Once the kids go back to school, our daily schedule becomes really hectic. In addition to juggling our work schedules, hubby and I will also need to juggle homework and the kids’ extracurricular activities such as football games, music lessons, kung-fu and their various social dates to hang with their friends.
Trying to get everyone fed a decent meal while running in thirty different directions, sometimes on really short notice, can be difficult. In the past our solution was to eat out several times a week or to turn to convenience foods. This year, however, I’m trying a healthier, more frugal solution: make-ahead cooking (also known as bulk cooking).
Make-ahead, or bulk cooking, can sound scary when you read about it. The most common method is called “Month Ahead Cooking” and just the word “month” was enough to give me serious doubts. The idea is to spend one weekend each month preparing a month’s worth of meals. Realistically, no matter how you break it down, there’s no way I’m going to devote a whole weekend to cooking even if it does mean I don’t have to cook for the rest of the month.
Bulk cooking, however, is a home management technique that can be scaled to suit your family’s lifestyle. For me, that means spending one Saturday per month cooking or prepping five to seven meals; basically, enough meals to relieve dinner stress on the two or so days per week where our schedules are the most hectic.
Tips for Getting Started
- Plan your meals. Planning is key to making the most efficient use of your cooking time and stretching your food budget. My preference is to plan several meals around a meat that I can buy in bulk on sale. For example, if I find a good sale on lean ground beef, I’ll buy enough to cook meatloaf, spaghetti and meatballs.
- Prep ahead. Sometimes, you may simply need to spend some time prepping meals in advance rather than cooking the whole meal in advance. One of the ways I plan to get ahead in cooking is to cut-up and bag the ingredients needed for several crock-pot meals. These prepped bags will replace prepackaged meals; on a busy day, I can pull one bag from the freezer, dump the ingredients into the crockpot in the morning and know that dinner will be ready when we get home that evening.
- Cook double portions. If spending a whole day cooking seems overwhelming to you, start small by cooking extra servings. If you plan hamburgers for dinner, make twice as many patties as you usually would and then freeze the extra servings. You can do this with almost anything and if you do it once or twice a week, you’ll find you can quickly build up a small reserve of made-ahead dinners.
- Keep a master list. Remember to keep a list of your made-ahead meals, so you don’t forget what you already have available in the freezer and end up wasting a meal.