Friday, March 9, 2012

Cooking Ahead Without Too Much Complication

Dear friends,

Once-A-Month Cooking: A Proven System for Spending Less Time in the Kitchen & Enjoying Delicious, HomemadeI know a lot of people do "Once-a-Month Cooking" which was popularized in the book by Mimi Wilson and Mary Beth Lagerborg.  That sounded a bit much for me, so I tried just once a week cooking over 20 years ago after hearing about the concept on Focus on the Family. (Basically, you are assembling several meals in one day, combining your meats, starches, veggies, and sauces in different ways.)  It was a huge chore since I was pregnant with my third baby and had two preschoolers roaming around.  I eventually had 10 children in 18 years, and still have 8 at home, so for me to fix seven whole meals to feed that many would be quite the overwhelming undertaking.  For me, fixing a double batch of anything (which I often do) is like someone with a smaller family cooking enough for several meals.  

I know you all are busy, too.  Maybe once a month or once a week cooking would suit you just fine, but if you can't manage that, there are less complicated ways to reap the benefits of cooking ahead, even if it is just making a double batch of a dinner and freezing the extra.  

Another really easy way is to cook your meats ahead of time. We usually buy large "economy size" packages of ground beef at Sam's Club or Aldi, cook it up in our big electric skillet or in a pan in the oven, and then bag it up for later use in chili, spaghetti, tacos, etc.

Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half with America's Cheapest Family  -     
        By: Steve Economides
I spotted a copy of the book Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half with America's Cheapest Family by Steve and Annette Economides (gotta love the name!) on the clearance table at the Christian book outlet recently, and they recommend batch cooking and bulk buying, too.  So I've had my eye out for grocery bargains and ways to save time in the kitchen.

A week ago I noticed boneless skinless chicken breasts on sale for $1.69 at Aldi, and immediately grabbed four large packages.  The next morning, I rinsed 30 chicken breasts, placed them in four large 9"x13" glass pans, seasoned them with either garlic pepper or rotisserie chicken seasoning, and popped them in the oven.  Cooking this much chicken doesn't take much more oven energy than doing just one pan, and I only had to heat up the kitchen once.  (Yes, this is Florida, otherwise I wouldn't worry about it.)

30 seasoned chicken breasts, ready for the oven

When they came out of the oven, I poured the broth into a large bowl and was amazed at how little fat floated to the top!  I didn't even skim it this time.

Then I cut up the breasts into large chunks and stuffed them into six quart size zip lock bags.

Cut up chicken in bags

My husband made two potpies on Sunday night when I wasn't feeling well.  It was much easier for him to make dinner on short notice since the chicken was already cooked.  On Tuesday, I made a huge pot of chicken noodle soup with chicken, all the broth, a box of shell noodles, a little cream of chicken soup, frozen peas, and diced red peppers.  We had a lot left over, so on Thursday night, I added more cream of chicken soup, topped it with shredded cheddar cheese and bread crumbs, and made a pan of casserole.  Not everyone was home last night, so there are still leftovers for lunch.  

Chicken casserole

And here is the amazing thing: there are still four bags of chicken in the freezer!  So far, I have used about 10 chicken breasts far for three meals serving several people each, plus we used some of that for a few sandwiches.  And I didn't even feel like we were skimping on the chicken.  This was so much more economical than serving each person a large chicken breast.  Nutritionists are telling us that meat should be used sparingly  anyway.

Cooking a large batch of meat ahead of time saves cooking energy, time, and money! 

So if you feel like you can't go "whole hog" into batch cooking, at least try making a double batch or cooking a lot of meat ahead of time and bagging it up.

Do you have any favorite ways to save time and money in the kitchen?  Please share!

Virginia Knowles

This blog post is linked to Ann Kroeker's Food on Fridays



  1. I have a small family, so many recipes make an extra serving or two, but we'll often double (or more) a recipe so we get more meals out of the effort. I feel that if I'm going to the trouble of making bread (and heating up the oven for it) I may as well use all 4 loaf pans.

    If we are making anything using the food processor to grate or slice it, we cut up more than we need for that meal (or sometimes, cut up something else for later use) so that we have to wash the food processor parts only once and the cutting is already done. Then we freeze vegetables or grated cheese in amounts that will be useful in later recipes.

    Whenever we cook rice, we cook extra so we can use it at another meal.

  2. Thank you for your wonderful tips and helps. My family have their own families, and I always tried to cook nice meals for them. For just the two of us, we do save left overs and a few days later enjoy them again.

    Oh no, capchas with the blurry letters. I often just give up and not leave comments when I see them. Here goes try number two

  3. Even though we're a family of 7, I haven't gotten into cooking ahead much. I keep talking about doing some batch cooking, though that's mostly haphazard right now.

    I love the Economides book! I should reread it for fresh inspiration.


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