The bad news is that Jamie Oliver didn’t appear on my doorstep to be my personal chef this week.
You’re totally shocked, right?
I mean…I keep putting it out there, but the universe doesn’t seem to be listening in on my fantasies.
Probably just as well.
The good news (for me at least) is I don’t have to cook this week anyway.
And no, Colonel Sanders is not filling in, in the absence of Jamie.
Instead, I have a freezer full of homemade meals ready to go. (This is a very rare occurrence for me – most of the time Dominoes fills in when I don’t want to cook – please allow this one sentence for
Anyway, it took a whole lot less work than I thought it would.
Have you ever looked into at Once a Month Cooking and thought: nice idea, too much effort?
That’s how I feel about it.
Having a freezer full of homemade meals for busy nights is certainly appealing, but spending a whole weekend cooking…um, not so appealing.
But you can enjoy no-cook nights without losing your weekends with the cook once, eat twice method of meal preparation. Here are the five steps you need to take to fill your freezer with healthy, homemade meals in only 10 minutes a day.
The Cook once, Eat twice Menu Planning Method in 5 Steps
The short version is this: cook extra and freeze the leftovers.
So if you’re hiding in the bathroom, sneaking a little social media time while the kids aren’t looking (which is me, often), you’ve got the crib notes.
If you’ve got a few extra moment before they find you, read on.
1. Create a menu plan of freezer-friendly meals for the week
The first step is to plan a week’s worth of freezer meals that you want to cook.
You could plan a fortnight or even a month’s worth if you’re amazing (I have not reached that level of amazing), or you can plan to cook just a few freezer meals this week, to cover busy nights next week.
There are thousands of freezer friendly recipes on the web. Slow cooker meals are excellent because it saves time today as well as next week! And stews are the type of food that tastes best as leftovers.
Here are a few of the meals we freeze:
- chilli beef and beans (for nachos)
- vegetarian nacho mix
- mince bake (without the cheese topping)
- tuna casserole (ditto – leave off the cheese)
- Moroccan stew
- vegetable curry
- silverbeet and mushroom pie
- slow cooked lamb stew
- quinoa enchilada casserole
2. Buy enough ingredients to double each recipe
Or triple each recipe. The bigger the batch, the more nights you get off!
As you write your menu plan, keep a running shopping list of everything you’ll need for the week and double the quantities.
If you’re worried about cost, it’s probably not going to cost you double the grocery amount, because you can make the most of the bulk discounts.
For example, rather than getting two tins of tomatoes for your dish, you can get the large tin and save. You can buy a whole bag of onions instead of one or two – keep any extra in the pantry for later in the month.
Get a 2 kilo discount on mince and save in the long run.
And if you already buy your onions by the bag, your carrots by the kilo and your mince in bulk to save, it’s not going to cost you any extra!
3. Cook each night for a week
You could meal prep once a week, on a Sunday, for instance.
or you can save hours in just a few minutes without spending Sunday in the kitchen.
It only takes an extra couple of minutes to chop a few extra veggies or brown some extra mince for a double batch of dinner. But those extra 5-10 minutes tonight will give you a whole night off cooking another time.
Each night, cook the meal on your menu plan in a double batch and freeze the leftovers.
To make THIS week easier, if you have some extra time tonight, chop the veggies you need for tomorrow night’s meal or the whole week.
Chopping an onion for tonight’s meal? You’ve already got the knife and the chopping board dirty, so take an extra 2 minutes to chop enough onions for the whole week.
It will save you having to get the board out later on (saving washing up time as well!)
4. Freeze in Batches
Before you eat, divide the meal into two (or more) portions and set aside the extra to cool before freezing. That way, your hungry teenagers don’t think your highly-organised super-mum dinner is a second helping free-for-all.
I’ve tried many different methods to freeze food without using disposable plastic, and while Tupperware containers work fine, I go back to zip-lock bags again and again because they freeze flat and take up a lot less room in our tiny freezer.
Spoon your meal into your zip-lock bag (or container of choice) label it with the contents (super important, it all looks the same once frozen) and write the date on it.
For things like the spinach pie, wrap well in foil and label it with the contents, date and reheating instructions (reheat in foil without defrosting at 180°C, for instance).
Foods like homemade chicken nuggets can be flash frozen before storing them in a bag or container. Reheat in the oven without defrosting as you would store bought.
5. Have the next week off!
You now have a really big decision to make: which nights are you going to put your feet up and relax knowing dinner is in the bag (er, freezer)?
- recycle last week’s menu plan and have the whole week off – your grocery bill will be TEENY TINY this week.
- use the meals as you need to on busy days and cook as usual on the other nights.
Your frozen meals will last around 2 – 3 months in the freezer, although it’s important to note, this timeframe is about quality – according to Foodsafty.gov (US) frozen food will last indefinitely. So if recycling last week’s meal plan seems way too boring, you can have a week off next month.
These frozen meals also make good backup meals on days when you’re sick, the unexpected pops up, or you’re having one of those everything has gone to hell and I want to curl up in a little ball – don’t think I’m cooking dinner! Where’s the wine? kind of days.
Having to feed the family every single night is a big job. You deserve the night off! The problem is, in the absence of Jamie Oliver, or a partner with culinary flare, the other option is takeaway. Takeaway is convenient, but it can be a drain on your health and wallet if relied on too much.
The alternative to eating healthy while saving time and money is to batch cook meals to freeze. The cook once, eat twice method is the EASIEST way to batch cook freezer foods and save.
Melissa Goodwin is a writer and the creator of Frugal and Thriving who has a passion for living frugally and encouraging people to thrive on any budget. The blog is nine years old and is almost like her eldest baby. Prior to being a blogger and mum (but not a mummy blogger), she worked as an accountant doing other people’s budgets, books and tax.