab takeout is definitely there, but we can save money and make more nutritious choices by using some shortcuts at home instead.

Last week Jody shared how she takes some of the work out of meal planning by using our prepared meal planning calendars. I would like to share one of the strategies I use to make meal planning and cooking easier as well. I keep my freezer stocked with prepared or partially prepared ingredients that make cooking a snap. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Pre-cooked proteins: Right now my freezer has grilled chicken and grilled hamburgers in freezer bags. I usually cook more than I need and save the extras for future use. I can heat these up when I need them to cut down on cooking time in the future. I can eat them on a sandwich or salad or use them in a recipe. Turkey Vegetable Quiche, Chicken Alfredo Pasta and Quick Pad Thai all come together very quickly when you start with pre-cooked proteins.
  • Frozen rice and grains: When I cook rice, I usually make more than I need. I put the leftover rice in small containers and freeze it so the next time I make a dish that calls for rice, I do not need to cook it. For some recipes, like Vegetable Fried Rice, having pre-cooked rice is actually necessary. I also enjoy farro and wheat berries and these also freeze very well for later use.
  • Frozen chopped onions: Sometimes getting out a cutting board and knife just feels like too much, but so many recipes begin with chopping and cooking an onion. You can make things easier on yourself by chopping up several onions and freezing them in a zip top bag or container. You do not need to cook the onions before you freeze them. When you need some chopped onion for a recipe, just scoop some from your bag or container and into the skillet. Frozen raw onions work well in cooked dishes, I would not recommend them if you are going to eat the onions raw in a recipe like a salad.
  • Frozen vegetables: If you want to cut down on dishes, minimize waste and incorporate color and nutrition into your meals, frozen vegetables are the way to go. There are some vegetables that I actually prefer frozen to fresh. Some of my favorites to keep on hand are corn, peas, broccoli, and stir-fry blend. I can drop them into a skillet meal, pasta or soup and save myself a lot of effort and chopping.

Make cooking for your family a little bit easier this fall by giving yourself some shortcuts. Let us know how it goes!

Christine Hradek

Christine Hradek is a State Nutrition Specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. She coordinates ISU’s programs which help families with low income make healthy choices with limited food budgets. Christine loves helping families learn to prepare healthy foods, have fun in the kitchen and save money. In her spare time, Christine enjoys cooking, entertaining and cheering on her favorite college football teams with her family and friends.

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