Whenever you can cook once and get multiple meals as a result, it’s a win. I’m not talking about your run-of-the-mill leftovers, though. That can get old fast (except for soup or stew, which just gets better). I’m thinking about a dish, or a component of a dish, that can be transformed into a completely different meal.

I do that all the time with recipes for tomato sauce, pesto and salsa. It’s easy to make a big batch and freeze some for future use. Still, those are sauces. Being able to reach into the refrigerator or freezer for something more substantial is nice, too.

Keeping that in mind when I’m mixing together a batch of meatballs, roasting a pan of vegetables or grilling some chicken breasts for dinner, doubling the recipe and freezing the extras can make a lot of sense. It’s usually only slightly more work at the moment, but being able to eliminate that step completely for another meal can be a huge timesaver. The extras can then be utilized for hearty sandwiches, salads, pasta dishes or any number of other possibilities. Cook for a day — eat for a week! (If that’s not already a cookbook, I call dibs.)

Such is the case with my favorite beef and bean topping for taco salad. It’s a basic ground beef, onion, tomato and bean mixture that’s been spiced with a healthy dose of chili powder, but don’t let the straightforwardness of it fool you. Its versatility lies in its simplicity. Recipes that are too complicated are often not easy to use as an element of another dish, or in this case several dishes.

Here’s how it usually plays out in my house:

Day One: I make the beef and bean mixture and use it as a topping on one of my family’s much requested meals, taco salad.

Day Two: My son comes home from rugby practice, starving, and I warm up a scoop of the mixture, place in a warmed whole-grain tortilla with a sprinkling of cheese and lettuce (if there’s any leftover dressing from the salad, it gets drizzled in, too) and it’s a burrito.

Day Three: My husband and I find ourselves alone for the evening, so I make a couple of cheese omelets, top them with the beef and beans and serve with a green salad. Ten minutes and dinner’s on the table.

Day Four: I’m all alone for lunch. I steam some brown rice and reach into the refrigerator for the last of the beef and beans, with which I’m planning to top my rice (maybe I’ll add some greens, too, just for good measure) only to find it already emptied out by a late-night prowler, which in my house is usually my oldest son.

By the time we’ve gotten to the end of our beef and beans, a lot of meals have been served and hungry boys fed. Equally important, a lot of my time has been saved. Now that’s what I call a win-win scenario.


Meredith Deeds of Edina is the author of “Everyday to Entertaining” and “The Big Book of Appetizers.” Reach her at meredith@meredithdeeds.com. Follow her on Twitter @meredithdeeds.