Friday, February 15, 2013

Oh Sundays: Our Dinner Cooking Strategy

Whenever I mention to people what we do for dinners, I get the same incredulous response: "oh. that's...interesting. we could never do that." So I am already prepared for the comments to this post. But just in case one of you could imagine doing it, I'll fill you in on the details.

Here's our secret: complete lack of variety. We pick a meal for the week, cook/prep it on Sunday, and eat it for 4-5 days. For obvious reasons, the rotation of meals is limited to things we all (OK at least the two adults) really love to eat. We started doing this pre-kids, when we began to realize that neither G nor I had the energy or motivation to whip together dinner after a long day at work and were resorting to a lot of budget and diet-busting takeout options. It was actually an accident---I made a big pan of lasagna Sunday night, for just the two of us, and we ended up having leftovers all week. And it was the BEST week! Not having to think about what to eat, to rush home & start prepping and cooking, to have something we KNEW was yummy to look forward to every night. The absolute BEST. So we went with it.

The kids are used to it---they know no different. It sometimes works really well, since it takes them a day or so to get used to a new food, they may eat more as the week goes on. Or they get sick of it and eat less. Or they eat granola bars on the way home & don't eat a bite. Or they get cranky and throw it at their brother. Whatever. We offer them the meal, or some component of the meal, and they eat as much or as little as they want. There have definitely been some losers that B refuses to even try, in which case we make up some pasta or sandwich as an alternative.  When they grew up and eat bigger portions this won't work anymore, so we're taking advantage of their tiny appetites for now!

There are many pros: greatly reduced mental load only having to plan one meal per week, streamlined grocery shopping, extremely efficient cooking (honestly takes little to no more time, as recipes tend to be made for 6-8 portions), being able to sit down to eat within minutes of getting in the door, and less cleaning every night. I'm so used to it that I don't get "tired" of eating the same delicious meal for a few days in a row...I find it similar to the usual "Monday Taco, Tuesday Pasta, Wednesday Chicken...." style of meal planning. Once we've eaten something, we won't have it again for at least a month.

The major con is that Sunday can get a bit busy with cooking (I'll post about lunches separately...similar approach), and if we're away for the weekend & don't get to do our Sunday cooking, the weekdays become a mess of take-out and pasta. I used to love experimenting with new and creative recipes and techniques, but now cooking is very much a robotic chore---there isn't time for everything in our lives and cooking as a hobby is mostly out. We will do one-off meals on the weekends occasionally.

Here are some examples of our weekly meals:

Lasagna/Stuffed Shells: with ricotta & spinach. Use a piping bag to get the mixture into stuffed shells without breaking them. Sometimes G will make a "meat sauce" with ground turkey, or chopped up chicken sausage to go with, but I prefer it vegetarian. The boys love the pasta part & will eat whatever spinach they can't scrape off.

Chicken/Fish with carb & veggie: The chicken/fish is cooked daily, of course. B LOVES breaded fish. We used to buy different kinds fresh from the store every couple of days, now we buy the frozen tilapia from Trader Joes. We make a huge batch of breading (breadcrumbs, spices, parmesan, nuts all ground together). Carb can be roasted or mashed potatoes, wild rice, risotto, or just bread/rolls. Veggie can be greens, green beans, asparagus, roasted brussel sprouts, or a salad. The boys won't touch the veggie anyways.

Mac & Cheese casserole: This recipe.  Everyone LOVES this. We add shredded chicken and broccoli to this to make it healthy. Will often serve with a salad or greens for adults.

Tex-Mex: Shredded chicken, seasoned veggies, "mexican" rice and all the fixin's (guac, salsa, sour cream, cheese) on tacos, burritos, quesadillas, enchiladas, or a mixture thereof. The boys love tacos (broken up pieces of taco shells with refried beans & cheese) and B will eat an adult portion of a quesadilla (WITH the veggies inside!)

Indian: G has a great recipe for chicken tikka masala that even the boys will eat. We add some sort of vegetable curry and make rice or naan from Trader Joe's.

Turkey Chili: I have a recipe from somewhere for a delish and super easy (brown turkey and throw in cans of things & spices) 4-bean turkey chili that we eat with cornbread or regular bread. This one was a fail with B (L ate little bits of turkey & bean that we put in his tray); B refused to try it and ended up eating pasta with red sauce that week.

Turkey Burgers: Made from scratch and served with veggies or salad. A huge hit for the kids. I dislike this meal. G made it this week, with roasted winter veggies that neither boy touched and were too mushy for my taste. I couldn't complain since I was on call and he pretty much did all the cooking solo. I don't mind it in the summer time, eating outside picnic-style, with avocado slices & a summery pasta salad.

So there you have it. Our bizarre but energy-saving cooking strategy!


  1. This is a really interesting idea. As you know cooking has become a BIG DEAL at our house so I'll float this with my partner and see what he says. The only problem is that we bring out leftovers to work for lunch so we'd have to make at least two big meals, one for dinner and one for lunches, but hey, who know, it just might work.

  2. I've gotten into the habit of cooking two big meals on weekends, and I pretty much alternate between the two of them for the whole week with occasional supplements from my freezer. On the weekends when I'm too busy/lazy to cook, the following week is always a food disaster.

  3. I think it's brilliant. I imagine it must be like washing your hair less often. At first it feels icky, but then then you reset, and it feels perfectly normal. When we have leftovers I am always amazed at the minimal prep, minimal cleanup experience, so the thought of most nights being that way...well, extremely appealing.

    1. Funny you should mention that...I also started washing my hair less often about 3 years ago, and it looks & feels SO MUCH BETTER and less greasy. It took a month to reset, and that was the month after B was born so I had no time to consider the greasiness of my hair.

  4. I would totally be on board with your system but the repetition would drive my husband crazy.

    I find it so funny that out of all of the weekly meals you listed, the only food my 3-year-old Burrito would eat is... Indian food. We go out for Indian food almost weekly with them, but haven't in a few weeks because my husband got sick of it!

  5. We do something very similar! We make a multi-day meal on Sundays that gets us through at least the first few days of the week. You are right about how much less stressful it makes the evenings!