Meal Planning: Cook Once, Eat Thrice

Thank you to everyone who took my Help Me Help You Make a Great Meal survey. You all asked such great questions about ways to feed a family. One recurring comment was in regards to making several recipes (either ahead or throughout a week) that use common ingredients so that you can reduce prep time and streamline dinner preparation on subsequent nights.

This is a great question and the practice of cooking once and eating several times is a boon to busy families. We do this often. For instance, a month or so ago, whole chickens went on sale for $.59/#, real big ones. I bought two five-pounders and roasted them. We ate chicken and potatoes and carrots one night. The next night I served chicken pot pies and the following evening we enjoyed chicken noodle soup. But, the beauty of it was that I did the bulk of the prep work the first night!

Cook One Night, Eat for Three

Here’s how:
Pre dinner – While the chickens were roasting, I prepped the pie crust. Then as I peeled and chopped carrots, I made extra for the pot pies and shredded a couple for the chicken noodle soup. While I had the grater out, I also shredded the onion and zucchini for soup and placed all the shredded veggies in a tupperware and stowed it in the fridge. Since the peeler was already out, I peeled lots of potatoes. I reserved enough boiled potatoes for the pot pies and mashed the rest for the first night’s dinner. When I made gravy, I made enough for our roast chicken dinner and extra to go in the pot pies.

Post dinner – After we enjoyed our roast chicken, I removed the meat and started broth to cook in the crockpot overnight. I chopped the meat and divided it into portions. I assembled the potpie filling and stowed it in the fridge.

Day Two – In the morning, I strained the broth and refrigerated it, covered. That night, since I already had my pie crusts, chicken, carrots, potatoes, and gravy prepped, all I did was assemble the pies and bake. (If I hadn’t planned on serving them that night, I could have easily frozen the pies for future dinners.)

Day Three – About an hour before dinner, I pulled together my soup. The veggies, chicken, and broth were already prepped. A quick saute, stir, boil, add noodles and it was ready. We had grilled cheese sandwiches alongside which filled out the menu and added some different flavors to the week’s menu.

Think Creatively
You can do this same thing with lots of other meals.

  • A beef pot roast can become tacos and Beef and Barley soup on later nights.
  • Beans and rice can become sides to enchiladas and then on a subsequent night be added to soup.
  • A pork roast transforms easily into BBQ sandwiches and chili.
  • Roasted veggies can be an elegant side dish to grilled meats and then be added to quesadillas, pizza, or minestrone later on.
This week, FishPapa will be grilling tri-tip. The next day, we’ll have traditional Santa Maria Tri-Tip sandwiches (toasted rolls with sliced tri-tip and salsa). Another night, I’ll toss some of the meat into quesadillas.
A Word About Leftovers
I’ve met people in my travels who had no qualms about eating week-old leftovers or take-out that had sat in the car overnight. What you do is your business, but if you’re feeding other people, particularly pregnant women, young children and elderly folk, you may want to reconsider the safety of some of your practices.
A general rule of thumb that I learned in catering was not to serve something past its third day. Having a meal plan posted on your refrigerator will help you remember when you made a certain dish.
If in doubt, throw it out.

I know times are tough, but being uber-frugal at the risk of your family’s health is not wise. Your ROI (return on investment) could result in food poisoning, something every mom should avoid for her family.

That said, the USDA’s Food Inspection and Safety Service has a great chart that tells you practically everything you need to know about the Basics for Handling Food Safely. They’ll even let you keep your leftovers a day longer than I will.

What kind of multi-task meal planning do you do? Share your tips and tricks in the comments section.

–Don’t forget to visit Tasty Tuesday for other great meal ideas.

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  1. Jen@Balancing Beauty and Bedlam says:

    Oh yes, you know you're a mom after my own heart. I love C.O.S.T. cooking and I don't think there is a meal that I make that doesn't include thoughts towards what that next meal will be. 🙂

  2. Kimberly Dawn Rempel says:

    Great ideas! I can see that if I just follow even some of your advice our dollar would stretch further, and we would eat healthier. Thanks!

  3. kouponkrazi says:

    Super great ideas! Thank you. I do similar by cooking a whole chicken on Sunday, making stock & using the left-over chicken for either soup or Chicken & Dumplings later in the week. I love stopping by & reading what new things you are doing!

  4. I like the idea of big dishes doing double or triple duty:-)

  5. Ruby lane wives says:

    I saw a video on you tube that made a chicken last for 4 meals for a fam of 4! this is good too. stupid question what exactly do you do for roasted vegetables? what do you use how do you do it mine always seem to burn on the edges!!!

  6. Kimarie @ Cardamom's Pod says:

    I love doing this and am actually trying to PLAN for this. The past few weeks I've been working on being a better steward with our grocery money – checking coupons, working the sales, etc. Last Friday I purchased the biggest pork roast I could find – it was on sale for 98 cents a pound. Roasted it Sunday and had roast, mashed red potatoes (also on sale buy 1 get 1 free), peas, and homemade rolls. I put the rest of the roast in the crockpot Sunday afternoon to cook really soft for BBQ sandwiches Sun. evening. Today we had enough BBQ and rolls leftover for lunch, and enough potatoes for supper tonight. Just had to take the rest of the meat on sale and make a meatloaf for tonight and meatballs to freeze for another day, and chopped up a bunch of on sale collard greens.

    Thanks for ALL your tips, and for this being a place where I can "jabber" about the nitty-gritty details and joys of feeding our family of 11 in a more efficient way! It's so fun to see a grocery store receipt of $109 and see underneath that I saved $87 dollars!!

  7. I've recently started cooking for two nights at a time (eg. On Monday cook for Monday and Tuesday), then I only have to reheat on the second day. I'm loving this, it saves so much time. I got the idea by reading a book Table Tucker (it is a down under book (Australia/NZ)) – the book also has plans to help you do this all year round.

  8. You have inspired me to dig out the whole chicken in my freezer to cook today. We will have roasted chicken with roasted potatoes and carrots tonight. I think i will whip up some homemade bread to go with it this afternoon. I will also make the pizza dough for thursday. Then I plan on making stock with the bones overnight. Tomorrow we will have a family chicken and biscuit recipe with spinach salad. Then on thursday we will have BBQ chicken pizza. I should also have enough stock to make several bathces of homemade cream of chicken soup to freeze and use later in other recipes.

    Thanks for the great tips. I am a new reader to your blog and I really love it. Keep up the good work!

  9. Jen, here's my blonde moment, though I am not blonde, what does C.O.S.T stand for?

    Kimberly, let us know how this works for you.

    kouponkrazi, your plan sounds great. Glad you were inspired.

    Ruby Lane Wives, here's how I do my veggies:

    Kimarie, jabber away.

    Catway, sounds like a great practice — and a great book.

    Coby, enjoy your chicken!

  10. I love doing this. Our local supermarket often has meat specials, where I can get whole chickens for less than $5! And they often do a 5/$20 sale; the cuts of meat are usually pretty good, and if done correctly, I can usually end up basically getting 2 of those 5 meats for free.

    I have always spent several hours hovering over the stockpot as the bones boiled. I never thought of making the stock in my crockpot over night! That's a great idea! Thanks!

  11. When I'm not sure I will get to use leftovers in a timely fashion I pop them in the freezer instead of letting them waste in the fridge. My meatloaf often becomes the 'meatballs (ok cubes) in sauce later in the week and we love using leftover pork for BBQ sandwiches.

  12. Gina @ MoneywiseMoms says:

    I do this all the time, with pork, ground beef and chicken. Even when I make a big pot of spaghetti sauce, it's used 3-4 times before it's done.

  13. Hailey's Beats and Bits says:

    i usually do one cooking for two meals but right now i am rethinking…. thanks

  14. Shannon says:

    I don’t know what C.O.S.T. means either. Could it be Cook Once Serve Twice or Thrice? Haven’t started the whole meal planning thing yet. Running into resistence from hubby who is scared we will be stuck eating things we don’t like or want simply because it is on the menu. (He does lions share of cooking.) Have any of you run into this problem and do you have any advice.

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