Sunday, January 27, 2013

Our Easy Weekly Dinner Routine

Cooking nutrient-dense foods can be quite time consuming, but over time I have come up with a dinner routine that works well for us without me having to spend copious amounts of time in the kitchen.  With this routine, I only have to cook two or three full dinner meals each week. I plan the week so that I don't have to do any substantial dinner cooking at all on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. This gives me a wonderful break from the kitchen on weekend evenings. This routine relies heavily on leftovers, plus we have one super easy night each week on Saturday.

Our Dinner Routine

  • Monday - Cook a full dinner meal
  • Tuesday - Leftovers from Sunday
  • Wednesday - Cook a full dinner meal
  • Thursday - Slow cooker meal
  • Friday - Leftovers from Monday
  • Saturday - Family Movie Night, so we have a homemade smoothies and popcorn for dinner
  • Sunday - Leftovers or dinner at my mom's house

Make a Large Amounts!

One of the keys to making this dinner routine work is that I make large portions whenever I cook.  This means I often double or even triple recipes.  It doesn't usually take much longer to cook a double amount of a recipe.  Usually, there are just more vegetables to chop or more meatballs to make, but the overall prep and cook time only increases a bit to accommodate larger portions.  

Having large cooking dishes on hand is crucial to making large portions work out.  I have a very large 12-inch heavy bottomed skillet that can be used for large portions of recipes calling for pan frying or sauteing.  I have a 6-quart slow cooker, and of course I have a large stockpot that can be used for making huge batches of soup.

Storing Leftovers

We have lots of glass Pyrex dishes on-hand for storing leftovers.  These glass dishes are great because:
  • you can reheat directly in the bowl without creating any extra dirty dishes, 
  • glass is superior to plastic since plastic may leach into food, and
  • they come in many handy sizes.
I freeze single portions of meals in 2-cup Pyrex bowls.  My husband typically takes these to work for lunch.  For family meals, I use 4-cup or 7-cup Pyrex bowls.  If we'll be eating the same meal later in the week, I just put the glass dishes into the fridge.  Or I store them in the freezer if we'll be eating the meal at a later date. 

One caution about leftovers: cooked greens and cruciferous vegetables don't store very well in the fridge.  Some people also say that cooked green veggies form excessive nitrates while stored in the fridge.  But I do find that these types of cooked veggies store fine in the freezer. 

What if You Need More Variety?

If you don't like to eat leftovers because you want more variety, try freezing the leftovers and eating them another week.  I have found that all soups, stews, roasts, and even hamburgers freeze well.  I freeze family size portions in glass Pyrex dishes. I try to always keep at least two family-sized meals on-hand in the freezer; this way, there is always an easy dinner available and this keeps us from needing to eat out much.

To reheat frozen meals, we generally use a toaster oven.  Technically, a frozen Pyrex dish could crack when put into a hot oven, but I have never had that happen.  To be on the safe side, I always put the Pyrex dishes into a cold toaster oven (rather than a preheated oven).  (Of course, the plastic lids do NOT go into the toaster oven, only the glass bowl.) When time allows, I will let frozen meals thaw in the fridge for several hours before reheating them.  

Most foods will do best with a long-and-slow reheat at 250 degrees.  But that can easily take one to two hours, so sometimes I bump up the temperature to 300 or 350 if we are in a time crunch.  If we need to have something ready really quickly, frozen soups/stews can be quickly reheated by thawing briefly in a bowl of warm water (just enough to loosen the soup in the bowl) and then dumping it into a saucepan to warm on the stove. This is our version of a fast-food dinner.

Do you have a dinner routine?  What tips can you share for making real food dinners easier and less time-consuming?


Jen said...

I cook a lot of separate things that are re-combined throughout the week. So I have navy beans I cooked up - but left mostly plain. They will form part of a soup one day, taco salad another day, and a casserole another day. There is always a variety of roasted or stir-fried veggies in the fridge, broth, fresh herbs, etc. Each day I may prepare a couple items, but will use several different things that I already prepared earlier in the week. It keeps things different each day without having to go through an entire meal prep each day.

Sarah Smith said...

What a great idea, Jen! Thanks for sharing!

leah funk said...

Great post .. this will really help me in being so fizzled at the end of the day! Thanks for sharing !!! and by the way i am feeling much better from your other advice you gave in the past .

Sarah Smith said...

Leah, I'm glad to hear you are feeling better!

Unknown said...

jen, this is exactly what i do myself! and i find it so helpful to create variety and minimize time spent in the kitchen beyond the output i'm generally prioritizing to make sure healthy food is consistently available.

Angela said...

thank you for this, I need help with meal planning! I feel like I'm in the kitchen all day and all night. I'm also doing DISHES all the time! I'm going to sit down and make a meal plan using your schedule and see how it works out. Thank you!

Unknown said...

We live in Florida and only have an average of 2-4 weeks of cool weather annually (defined as 60-70 degrees in the day time)!!
Probably because we eat them so seldom, I find myself craving soups, stews and chili around January which I make fresh and often share with friends during our version of winter. These are great ideas for me to make larger batches of Chicken Vesuvio, Classic Clam Chowder, Chili, etc and keep them in the freezer, then retrieve them, when we suddenly have a cooler day. Great advice! said...

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Hi Tracy,
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MamaNellie said...

I lived in Peru for a while and in spite of the heat they served hot soup as a first course for lunch daily! At first I thought it was strange but then I realized their soup was a healthy bone broth with a few vegetables added. Extremely nourishing. Just have to get used to eating something hot when you are hot.

Anonymous said...

in old days in Ireland they kept all leftovers in one (or several) dishes and on sat all itemst were put in one pot and made soup.... only soup on sat or lunches and then freeze rest...this is great for people who hate leftover dishes.....

Anonymous said...

I recently tried meal preps. Would love to know what you think about what I did here

Marcia said...

The plan doesn't quite make sense, though I get the gist. You say that on Sunday you have leftovers or eat away from home, but you also say you eat Sunday's leftovers on Tuesday. I'm thinking you wouldn't really have any leftovers from Sunday....

Sarah Smith said...

Most of the time, dinner on Sunday is at my mom's house and she sends leftovers home with us.

Anonymous said...

I use these containers for storing everything in my pantry and anything else in my kitchen. They last forever! BPA is not found in Cambro’s polypropylene or polyethylene storage containers.