How I Manage to Only Cook 2-3 Meals a Week

posted by Andrea | 02/4/2013

cooking

As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, my goal for 2013 is one of “Ultra Simplicity”.

Due to Dave and my overly ambitious work schedules, our growing list of home projects, and Nora’s unwillingness to take naps, I’ve decided that there are a bunch of things I absolutely must simplify in order to stay sane!

One of those things is our meal planning.

Over a year ago, I shared our ultra simple meal planning method of choosing food themes for each day of the week, as opposed to specific meals each day. We are still using this method and it continues to work fabulously.

This method not only gives me quite a bit of flexibility, it also helps to simplify the process of making double and triple batches for the freezer.

Because of this, I honestly only cook about 2 – 3 times each week!

Let me explain…

On a “normal” week, here is what our meals might look like — this is NOT in order by day.

0-1 night = eat at family’s house, friend’s house, or go out to eat.  This doesn’t happen every single week, but quite often. There are also times — like around the holidays — when we are with family and friends more than once a week.

1-2 nights = salad, sandwiches, or leftovers.  We often will make panini-style sandwiches or put leftover meat on a salad. We usually have leftovers at least once during the week, but we also love  leftovers for lunch.

1 night = breakfast, which we LOVE… and which is also extremely simple. We always have lots of eggs, homemade waffle mix, and bacon or sausage in the house, so it literally takes me 15 minutes to whip up a delicious meal (here are some of my favorite breakfast recipes)

1-2 nights = meals from the freezer.  Since I almost always make double or triple batches every time I cook, we have several pasta dishes, casseroles, soups, stews, etc. in the freezer for busy week nights. I simply pull one meal out of the freezer the night before and let it defrost in the refrigerator the following day. Then I bake it right before dinner (or warm it up on the stove if it’s soup). Depending on what the meal is, I might also make veggies, a salad, potatoes, fruit salad, or bread to go along with it.

2-3 nights = cook a meal (I almost always make a double or triple batch) Sometimes, this means simply making a big batch of soup. Sometimes this means making 25 chicken enchiladas (see picture below), 2 lasagnas, and a slow-cooker meal all on one day. Other times, it might mean roasting a turkey or baking a ham and then using the leftovers to make several different meals.

enchilladas

Obviously, I’m still in the kitchen for some amount of time every night (except if we go out), but it’s usually only for a few minutes to shove a dish in the oven and throw some veggies in the steamer. I can handle that even on bad days when everything seems to be going wrong, Nora is screaming and grabbing my legs, Dave is running late from a basketball game, and an unexpected visitor drops by!

On the 2-3 nights when I DO cook, I always make sure to plan that into my day (and my grocery shopping), and I try to schedule it so either Dave is available to watch Nora or I have a babysitter.

Also, even though it might seem that this weekly meal plan is somewhat haphazard, I still always have a plan for every night — even if that “plan” is to go out to eat or pull a meal from the freezer.

freezer meals

How we make our weekly meal plans.

Step 1: Go over our weekly schedules.  Dave and I always sit down on Sunday afternoons and go over each other’s schedules — when he has practices and games, when I have meetings and phone conversations, which one of us will be watching Nora, what days we’ll need a babysitter, etc. etc.

Step 2: Figure out what time we will eat each night.  This is not exact, but because we both have very different schedules, it’s helpful to know when each person will be coming home and/or leaving again.

Step 3: Plan meals to fit around our weekly schedule.  For example, if I know Dave won’t be home from practice until 6:30, then I know that I’ll have extra time to make a meal that night. Or if Dave is coming home at 5:00, but then I need to leave at 5:30, I know that might be a good night for leftovers (so I’ll plan a bigger meal the night before to assure that we’ll have leftovers).

Step 4: Have a back-up plan.  Obviously every week doesn’t always go smoothly according to our plans! Sometimes we have an unexpected event that changes our schedule, someone gets sick, we don’t have the right ingredients in the house, or a dinner invitation gets canceled at the last minute. In these situations, I like to have some type of back-up plan so we don’t have to resort to frozen pizza or McDonald’s! I always have ingredients to make pasta, quesadillas, or breakfast… and if worse comes to worse, we’ll have grilled cheese. Since all of these meals are extremely simple, Dave and I can pretty much manage any of them if need be :)

So if you’re wondering how all of this might play out in our weekly meal plan, here’s a sample.

lasanga

A sample weekly meal plan.

MONDAY = Mexican or Italian 

Make 2 lasagnas (see photo above). Put one in the oven for dinner (and leftovers later in the week) put the other one in the freezer. I would also make salad, vegetables, and garlic bread for dinner.

TUESDAY = Casserole

Pull this yummy chicken and veggie casserole out of the freezer Monday night — especially since Tuesdays are one of our busier days.

WEDNESDAY = Breakfast

Blueberry pancakes, eggs, and bacon — with plenty of pancakes and bacon left over for breakfast tomorrow

THURSDAY = Meat or Leftovers

Sweet N’ Sour pork in the slow cooker, leftover lasagna from Monday, or leftover casserole from Tuesday. This would also depend on if we’ve been eating the leftovers for lunch or not.

FRIDAY = Meat or Out to Eat

If we had a big meat meal last night, then we might go out for dinner tonight (using coupons and gift cards!) If we ate leftovers last night, then I would probably make a big meal tonight.

SATURDAY = Sandwiches, Salad, or Leftovers

Saturday is way more relaxed because Dave is home all day and we usually try to get any house projects/cleaning done as well as school work and blog work. So we usually have pretty relaxed meals planned for these days.

SUNDAY = with friends, family, or at church

We are often with friends, family, or at a church function on Sunday afternoons — and then we almost always have a frozen pizza on Sunday nights.

So if we followed this meal plan, I would end up cooking on Monday and either Thursday or Friday — that’s it. The other nights it would be simple meals, pulling from the freezer, or out with family and friends.

We still end up eating mainly homemade food and I save SOOOOOO much time in the kitchen — both cooking and cleaning up (especially since Dave often does the dishes!)

Oh, and if you’re wondering, I do the same thing with snacks and desserts — I make a whole bunch in one afternoon and then don’t bake again for a couple weeks. I guarantee that I save several hours each week by cooking and baking this way — plus our freezer and pantry are always fully stocked!

baked goods

How do you save time in the kitchen and simplify meal planning?

Visit my virtual recipe box for more simple, delicious, family friendly, recipes!

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23 comments

  1. Jodi

    02/04/2013

    Great ideas. Thanks for sharing!

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  2. Lisa

    02/04/2013

    Exactly how many 13×9 pans do you have? Do you freeze your casserole-type items in the pans, then remove to a zipper bag or do you leave them in the freezer in the pans? I’m looking at your ideas and thinking I need to invest in some more!

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    Brenda Reply:

    I am always on the lookout for decent looking 9 inch and 9×13 pams at garage sales, thrift stores, or on really good sales. Most of them stack nicely and I figure you can never have too many. Also, then if you bring one somewhere and don’t get it back then it’s not a big deal. I freeze in the pan beacuse I usually forget to take it out of the pan after it is frozen; that’s why I started collecting pans…

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    Andrea Reply:

    Great question Lisa! I should have mentioned this in the post… shoot!
    I have 3 9×13″ pans and 2 9×9″ pans, however when I freeze food, I actually line the pans with wax paper or aluminum foil. Then after the dish is frozen, I pull the foil/wax paper out and wrap it tightly with plastic wrap or put it in a freezer bag (like the picture of my enchilladas in this post). That way, I still have all my baking dishes available but my freezer is stocked!
    I do the same thing with baking too. I bake everything, then cut it up into individual servings, then freeze in in bags or food storage containers (not in the pans).
    However, I also agree with some of the other comments that you might just want to keep an eye out for inexpensive 9×13″ pans at garage sales or thrift stores! Maybe I’ll have to do that too :)
    Hope this helps.

    [Reply]

  3. Linda

    02/04/2013

    Love this! This is sooo helpful! With 3 toddlers of my own, dinner is always the hardest part of the day for me! Thanks so much for sharing! For the frozen lasagna…do you just thaw it out the night before in the fridge and bake as normal?

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    Andrea Reply:

    Yes Linda, I always pull stuff out of the freezer the night before and put it in the fridge. If it’s still not totally defrosted by lunch time, I’ll just let it sit on the counter for a couple hours before dinner. And then bake as normal.

    [Reply]

  4. Linda B

    02/04/2013

    Helpful ideas, and I think these would work for us, now that we have just 2 of us at home. When we had 6 of us, there were not often leftovers!

    What I also do sometimes is cook a whole bunch of one type of meat (like chicken) all at once, then separate that into freezer bags, so at least I have ready-to-use meat.

    But I do think I need a few more pans in order to make this work. I think I’ll start keeping my eyes out for more pans.

    I would love to have some meals ready in the freezer!

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  5. Amy

    02/04/2013

    With a young son at home (almost save age as your daughter) I find this article really helpful. We both work full-time out of the home and I am always looking for a way to make dinners simpler but still healthy. Do you know of a good website or have some good ideas on how to keep the snacks and desserts fresh in the freezer? Thanks!

    [Reply]

  6. Theresa

    02/04/2013

    Our menu planning is much like yours. I’m so glad to see I’m doing it right :)
    I utulize our freezer too. I LOVE being able to pull meals out of the freezer and pop em in the oven. We have certain things we eat on certain days. For example we have homemade pizza every other Friday night, and some sort of rice-based dish every week (hubby loves rice).
    One other way I simplify meal time is to prepare ingredients ahead of time. I cook 5-10 pounds of burger at a time, I chop, cook, or marinate chicken, I cook the whole bag of rice, and throw some dried beans in the crockpot. I then freeze prepared foods in meal sized portions. So if we were having tacos for dinner, I pull out a bag of cooked burger, add tacos seasoning; pull out a bag of cooked rice, a bag of cooked beans, and add tomatoes and corn for Spanish rice. Makes me feel like Super Mom!
    Thanks for outlining your menu process! I love reading your tips and tricks.

    [Reply]

  7. Five4FiveMeals

    02/04/2013

    I love this! I think a lot of people get discouraged because they don’t have time to cook. But this shows it doesn’t matter when or how but that you get a home cooked meal on the table.

    [Reply]

  8. Jessica

    02/04/2013

    This was a great post! I wonder if at some point you might share some of you favorite freezer-friendly recipes? Thanks!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Jessica! Almost every recipe on my site is freezer-friendly! You can also find lots more information about freezer cooking here.

    [Reply]

  9. Tara

    02/04/2013

    Oh man, if I could eat the foods you can eat meal preparation would be so much easier! Everything looks delicious and so simple. Just the right amount of convenience. I’m working slowly on integrating our mostly vegetarian, gluten free, dairy free diet into a simple meal plan. I’m accruing recipes that we all enjoy, that are simple and will freeze well. It’s a whole different ballgame nowadays. Back when I could eat all that stuff cooking was so much more cut and dry. I do believe I will eventually get back into a groove though.

    We just don’t have the fallback options like grilled cheese etc. so much since we don’t do dairy and any breads I make don’t often last long enough to have sitting around. I usually make a small loaf for a specific meal and have very little left over. I need to try to freeze my almond/coconut flour bread and see if it would hold up to pulling out of the freezer one slice at a time so we could at least do almond butter and jelly etc. for a fallback. That would really be fantastic. See, you’re inspiring me again as usual. :-)

    We emailed a bit ago and I told you I was using The House That Cleans Itself to purge, reorganize and restructure my entire house. I’m working through my home one “zone” at a time. I am 3 zones into the process and I am amazed at how it’s turning out. I’d love to share the before and after photos with you sometime. I think it meshes so nicely with your style. I use the HTCI techniques to help me decide what to keep/toss/donate and how to do it in a very efficient and quick way. Then I come to your blog for inspiration about organizational tools and containers, time management, etc. Between both I’m really starting to gain a lot of ground. Hooray! Thanks for the daily dose of inspiration.

    [Reply]

  10. Debby

    02/04/2013

    Thanks for the post. I organize my meals much like you. I worked part time for years and just recently went back to full time. I was determined not to eat up the extra cash in take out meals. I plan ahead, and always have breakfast items and quesidillas for backup. Like tonite, which was supposed to be chicken enchiladas but I forgot to cook the chicken while watching the Super Bowl! LOL

    [Reply]

  11. PW

    02/04/2013

    I cook like you do. Working long hours, long commutes we often don’t sit down to eat until 8:00 pm. If I get out of the kitchen by 7:30 I consider it a gift! On the weekends I often have my crockpot going and my pressure cooker going. For the 2 of us that can create easily 6 full meals. I will cook a chicken and maybe a soup or chili. Then during the week we have soup one night, maybe chicken with a veggie steamed and salad, and then take the chicken and make chicken enchiladas or make a big salad with chicken. I rarely cook during the week or I would be in kitchen until 9:30 making lunches and cleaning up. Rarely do we have sandwichs or breakfast for dinner. And we are gluten free so usually just a lean meat, like fish or chicken or lean beef and steamed veggie and salad. Often no starch. Some nights we aren’t hungry if we had meetings with big lunches. Rarely though. Being gluten free has cut out a lot of that eating out.I have a vacuum food sealer and that allows everything to stay fresh and last longer. And store easier in the freezer. By cooking ahead we don’t do take out’s or go out much. I also sous vide so it we decide to have steak I put in sous vide while I am gone during the day, then sear it in pan while veggies steam and I make salad, and a very good beef tenderloin like from the finest restaurant, low fat and cooked medium rare, all ready when I get home. We share one steak, more then enough.

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  12. Amanda

    02/04/2013

    I cook similarly to you. I double many recipes and freeze half, and ~2 nights a week, we eat items from the freezer.

    I also meal plan 2 weeks at a time – not for specific days, but I plan about 10 dinners. I also have some pantry/freezer staples that I can make a large variety of standby recipes, plus I plan in freezer night meals. Then, I go to the grocery and buy everything I need for those meals (on opposing weeks, I just run to the grocery for things like milk, bread, etc. that we go through faster than every 2 weeks – yes I could over buy, but when I buy all the food for our meals, it doesn’t leave a ton of extra space for that stuff). As we go through the meals, I can be really flexible about what meals are what night, and that includes what I do or don’t feel like eating, adapting to schedule changes, etc. We usually have one eat out night in there, and then we usually have a pizza night (I always keep a frozen pizza or dough and “fixings” around)

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  13. Olga's Flavor Factory

    02/05/2013

    Oh, wow! I love your system. I love organization and planning too; it’s absolutely sanity-saving:).
    I do a combination of many things: freezer cooking, cooking a double amount in order to have leftovers for the next day, cooking a big portion of meat and cooking many different dishes with it, and also doing a lot of prep work ahead of time.
    It seems people are busier today than ever, and by planning at least a small portion of our lives, we can simplify it to some degree. I loved all your tips:).

    [Reply]

  14. susie

    02/11/2013

    I cook like you too! I would have never been able to write this blog though! Well thought out how you explaned it to people who don’t do this!

    [Reply]

  15. Weekend Reading: February 9, 2013 | Life Your Way

    02/23/2013

    [...] How I Manage to Only Cook 2-3 Meals a Week | Simple Organized Living [...]

  16. Megan C.

    02/27/2013

    I do many of the same things as you. I try to prep a lot of my meat a head of time so I can pull out already cooked and shredded/chopped chicken for whatever dish I need. If I’m making something that would normally fit in a 9×13, I pull out two small rectangular pyrex dishes instead and split the meal into two dishes. I freeze one and we eat one for dinner. I LOVE my small pyrex dishes. I just took a friend a meal this week and used a frozen meal that i had previously made for her dinner since I ended up helping her out at her house quite a bit that day and couldn’t get home in time to cook her a meal.

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  17. Julieanna Scott

    01/24/2014

    I’m not sure if this was covered or not, but how do you freeze and defrost your baked goods?

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Julieanna, here’s a post I wrote all about freezer cooking. There really aren’t any special instructions — just stick it in the freezer and pull it out again a few hours before you’re ready to bake/eat it.

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  18. Homevironment

    06/18/2014

    This meal planning is nice and is really helpful for those who tend to have busy lives. We are Indian vegetarians. So the meals in our house are very different. We just never have frozen meals. Leftovers yes, but those are only because they are left overs, not because we plan it that way. Having said that, I would like to emphasize, that even if we do not resort to freezer meals, making meals from scratch for us Indians is really just a matter of few minutes (30 minutes or so… ). Yes, if it is a big meal then it might take up an hour but that is only when we have guests. For lunch, we take veggies, and in the night, it is almost always lentils. along with Salad, Chutney(sausage), and Chapati(Flour Bread) / Rice. It is a complete meal and does not really take long to whip up one.

    Btw, I am a long time reader of your blog now. Almost a year (I think more than that now). And I have loved every single post of yours. Kudos to you!!!!

    [Reply]

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