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Cook Once, Eat Twice

For most of us in charge of meal preparation, getting a nutritious, hot meal on the table can be at times challenging. What if I were to tell you that I could help add valuable time to your weeknights, allowing you to put a nutritious, delicious meal on the table, and spend a maximum of 2 days cooking and shopping.

Nashville, Ark. – For most of us in charge of meal preparation, getting a nutritious, hot meal on the table can be at times challenging. We struggle with balancing work, meetings, ball games, church activities and quality family/home time. What if I were to tell you that I could help add valuable time to your weeknights, allowing you to put a nutritious, delicious meal on the table, and spend a maximum of 2 days cooking and shopping.

            It has many names…frozen assets, once-a-month cooking, investment cooking… but whatever you decide to call it, after you give it a try you might just decide to call it yours.

Here are the basics:

  • Plan multiple meals – Ground beef & Italian sausage on sale this week? Buy extra for freezer meals – but make a plan. Two pounds of beef and a pound of sausage will make four meals for your family.
  • Package the freezer meals first – Fill freezer containers before you serve the evening’s meal. You’ll have a tighter handle on portion control.
  • Freeze casserole multiples before cooking – Twice-cooked casseroles are nobody’s friend. After dinner, who wants to scoop the leftovers into freezer bags? Prepare lasagna in three single-meal containers and freeze two while the evening’s dinner is in the oven.
  • Package properly – Sorry, but assorted margarine tubs and gaping plastic containers won’t protect the foods in your freezer. Invest in three or four same-sized oven-safe casserole dishes. Is it beef stew tonight? Spray the casserole dish with pan spray and line with a sheet of foil long enough to wrap completely around the food. Spray the foil, too, then ladle in the stew. Gently tuck the foil up over the food. Freeze overnight, and then release the foil from the pan. Wrap, label and freeze in freezer bags. To use, pop a foil-wrapped entrée into the casserole dish, thaw and reheat. It’s that simple!
  • Label, label, label! Tuck a slip of paper with the recipe’s name and cooking directions between the foil-wrapped entrée and its freezer bag. Better yet, use a permanent marker to label freezer bags. A page of computer address labels tucked in the phone directory provides quick labeling help.
  • Track inventory – A small magnet-mounted whiteboard can be placed on the freezer door to track freezer inventory. These are relatively inexpensive at local discount stores. If you have added three dinners’ worth of macaroni and cheese, write them down. Be sure to erase each meal as you use it. Now you always know what is in the freezer.

You will want to have a menu plan for what you need to purchase. Look through sales papers to see what items are on sale. For example – if sirloin steak is on sale, plan to make Beef Stroganoff, Mock Gyros, Grilled Marinated Steak, etc., and stock up.

Next, get your recipes out and make a list of what you need to purchase. Be sure to check the pantry to see what you already have on hand.

The final step – assemble your step-by-step  shopping and cooking plan. If you will need ground beef for hamburgers, sloppy joes, stew, etc., figure out how much you will need altogether. Write that amount on your shopping list. Do the same for all other ingredients.

Now, you are finally ready to shop and cook.

On shopping day:

  • Get to the store early to avoid the rush.
  • Purchase all needed food items.
  • Process, package, and freeze any straight-to-freezer items, such as grated cheese, hamburger patties, pork cubes, etc.
  • Gather utensils, cookware, and pans for cooking day.

On cooking day:

  • Perform all chopping, slicing, crushing, and grating tasks.
  • Start with recipes that will take the longest to cook, such as marinara sauce or chili.
  • Do all possible projects together. When sautéing onions for marinara sauce, sauté onions required for all recipes; brown ground beef all at the same time, etc.
  • Assemble recipes one at a time and set aside common ingredients.
  • Move from recipe to recipe until all are completed and in the freezer.
  • Finally, when finished clean up and go out to dinner. You have earned it!

Learn to work smarter, not harder in the kitchen especially during this busy time of the year with ball games and after school practice. Consider following this advice for the upcoming holidays. No one wants to be tied to the kitchen when family and friends are over. By having meals already or mostly prepared and in the freezer, meal time will be a breeze.

Recipe of the Week

Caramel Drizzle Pie

2 (9-inch) graham cracker crusts

6 Tablespoons butter

1 (7 oz.) package shredded coconut

1 cup chopped pecans

1 (14 oz.) can sweetened condensed milk

1 (8 oz.) package cream cheese, softened

1 (16 oz.) tub frozen whipped topping, thawed

            Place butter in a medium skillet and melt over medium heat. Add coconut and pecans, stirring to coat. Sauté until coconut and pecans are lightly toasted. About 5 minutes. Set aside.

            In a large mixing bowl, whip together condensed milk and cream cheese until fluffy. Fold in whipped topping. Spoon ¼ of the cream cheese mixture into each graham cracker crust. Drizzle each with ¼ of the caramel topping. Repeat layers with remaining cream cheese mixture and caramel. Top each pie with coconut and pecan mixture. Freeze at least overnight.

By Jean Ince
County Extension Agent - Staff Chair
The Cooperative Extension Service
U of A System Division of Agriculture

Media Contact: Jean Ince
County Extension Agent - Staff Chair
U of A Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service
421 N. Main St, Nashville AR 71852
(870) 845-7517


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