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Skip the drive-through with these simple cooking tips

It sounds easy enough, but cooking for just one or two people can challenge your creativity.

I've already gotten a taste of this with my college-aged son's comings and goings. When he arrives home each summer, it becomes a challenge to keep the pantry and refrigerator stocked. Then, come fall, it takes me a few weeks to regain the balance of having enough food without waste. I'm sure it will be even more of an adjustment when my daughter leaves next fall and it's just the two of us.

It's so easy to eat out, or just hit the drive-through and pick up a meal. In the long run, though, that will cost you a lot more money -- and a lot more calories. Cooking for one or two requires a little more thought. But if you plan ahead, you can enjoy home-cooked meals without a lot of extra fuss.

It Starts With Menu Planning

The first step is to pull out your favorite healthy recipes and cookbooks, print out your eating plan, and draw up a weekly menu plan. To make the most of your time at the grocery store and in the kitchen, be creative in planning your meals. Your aim should be to cook once to generate at least two meals

For example, think of all the things you can do with one cut of meat, fish, or a whole chicken. The first night, prepare it simply ­ roast, grill, or bake. The next night, chop, slice, or mince the leftovers and use them on pizza or in a soup, stew, casserole, salad, sandwich or pasta dish.

One of my favorite shortcuts is to buy a family pack of chicken breasts, marinate them overnight in light salad dressing, then grill them. I slice the grilled chicken, and portion it into airtight freezer bags. Then, I use the chicken portions to make pasta, tacos, barbeque chicken sandwiches, chicken salad, chicken Caesar salad, etc. Preparing dinner is a cinch when the chicken is already cooked!

Another tactic is to cook enough food so that you can freeze portions for another meal. Foods like lasagna, chili, soup, and casseroles freeze well because they contain sauce. (Be sure to label and date your frozen leftovers so that you don't forget about them.)

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