No Labor Day

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No Labor Day - now that's a holiday to celebrate! But unless you can afford to hire a personal chef or eat out every night, there is bound to be some labor in the kitchen. Fortunately, it just takes a little planning to be able to turn out delicious, nutritious meals in very little time.

Check out the following strategies to see which ones fit your lifestyle, then put them to work for you. You'll be able to save time and energy when you really need a day away from the kitchen!

Cook when you can
• When are you the most busy? Plan ahead so you don't end up cooking at those times. Let advanced preparation lower your stress level!
• Make use of your freezer. When you have the time to cook, prepare double batches of foods that freeze well and freeze the extra for later. Be sure to label and date the food.
• If late afternoons are busy for you, use your crockpot once or twice a week.

Cut your prep time
• Chopping onions, carrots, celery or pepper? Chop more than you need (really fast if you have a food processor or chopper) and freeze the rest in half-cup portions for later use.
• Purchase ready-to-eat produce, such as baby carrots or pre-washed spinach in bags. Sometimes they are worth the extra cost.
• Canned beans, fish and chicken can be real time savers. Be sure to rinse them well to get rid of excess sodium.

Plan on leftovers
• Cooking rice or pasta? Make extra to use later in the week. Add a few drops of water to rice and reheat in the microwave; plunge leftover pasta into boiling water. They can also be mixed into soups or casseroles, or teamed with fresh vegetables for a salad.
• Get creative! Last night's chili will be a different meal if you mix it with pasta, use it to top a baked potato or to fill a burrito.
• Tonight's leftover chicken or veggies can go into tomorrow's casserole or salad, so be sure to make more than you need.
• Take advantage of the fact that the flavor of many soups and stews improves on sitting by making enough for two or three meals.

Eat out and take out
• Eat out once and get two nights off—AND do your waistline a favor at the same time! Portions in many restaurants are so large that you can bring home half your meal to reheat the next night.
• Choose wisely when you get takeout or delivery. If only high-calorie food is available, order just an entrée and round out the meal with some fresh fruit and a no-labor salad of pre-cut veggies from the supermarket salad bar.

Super Quick Dinners

• Pasta Presto — Heat a jar of spaghetti sauce with canned beans or frozen vegetables; serve over pasta.
• It's a Wrap — Tortillas are great wrapped around canned refried beans and salsa, but leftover casseroles or salads can make a satisfying stuffing.
• Please Pass the Potatoes — Serve baked potatoes (sweet potatoes are especially good) with your choice of topping — canned or leftover chili, frozen vegetables and tomato sauce.
• Soup's On — Heat a can of soup. Cut the sodium by adding low-sodium broth (or using half a seasoning packet if you're using a soup mix), then stir in leftover rice, pasta, vegetables, beans or meats.

Chicken Chef’s Salad
6 cups ready-to-serve lettuce
1/2 roasted rotisserie chicken,*skinless
1 sliced tomato
1/2 sliced cucumber
2 Tbsp oil
4 Tbsp vinegar
black pepper to taste
Place the lettuce on four dinner plates. Remove the skin from the chicken and slice it into bite-size pieces. Arrange the chicken and vegetables on the lettuce and top with oil, vinegar and black pepper.
*Note: you can purchase chicken pre-roasted from most grocery stores.
Serves 4. Each 2-cup serving: 185 calories, 10.5 g fat, .8 g saturated fat, 50 mg cholesterol, 57 mg sodium, 5 g carbohydrate, 2 g fiber, 18 g protein

By Cheryl Sullivan, MA, RD.

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