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

posted by Andrea | 02/3/2016
Print pageEmail page

cooking

Although I do enjoy being in the kitchen, there is no way I want to be in the kitchen for hours every single afternoon just to make dinner for my family each night. However, I’m also not willing to order takeout or eat sandwiches every night either.

Instead, over the past 3+ years, I’ve settled into a rough routine that allows us to eat homemade meals almost every night of the week — while I only need to spend time in the kitchen making 2-3 of those meals.

And no, we don’t have a personal chef (although wouldn’t that be fun!)

I originally shared this meal planning concept almost 3 years ago, but due to the overwhelming number of emails I get related to meal planning, I thought it might be time to revisit the topic.

How I Cook only 2-3 Meals Per Week:

On a “normal” week, our meals might look something like I’ve listed below — this is NOT in order by day.

0-1 MEAL = Eat away from home. 

This doesn’t happen every single week, but quite often we’ll have 1 meal a week outside of our house — either at Culver’s, a friend or family members house, a church potluck, etc.

1 MEAL = Frozen Pizza 

We almost always have frozen pizza and salad on Sunday nights… and Dave makes it! Sometimes we’ll also make our own personal pan pizzas — but that’s a great way to entertain the kids, so I don’t really count that as cooking :)

1 MEAL = Breakfast

We LOVE breakfast for dinner… and it’s SO 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 MEALS = Something from the freezer.

Since I often make double or triple batches when I cook and bake, we have several pasta dishes, casseroles, soups, stews, etc. in the freezer for busy weeknights.

I simply pull one meal out of the freezer the night before and let it defrost in the refrigerator the following day. Then I put 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 — but no major effort is needed on my part.

2-3 MEALS = Cook!

Sometimes, this means simply making a big batch of soup (and freezing some for later). Sometimes this means making 25 chicken enchiladas, 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.

Either way, you all know that the recipes I make are not complicated or time-intensive, so even on the days when I am cooking a complete meal (or 2 or 3), I’m rarely “trapped” in the kitchen all afternoon!

BONUS 1 MEAL = Leftovers.

Our go-to lunch options are almost always sandwiches or leftovers… however, if we don’t eat the leftovers for lunches, we can usually combine various  leftovers from the week to have a “free-for-all” dinner that I don’t need to cook!

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, the kids are crabby, and Dave is running late from school!

On the 2-3 nights when I DO cook, I always make sure to plan that into my day, and I try to do the majority of the cooking when the boys are taking their afternoon naps (Nora LOVES helping!)

Sometimes, I’ll assign specific meals to a specific day of the week, but more often than not, I’ll just list 5-7 meals I can make on any given night of that week (I have a meal planning spot in my planner that is perfect for this).

 

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

SUNDAY

We are often with friends, family, or at a church function for Sunday afternoons — if not, we’ll often eat leftovers for lunch and then have a frozen pizza on Sunday nights.

MONDAY

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

TUESDAY

Pull a casserole out of the freezer Monday night and serve with fresh fruit and rolls.

WEDNESDAY

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

THURSDAY 

Roast a chicken in the oven, and make baked potatoes and veggies to go along with it.

FRIDAY 

Use some of the leftover chicken to make chicken quesadillas.

SATURDAY 

Go out to Culver’s!

 

So if we followed this meal plan, I would end up cooking a full meal on Monday and Thursday, eating from the freezer on Tuesday, whipping up pancakes on Wednesday and using up leftovers on Friday — not too bad!

We still end up eating mainly homemade food and I save SOOOOOO much time in the kitchen — both cooking and cleaning up!

Do you have any tips to simplify meal planning?

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

 

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Filed under: FoodMeal Planning

 
 

Leave a comment

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.

43 comments

  1. Pat in Tulsa

    02/08/2016

    Since my nest is empty, so to speak, I have found that some recipes are just not easily cut down for 2 even with leftovers. I now plan to divide things like spaghetti sauce to eat tonight and have leftovers tomorrow while still freezing half for next month or even next week. Have you ever made several types of cookie dough, rolled it into balls and frozen it? Roll the balls and freeze on a cookie sheet, then store in a zip top bag in the freezer. My grand kids love it when I do that. A couple of fresh baked cookies after school is great!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    yup, that’s kind of how we do it too — freezer part of the meal for later (because our kids really don’t eat that much at this point.)

    I usually just freeze small containers of cookie dough — enough for 2 dozen cookies at a time, as it doesn’t pay for me to only bake a couple at this point. We can easily go through 2 dozen cookies in 3 days :)

    [Reply]

  2. Jaime

    02/08/2016

    Loved these ideas, Andrea! Thank you!

    [Reply]

  3. Kristin

    02/03/2016

    If you live in a city or town with a HyVee look into whether they have the HyVee Dish Program. I get together with a group of friends and acquaintances every other month for about 2 hours (sometimes less) and we do a big batch of freezer cooking- right there in the store. HyVee does the majority of the prep work when it comes to the meat. Each person that participates picks one meal from a vast library of meals. Then we all sign up for which meals we want. The night of the cooking you make the meal you choose, times however many people signed up for it. I normally sign up for 7-10 meals and that stocks my freezer for a family of 4 for a long time. I never have to worry if I didn’t plan ahead. Bonus is that HyVee does all the shopping, including sale prices (and we get the fuel discount too) and we split it evenly amount all the “chefs”. I usually spend around $100- $150 every other month. This has drastically cut down on the amount of eating out we do, due to lack of meal planning and I barely ever have to grocery shop anymore, unless its for staples like bread and milk.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    this sounds AWESOME! I wish we had something like this!! thanks for sharing :)

    [Reply]

    Rebecca Reply:

    Wow! Wish we had that here! Sounds amazing! That is something all grocery stores should do!

    [Reply]

    Jaime Reply:

    Kristin, thank you for this tip! We have a Hyvee here and I just left a message for a callback. This sounds like a fun ladies night for our church!

    [Reply]

  4. Chris

    02/03/2016

    Great tips! We don’t have Culver’s here but we planned a trip to Branson, MO, in December and I had seen one, so we took advantage of the Christmas gift card promo you told us about. Boy, that place is delicious! Maybe it’s good we don’t have them here!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    yay — so glad you enjoyed your first Culver’s experience. It can be a little pricy if you’re just going once or twice, but since we’re on their email program, we get coupons ALL the time. Plus, we save our receipt each time and take the survey — which is good for a free custard. We save them until we have 3 or 4 and then we all get a custard treat after dinner :)

    In fact, we’re going to Culver’s this weekend for my Dad’s birthday and using a Buy One Get One Free value basket coupon (that’s an amazing value!)

    [Reply]

  5. Evie

    02/03/2016

    Hi, Andrea. I searched ‘child size rubber gloves’ on Amazon, and they do have some. Your photo above made me remember you mentioned wanting to get Nora some. She’s a real helper now, isn’t she! Fun to see.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks for the heads-up Evie! I was just thinking about those gloves again and wondering if/when I could find them. I’m off to check out Amazon!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Hi Again, would you be able to send me the link to the kid-size rubber gloves you found on Amazon? I just checked again and there aren’t any. They have the really thin disposable latex gloves, craft gloves, gardening gloves, winter gloves, etc. but no rubber gloves.

    I also saw adult size rubber gloves with cute faces on them — but they aren’t for kid’s hands.

    Anyway, if you have a link, I’d love to see them.
    Thanks,

    [Reply]

    Evie Reply:

    I can’t find the ones I saw on Amazon anymore, Andrea, but I think these were the ones:

    http://gloveables.com/kids/lil-helpers-gloves/pink-gove-with-cupcakes-cuff.html

    (Note “pink-gove” spelling in link is correct)

    Hope this helps.☺

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    thanks so much!! those are cute!

    [Reply]

  6. julie

    02/03/2016

    I’m a big fan of ordering our groceries online and then picking them up (as i think you are as well!). Not only do we save money this way (no impulse purchases), it also forces me to meal plan right down to the very last pea :)

    More often than not, i’d have a rough meal plan started and figure that i’d be inspired once i got to the grocery store. Well, of course, that never happened and i’d be left scrambling at 5 to get something on the table with the random ingredients i had purchased.

    Sooooo much better this way!

    [Reply]

    Kristin Reply:

    I agree!! HyVee Aisles is such a time saver. Plus I can see exactly what I have when I am ordering vs. having to call back home and ask if we have any garlic powder :)

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    I’ll be picking up my groceries tomorrow :)

    [Reply]

  7. Kaitlin @ The Mom on Purpose

    02/03/2016

    We also love breakfast for dinner for a quick meal! I “cook” in my crock pot about 3-4 days each week which I almost count as days off! :) With little kids, quick and easy meals are a must!

    [Reply]

  8. 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]

  9. 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.

    [Reply]

  10. 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.

    [Reply]

  11. 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 […]

  12. 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]

  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. 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)

    [Reply]

  15. 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.

    [Reply]

  16. 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]

  17. 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]

  18. 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]

  19. 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]

  20. 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]

  21. 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]

  22. 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!

    [Reply]

    Aa. Reply:

    I do the same thing: one day i grill chicken and then freeze it, other day i make stock and freeze it with chicken pieces, ready to use for soups or saucy meals. We also freeze meals, too, but I prefer frozen cooked meat now.

    We also have a salad night, when we use whatever vegetables we have, hard boil eggs or feta, etc. It doesn’t take more than 20 minutes to make!

    [Reply]

  23. 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?

    [Reply]

    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]

  24. 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!

    [Reply]

    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…

    [Reply]

    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]

    Darlene Reply:

    I also love my Foodsaver. I can freeze things in them, and if I don’t take it out of the freezer the night before,I can just put it in the sink in cold water and it usually thaws in 15-20 minutes!

    [Reply]

  25. Jodi

    02/04/2013

    Great ideas. Thanks for sharing!

    [Reply]