It’s no secret that I plan my menus in advance, usually a week or two at a time. What I haven’t written much about is any of the prep-work or pre-cooking I might do over the weekend in order to save time during the week.
I used to be a diligent “freezer cooker,” making a month’s worth of meals in one day, packing them all up and storing them in the freezer. This was a life-saver for me, as I had four young kids who all seemed to REALLY NEED ME, especially between the hours of 4-7pm. Simply defrosting and re-heating a casserole was the quickest and easiest way to get a meal on the table most nights.
Now that my kids are older and not quite so needy, and my cooking style has changed (I haven’t made a casserole in years), I find that I do best with a bit of prep-work each weekend , along with doubling some recipes I make during the week to freeze for future use.
However, I’ve had a few friends ask about both simple prep-work, as well as some freezer cooking, so over the weekend I did a more-involved-than-usual cooking day to prep some of my meals for the week.
Here’s a rundown of what I made, followed by the order in which I chopped, cooked, and stored everything.
- Frittata (my own version of this recipe)
- Sweet potato hash
- Meatballs (a version of this recipe)
- Tomato Sauce
- Roast Chicken (basic recipe from this book)
- Chicken for tacos
- Start the chicken in the slow cooker for tacos
- Start the roast chicken in the oven
- Peel, grated and/or chopped carrots (grated for meatballs and frittata, chopped for snacks)
- Peel and grated sweet potato (for sweet potato hash)
- Finely chop onion (for frittata, hash, tomato sauce and meatballs)
- Start the sausage for the hash, following recipe until finished. Move to storage container (I use glass/Pyrex dishes for everything).
- After the hash, start the sausage for the frittata in the same pan. Follow directions, finishing in oven. Let cool and slice into meal-sized portions before storing.*
- When chicken is done, remove from oven, let cool slightly then pull meat from the bones and store. (this is to have on-hand for lunches or snacks)
- Start the tomato sauce.
- While sauce is simmering, make the meatballs. (double recipe to have enough for dinner and to have leftovers for lunches)
- Remove sauce from heat, let cool slightly, then store.
- Remove meatballs from oven, let cook slightly, then store.**
- When chicken tacos are done, shred the chicken, cool slightly, then store.***
A few notes:
*I have two ovens, so I was able to finish the frittata in one oven before the chicken was done in the other. Clearly, if you have one oven, you’ll need to wait.
**I store the meatballs and tomato sauce separately (we like to have the meatballs for snacks sometimes, and they’re easier to grab-and-go without sauce). I also make a double or triple batch of sauce and freeze some for later….this is easier without the meatballs. However, you can add the meatballs to the sauce, simmer for a bit, then cool and store if you like.
***Chicken for tacos freezes really well in a glass dish or zip-top freezer bag.
Start to finish this took just under three hours to complete, not counting a bit of extra cooking time for the chicken tacos. Really not too bad, considering I’m set for breakfast for the week (hash and frittata), have two dinners ready to go (chicken tacos and meatballs), as well as some extra veggies for snacking (carrots) and some quick protein for lunch (roast chicken). With another hour you could easily get another meal or two done, plus some more veggies chopped for sides, a salad or snacks.
This definitely works best if you can dedicate your time and attention to cooking, and not have to wrangle your kids or be responsible for anything else. For this cooking day, my kids were around and I stopped to play a game with my youngest a time or two, but my husband kept them pretty entertained so I could focus on cooking.
Also, don’t plan to cook dinner on your cooking day….trust me, you will be tired of cooking! Either eat something you’ve already made or better yet, treat yourself and go out. You deserve it after all that cooking!
Most of all…..remember that any bit of prep-work goes A LONG WAY. Anything you can get done on the weekend or during any other down-time is going to help you out later in the week.