What’s for supper? A seemingly simple question. It is not. It often unleashes a flood of other questions such as what do we have on hand? Do I need to stop at the grocery store? Did I remember to take the ground beef out of the freezer?… It is also a daily reminder of the multiple challenges and pressure of getting a healthy, homemade meal on the table night after night.
HOMEMADE! Homemade sounds like a tall order night after night but it’s is worth striving for as not only is it good for your family’s health, it also is good for your budget and good for the planet (less food waste). With a few of the cook smart strategies below it can become manageable and maybe you will even be able to create a free lunch (or dinner) from the leftovers!
HEALTHY! Healthy doesn’t mean hard. A simple guide to follow is to picture a plate then fill half your plate with veggies (or fruit), a quarter of the plate with a whole grain, and dedicate the remaining quarter to a hunger-curbing quality protein like beef.
To get you started, here are some quick tips and seven solid strategies (recipes included) to help you simplify the process and support you in conquering the dinner dilemma. First let’s start with a few handy tips to get the meal on the table more efficiently.
Shop Smart Strategies
- Start your shopping at home. Check what foods are on hand (fridge, pantry, freezer) and make note of foods that need to be eaten soon.
- Make a list of meals to make that include the foods you have on hand. Include some cook-ahead or make once/eat twice ideas to keep meal prep-time manageable. Ask the family for input into what they have a craving for.
- Make a list of extra items you will need to round out the meals to ensure they are balanced with veggies, fruits, whole grains and protein. Check for store specials you can take advantage of. To save time at the store, sort the list according to grocery store layout – deli, frozen, dairy, meat, etc.
- In-store, look for discounted items close to expiry to take advantage of some deep discounts. Buy only items that you can cook or use for meals right away to manage food waste. Once cooked, meats can keep refrigerated for up to 3 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months.
- Meal kits just might be the answer when pressed for time, but if you can prep your own meal kits at home. This helps manage your budget and reduce packaging waste. Some meal kits are just a recipe and portioned-out pasta, meat and veggies. You can do this!
Cook Smarter Strategy 1: Your Freezer is Your Friend
Stocking your freezer helps make home cooking more convenient. When you buy bulk packs of ground beef, add minced onions and seasonings and cook it all at once. Divide the big batch into portion sizes and stash in the freezer to have cooked ground beef at-the-ready to add to your favourite soup, pasta sauce, chili or casserole. It’s a super speedy way to enrich our meals with protein, iron, B vitamins and zinc. Dinner just got better, faster and easier!
- 4 lb (2 kg) Lean Ground Beef
- 4 Tbsp (60 mL) chili powder
- 2 tsp (5 mL) EACH ground cumin, salt, paprika and ground coriander
- 1/2 tsp (2 mL) cayenne pepper
- 2 red bell peppers, finely chopped
- 2 small onions, finely chopped
- 2 cups (500 mL) corn, frozen or canned
- Cook ground beef and spices in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat for 9 to 10 minutes, breaking into small chunks with the back of a wooden spoon, until browned and completely cooked. Drain well, and return to pot. Add bell peppers and onions; simmer for 8 to 10 minutes until vegetables are softened. Add corn and heat through for 1 to 2 minutes. Drain. Spread mixture in a single layer on several foil or parchment paper-lined baking trays; freeze just until meat is firm, about 1 hour.
- Loosen beef mixture into chunks; scoop meal-sized portions into freezer bags or sealable containers. Freeze up to 3 months.
SMART COOK TIP: Mince onion in the food processor OR buy frozen diced onion.
Cook Smarter Strategy 2: Cook Once, Eat Twice
Build tomorrow’s dinner tonight. When you cook one meal, prepare more than you need so that you have enough leftovers to create a second delicious meal by adding just a few simple ingredients from your fridge or pantry.
For example, while cooking roast beef, make baked potatoes or roast some veggies: toss lightly oiled parsnips, carrots and/or cubes of squash with seasoning and place on a foil-lined baking tray. Use the meat and veggies as the building blocks for a pasta dinner the next night. Or try this combo:
- 1 cup (250 mL) plain yogurt
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 small onion, minced
- 1 Tbsp (15 mL) EACH minced gingerroot, fresh lemon juice and hot curry powder
- 1 tsp (5 mL) EACH chili powder and salt
- 2 lb (1 kg) thick-cut Marinating Steak (e.g. Flank, Sirloin Tip or Inside Round)
- Combine yogurt, garlic, onion, gingerroot, lemon juice, curry powder, chili powder and salt in large zipper-type freezer bag. Pierce steak all over with fork. Place in freezer bag with yogurt mixture; refrigerate for 8 to 12 hours to marinade. Discard marinade. Pat steak dry with paper towel; season lightly with salt and pepper.
- Grill over medium-high heat, turning with tongs at least twice. Cook to medium-rare doneness, until thermometer inserted sideways into steak reads 145°F (63°C). Let steak rest for 5 minutes before slicing across the grain. Serve with Roasted Curried Cauliflower.
Serves: 6 servings.
Roasted Curried Cauliflower: Break 1 medium sized head of cauliflower into large florets (about 8 cups). Toss with 1/4 cup (60 mL) olive oil, 2 tsp (10 mL) curry powder and 1/2 tsp (2 mL) EACH chili powder and coarse salt, 1/4 tsp (1 mL) coarsely ground pepper. Roast in single layer on lined rimmed baking sheet in 425°F (220°C) oven, stirring occasionally, until softened and golden, 15 to 20 minutes. Toss with 1/4 cup (60 ml) toasted pine nuts and 2 Tbsp (30 mL) drained capers and chopped parsley (optional). Makes 8 cups (2 L).
Bombay Dipping Sauce: Combine 1/3 cup (75 mL) mayonnaise, 2 Tbsp (30 mL) EACH vinegar and mango chutney, 1 Tbsp (15 mL) minced green onion or chives and 1 tsp (5 mL) EACH curry powder and minced garlic.
MEAL #2: Next Day Lunch Salad:
Toss slivers of leftover Bombay Steak and chopped Roasted Curried Cauliflower with cooked barley, couscous or rice. Some options for add-ins: minced dried apricots, chopped mint/parsley, canned chickpeas, sliced snap peas, roasted asparagus, diced sweet red pepper, frozen peas, etc. Toss with vinaigrette dressing at lunchtime.
SMART COOK TIP: Freeze an extra steak & marinade combo. When you make this recipe again, steak will be grill-ready when thawed.
Reality Check: A packed lunch from home can save you about $8/day compared to eating out. And since you control the portion size, you’re less likely to overeat.
Cook Smarter Strategy 3: Quick and Easy
Thin-cut steaks come at a price point that won’t break the bank and since they pan-fry in minutes, they make a super speedy steak dinner or Philly sandwich. You can also slice them to make satay or stir-fry strips.
- 2 Beef Fast-fry/Minute Steaks
- 2 tsp (10 mL) Herb de Province, divided (or a mix of dried tarragon, oregano, thyme leaves)
- 1/2 tsp (2 mL) EACH salt and pepper
- 1 Tbsp (15 mL) vegetable oil
- 1 small zucchini, diced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 small sweet onion, diced
- 20 cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1/3 cup (75 mL) crumbled feta cheese
- 1/4 cup (60 mL) minced Italian parsley or basil, optional
- Season the steaks with 1 tsp (5 mL) of the Herb de Province and salt and pepper.
- Heat oil in medium non-stick pan over medium-high heat. Add steaks and cook, turning twice or more with tongs to desired doneness. Remove from pan and keep warm.
- Add zucchini, garlic, onion and remaining 1 tsp (5 mL) Herb de Provence to pan. Sauté, stirring, for 2 to 3 minutes. Add tomatoes and continue to cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in feta and parsley (if using) and serve over steak.
Serves: 4 servings.
SMART COOK TIP: Cut extra veggies and refrigerate in a sealed container so you get a jump-start on salads the next day.
Cook Smarter Strategy 4: Leftovers = Appetizers
Take a shortcut to appetizers by turning a weeknight family meal into appetizers the next night. For example, mince leftover beef stew and use to stuff mushroom caps. Dust with grated Parmesan and bake. Or try this combo:
MEAL 1: Family Short Rib Stew
4 lb (2 kg) Bone-in Beef Short Ribs
1/2 tsp (2 mL) EACH coarse sea salt and freshly ground pepper
2 Tbsp (30 mL) vegetable oil
2 onions, cut into wedges lengthwise
2 carrots, sliced
2 celery stalks, sliced
1/4 cup (60 mL) all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp (15 mL) tomato paste
3 cups (750 mL) dry red wine
8 sprigs fresh thyme
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 bay leaves
3 cups (750 mL) low-sodium beef broth
1 Tbsp (15 mL) cornstarch mixed with 1 Tbsp (15 mL) water
- Pat beef dry with paper towels. Season beef all over with salt and pepper. Heat half of oil in Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Brown beef in batches, adding more oil as needed, until browned all over, about 10 minutes. Transfer beef to plate.
- Add onion, carrots and celery to Dutch oven. Cook, stirring over medium-high heat, until onions are golden, about 5 minutes. Add flour and tomato paste, cook, stirring, until deep red, about 2 minutes. Stir in wine, add short ribs and any accumulated juices. Bring to boil; reduce heat to medium, stirring up any browned bits from bottom of pan. Add thyme, rosemary, bay leaves and stock. Bring to boil. Cook, covered tightly in 325°F (160°F) oven until beef is fork-tender, about 2 hours.
- Discard bay leaves and herb stems. Whisk cornstarch mixture into beef cooking sauce, stirring over medium heat until sauce thickens, about 2 minutes. If desired, remove beef from bone and set aside 2 cups of the Stew to make the Braised Short Rib Bites within the next 3 days.
MEAL #2: Braised Short Rib Bites From Leftover Stew:
Lightly beat 2 eggs; set aside. On lightly floured surface, roll out 1 piece of thawed puff pastry (half a 450 g pkg) to a 1/4 inch thickness 12 x 12 inches. Mince 2 cups (500 mL) Stew and sauce on cutting board; spread mixture over pastry, leaving a 1-inch border around edges. Top with 1 cup (500 mL) crumbled blue cheese. Roll up like a jelly roll, sealing long edge of pastry with some of the beaten egg. Place seam side down on parchment lined baking sheet. Chill for 1 hour. Slice pastry roll crosswise into 1-inch slices. Place slices on parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush each with remaining beaten egg; bake in 425°F (220°C) oven until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Top with some sour cream mixed with horseradish to taste if desired.
SMART COOK TIP: Soup for lunch next day: Coarsely chop leftover stew and veggies; add enough beef broth, cooked pasta or rice to make a soup.
Cook Smarter Strategy 5: Hands-off Cooking
Dust off the slow-cooker so you can take advantage of having dinner cook while you’re away at work. It doesn’t take much to make an amazing pot roast and next-day dinners are equally delicious. Try this 3-ingredient wonder: Beef Pot Roast + spaghetti sauce + Kalamata olives. Or this simple recipe uses just a Blade or Cross Rib Pot Roast with 3 simple ingredients!
3-1/2 lb (1.75 kg) Beef Pot Roast (e.g. Cross Rib or
1 Tbsp (15 mL) vegetable oil
1 3/4 cup (425 mL) tomato pasta sauce
1/2 cup (125 mL) sliced pitted Greek Kalamata olives
1 Tbsp (15 mL) dried oregano leaves
- Brown roast on all sides in hot oil in large skillet. Place roast in 4 or 5-quart (4 or 5 L) slow cooker.
- Combine pasta sauce, olives and oregano; pour over roast in slow cooker and turn meat to coat well. Cover and cook on LOW for 8 to 10 hours.
- Let roast stand for 15 minutes or more; carve and serve with sauce.
Serves: 8 servings.
SMART COOK TIP: Sandwich next day: Layer slices of pot roast on focaccia with Greek salad fixings and creamy Greek dressing.
MEAL #2: Pasta Lunch:
Mix equal amounts of cooking sauce from the Mediterranean-style Beef Pot Roast with jarred or canned tomato pasta sauce. Add shreds of cooked Mediterranean-style Beef Pot Roast and toss with some cooked pasta. Microwave to warm and top with Parmesan cheese.
Cook Smarter Strategy 6: Weekend Make-ahead
Weekends are perfect for roasting as it does take some time, but can offer leftovers that set you up for speedy meals during the week. Roasting is also hands-off cooking so you are free to do what you want while dinner cooks by itself.
Recipe courtesy of CanadaBeef.ca
- 2 tsp (10 mL) olive oil
- 3 lb (1.5 kg) Beef Sirloin Tip or Inside Round Oven Roast
- 1 Tbsp (15 mL) basil pesto
- 3 plum tomatoes, cored and quartered
- 8 oz (250 g) zucchini (about 2), cut into ½-inch slices
- 1 small Spanish onion, cut into 12 wedges
- 1 baby eggplant, cut into chunks
- 1 EACH sweet red and yellow pepper, seeded and cut into chunks
- 4 oz (125 g) cremini mushrooms, quartered
- 6 cloves garlic
- 3 Tbsp (45 mL) basil pesto
- 1 Tbsp (15 mL) balsamic vinegar
- 1 tsp (5 mL) liquid honey
- 1/4 cup (60 mL) pitted Kalamata olives
- Ratatouille: In large bowl, combine tomatoes, zucchini, onion, eggplant, peppers, mushrooms, garlic and pesto; toss to coat. Spread on foil-lined rimmed baking sheet lightly coated with vegetable cooking spray; set aside.
- Heat oil in heavy sauté pan or ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Season beef with pepper as desired; brown all over, turning with tongs, about 10 minutes. Spread pesto all over roast; place on rack in same sauté pan. Insert oven-safe meat thermometer into centre of roast. Place roast and pan of vegetables, in a 275°F oven and roast until the thermometer reads 145°F (63°C) for medium-rare; about 1 1/2 hours.
- Remove roast to cutting board. Cover with foil and let stand for 5 minutes. Lift foil and vegetables from pan and use rubber spatula to scrape vegetables into large bowl; toss with vinegar, honey, and olives, if using. If desired, set aside about 1 lb (500 g) cooked beef and 2 cups (500 mL) of vegetables for Roast Beef Wraps. Thinly carve roast across the grain.
Serves: 6 servings.
MEAL #2: Roast Beef Wraps:
Combine 2 cups (500 mL) EACH remaining Ratatouille vegetables and cooked rice or whole wheat couscous. Flavour with 3 Tbsp (45 mL) bottled sun-dried tomato vinaigrette dressing; set aside. Spread each of 6 large spinach tortillas (warmed) with 1 tsp (5 mL) pesto. Layer each tortilla with 1⁄2 cup (125 mL) EACH shaved roast beef, baby spinach leaves and vegetable/rice mixture. Roll up and cut on diagonal to serve.
SMART COOK TIP: Make a big batch of steamed rice to go with the roast meal. Reserve 2 cups (500 mL) to use in the Roast Beef Wraps the next day.
Cook Smarter Strategy 7: Double up
Always cook up extra – it’s not extra work and will save you lots of time in the end. When chopping or cooking, make more than you need and stash the extras in the fridge for a head-start on your next meal. For example, cook an extra steak to beef-up a salad or add to a stir-fry the next day.
- 1 tsp (5 mL) EACH Cajun Spice* and ground cumin
- 1/4 tsp (1 mL) EACH salt and hot pepper flakes
- 1 lb (500 g) Beef Grilling Steak (e.g. Top Sirloin,
- Strip Loin, Tenderloin) 3/4 to 1-inch
- Harvest Sauté (recipe follows)
- Combine Cajun spice, cumin, salt and pepper flakes in small bowl. Set aside half of mixture. Sprinkle both sides of steak with remaining mixture.
- Grill steak over medium-high heat until medium, about 10 minutes, turning twice or more for medium-rare doneness 145° (63°C). Remove to plate; cover loosely with foil.
- Let steak stand for 5 minutes before slicing thinly across the grain. Serve with Harvest Sauté.
- *Cajun Spice: buy ready-made or make by combining 1/4 tsp (1 mL) EACH paprika, dried oregano, garlic powder and dried thyme.
Serves: 4 – 6 servings.
MEAL #2: Harvest Sauté:
In large skillet, melt 2 Tbsp (30 mL) butter over medium-high heat. Add 2 cloves garlic, minced, 1 cob corn (kernels removed from cob), 2 small zucchinis sliced, 1 small sweet red pepper, diced and 1/3 cup (75 mL) shelled cooked edamame (optional) and reserved half Cajun spice mix. Cook, stirring occasionally until just tender, about 8 minutes. Add 1/4 (60 mL) cup minced fresh parsley or chives. Makes 4 cups (1 L).
SMART COOK TIP: When oven roasting, add a head of garlic wrapped in foil to make roasted garlic or add some potatoes for baking.