Are you living in a household of one or two and feel it’s just not worth it to cook a whole dinner every night?
Or may be you live alone and you would just rather grab some healthy (or unhealthy) snacks instead of nourishing yourself with a balanced supper?
Or are you managing a house full of people and by the time you have to start cooking, you are completely worn out?
I remember the time in our life when our kids were at home and things were just plain crazy. I usually set aside a cooking day once a week. It ensured that I would have some healthy dinners in my freezer during the week when we were typically running with the kids from one thing to another. And then, as they got older and left for college, I stopped the cooking days and, for years, forgot about their advantages.
After working all day, I loathe coming home and having to cook for just my husband and me. My husband isn’t fussy, so it seems easier to have cheese and crackers or a salad for dinner. There is a hitch to that, though. When we eat like that, we will usually get hungry again and snack later on in the evening. And that’s why eating light at night doesn’t really work for us. We need healthy, filling meals for our supper! Recently, a friend reminded me that cooking days are a perfect way to eat healthy throughout the week. So, I started up again and I’m so glad I did.
It’s not as intimidating as it might sound. Sometimes it’s not a whole day; it might be half a day, or just a couple of hours, but it’s always worth the effort. You don’t have to do it once a week. You can set aside time every two weeks. Whatever you decide, just cook a few meals that you can refrigerate, or freeze, in serving size portions.
To give you an idea of my cooking day, I try to prepare one or two crockpot recipes (I borrow my sister’s crockpot so I can have two no-fuss meals slowly cooking at the same time). I also use the oven and/or stove top as needed.
To get started, there are a few things that will help make it easier:
- The first time, try to plan a day or two ahead to make sure you have everything you need.
- Look at your easiest (or favorite – or hopefully, both) multi-serving recipes and write out a shopping list for all items not already in your pantry or fridge.
- Make sure you have enough containers for all of the portions you’re going to make. If not, buy what you’re going to need. You can get inexpensive ones at dollar stores. If you want to use better quality containers, you can sometimes find a multi-pack on sale on amazon.com. My only suggestion would be that you get the same shaped containers; either all round ones or square, etc. That creates better space in your refrigerator or freezer
- Try to grocery shop for your ingredients before the actual cooking day. That way, your first attempt won’t be so intimidating.
- If you’re in the mood, you can do some of the chopping or prep work the day before, too. It will lighten the load for your actual cooking day.
As you get used to these cooking days, it will become easier and will require less prep work.
And in an effort to help you get started, I thought I would share some of my most-requested make-ahead recipes.
Nana’s Pasta e Fagioli
This is my grandmother’s recipe for pasta e fagioli. It’s unlike any pasta e fagioli recipe I’ve ever seen here in the U.S.A., and I deduced that it’s from the region of Italy in which she lived before coming to America. Fair warning on this recipe – I don’t have exact measurements. But, the taste is amazing.
- 3 (28 oz or 35 oz) cans of whole tomatoes
- 1 large onion, chopped
- Olive oil
- 2-3 stalks of celery, chopped
- 3-4 cloves of garlic, sliced
- Red pepper flakes, to taste
- Dried basil, to taste
- 1 lb. Ditalini pasta (or any small tubular pasta will do)
- 2 cans of cannellini beans, drained
- Reserved pasta water
- Parmesan cheese
Chop 1 large onion and 2-3 stalks of celery. In a large pot, add enough olive oil to just about coat the bottom of the pot and heat on medium. Add the onions and celery and sweat on low heat until slightly tender, stirring occasionally. Add 3-4 cloves of sliced garlic, stirring occasionally. Make sure you watch the vegetables as you’re sautéing because you don’t want anything to brown, especially the garlic. Bitter garlic ruins recipes! Once the veggies are translucent, stir in red pepper flakes and a handful of dried basil. Add the tomatoes and simmer on low for about 1- 1/2 hours. Add the cannelini beans and simmer on low for about 1/2 hr. At this point, in a separate pot, start your pasta. Cook the pasta until noodles are still sort of hard, just before al dente. Before draining the pasta, dip a measuring cup in the water and save about a cup of the water. Throw the drained pasta and water in with the tomatoes. Let the flavors meld for a few minutes. Sprinkle some Parmesan on it. Done! This recipe makes a lot – enough for about 10 servings, so you can cut the recipe in half if that works for you. I do freeze it with the pasta and beans and it comes out of the freezer fine. Serve with a salad (and maybe some crusty Italian bread) and you’ve got a complete meal!
- 1 lb. ground beef
- 1 med. onion, chopped
- 1 green pepper, chopped
- 28 oz.can whole tomatoes, undrained, cut up with a scissor
- 1 (6 oz.) can tomato paste
- 4-oz can sliced mushrooms, undrained (opt.)
- 1 tsp. salt
- ½ tsp. basil leaves
- ½ tsp. oregano
- ¼ tsp. garlic powder
- ¼ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
- 8 oz. (1/2 lb.) rotini pasta
- 2C (8oz.) shredded mozzarella, divided
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In medium skillet, combine beef, onion and green pepper. Stirring, cook until beef is browned and green pepper is tender; drain. Stir in everything except the rotini and mozzarella. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat. Simmer 20 minutes on low. In the meantime, cook the rotini according to package directions; drain. Combine Rotini and meat sauce; mix well. Layer ½ the mixture into a 3-quart baking dish; top with 1 cup (4oz.) mozzarella. Put in other ½ of the mixture and top with the remaining cheese. Bake in oven until hot, 20-30 minutes. Makes 6 – 8 servings. This freezes wonderfully! When you are ready to eat it, just add a salad (and Italian bread again – who can resist?).
Easy Pesto Spinach Artichoke Chicken Bake
I made some changes to this recipe. I make this in a deeper casserole dish than indicated in the recipe. I also add a little more pesto and a lot more spinach than listed. And I use a 12 oz jar of marinated artichoke hearts. You can divide the chicken breasts and the rest of the yumminess into serving sizes and freeze.
Serve over rice the night you’re ready to eat this.
Crock Pot Chicken and Wild Rice Soup
Divide into serving sizes and freeze. This is filling enough to eat alone, or you can add a salad.
Crock Pot Chicken Taco Chili
Divide and serve over rice or pasta. This is also filling enough to eat alone, or you can add a salad.
I hope this post (and these recipes) have been a help. If you’re interested, I’ll add more recipes to the website. Just type “share more recipes” in the comments!