26 September 2017Time Saving Meal Tip: Cook and Freeze Your Chicken and Hamburger to make Dinners a Breeze

What are you doing this weekend? "Cooking ahead," one of my fellow students said. Since I have headed back to school this semester as a full time graduate student in public health, my lifestyle has changed drastically. Consequently, using this time saving method of cooking and freezing meats ahead of time has made creating meals after a 12-hour day something I look forward to.

Remember after Thanksgiving, how convenient it is to have turkey leftovers all ready to make quick soups (turkey rice soup) and casseroles (turkey tetrazzini)? Use this same concept to make evening meal preparation quick and easy. With pre-cooked hamburger and diced cooked chicken stored in my freezer, tacos, chili, spaghetti sauce, Southwestern soup, fajitas and quesadillas take less than 20 minutes to prepare after a long day at school. Add a side dish of fresh fruit for dessert, drink a glass of lowfat milk, and your meal is complete.

Three Easy Steps to Make Cooking Dinners a Breeze

Step 1: Buy meats on sale

Whenever boneless chicken breasts or hamburger is on sale (for me this means less than $2.00 a pound), I purchase large quantities and store them in my freezer until I have time to "process" or prepare them. Weekends work well.

Step 2: Cook large amounts

Hamburger: Brown or Bake
To prepare hamburger, you can either brown it on the stove or my preferred method is to bake it in the oven. In a large roaster pan, similar to what you would cook your turkey in, place your raw hamburger. I usually cook a minimum of nine pounds at a time. Put the lid on and bake in the oven at 325 degrees Fahrenheit for at least one to two hours until none of the hamburger is pink. Half way through, I break up the thicker chunks of hamburger with a wooden spoon so that it cooks evenly. While the hamburger is baking, it is a great time to study or take a nap! When the hamburger is evenly browned and no longer pink, I take the roaster out of the oven, remove the lid, and let it cool for about 30 minutes. To drain the fat, spoon the meat into a large sieve (like what you would drain spaghetti with) and let the fat drain into a large bowl. Discard the fat into the garbage not down the drain. I learned the hard way! Then, put a plastic bag in a two cup measuring cup and fill it with cooked hamburger. Label the bag with "2 cups hamburger" and freeze. Note: there will be a lot less fat to drain and dispose of it you use lean ground beef.

Chicken: Grill, Boil or Bake
To prepare chicken, you can either grill it, boil it or bake it. Again, my preferred method is to bake it in the oven with a lid on, so I can do something else like clean or fold laundry at the same time. Similar to the hamburger, place at least nine pounds of raw chicken into a larger roaster pan. You can even take it directly from the freezer without thawing and place in an ovenproof dish. Cover with one to two cups of water to prevent it from drying out. Cover and bake at 325 degrees Fahrenheit for one to two hours until the juices run clear and are not pink when you poke the chicken with a fork. Let cool in a sieve so it cools quicker. Then, cut chicken into one inch cubes, measure 2-cups and place in plastic bags. Label the bag "2 cups chicken" and freeze.

3. Creatively cook and increase your vegetables!

Because your chicken and hamburger is precooked and ready to go, you now have more time to tweak your recipes and make them even healthier by increasing the vegetables in them. Create a new twist on an old favorite in order to achieve the recommended intake of at least three vegetable servings per day. One way to start is if you are chopping anyway, just double your vegetables. Adding more vegetables will not ruin a dish.

New Twist on Old Recipes

Spaghetti sauce
Instead of just sautéing onions and garlic, grate some carrots and sauté those as well before adding the tomato sauce. My German mother-in-law does this, and it adds a lovely sweetness to her spaghetti sauce.

Tacos
Instead of just sautéing onions, complement your dish with some finely chopped red peppers.

Southwestern Soup
In addition to doubling the onions, garlic, and celery, I have started adding chopped zucchini (since fall is the season!) and tripling the cilantro (fresh and cooked) for a healthier hearty taste.

Quesadillas
Sauté chopped onions long enough on low heat (about double the time) so that they begin to turn brown and naturally caramelize for a delectable flair on your quesadillas. Enhance the mixture with color by adding thinly sliced green, yellow and red peppers.

By following these three steps of buying meats on sale ahead of time, cooking your hamburger and chicken in large quantities and freezing, and then creatively increasing your vegetables by crafting a new twist on old recipes, you can save time and enjoy a healthy evening meal.

Please share your ideas on increasing your vegetables in old favorites.

In good health,
Martha Henze

MS, RD, Traveling Taste Buds, LLC

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Disclaimer: Please note that we cannot provide personalized advice and that the information provided does not constitute medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, please visit a medical professional.

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Meal Planning & Diets/"Plan, Shop, Prep, and Cook"

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