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Do you "cook once a week, eat everyday"? Share your tip!

I am half way through my maternity leave (We get 1 full year off in Canada). I am trying to envision how things would be after I return to work. I would like to have dinner and spend quality time with my son after I pick him up from daycare. Given that I would probably have only a couple hours every evening to do that, the plan is to cook once a week (or even two weeks) and freeze everything.

I am looking for any tips, advice, personal anecdote, anything that you would share. In terms of equipment, I have two fridges, a double oven, a crockpot, a dutch oven, a couple sets of pots and pans. The only item that I may get would be a Foodsaver. However, if I only plan to freeze the food for 2 weeks, is a Foodsaver really necessary? I have almost 6 months to try out all your tips and tricks so feel free to make any suggestion.

I am also seeking recipes to try out in the next 6 months. But I will post on the Home Cooking board for that.

Edited to insert link to my recipe-seeking post on the Home Cooking board:
http://www.chowhound.com/topics/391146

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  1. What I find freezes well are most soups, and stews. I also freeze batches of my homemade tomato sauce for quick pasta meals.

    A word of advice: while it is difficult to avoid, I recommend freezing/microwaving/storing food in non-plastic containers due to the estrogen-mimicking compounds released from plastic containers.

    1. I would suggest getting a second freezer. You can take the time to get a head start before your maternity leave is finished. I used to work as a private chef for a family of 4 and would cook once or twice a week for them. I would make a large batch of just one dish (beef stroganoff, lasagna, eggplant parmesan, enchiladas, chicken teriyaki, soups, stews, etc). I would package some as single servings for quick lunch options, and most as family dinner portions, usually enough for 6-8 dinners and 4 lunches. But with a stocked freezer of an average of a variety of 10 dinner options, they didn't have to eat the same thing all week. This is really key to making the cook ahead strategy keep from becoming a bore.

      I also make cake and cookie batters and freeze them in one tray or one cake pan's worth so they could be used as needed when company was coming on short notice, or you needed cookies to bring somewhere. I'll post some recipes and packaging/storing strategies on your Home Cooking thread.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Non Cognomina

        I have a great recipe that can convert into 4 or 5 different meals.Shanks Monday, Soup Tues, Pasta sauce Wed, Rissotto Thurs and Arancini Fri.

        Same pot, kept in the fridge and you get a week of meals.

        Great fan of cooking and freezing (got 5 kids, I have to be!!!)
        Will post it in your recipe thread.

      2. An experience: my wife and have been together for almost eight years, half of that time with our daughter. I've done all the cooking.

        My wife's food desires changed a bit after our daughter was born. Nothing drastic, but just a slight shift.

        1. Great that you have time to adjust and plan. Freezing ahead is great, but I would also suggest honing your "quick meal" skills. If you do salad every nite, practice your prewash/chop practices so you have "instant" salad available. Play with a rice cooker (20 no brainer minutes). As your baby starts to eat real food, pasta becomes an attractive meal that baby cn participate in eating/playing with, and can be varied incredibly with quick cooking suaces, etc. You can "pretend" you are back at work and try out a week where you do pre-prep on Sunday and do quick prep meals the next week. Good luck.

          1 Reply
          1. re: torty

            I cook black bean soup with sweet potatos and freeze in individual portions -other hearty soups I make are bean and vegetable soup-they freeze well and you can make portion sizes-so they cook up to as much as you want. I make pesto sauce and freeze this as well. it freezes well and it's available for pasta or rissoto or to put into soup bases for a pistou--

          2. we don't generally freeze anything, but hubby likes to grill a batch of boneless chicken thighs on the weekend, just to have quick protein in the fridge.

            1. Foodsaver - gotta have. Jfood got his allergy shots today and feels like crapola. Went to the downstairs freezer and I had a choice of seven different entrees. Just handed to Mrs Jfood and into the boiling water for 25 minutes.

              You may think you will use everything within 2 weeks, but the Hazan Bolognese that been in the freezer for a month is still without freezer burn because of this unit.

              You have NO IDEA how much time that little addition is going to take up. Good luck.

              1. I'm not sure if this would fit into your plan, but I try to roast lots of different veggies every other Sunday. Last week I made 2 lbs of asparagus, a head of cauliflower, a few broccoli crowns, and about 1 lb of carrots. Sometimes I do baby brussel sprouts (cut in half). It makes the "what should I eat with _____" decision a lot easier. It's healthy snacking too. One thing I always do is line the baking sheets with tin foil for easy clean-up.

                Good luck and enjoy the rest of your time off with your baby!

                1 Reply
                1. re: rednails

                  Do you then microwave them when you are ready to eat them? Doesn't that make them limp and soggy? I love roasted vegetables and have always wondered about making them in advance so any tips/results would be appreciated.

                2. For about a year now since our daughter was 2 1/2, I've made large batches of French carrot soup as a base for her meals which consist of: the soup (made of onions, potatoes, carrots, stock, and milk [I use powdered]) + combinations of cooked pasta, pre-cooked chorizo, cooked rice, canned corn, hot dog, cooked shredded chicken, ...

                  I just put the other ingredients in a bowl, add some soup, microwave, and serve.

                  1. I don't have any ideas but just wanted to say I think you are on the right track. Our baby is 16 months. I would like to be able to cook dinner every night, but between daycare pick-up and baby bedtime we have MAYBE an hour and a half. If I do spend half an hour of that at the stove most likely I have a baby pulling on my pant leg!
                    I also prefer not to freeze things for too long - they get less tasty and eventually forgotten (I should probably start labelling things).
                    We do some cooking in advance and for a while we had a great local caterer who had hot dinner for pickup every night, sadly that service is no more.
                    Some nights, we feed her first and make our own dinner after she is in bed. She doesn't necessarily eat much at dinner anyway - they seem to eat all day long at daycare (and it is good food too).

                    1. I work and have a pre-schooler who attends daycare. My husband and I have worked it out so that he picks my son up and I race home to make dinner. By the time my husband and son are home, I have dinner ready and waiting. Needless to say I have become expert at making dinner within 20 - 30 minutes. The key is preparation and knowing what you are having for dinner that night. I actually don't make a lot in advance although I do marinate things in the morning so they are ready for the broiler (e.g. teriyaki chicken, kebabs, fish, chimichurri marinaed chicken and shrimp) when I get home. I make a lot of rice (in a rice cooker) and pasta. I also roast vegetables since I can throw those in the oven and forget about it while I cook everything else. Anything with ground meat cooks fast as does sausage outside of its casing. Basically, I aim for a protein, starch and veg for every meal. While I don't really make alot of Rachel Rays' recipes, her tips for making dinner fast are good.

                      Congratulations and good luck.

                      1. I did a bit Once a Month cooking day about a two weeks before my daughter was born - it was a lifesaver in the month after her birth to not have to worry about what to cook.

                        I made and froze a giant batch of gazpacho -- this got served cold as a soup, or simmered with simmered with some oregano and basil added for a pasta sauce. I also browned a huge batch of ground beef with garlic and onion -- this could be added to pasta sauce, reheated with taco powder, layered with some tinned veggies and topped with mashed potatoes for shepherds pie.

                        A good tip to save freezer space -- freeze anything liquid or liquid-like in plastic bags on a cookie sheet -- it will freeze in a nice flat layer, and then you can stand it up and stack them side by side. I can fit several gallons of stock in my over-the-fridge freezer this way, and still have room for other stuff.

                        Another good thing to have in your freezer repetoire is a selection of "dump chicken" recipes -- you put one chickens worth of chicken parts and the remaining ingredients in a 1 gallon freezer bag, give it a turn to make sure the chicken is coated, and freeze. To serve, thaw and bake or crock pot - the thawing time serves a built in marination.

                        http://oamc.8m.com/index.html - has tons of dump chicken recipes. We like the Teriyaki and Lemon and Garlic recipes especially.

                        re the FoodSaver - I've never used one, and never noticed a problem with the quality of my frozen foods over the course of a month -- but I never have anything frozen longer then a month either.

                        1. I am half of a newly married couple. We have "couple friends" who are also relatively newly married. We found "Cook Once a week, eat well all week" (or something like it) at our library. Last week we made one of the suggested menus. This week, I am creating a menu for us from things that we know we already like. We ended up cooking four hours together (my friend's husband and myself= chefs in our families) and we ate our first meal together. It was really fun!
                          The rest of the week has worked out really well with the exception of a meal or two that we'll edit out next week.
                          I suggest the book for a good outline and idea of menu and preparation lineup-- it's trickier than you think to prep a week of meals.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: annierpcv

                            i sold a house for a family once that had a brood of boys and she cooked once a month all day long and they had meals all month.I think she said she had got a book from the library that helped her.

                          2. I'm retired and cook daily. Things like broth, stock, tomato sauce, fried beans and beef and bean burritos that require more than a little time to make, I prepare in large batches and put up for lunches for my wife during the work week and quick fix meals.

                            I freeze broth and stock in ice-cube trays, then store the the cubes in freezer bags for later use, burritos and beans get frozen as well. Depending on how I'm feeling, tomato sauce gets bagged and frozen or canned in jars.

                            With a two week cap on freezing, I would go with zipper type freezer bags and not worry about a food saver.

                            A slow cooker cookbook may be right up your alley for meals that take little time to set up and will be done when you get home in the afternoon or evening.

                            The last piece of advice I'll offer... Cook with your son! While he's small think about one of those things that allows you to carry him hands free, papoose type thing.

                            As he gets older, involve him in the cooking procces, washing fruit and vegetables at first, then cutting and other prep work as he gets older, until he's cooking meals for the family in the afternoons after school before you get home.

                            I have a sixteen tear old stepson (no children of my own), Steven was 8 when I started dating his mother, I've involved him in kitchen work from the start.

                            Setting the table, pulling ingredients and helping at first, then taught him knife skills and cooking technique, this past summer while he was with us, I gave him ingredient list and instruction to make 2 or 3 meals a week. I never told him how much of what to use, just what to use and that he should taste everything while making it and use his judgment to adjust seasoning.

                            The way I see it, teaching children from an early age to cook by taste, will make them better suited towards self sufficiency once they leave home.

                            Who wants a kid that thinks taco hell is good food?

                            One more thing you might want to consider, are meals that don't take more that 10 – 25 minutes to prepare, rice is a set and forget staple around my home. There are allot of meat dishes that can be cooked in less then ten minutes, 15 if your making a pan sauce.

                            I'll look for your post under home cooking and share a few recipes I've developed.

                            Be well,

                            Anthony