Alice Henneman, MS, RDN, UNL Extension in Lancaster County
Do you sometimes feel like a juggler at the circus as you hurry to get dinner ready? Preparing a meal can be like keeping several balls in the air as you bustle back and forth from task to task: Wash! Chop! Mix! Cook! Stir! Boil!
To keep from "dropping the ball" at dinnertime, try a technique of "cook once, eat twice."
Give yourself a break. By planning ahead you can make some of the dinner tasks you're constantly juggling easier. Spend a few extra minutes planning complementary menus where you "cook once and eat twice." Here's how it works.
Plan meals based around key foods prepared in larger amounts for use in one recipe the first night and an entirely different recipe within the next night or two. This is different from making large batches and eating leftovers. Follow these general guidelines to assure your food remains safe and of high quality:
- Separate out and refrigerate the portion to be served for your next meal before you set the food on the table. This keeps your food quality higher by preventing "planned-overs" from becoming "picked-overs."
- Promptly refrigerate the food for the next meal to keep it safe. Perishable cooked foods, such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy products, shouldn't be at room temperature longer than TWO hours TOTAL — that TOTAL is the total of the first and second use.
- Refrigerate the prepared-ahead food in shallow containers so it cools faster in the refrigerator. For thicker foods — such as stews, hot puddings and layers of meat slices — limit depth of food to 2 inches. Loosely cover food. This allows heat to escape and protects from accidental contamination from other foods during cooling. Stir food occasionally to help it cool; use a clean utensil each time. Cover tightly when cooled.
- As a general rule-of-thumb, use the extra refrigerated food you cooked within one to two days. Freeze for longer storage. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator when you're ready to use again — never thaw at room temperature.
Here are some quick and easy examples of "cook once, eat twice" to get you started. Adapt according to your family preferences and add your own ideas for the different food categories. Think of these as "ACT 1" and "ACT 2" at the circus with something different for each performance!
ACT 1: Cook extra chicken breasts or turkey cutlets. Cover and refrigerate half the chicken or turkey. Top the remaining half with your favorite seasonings or sauce for serving immediately.
ACT 2: The next night, slice the plain cooked chicken or turkey into strips and combine with lettuce and Caesar salad dressing for a main dish salad.
ACT 1: 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 seasoning.
ACT 2: On night two, make fried rice with your favorite veggies and a can of shrimp from your cupboard.
You also can save leftover rice from one night and chicken/turkey from another night and put them together in any number of dishes for night three. Possibilities include: rice-based casseroles, chicken or turkey rice soup and fried rice.
The USA Rice Council recommends that you reheat leftover rice thoroughly before serving. Unless you use the rice in a dish with added liquid, you may need to add a small amount of liquid to your reheated rice. For each cup of cooked rice, the Council advises adding 2 tablespoons liquid. Cover and heat on top of the range or in the oven until heated throughout. In a microwave oven, cover and cook on HIGH about 1 minute per cup.
Rice also freezes well. After cooked rice has cooled in the refrigerator, transfer it to plastic freezer bags in quantities needed for future meals. Label with the date and quantity.
For More Rice Recipe Ideas: Check the USA Rice Council's Web site.
ACT 1: Make a roast the first evening and enjoy part of it.
ACT 2: Slice the rest of your roast for delicious sandwiches or a hearty stew the next night.
ACT 1: Cook macaroni for your favorite macaroni and cheese recipe the first night, plus extra for another recipe.
ACT 2: Extra pasta can be served in a cold dish, such as a pasta salad, at a later meal. You might add some cooked meat from a previous meal to your salad. Another quick and easy pasta possibility for macaroni is to combine it with chili soup for Chili-Mac.
Thoroughly drain pasta that's prepared for IMMEDIATE use in a HOT dish such as macaroni and cheese; DO NOT rinse it. The National Pasta Association (NPA) recommends rinsing cooked pasta under cold water ONLY if you plan to use it in a COLD dish, such as a salad, or if you want to save it for later use. The cold water stops the cooking process.
Here are two examples of how to rinse pasta when you're cooking enough for another meal:
* If you're preparing a COLD dish, such as a salad, for your first meal, rinse all the pasta.
* If you're preparing a HOT dish, such as macaroni and cheese, for your first meal, drain the pasta. Then separate out the pasta for your second meal. Rinse just the portion for your second meal under cold water.
NPA advises storing cooked pasta in an airtight container in the refrigerator. You may wish to add a little oil (1-2 teaspoons for each pound of cooked pasta) to help keep cooked pasta from sticking.
For More Pasta Recipe Ideas: Check the Web site of the National Pasta Association.
ACT 1: Use a wide, deep pan to hard-cook enough eggs for two meals. Make egg salad sandwiches the first night.
ACT 2: For your second meal, peel, slice and serve hard-cooked eggs in a hearty main dish salad. Or make deviled eggs.
To Hard-Cook Eggs:
Here are some directions from the American Egg Board for successfully making and storing boiled eggs.
NOTE: Eggs stored for a week to 10 days before cooking usually peel more easily.
For More Egg Recipe Ideas: Check the Web site of the American Egg Board.
Get A New Act!
To see how this works, here are some sample menus for five nights of "cook once, eat twice." Items enjoying two acts at your table are starred (*). Save your menus when you find two-night combos that work well for you.
Turkey Cutlets with Raspberry Glaze (top with a little raspberry jelly)*
Rolls (store bought)
Hearty Caesar Salad with Turkey Strips (turkey from night 1)*
Peach and Frozen Yogurt Parfait
Fried Rice and Shrimp (rice from night 1)*
Mandarin Oranges and Fortune Cookies
Boiled New Potatoes
Whole Grain Bread
Beef Sandwiches (beef from night 4)*
By cooking once and serving twice, you can ease your mealtime juggling act. Instead, become the ringmaster! And perhaps, enjoy a little more time to just clown around!
Special Thanks To:
Fayrene Hamouz, Ph.D., R.D. for her review of and suggestions for this article. Dr. Hamouz is a former Professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln
(Minor revision September 2015)