Cooking in Advance: Five Survival Strategies

The one challenge of planning ahead is looking at the calendar on a Sunday, and realizing there’s very little chance of surviving with your sanity intact. Do not fall into the trap of five days of takeout (which the Practical Cook would argue is both expensive and somewhat energy draining). First, Gentle Readers, take a few deep breaths. Cursing the unhappy confluence of PTA and Zumba will not serve anyone. Now, here are some ideas for eating and sleeping during the days ahead.

And now, an inspirational break before we get started.

1. Decide which is more important to you this week—eating as a family or meeting the deadlines. It’s hard to phrase this in a way that sounds neutral, but the Practical Cook does not judge. Though TPC is a huge proponent of family time at the dinner table, and eating from the same communal pot, it may be time to divide an conquer. This will make your leftovers go further. If you aren’t all eating the same thing, the picky eaters can have cheese crackers and crudite while the heavier eaters can finish the leftovers.

2. Dust off your slow cooker. The Practical Cook has a mixed relationship with the slow cooker, actually. I’ve found that sometimes it’s harder to force flavor out of it than just doing it the old-fashioned way. However, there are a lot of options and recipes, and surely there are a couple that will fit the bill. This has a two-fold advantage. You can do the prep work in the morning (assuming you have time then) and the volume tends to mean leftovers. If you don’t have time in the morning, do your slow cooking on Sunday in preparation for the week.

3. Use this as an opportunity to clean out your freezer. It’s very easy to lose sight of inventory. Take this time to use up bits and pieces. Bonus, it makes room for the batch cooking you know I’m going to suggest.

4. Double your output. When you can, make two things. Either double the recipe, or make sure you’re making a second dish alongside the first. If you’re already in the kitchen, multitask. Soups, stews, and large cuts of meat (for the omnivores) are good candidates. Other favorites include casseroles, including pasta bakes, and chili. Store the extras in the fridge for short-term, and freeze the serving sizes that fit your family’s needs in the long-term.

5. Plan to punt. Just accept that halfway through hell week you’re going to want to collapse. Make sure your pantry is stocked (see Top 10 Punt Ingredients for ideas). If you order take-out, do it strategically, ordering something that is healthy and can serve you more than once. For instance, when you order Chinese, save the rice to make a quick stir-fry the next day. This is the week to use your frozen veggies and to think beyond the standard meat and three. If it’s hot, consider serving a cereal buffet for dinner. If it’s cold, frozen pizza and bag salad can be delicious.

We’ll have more on this topic in the coming days from a master of meal planning (she has planned out as much as 2 months in advance—amazing). Coming up tomorrow, another installment of One Ingredient, Three Ways: Mushroom Edition.

The request line is open. Keep sharing your questions and successes at practicalcook at gmail dot com. Join the conversation on Twitter: practicalcook.

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Filed under Kitchen Philosophy, Punt!

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