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Kathleen Zelman: What's in My Fridge?

My secrets for a well-stocked kitchen and healthy meals.
WebMD Expert Column

A well-stocked kitchen saves time, money, and provides the basics for quick, easy meals for the entire family.

I love to cook, but with the demands of a busy life, most meals at my home are whipped up from the contents of a well-stocked refrigerator, freezer, and pantry. Leisurely cooking is reserved for weekends and special occasions.

Planning Saves Time and Money

Stocking the kitchen with healthy foods and planning a weekly menu saves time and money.

Savings come from less-frequent trips to pick up forgotten ingredients, creative use of leftovers, and not throwing away spoiled food. Advanced menu planning takes the guesswork out of what to have for dinner each night and makes trips for fast food or take-out less likely.

It all starts with a well-thought-out grocery list based on menus. First step: Planning the week's menus by consulting favorite recipes, cookbooks, grocery store sales, coupons, and ingredients on hand.

On Sundays, I plan my menus and grocery list for the week. After consulting the family calendar and everyone’s schedules, I make a rough outline of the weekly menu, trying to include at least one new recipe and always taking into account creative use of leftovers.

For example, I love the roasted chicken sold at my market. We'll eat it hot with healthy side dishes one night, then use the leftover chicken in a chicken noodle soup, quesadilla, taco, wrap, pita sandwich, or entree salad the next night.

My favorite time-saving strategy is to double the recipe so I cook once and eat twice. Another time saver is to cook double the protein and use it the following night in another recipe.

Before heading out in the morning, remember to think about the dinner plan in case it requires defrosting or tossing ingredients into a slow cooker for a meal that's ready when you walk through the door.

Meal Planning Made Easy

My family's style of eating is simple. I rarely make casseroles, sauces, or other foods with lots of ingredients -- except soups and salads, which are mainstays on my menus.

Nor do I cook everything from scratch. I rely on great foods in all sections of the market to help me create quick, easy, and nutritious meals. A typical dinner uses My Plate to ensure that three-quarters of the plate is filled with fruits, veggies, and whole grains and the fourth quarter from lean protein. A family favorite is pecan-crusted salmon, brown rice salad, steamed veggies, and a side salad. Low-fat dairy is usually included in the meal as cheese or between-meal snacks of skim milk or yogurt.

At least once a week, we have a vegetarian meal centered on vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy.

Soups and entree salads are a favorite way to clean out the vegetable bin and use up fresh produce and leftover protein. What could be easier than an entree salad or pot of soup bursting with a bounty of fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and whole grains?

How about breakfast for dinner? Make a vegetable cheese omelet, fruit salad, and whole wheat toast -- or hide the whole wheat bread in French toast for family favorites that are nutritious and delicious.

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