Shortcut Cooking

Tricks that'll help you turn convenience foods into memorable meals — in minutes.
Shortcut Cooking

If you're tired of takeout but too tired to cook, we have some solutions for you. Many convenience foods can be easily doctored up so that your meals taste like real home cooking — but involve far less effort. What's the secret? Cutting back on lengthy amounts of prep work and cooking time. Here are some of our recommended shortcut strategies:

  • Purchase dried bean, rice and pasta mixes with flavor packets so that you don't have to measure out lots of spices and seasonings. (Make sure to buy reduced-sodium varieties if you're following a low-salt diet.)
  • Eliminate slicing and dicing with packages of fresh or frozen vegetables that are already cleaned and chopped or shredded.
  • Take home a whole roasted chicken to make a quick chicken salad, burrito or wrap.
  • Use canned and dehydrated soups as tasty bases for heartier soups and stews.

Short on time, Long on Flavor
Not sure you're ready to risk passing off half-home-cooked meals as your own? Nonsense, says Jodie Shield, M Ed, RD, recipe developer and nutrition consultant to The Chicago Tribune. "You have to let go of the Brady Brunch mentality--just because something's prepackaged doesn't mean it's not good."

Shield shares some of her super-fast meal ideas with us. A few more tips come from Bev Bennett, cookbook author and weight loss columnist for The Los Angeles Times Syndicate.

  • For quick jambalaya, stir-fry salad-size shrimp, diced low-fat Italian sausage and chopped bell pepper. Combine with a cooked Cajun-style rice mix until well blended.
  • One-dish pasta entrées make simple family meals. Try adding chopped broccoli and diced lean ham to a cooked reduced-fat macaroni and cheese mix. Or make a vegetarian version with chopped fresh tomatoes and lightly steamed asparagus tips.
  • Feed a crowd with a wild rice-turkey casserole: Stir-fry leftover turkey breast, chopped broccoli and dried cranberries; combine with a cooked wild-rice mix.
  • Go vegetarian with black bean burritos. Stir-fry diced onions and combine them with canned black beans (rinsed and drained) and a cooked rice mix. Layer down the center of tortillas, top with salsa and low-fat shredded cheddar cheese, roll up, and bake until heated through and the tortillas are slightly browned.
  • Add a dash of lime juice, hot sauce and a cup of chopped cooked chicken breast to canned chicken soup. Sprinkle with cilantro and you've got hot-and-sour soup in a jiffy.
  • Slice and arrange store-bought, precooked polenta in a 9-inch square pan; top with soy-based chorizo and a little tomato sauce. Bake until just heated through, and you'll be dining Italian-style with almost no effort.

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