I recently received an email from someone asking me if it was possible to cook all of the items on my free sample menu planner in one day. This is basically what I do when I cook for a client as a personal chef – so yes, it is possible to cook up to 5 meals in one day and then refrigerate or freeze them for later. I gave her some tips but I thought that this is something that a lot of people wonder about but don’t know how to implement.
If you are very busy during the week but have time over the weekend or another day during the week to cook several meals, this may be something that will help you eat healthy throughout the week without a lot of cooking during the work week.
I’ve been a personal chef in the Washington D.C. and Frederick, MD area for over three years so all of these tips are based on experience. Let me know if you have other ideas – I’d love to hear from you.
This is imperative. You need a plan of action in order to accomplish the amount of cooking that is needed to create 5 entrees and 5 side dishes in one day. This is the main reason I make my menu planners – so that you don’t have to do the planning!
You can see the different kinds of menu planners I offer for different diets here.
Find the recipes and print: If you want to do your own planning, you’ll want to find about 4 or 5 recipes for main dishes that your family will enjoy. Some entrees may have a built in side dish – like casseroles or one pot meals. But if you want additional side dishes, find recipes for these as well and pair them with your entrees for the week.
If you can, print or photocopy the recipes. If you have sheet protectors, you can use these to protect the recipes. If you don’t want to photocopy, just place a bookmark in your cookbook.
When looking for recipes, try to find entrees that can be made in 30 minutes or less and side dishes that can be made in 20 minutes or less. In other words, don’t pick a casserole dish with five different steps for one of your dishes on a cook day.
Make your shopping list (or use one of mine with a menu planner)
Once you have all of your recipes at hand, type or write up a shopping list. I make mine in excel. I make different categories so that it is easier to find the food once I am at the store. I make categories for veggies/fruits/fresh herbs, dry goods, dairy, frozen, meat and seafood and spices.
Something else I find helpful to do is adding the entire menu to the shopping list at the top. This is helpful because you can scan it when you’re done shopping to make sure you got everything you needed. Or if you can’t remember why you put horseradish on the list, you can refer to your menu.
You can write the labels as you cook on the cook day, but it is much easier to have labels printed up before hand with the different entree and side dish names on them. Adding the date is also helpful if you’re planning on freezing items for later. You can easily do this in Word if you have the program with labels from the office supply store.
As far as freezing goes, if your family doesn’t eat something up within three days, freeze it for later. When you’re ready to use it, put the container in the fridge overnight to defrost.
Buy or sort out your containers!
This is also very important so that you have a place to store your meals. If your Tupperware is a mess or you simply don’t have enough containers, organize them before the cook day or plan to buy more at the store.
Also, make sure you have all the kitchen equipment you need to make your meals.
On the day of (or the day before) the cook day, go shopping. I find it easier to go the day of the cooking because you don’t have to put everything away and then get it back out to cook.
Buy containers if needed.
Unload your groceries onto the counter or another flat surface near the kitchen like a kitchen table.
I like to make “stations.” I put my cooking oils, vinegars and spices that I am going to use near the stove.
I make a drying station next to the sink if there isn’t already one there.
I make a station for chopping and preparing.
I put all the produce on a counter or in the fridge close at hand. And I put all the meats and seafood in the fridge until I am ready to use it.
Make a plan and then start cooking!
Before I start, I look at the menu and decide what I want to start with. I always start with the entrees and then go onto the side dishes. But sometimes I cook a side dish along with the entree that it is meant to go with.
Look for ways to consolidate so that you chop all of one vegetable at once, for example. Basically – are there chopped tomatoes in more than one recipe? Chopped onions? Is there more than one recipe with ground beef or turkey? Say you’re making beef tacos and beef marinara sauce. You could brown the meat for both recipes together in one pan and then divide it before adding the different spices and marinara sauce. The more you do cook days, the more you will get the hang of this.
As you’re cooking, try to multi-task as much as possible. There is no sense in staring at the food while its cooking so find other ways to do small tasks while the food is on the stove.
Some things you can do to keep yourself busy while the food is cooking:
- prepare for the next entree
- do the dishes. It is very important to keep up with the dishes as you cook during the day.
- Put food away in containers once cooled
As you can imagine, it is a bit of a dance as you need to remember to stir the onions, check on the baked good in the oven and think about what you’re doing next. But you’ll get used to it!
How to cool food down:
It is important to cool the food down before placing it in the containers (especially if they are plastic) and putting them in the fridge. This is more important if you are planning on freezing the items because they will not freeze as well if they are placed in the freezer while they are still hot.
One good way to cool down food quickly is by pouring it onto a large pan or cookie sheet with raised sides. You can also use roasting pans. Large mixing bowls also work but will not cool the food down as quickly. The idea is to spread the food out over a large space so that it can cool quickly.
This is also helpful to do so that you free up the pans you’re using to cook the food.
Do the dishes!
You will find the dishes piling up after a round of cooking. Take a break and do them before you go onto the next batch of recipes.
Put the food away and label
Once cooled, place the food in your containers and label. You can choose to put the entree in four different containers or one large one (or another combination). If you’re putting the food in four different containers to make individual meals, you can also decide if you’d like to add a side dish to pair the entree with in the container. Basically, decide how you want the food stored and go about this in your own way.
Take a break!
If this is your first time doing this, it may take you pretty much all day. My first cook day took me over 7 hours to complete. Now I can do it in 3-4 hours depending upon the meals. So take a break, have some lunch and relax.
What kinds of foods freeze well and what kinds don’t?
First – foods that freeze well:
Soups, stews and broths
Meatloaf and most ground meats (beef burgers get a little tough in the freezer)
Marinara sauce with ground meats
Chicken freezes well but breasts can get dry. Freezes much better in a dish with sauce or veggies of some kind or in soup.
Most baked goods
Cooked vegetables except potatoes
Beans and legumes
Pestos and most other sauces
Grains and pilafs
Foods that don’t freeze well:
cooked potatoes and yams
all raw vegetables and salads
sauces that have yogurt in them
Fish – I have had some success with freezing fish, especially if it was a steak. Whitefish will freeze pretty well but salmon tends to get tough. If you’re making fish, plan on eating it at the beginning of the week so you can avoid freezing it.
Pasta is questionable. It freezes better with the sauce on it or in a soup but not so much by itself.
Steak – gets tough
Beef burgers – okay frozen but not great
How long will it take?
This can vary a lot. Like I said, it may take up to seven hours for your first time, or it could take less time if you’re used to cooking. You may want to start with only 3 or 4 entrees and sides for your first day if you’re unsure how much time you want to spend cooking all day.
I think that is a pretty good run down. Let me know if you have questions or anything to add. To be honest, I don’t do this for myself when I am cooking at home. I prefer to cook daily for shorter periods of time. But I do freeze leftovers or sometimes make extra on purpose so that I can freeze it for later.
Don’t want to do it yourself?
I’m taking this opportunity to share that yes, I can come to your house if you live in Frederick, Maryland or if you live no farther than one hour from me. I frequently service Washington DC and the Silver Spring, MD area. I have had all sort of clients in the past, however all my clients that I have now have some kind of food allergy or limitation.
You can read more about personal chef services here.
If you want to learn more, I’d be happy to talk with you. I offer free consultations for anyone who is interested in personal chef service and you can contact me here to set up a time to talk.
Thanks and have a great day. I hope you have a great cook day!