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Making the Most of Your Cooking Time

For many people, time is a big barrier for healthy eating. Luckily for you, we have some tips to make the most of your time in the kitchen.

Cook Once, Eat Twice

With a little planning, you can eat balanced meals all week long without spending extra time in the kitchen. We call this idea “Cook Once, Eat Twice”. With this method, we use leftovers thoughtfully to create new meals. If you are interested in trying this out for yourself, check out these tips on how you can use “Cook Once, Eat Twice” at home.

1. Focus on Basics. Keep your meals simple. Prepare a protein (such as chicken, tofu, pork, etc.), vegetables (any favorite vegetable cooked any way you like) and a grain (such as brown rice, whole wheat pasta, etc.). These items can then be thrown together in many different ways throughout the week.

2. Cook More. Depending on the size of your family, you may not usually have a lot of leftovers. When cooking, prepare double of what you usually would to make sure you will have leftovers for the next day’s meals.

3. Don’t Be Afraid to Dress it Up. Tie your meals together with sauces and condiments to make it feel different. For instance, let’s say you cooked chicken, roasted vegetables, and rice the first night. You could add tortillas and salsa the next night to make tacos, and no one will know they are leftovers.

4. Safety First! Remember, leftovers only last 3 to 4 days in the fridge before they can grow harmful bacteria. If you will not be able to eat your leftovers within 3 to 4 days, freeze what you can not use. For more information on food safety, visit our Food Safety section.

What Can I Do with Extra Vegetables?

Do you have extra vegetables in the fridge leftover from other recipes? What do you do with them to avoid throwing them away? In this video, we take four different vegetables (zucchini, yellow squash, bell peppers, and carrots) and prepare them together four different ways. 

Use Your Freezer

Freezers are great appliances to help you save time and money. Food in the freezer last longer than it would in the pantry or refrigerator. Follow the tips below to maximize your freezer use.

1. Think About What Freezes Well. Meals using mostly uncooked ingredients, such as salads, do not freeze well. The best options for the freezer include most soups, stews, and casserole dishes.

2. Double Your Soups and Stews. If you are taking the time to cook, double up and make extra portions. This could be an extra casserole or extra soup. The extra portions can go right into the freezer for an easy meal when you are short on time. 

3. Labeling is Your Friend. A roll of masking tape and permanent marker are very helpful for meal prep. Write the name of the recipe and the date you cooked it on a piece of masking tape to put on the container. No more asking “When did I make this?”! 

4. Safely Defrost. To safely defrost your food, remove from the freezer and place in your refrigerator the day before you plan to eat it. Then reheat as you normally would. Forget to take your food out of the refrigerator? There are a few other ways you can safely defrost your food. 

  • Microwave: Use the “defrost” button on your microwave until the item has been defrosted. 
  • Cold Water: This method works better if the item is in a plastic airtight container. Put the item in a bowl in the sink with cold tap water, Replace water every 30 minutes until the item is defrosted.

For more information on food safety, visit our Food Safety section.

No-Cook Meals

There are many reasons why you might not be able to use any equipment when cooking. Maybe you don't have a lot of kitchen appliances. Or maybe it is a hot day, and you don't want to turn on your stove. Either way, there are plenty of meals that can be prepared without using any cooking equipment. Look at the chart below for the formula for easy meals that require no cooking.

Protein Add Finish



  • Add diced cucumber and tomatoes
  • On top of a bed of greens
  • Serve with whole grain crackers for a
    hummus dip.
  • Mix in whole wheat orzo and your favorite dressing for a simple salad!

Canned Tuna

canned tuna

  • Mix with chopped celery and red onion
  • In lettuce cups
  • Serve with whole grain crackers.
  • Mix in some leftover whole
    grains to keep you full.



  • Add berries or other chopped fruit
  • Add diced cucumbers, chopped dill, minced garlic and lemon juice
  • Top with a whole grain cereal
  • Serve with whole wheat crackers for a tzatziki dip

Nut Butter

nut butter

  • Add banana slices
  • Mix with dried cranberries or raisins
  • Serve on a piece of whole wheat bread
  • Mix in with rolled oats and shape into small balls

Cottage Cheese

cottage cheese

  • Top with diced pineapple
  • Serve on a bed of greens
  • Add a whole grain cereal
  • Serve with whole wheat crackers