Eat at Home LIVE replay! We’re making SWEET AND SOUR CHICKEN, starting with our BASIC CHICKEN SKILLET recipe.
Chicken Fiesta Skillet
Did you know that a Basic Chicken Skillet can be adjusted to create lots of different meals? Today I’m sharing this Chicken Fiesta Skillet and video with you, and I think you’ll this festive twist on dinner! Cook it up tonight to serve it in taco shells, over rice, quinoa, baked potatoes or lettuce.
It’s the final post in our series on 7 Habits for Eating at Home.
If you are just joining us and would like to catch up on the other topics we’ve covered including topics planning meals around your calendar, quick and simple grocery shopping tips, stocking your freezer, the 15-minute meal, tools and tips for mastering time-saving cooking methods and a collection of dinner conversation starters. Today we have the perfect way to wrap up our series on healthy eating habits with a pantry and freezer challenge.
Habit #7 – Pantry and Freezer Challenge
One habit that needs to be in the rotation for all of us is the occasional pantry and freezer challenge. We are blessed to live in a country where food is abundant and getting it in hand is easier than it ever has been before. We have the ability to buy and store all kinds of food to keep on hand whenever we want it. We can even have it delivered to our door in some instances!
But the other side of that coin is it’s easy to keep buying things we don’t need while letting ingredients we already have languish and spoil in the pantry and freezer. Of course, wasted food is not only sad but it’s not really great for the budget either. So I like to be intentional about taking a week or two every so often to go through what I have and make a plan for using it up in my meals. This means I waste much less food than before and still put great meals on the table for my family!
Here are a few tips for taking a week (or more) and using up the food that’s been hiding in your kitchen and turning it into delicious and satisfying meals for your family.
- Go on a search and rescue mission in your pantry and freezer. You need to know exactly what you’ve got in there. Examine expiration dates, pitching what’s already past its prime. Make a list of what you find.
- Search recipes for meals that use the foods you find. Don’t be afraid to substitute ingredients and get creative in your cooking.
- Grab a calendar and plot out your meals. You might surprise yourself and be able to plan several weeks or a whole month!
- Commit. Stay out of the stores as much as possible and keep to your plan. One way to commit is to designate a way to spend or save the money you’re not spending on groceries. If you budget a regular amount of money for the grocery, during your pantry and freezer challenge you won’t be spending that. That means you can put that money aside for something needed or fun!
I think this pantry and freezer challenge is the perfect way to end our 7 Habits of Eating at Home series. I’d love it if you took a moment and told me what you’re making from your pantry and freezer this week!
Here are a few more things that might be helpful in your pantry and freezer challenge this week
- 6 Classic Meal Builders Your Pantry Needs – This post will give you ideas on what to do with some of the items in your pantry.
- You can read about one of my pantry and freezer finds and the recipes I made in this post I did a few years back.
- I love this recipe for using up pantry and fridge ingredients. There are so many ways you can make it and it pretty much is always delicious.
- Here’s another recipe I made from whatever I had on hand to show you how simple ingredients can work really well together. SO GOOD!
- Try some of these super easy 3 ingredient or less recipes for using up some of those ingredients!
- This list features sixty 4 and 5 ingredient recipes and it has some of my favorites on it!
Next week we’re starting a new series on Summer Slow Cooking and Pressure Cooking. Let’s keep the kitchen cool together!
Read all the posts in the 7 Successful Habits for Eating at Home
- Plan Meals around your calendar and lifestyle
- Simplify Grocery Shopping to save time and money
- Stock up your freezer with easy meals and shortcuts
- Plan 15-minute meals for busy days
- Master time-saving tools in the kitchen–before you are in a time crunch!
- Create intentional conversation and connection with your families at the dinner table + FREE PRINTABLE!
- THIS POST: Use up what you already have by shopping from your pantry and freezer when you plan your menu at least a few times a year!
We’re in the middle of a series on 7 Habits of Eating at Home with tips on each habit to help in establishing out own healthy habits. We’ve covered topics like planning meals around your calendar, quick and simple grocery shopping tips, stocking your freezer and the 15-minute meal. Today we delve into some tools and tips for mastering time-saving cooking methods.
Habit #5 – Master time-saving cooking methods
In Habit #1 we talked about consulting your calendar when making out your meal plan so that the amount of time and the time of day available for cooking matches up with the recipe.
Strategically choosing slow cooker recipes, pressure cooker meals, sheet pan dinners, and 15-minute meals depending on what your day or week is looking like will make a huge difference in your success with eating at home.
But in order to make all of these amazing options for saving time in the kitchen work, you need to learn how to best use these appliances and cooking methods and which one makes the most sense for the different mealtime scenarios that come up in your schedule.
It really helps to practice with these appliances and cooking methods at a time when you aren’t in a rush so that you can figure out the individual quirks or steps for each one without a lot of pressure or stress to get it right the first time. Don’t give up if you have a failure or two. It could be that you’re just learning how to use the appliance, and with a little perseverance, you’ll come to find that it’s one of your absolute favorite kitchen tools!
A good recipe will go a long way to making you successful – and I’d like to think that the recipes we have here on the site are good ones that will make cooking a delicious meal for your family easy and enjoyable!
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Tips for Using the Slow Cooker
You can make a ridiculous amount of good food in the slow cooker. Prep time is fast and there’s little to no standing in the kitchen monitoring the food as it cooks. That’s a huge plus if you have a lot of other things to do besides keep an eye on the stove!
One of the biggest issues you may run into with slow cookers is that they tend to cook too hot. Most often, this is because you’re using one that is too big. If the food doesn’t fill the crock at least half way, chances are it will cook hotter than it needs to, resulting in dry and over-cooked food. Some slow cookers are better than others at cooking consistently, too.
Here are some of my favorite ways to use the slow cooker:
- To save even more time by cutting out prep, you can make easy freezer-friendly slow cooker meals that are ready to go into the slow cooker in the morning without making any extra messes in the kitchen.
- If you are going to be gone until dinner time, choose a recipe that can handle cooking all day long. Nothing like coming into the house after a really long day and smelling the delicious smell of dinner already cooked and hot for you and your family to enjoy!
- During the summer, I love using my slow cooker to keep my house cooler by not using the stove and oven as much. You can get TONS of inspiration in our super popular summer slow cooker series, 100 Days of Summer Slow Cooker Recipes and 30 Days of Whole Food and Garden Fresh Slow Cooker Recipes!
- There are lots of ways you can maximize the usefulness of your slow cooker, too. Try out some of these slow cooker hacks and see what you think!
Tips for using the Instant Pot or any electric Pressure Cooker
The digital, electric variety of pressure cookers are fairly new. I have the six quart 6-in-1 version and I use mine all the time. It’s such a handy kitchen tool! They’re really easy to use, but there is a bit of a learning curve if you’ve never used a pressure cooker before. Read through your manual very well and keep it handy so you can refer to it as needed as you set things up the first few times. I recommend trying to making something simple in the Instant Pot for the first time, like rice.
Here are some of the things I’ve learned from using my pressure cookers this past year.
- The most important thing to remember when using the Instant Pot or any electric pressure cooker is that you’ll need to add at least 1 1/2 cups of liquid to the pot to get it to come to pressure. However, remember that the liquid doesn’t have to be water! Things like broth, tomato sauce or juice, enchilada sauce and any other liquids work too. A good instant pot recipe will account for the need for liquid, but if you experiment with your own recipes, that’s something to keep in mind!
- Also, remember that the amount of time you set the pot for is not the time that your dinner will be done. You need to allow extra time for the pot to come to pressure before the cook time even starts. The amount of time needed for the pot to come to pressure and then the food to cook varies a lot. And it is usually still a lot faster than cooking on a stovetop or in the slow cooker so it’s a great option when you need to cut down cook time a bit.
- Picking good recipes that are made for cooking in the instant pot is ideal for cooking a successful meal when you are starting out! Every week, we put instant pot as well as slow cooker instructions for many of our recipes in the Weekly Meal Plans. It’s been a hit with our members and I’ve enjoyed cooking these recipes as well!
Looking for a few recipes to try out? Here are a few of my favorites on the blog.
- Instant Pot Chicken Fajitas
- Chicken Cacciatore Sandwiches
- Pressure Cooker Apple Sauce
- If you precook meat in the instant pot, there are loads of great ways to use it up! You can get lots of ideas for what to do with all kinds of proteins and links to my live demos on how to cook meats in the instant pot in this post here.
If you are considering buying a pressure cooker, but aren’t sure which to go for you can read my honest review of the two brands I bought in this post here.
Tips fop making fantastic Sheet Pan Dinners
A sheet pan isn’t exactly an appliance, but it is a really useful tool to have in the kitchen! You can put nearly any type of meat and vegetable combination on a sheet pan and have a marvelous dinner with less time and mess than if you cook each item individually.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when making a sheet pan dinner.
- The best thing is to use a very large sheet pan like this one. If you don’t have a large pan, you can use two regular sized sheet pans, but the large one is really nice and not expensive. If you have a bigger family, two large ones can really make it easier, too!
- Timing is everything with sheet pan dinners. Figure out which ingredient will need the longest cook time and place that in the oven first. Then add the other ingredients later so they get the proper cook times as well.
- Be sure to oil the pan or use parchment paper to keep clean up easy. After all, the whole point of saving time is to spend it with those around your table, not standing at the sink scrubbing off baked-on food!
- These sheet pan dinner recipes are super popular at our house and with our readers! Try one out and see what you think! Once you see how easy they are, you’ll have inspiration for endless varieties of meals you can toss together on a sheet pan and get in the oven for easy family meals.
We are in the middle of a series of 7 Habits of Eating at Home.
If you missed the first three weeks then you’ll definitely want to check those out too. Week 1 was on meal planning around your calendar. Week 2 was focused on quick and simple grocery shopping tips. And last week we talked about stocking your freezer to bring less chaos and more enjoyment to dinner time.
This week our topic is all about how to make a healthy and tasty dinner in just 15 minutes. At my house, this qualifies the chef for Superhero status and all of us can use a day like that every once in awhile! I’ll be on Facebook Live talking more about strategies for quick food prep and cooking and I’ll be making a 15-minute meal live so you can see how easy this is!
Habit #4 – 15 Minute Meals
Keeping several good recipes in your repertoire that can be made in just 15 minutes is one of the smartest things you can do. Find a couple that your family loves and keep those ingredients handy so that you have something to fall back on. Even on the busiest, craziest nights, we can carve out 15 minutes to pull dinner together if we have a standby recipe or two to turn to and a pantry with basic meal builders ready for us!
If you are already a member, you know that Eat at Home Meal Plan members get a 15-minute meal each week in both the Traditional and Whole Foods plans to give healthy, quick options for that one night you don’t have any time to prepare in advance. There are really so many delicious, quick and easy meals to choose from that only take 15 minutes and I love having that choice on the menu every week!
Tools for the quickest cooking
In addition to those delicious 15-minute recipes, it’s a good idea to keep some tools on hand to make your prep and cooking time as easy and fast as possible. Stock your kitchen with these hard working tools to make cooking fast.
- Sharp knife –This is essential. So many meals require some chopping or cutting. You do not want to be fighting the food while trying to chop with a dull knife. Invest in a good, sharp knife and a knife sharpener. You will not regret this purchase.
- Garlic press – Fresh garlic makes a dish taste wonderful. Invest in a quality garlic press to make this step fast. Look for one that doesn’t require the cloves to be peeled. You also want an easy way to clean out the little holes. Pampered Chef makes a nice press, but there are other good brands too.
- Electric griddle – The ability to make many pancakes, sandwiches, or quesadillas at once makes this worth the space to store it. Fixing these foods one at a time in a skillet voids the meal of its quick quality. Unless you are only cooking for two people, invest in a large griddle.
- Large baking stone or cookie sheet – Useful for nachos, French bread pizzas, broiling sandwiches etc. I prefer baking stones because clean up is a quick scrape under hot water.
- Gas grill – Grilling can be quick, depending on the food you’re fixing. It’s an easy way to cook up lots of chicken for the freezer. Grilling also cuts down on cleanup.
- Microwave – I use the microwave for quickly thawing cooked meats. One or two minutes is all it takes to have cooked chicken or ground beef ready to add to a recipe.
Naturally quick-cooking foods & Meal Builders for your Pantry
It’s a great idea to keep your pantry stocked with key ingredients so you never have to worry about not having anything to build a meal on. This post talks about classic meal builders I always keep on hand in my pantry and it really helps!
There are also a few foods that are fast by nature.
These are excellent building blocks for quick meals at home, so it’s a good idea to keep some in your pantry for those days when your plan has to change unexpectedly and you don’t have time to run out for ingredients. Combine any of them with vegetables and maybe some meat and you’ve got a speedy meal. Bonus – most of them are inexpensive too.
- Beans – Canned beans are high in protein and quick to fix! Alternately, you can cook them in the slow cooker or instant pot in advance and freeze them for easy use later.
- Pasta – Angel hair pasta is especially quick, cooking in just 3-4 minutes. Ravioli and tortellini are also speedy and are more filling than plain pasta.
- Couscous – 5 minutes and done. Hard to beat that!
- Rice – My favorite is Jasmine, which cooks in about 15 minutes. Brown rice is healthier but takes longer to cook. An alternative is instant brown rice.
- Eggs – High protein, inexpensive, and versatile.
- Tortillas – Nearly anything can be wrapped in a tortilla and made better for the wrapping.
Pre-cooked and frozen meats
So here’s my biggest time-saving tip. Are you ready? My biggest ally in quick cooking is to have a variety of pre-cooked meats and even beans ready to go and stashed in the freezer. Doing this opens the door for a huge variety of meals that can be made in minutes instead of hours because the hardest part–cooking the proteins– is already done in advance!
You can precook meat in the instant pot (See this post for more info on cooking several kinds of meat for the freezer in the instant pot) or in the crockpot. I like to portion mine out before freezing so that I can easily grab a bag and it’s about the right size for a recipe for my family size without trying to break it apart or thawing too much at once.
15 Minute recipes to try
Ready to get in the kitchen and make a few 15-minute meals? Here are just a few of some of my family’s go-to recipes for when we need dinner on the table FAST!
Try Eat At Home Tonight
Want a simple, printable recipe for a 15-minute meal delivered to your inbox every week? Check out Eat at Home Tonight! It’s FREE to sign up and is a great way to get inspiration for the dinner table. Here’s just one of the delicious recipes that you’ll get to try if you sign up.