Quick meal prep (that isn’t once-a-month-cooking)


I know a lot of frugality and homemaking blogs get a lot of mileage out of the once-a-month cooking (OAMC) trend. In case you haven’t heard of this, it’s where you spend one full day making every meal for an entire month. It’s a laudable goal but one I haven’t had much of a desire to achieve. Aside from the fact that I don’t have enough freezer space to store completed meals, I also like to use up anything that is going back in my fridge, so OAMC would be problematic for me. Besides, most of the websites and books on OAMC highlight recipes that don’t really appeal to me.

Still, I do like to save time, energy and money so instead of OAMC there are two things I aim for to make life easier.

The Soup Factory:

If there is one thing that the entire family enjoys, it’s soup. We eat it for lunch & dinner (and I have been known to eat leftover Pho for breaktfast). Although we do use commercial soups in a pinch, the salt content alone is pretty scary & they can be rather blah. I try and fancy them up and add, say, basil and jarred roasted red peppers to a plain tomato soup. All you need then is a whirr with the immersion blender and you have a fairly decadent lunch. Still, a fancy canned soup is no replacement for a homemade version and since soup can be made fairly easily and inexpensively with the help of pre-made broth, I consider it a worthwhile adventure.

As I mentioned before, I don’t have a lot of freezer space. We still have the original kitchen in our post-war bungalow and it fits exactly one size of fridge: 15 cubic feet (no word of a lie). That means I have to be creative with our shopping and storing of food. So in the case of the soup factory, I let the soup cool, I fill a medium freezer bag and then I stack them. I rarely have a problem with the bags leaking and a medium sized freezer bag holds two servings of soup. I can pull out a bag the night before if I need to warm it up for the kids Thermoses in the morning or if it is for me I just toss one of the frozen bricks into my backpack. I reheat half of the soup in the microwave at work and store the rest for the next day.

We all have our favourite soup ideas s but here are a few of mine:
– Spicy tomato kale and white bean
– Black bean
– Minestrone
– Chicken noodle
– Italian wedding
– Pea soup (you know where that Easter ham bone is going!)
– Curry lentil
– Butternut squash and ginger
– Vegetarian cream soups (ie: without cream): broccoli, cauliflower
– Potato-leek

If we are home I will pair soup up with a gooey grilled cheese sandwich, crudités or even just a loaf of Mr. Tucker’s delicious Ciabatta. If I am taking it to work, I may just toss in a salad or cheese and a few crackers.

Double-up dinner:

Another reason I am not necessarily a fan of OAMC is that I like to eat things that don’t necessarily translate well to freezer storage. We aren’t really casserole people (but I have been known to stuff a shepherd’s pie or lasagne into the freezer) and most OAMC dishes are heavily casserole-based. There are still quite a few excellent meals that lend themselves to freezing but instead of cooking them once a month, I just double the recipe and make two to three meals out of one dinner preparation. It doesn’t take more than a few extra seconds to prepare the second dish and you only have to clean up once. Although I don’t always hit the mark, I try to have enough for a meal and for lunches the next day for the kids and I (when I am working outside the house.

Some dishes that end up working quite well to the doubling treatment are things such as:

– Ratatouille (my daughter’s favourite and heavy on the chopping!)
– Beef stew
– Shepherd’s pie
– Chicken pot pie
– Chilli
– Pulled pork
– Lasagne
– Curries
– Burritos
– Stir fries

Two Ratatouilles and a soup on the stove

You could probably add a million and one dishes to this list but those are the most popular dishes that we end up freezing. That way on evenings when we have no time or have to rush out we can just pull something out of the freezer in the morning and warm it up for dinner. Add bread, some frozen veggies, rice or a small salad and dinner is on the table in no time.