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Q: My family spends so much money eating out; we’ve got to start eating at home. I work full time; do you have any suggestions to make this transition easier?

A: I totally understand. Several years ago, we ate out almost every meal. When my family was faced with a job loss and multiple mortgages, we had to make the same transition.

I found that by taking a couple of steps to prepare ahead of time, mealtime was much less daunting. By cooking and freezing chicken or ground beef and turkey ahead of time, you’ll reduce meal preparation time significantly. I call it the 10-minute trick: Grab a Ziploc bag of precooked ground beef/turkey or chicken out of the freezer, pop it in the microwave for a minute to thaw, then add it to your favorite recipe.

Here are my favorite do-ahead shortcuts to help you transition quickly and easily to eating at home.

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Ground beef or ground turkey: Place ground beef or turkey into a tall stock pot, and break it apart with a spoon. Turn burner on low; set a timer for 20 minutes. When the timer beeps, stir ground beef, then set the timer again. You will follow the same pattern for about an hour or until the meat is no longer pink. Rinse and strain excess oil. Cool, and then divide into servings in Ziploc freezer bags. Flatten bags to allow excess air to escape. Place flat in freezer.

Meal ideas for ground beef or turkey include spaghetti, tacos, Mexican spaghetti, chili, baked ziti, taco soup and casseroles.

Chicken: Grill multiple packages of boneless skinless chicken breast. Once cooled, divide into Ziploc freezer bags. Place flat in the freezer.

Or, place thawed bone-in or boneless skinless breast in a crock pot until 2/3 full. Add water to cover, salt and pepper and two cans or one carton of chicken broth. Cook 7 to 8 hours on low. Once cooled, break chicken into pieces and divide into family-sized servings in Ziploc freezer bags. Add a little broth to the chicken to prevent it from drying out. Flatten bags to allow excess air to escape. Place flat in the freezer.

Homemade chicken broth: Strain remainder of the broth from the crock pot by placing a paper towel in a colander and draining broth. Make sure to put a bowl under the colander to catch the strained chicken broth. Divide into Ziploc bags. Flatten bags to allow excess air to escape. Place flat in freezer.

Meal ideas for chicken include chicken fajitas; chicken potpie; chicken tacos; barbecue chicken; chicken and rice; fresh spring salad with chicken; chicken noodle soup; stir-fry chicken and veggies; chicken and dumplings; and various chicken casseroles.

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