I was checking out the latest issue of Eating Well and laughed when I realized that they totally used one of my lines! Well, it’s not really “my” line, but I do say it A LOT in my Mastering Meal Planning Presentations … Cook Once, Eat Twice!
The concept of cooking once and eating twice or more, isn’t a novel idea. It’s a basic meal planning strategy that really helps you save time and work more efficiently in the kitchen.
In a nutshell, you cook a double portion of something and save half for another meal. How does this save time? Well, think of the work that needs to happen to get a healthy meal on the table – there’s the preparation time, cooking time and clean-up time! If you make double of something during one cooking session, you’re being more efficient because you don’t have to repeat those same exact steps twice.
Cook Once, Eat Twice or More can take two forms. You can either double an entire recipe and refrigerate/freeze half of it for a future meal, such as homemade soup (discussed in the example below). Or you can double a main ingredient in a meal and save half for a future meal that uses the same main ingredient, such as meat or poultry (also discussed below).
Once you adopt this time-saving strategy, I’m certain it will be your newfound favorite, especially when planning ahead for busy days, when time in the kitchen is limited.
How to “Cook Once, Eat Twice or More!”
As with most things related to saving time in the kitchen, it starts with your Meal Plan! So if you’re new to meal planning, please view my Mastering Meal Planning presentation first to get you started with making your master meal list and a weekly meal plan. There’s also a sample (picture) of one of my meal plans at the very bottom of this post for you to reference. And remember, you can always check out my Bi-Weekly Meal Plans over at The Better Mom.
So here’s how it works … as you’re looking at your Master Meal List and making your Weekly Meal Plan, consider what meals you could cook a double batch of and freeze or refrigerate for future use. For example: Whenever I take the time to make Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup, I always make a double batch to freeze for a future meal. The other thing I do is whenever I need to make homemade chicken stock, I always make two batches instead of one. That way, I end up with lots of stock and meat that I can freeze and use to quickly make other soups and meals in the future.
As mentioned, you can also simply cook double or triple of a main ingredient in a meal that you use frequently, such as turkey meatballs or ground beef, for example, and use a portion of it for the meal you are preparing that day and then refrigerate/freeze the rest for a future meal. Either way, you’re cooking once and eating twice or more!
Another twist on the Cook Once, Eat Twice concept is a strategy I call “Grouping Meals.” How it works is, you take a look at your Master Meal List and consider what recipes contain the same main ingredient and plan to serve at least two or three of those meals during the same week. (Obviously, the busier the week, the better to have more meals with the same main ingredient.)
Again, by selecting several recipes with the same main ingredient(s), you will save a lot of time because you only have to prep, cook and clean-up once, rather than two or three separate times.
For example, three recipes on my Master Meal List that contain the same main ingredient (chicken) are:
• Grilled Pineapple Chicken with black beans and brown rice
• Chicken Pesto Pasta with spinach salad
• Chicken-Veggie Stir Fry with brown rice
So if I plan to serve all three of these meals in the same week, I can save a lot of time by simply preparing and grilling all of the chicken at one time, and then cutting and refrigerating the extra portions for the other two meals I will be making later in the week. Also in the above example, I would make a double batch of soaked brown rice so I only had to make that once as well.
Getting really specific … here’s what the “Grouping Meals” concept looks like …
Let’s say my Meal Plan is arranged this week to have the following chicken-based meals:(You can see that I planned it so we have the chicken meals spread out a bit, because who wants to eat it three nights in a row?)
• Sunday: Grilled Pineapple Chicken with black beans and brown rice
• Tuesday: Chicken-Veggie Stir Fry with brown rice
• Thursday: Chicken Pesto Pasta with spinach salad
So, on my shopping list, I would plan to buy enough chicken to make all three chicken-based meals. Then, when I got home from the market on Saturday, I would cut the chicken breasts and put them into containers with the appropriate marinade and place them in the frig. (P.S. My basic chicken marinate is olive oil, sea salt, pepper, garlic powder, dried rosemary and dried thyme.)
On Sunday, when I’m preparing to make Grilled Pineapple Chicken, I would grill all of the chicken for all three meals all at one time. I would use what I needed for the Grilled Pineapple Chicken dish that evening, and then I would cut and divide the rest of the chicken and place in the *frig/freezer for use in the stir fry dish on Tuesday and the pesto pasta dish on Thursday. I would also make a double batch of brown rice, as mentioned above, so that way, when I go to make the other meals, requiring these ingredients, they are already cooked, saving me a significant amount of prepping, cooking and cleaning time!
*Please note: According to the USDA, refrigerated leftover cooked chicken should be used within four days. So if you’re not planning to use your leftover cooked chicken within that timeframe, it’s best to freeze it. Then, when ready to use, simply defrost it overnight in the frig.
Applying these “Cook Once, Eat Twice” concepts across the board
So now that you know these time-saving secrets, you can start to see how you can apply them for many recipes, including casseroles, soups, and side dishes.
So again, as mentioned above, a common side dish I always double-up (or triple-up) is brown rice. Then, I just refrigerate the extra portions for use in another meal. (A tip with rice, it will dry out in the frig, so if you do this, be sure to use it within 5-6 days. Also, you may need to add a tablespoon or two of water or broth, depending on the amount of rice, to help remoisten it when reheating.)
You can also make double batches of a casserole and freeze one uncooked for future use. Or make double of a soup or stew that freezes well and freeze for a future meal.
Another example: If having grilled veggies as a side dish, plan to grill extra and use them to make veggie quesadillas for lunch or dinner the next day … these are just a few ideas to get you started.
And yet another example, is my Turkey Times Three (T3) strategy for making three great ground turkey based recipes all at the same time and then freezing them to have ready-to-go meals on busy days.
As you start looking at your Master Meal List, it will be exciting to see how you can group meals with the same ingredients together to make preparation time and cooking time faster, easier and less stressful!
As always, if I can be of service to you, please feel free to leave a comment or contact me. And if you have some meal planning success stories or tips to share, please post those as well.
Remember, “Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God!” (1 Cor 10:31) So have fun and give all praise and glory to the Lord for the opportunity to provide healthy home-cooked meals for your family!