Help! I forgot to plan for dinner!

The Trap

The phone rings, and it’s my husband on his way home from work. “What’s for dinner,” he inevitably asks. “Ummm… how about eating out tonight?”

After a long, hard day of work or play, 4:00 always come around sooner than I expect it to. This is when it is tempting just run through the nearest drive-thru, but these meals can add up fast in price and calories (which can, in turn, boost the clothing budget).

The drive-thru trap can be avoided with some planning ahead. Taking some time to prepare some elements makes it a lot easier to throw together a nutritious and even tasty dinner. Stocking up on, and properly storing meats is one way to shorten prep time. See next month’s nutrition and meal-planning blog for tips on making the most of ready-prepared elements.

Please Note: Meat bought in bulk usually needs to be used within a few days (check the use-by date when purchasing) or frozen. Some meats to keep in the freezer for easy meals are:

Ground Beef:

  • Divide into 1/2 pound chunks, flatten inside a sandwich bag, and place multiple pieces in a freezer-safe container such as Ziploc freezer bags or containers. Most recipes use 1/2 pound increments for meat, but you can use 1/4 lb chunks if this is better suited to your recipes.
  • Ground beef can also be cooked ahead of time and then frozen in serving-size or meal-size portions. Try freezing in muffin cups, then transferring to freezer bag once frozen. You may also wish to have some seasoned, cooked meat in the freezer, such as taco meat, that you can simply microwave and serve.
  • Defrost meat in refrigerator the night before (the flat shape allows it to defrost faster) or put sealed bag in cold water, and replace water every 30 minutes. Meat stored in these smaller units will usually be defrosted in about 30-45 minutes. Do not allow meat to defrost at room temperature for an extended period of time!
  • Prepare meat according to recipe.

Chicken:

  • Like ground beef, chicken bought in bulk can be divided and frozen, then defrosted in meal-sized portions. After buying a 6-lb tray of chicken breast, I wrapped each breast in wax paper before placing it into a Ziploc vacuum freezer bag and freezing, making sure there was no meat-to-meat contact. When ready to use, I can separate the number of breasts I need and re-seal the bag.
  • Chicken can also be cooked and frozen. Shredding or cubing the chicken before freezing it will allow it to defrost faster and save a step when putting it into a recipe. Recipes like Taste of Home’s Ritzy Chicken are a tasty way to use pre-cooked and cubed chicken, and use ingredients that most people have on hand. This also makes it easy to prepare chicken salad for sandwiches.

Canned Tuna:

  • No preparation is necessary for storing canned tuna. This is also a great item to have on hand for emergencies, because when it comes down to it, you only really need a can opener. Putting it into a salad is usually more desirable, however.
Processed Meats:
  • Sausages, Polish Kielbasa, and so on are often pre-cooked, boiled, steamed, etc. and therefore cook quickly. They can be stored for an extended length of time in the freezer and defrosted easily. They go great with a variety of canned sauces and quick-cooking pastas.

This Week’s Challenge: Stock up on one easy meat and get it into the freezer, cooked or raw, the same day! Getting a good price on bulk meat is counterproductive if it sits in your fridge and rots.

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