Summer's outdoor activities often mean I return home exhausted and hungry in the way that one's brain doesn't function well enough to put a complete meal together from scratch. This is when I grant myself full permission to take urban shortcuts vs. the scenic route, so to speak, in the kitchen. For me, taking a shortcut doesn't mean splurging on a completely prepared dinner, frozen or otherwise. It means buy some, make some, starting with an affordable, yet convenient packaged or prepared food. Then I add to it so it goes further and hopefully becomes a more nutritious rounded meal in the process. I usually have these basic starters on hand so I don't fall for ordering a pizza for delivery. Frozen Cheese Pizza Transformation ideas: canned artichoke hearts, olives, tuna & hardboiled egg (I discovered this on menus in Malta), pineapple & ham, small cubes of packaged baked tofu, anchovies, bell pepper or mushroom slices, leftover chicken tossed in BBQ sauce, browned ground meat, slices of pre-cooked sausage. Or my favorite is to brown crumbled tempeh with garlic, sage and fennel seed to make a veggie Italian sausage topping. Boxed Mac & Cheese or Rice Pilaf Transformation ideas: frozen peas or broccoli or shelled edamame, canned tuna or salmon (of course!), peppers, sausage, kidney beans, bits of ham or smoked turkey, small cooked shrimp or scallops. Canned or Boxed or Deli-made Soup Transformation ideas: wontons or potstickers, cheese toast on top, frozen or fresh corn or other veggies, diced tomatoes, curry powder, chili powder, chipotle, chick peas, cooked rice or another whole grain, pasta, leftover meat, tofu cubes, tortilla chips, crumbled feta or goat cheese. Frozen Chicken or Fish Nuggets Transformation ideas: sandwiches with lettuce and tomato and mayo, soft tacos with shredded cabbage and salsa, over a big green salad with Caesar dressing, tossed with bell pepper in sweet n' sour sauce (jarred pad thai sauce mixed with vinegar works) over rice. Canned or Deli-made Chili Transformation ideas: fresh tomato or onion or peppers, corn, wrapped in flour tortillas with refried beans and salsa. The best-and not always for "emergencies"-is ladled over tortilla chips or corn chips and topped with shredded cheese and chopped onions. Yeah, I know this value concept is nothing new, but I thought if I put it out there, some folks would step up to the plate, so to speak, and provide their own tried and true takes on it. What say you?