In my Pizza Night meal planning book, there are 14 lunch/dinner meals that take 30 minutes or less to prepare. This is a decent time frame, but it doesn't account for cleanup time. Instead of taking 30 minutes of preparation and 30 minutes of cleanup (I don't have a dishwasher), using the following method I can cut preparation down to 30-45 minutes and cleanup down to 30 minutes for both meals. Instead of two hours of meal-related work per day, I can cut it down to an hour or so. That is like eliminating HALF of the work!
The Problem With Make-ahead Freezer Meals
Before I talk about 2-for-1 meals, let me tell you why I don't do crock pot freezer meals, or "dump dinners". I adore this idea. Healthy, yummy food and hardly any work! However, there are a few things with our lifestyle that make freezer meals not practical.
1. Not enough freezer space. Our freezer is already full of meat and homegrown vegetables during the winter, and during the summer I use it for farmers market ingredients.
2. A waste of plastic bags. I don't like the thought of going through so many plastic bags to save time, nor do I like the idea of washing those plastic bags. After a couple uses, the bags get holes punched in them anyway.
3. Not efficient for canned or frozen food. At this point, almost all of our produce and meat comes from the freezer or pantry. It wouldn't make sense for me to open three bags of frozen veg and four cans of meat/sauce, mix it all together, freeze it, and then have to thaw it again.
In fact, I tried making my own frozen stir-fry mix, but with the different seasonality of vegetables it wasn't worth my time to freeze the snap peas and take them out several months later to mix with other vegetables when they were ripe. Now I just keep large bags or each vegetable (sliced peppers, cauliflower chunks, peas, broccoli, etc.) and throw in a handful of each for a stir fry. It's less wasteful AND allows me to make a different stir fry mix every time.
The Solution: 2-for-1 Meals
One solution I've come up with is a 2-for-1 meal. In short, I do a whole day's cooking at one time. Typically this is around 11:00 am. I'll do a lunch that is either on the stove top or baked in the oven, and at the same time I'll put something in the crock pot for dinner, or if it is an oven-baked dish I'll prepare it and put it in the fridge until an hour or so before dinner.
For example, if I'm having ham/potato soup for lunch and roast/vegetables for dinner, I can peel and cut all of the potatoes and onions at one time. This means I'm only washing the cutting board and knife once, only wiping the counter once, and only dealing with vegetable scraps once. It also means I have a bigger chunk of time in the afternoon to do things I enjoy.
With some extra planning, you can do a 3-for-1 meal by cooking enough meat/veg in the crock pot for the next day's lunch. For example, using leftover chicken meat for sandwiches.
I don't do this every day, but it's definitely a useful tool, especially for gardeners/homesteaders. We do enough work with freezing and canning already!
Adapting Meal Plans
In order to implement the 2-for-1 idea, I've started to rearrange and adapt some of the Pizza Night meals. I'm also looking at a few seasonal meals/dishes to try, for when the garden produce starts coming in. After two years we're getting tired of some of the old standbys, and we now have different ingredients (like lamb roast!) to incorporate into the menu. Plus, with all of this new-found freedom from cooking, what better to do with my free time than cook new meals?!
Have you done batch cooking before? What are some of your tips or maybe things that didn't work for you?