Just your typical Sunday afternoon, right?
I’ve known a couple people who do the “cook all your meals on Sunday” thing and I’ve always had a mixture of apprehension and hesitation about it. It seems like a tremendous amount of work (is it really a time saver?) and that it would be difficult to make healthy meals, as I’ve always pictured casseroles and other dense heavy meals sitting in the freezer.
But lo and behold, here I find myself with 4 recipes on the counter, along with 5 onions, 8 pounds of chicken, and just about every pot and pan in my cupboard out, ready to be put to work. I genuinely love cooking, and furthermore, believe that most of the time, home cooked meals are healthier than restaurants meals. (They are, certainly, exceptions to this. Especially in the South.) BUT, as of March, I’m going to be switching to a 4-day work week and the 10 hour days, combined with a 40 minute commute both ways- which means I’ll be getting home pretty late most nights. Add a trip to the gym or an errand after work, and I could already forsee it wasn't going to be realistic to assume I’d be cooking on a regular basis at night. Lest we become on first name basis with the folks at Jersey Mike’s down the street, I decided to tackle the Sunday cook-a-thon – and since I will now have a 3rd day off every week (woohoo!), I figure it could very well be a good time investment.
I gave it a test run this weekend, and while it didn’t go perfectly, it was overall pretty successful. I cooked for 7 hours, used every pot and pan I own, chopped enough onions to give watching Stepmom a run for the cryfest title, and had to run the dishwasher twice. I didn’t quite pick out enough variety in my meals (all chicken, oops) and they weren’t the healthiest things in my repertoire BUT….
When all is said and done, I had 5 meals with 4 servings (10 meals for 2) PLUS I was able to take 3 2 servings meals to my next door neighbors, who just had a baby. So, 16 meals in 7 hours? Not bad.
Kitchen: After…. Oh dear.
It’s going to take me a while to perfect this strategy, but overall I think it’s going to work and I’m pleased with the solution instead of subjecting us to takeout or quick heat meals just because we're busy.
Here’s what I made:
- 6 grilled chicken breasts to top on salads or chop up and take for lunch w/ some pre-cooked whole grain pasta
- White Bean Chicken Chili
- Chicken Tetrazzini (one for now, one to freeze, one to give away)
- Chicken Pot Pie (one for us, one to give away)
- Shredded Chicken with a Buffalo Sauce to add to the slow cooker the day we want to eat it; to be made into sammies
Since it was the Sunday before Valentine’s Day, part of my prep was also making our Valentine’s Day dinner: seared steaks, roasted asparagus with proscuitto, twice baked potatoes and this delicious chocolate espresso cheesecake that was made mostly of cottage cheese. Not kidding. And I’m telling you that now, because my hubby has already eaten it and now he can know. Hi, honey!
All in all, this actually ended up being about 2 week’s worth of food, because we’re starting the 2nd week and we still haven’t finished it all up. I’ve even taken it for a lunch a few times, and it’s been a nice change of pace from my usual winter meal, turkey sandwiches.
The key to being able to do this, I think, is to be okay with eating the same thing a few times during the week. (Or making smaller portions, or freezing 1/2 of each dish.) I have no problem eating the same meal a few days in a row, but I’ve definitely talked to a few people about this strategy who were horrified at the idea of having chicken tetrazzini more than once in a week. *Shrugs*. If you’ve got the time to cook every night, then there's probably no reason to employ this other than to save time. I've never attempted the cook-a-thon until l I was faced with the alternative of not having time to cook and knowing that we would get into the habit of picking up meals or relying on quick and easy, more processed foods. I'd rather have some repeats than rely on those.
Some tips if you attempt this:
- Plan ahead: Pick your recipes ahead of time, and look for things that have overlapping ingredients. I definitely took this one a bit too far with all chicken recipes, but besides that the ones I picked out also all had green peppers, chicken broth and onion in them. This allowed me to use up ingredients among the recipes.
- Start with an empty dishwasher: Keep it open and load as you go. This helps keep clutter off the counter and it will make clean up less daunting.
- Batch task: I learned this skill when I worked at GapKids and it has helped me in so many situations! Group like tasks together. For example, pull out all ingredients first. Measure out dry ingredients. Chop all vegetables at once. Then prep all meat. When you have a break (when something is cooking or simmering) wash dishes as you go.
- Prep snacks and other meals too. You’ve already got the kitchen dirty. Now is a perfect time to pre-chop veggies or salad mix. I bought a 3 pack of a peppers and only needed the green pepper and half the red pepper for my meals. The yellow and other half of the red ended up in strips to go with hummus for snacks later.
- Listen to music! Whenever I have a long task to do, like cleaning the house or walking the dog or cooking, my iPod has been my saving grace. A little music, or even a book on tape can distract me enough that the hours fly by and the job gets done. I spent the first hour of my cooking bonanza listening to a church sermon, the middle 3 listening to Pandora radio (“Club Can’t Handle Me Right Now” station – hello, dancing in the kitchen) and the last 3 listening to the book “The Help.” I also like to download (free!) lectures from iTunes University or interesting podcasts. But whatever you do: dont watch TV and cook. I have learned this over and over again. Well, maybe this is just me – but I get so distracted by the show, I end up working slower and it takes me twice as long to do everything.
- Have an assistant. Even a furry one.
Keep your eyes on the prize. Even though I wasn’t working late this week, it was still so nice to do things after work and know that there was a home cooked meal to be had that night. On Monday and Thursday, I went for a run. On Tuesday, I did my final Christmas return and went to a dance class with Jamie and Anne. On Wednesday, I worked til 8 and on Friday, I crashed with a DVRed How I Met Your Mother and some crafting. Tonight, we’ll probably go out for dinner… because we want to. Not because we have to. And that’s exactly how I’d hope it would be.