Get A Head Start On Tomorrow's Dinner Tonight

There's nothing like coming home after a long day and sharing a delicious, home-cooked meal with your family: passing a dish of food that you can feel good about around the table, sharing stories about your day, laughing and telling jokes. But, between finishing up those last few work emails, picking your children up from their respective after-school activities, and making enough time to ensure that tomorrow's homework assignments are complete, there's often little time left over for cooking, much less relaxing around the table for some quality family time. Luckily, cooking dinner doesn't have to be so time-consuming — you just need to know how to plan ahead.

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One of the keys to making dinner easier is learning how to use an ingredient in multiple ways. Nobody wants to eat roasted sweet potatoes two nights in a row, but serving twice-baked sweet potatoes on Monday night and a creamy sweet potato risotto on Tuesday is guaranteed to please (and for little-to-no extra work). If you're cooking with an ingredient that your family likes, why not make double the amount, pack the extra away in your refrigerator overnight, and use it as the base of a new dish the following night?

The same concept can be applied to an entire dish. Don't just reheat leftovers, re-create them. Add new spices, turn them into soup, or spread them onto toast — just don't serve them the same way two nights in a row. Leftover beef stew (drained of some of its liquid and topped with mashed potatoes) make a great mock shepherd's pie, last night's pasta makes a hearty frittata today, and extra rice and beans can be quickly and easily combined into a vegetarian black bean burger patty.

Whether you apply this "two-for-one" concept to a single ingredient or to a dish as a whole, it can help you get a delicious dinner on the table in fewer steps and in less time. Though creativity is strongly encouraged, we also have a few concrete tips to help you get started.

Boil Extra PastaDouble Up on Ricearancini

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It doesn't take any extra time to put a second pot of water on the stovetop to boil. Keep your cooked and cooled pasta (tossed with a tiny drizzle of olive oil) in an air-tight container in your refrigerator. Then, the following night, it's ready to be dropped into homemade soup, mixed with sauce, and topped with cheese for a quick baked ziti, or to bulk up leafy green salads.

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(Credit: Shutterstock)
Rice is another easy staple to cook in advance. For best results, cook the extra rice in excess water in a pan without a cover. When the rice is a few minutes shy of being fully cooked, remove it from the heat, drain the excess water, and rinse the rice two times in cold water to stop the cooking. Then, store the rice in an air-tight container in your refrigerator. Serving it with beans tonight? Try making or topping it with chili tomorrow.

Kristie Collado is The Daily Meal's Cook Editor. Follow her on Twitter @KColladoCook.