Ask the ExpertFeed yourself

Quantity Cooking: 5-in-1 Meal Ideas

by Michelle Porter, MPH, RD

Quantity cooking means doing all the prep work for many meals at one time, using many of the same ingredients for your various meals. Here’s the concept: You can make one large pot of food for the week, then creatively turn it into several “different enough” meals. I know some people are squeamish with leftovers, so if you fit that description, this may not be the blog for you. But if you’re happy to use leftovers as long as they are a little different each night, then this blog is definitely for you. And, oh, let me also mention for moms interested in saving money to create an I-don’t-want-to-go-back-to-work-fund, this blog is most especially for you. (I was in that camp with my first baby, but ultimately had to go back to work. I am eager, however, for the experience of staying home with a third baby.)

You will need a really big pot for the meal ideas in this blog—the kind of pot my husband calls my witch’s cauldron. I hope you have one already. If there’s one thing I know from my experience as a mother and the experiences of my friends, neighbors, colleagues, and relatives, it’s that new moms are constantly bombarded with “absolutely necessary” new purchases. One of my cardinal rules is to never force a newly post partum women into buying another gadget or device that will allegedly make her life easier. So, if you don’t already own a “witch’s cauldron” sized pot, perhaps make do with a couple of medium-sized pots. If you really love the ideas in this blog and feel that a large pot is actually crucial for your family’s meal time success, I recommend [size, brand, etc.].

To cook in large quantities, first consider the main protein that you will use. This will be the basis for each night’s dinner for that week. I offer some ideas below:

Meatball week:

These can be beef, turkey, shredded vegetables, or soy meatballs—whatever you like best.

Sunday: Pasta and meatballs. Try the bean (chick pea or red lentil) pastas if you’re interested in a non-macaroni product; they are pretty good. Pair with wilted spinach and garlic—very tasty!

Monday: Meatball sandwich on Kaiser roll with salad.

Tuesday: Stuffed peppers. First layer a cooked grain at the bottom to soak up the juices, then fill the rest with the leftover spinach and meatballs (or meat-less balls), top with cheese, nutritional yeast of basil/herbs, and some panko breadcrumbs. Top with leftover tomato sauce or Trade Joe’s Bruschetta (I love this product for everything Italian). Everything is already cooked, so just put it in oven at 375 until the pepper is nice and soft and the insides are heated through, about 30-40 minutes depending on your oven.

Wednesday: Baked spaghetti squash with meatballs and cheese or herbs.

Thursday: Lasagna! Use the already cooked meatballs and sauce as a layer or two in a simple lasagna. No-boil noodles are super easy. Thinly sliced zucchini can substitute for pasta or use a layer of both! Add another layer of ricotta mixed with spinach, artichokes, and parmesan or try this tofu ricotta knock-off.

Chili week:

Sunday: Veggie three-bean, beef, or turkey chili over millet or yellow rice with cornbread.

Monday: Enchiladas. Use soft corn tortillas, fill with chili and a slice of cheddar cheese or a spread of refried beans and roll them up to fill a lasagna pan. Top with Trader Joe’s enchilada sauce or another favorite enchilada sauce and bake at 375 for 30-40 minutes.

Tuesday: Taco salad with chili and sliced avocados.

Wednesday: Baked sweet potatoes topped with chili and sour cream

Thursday: Nachos. Use baked corn chips, sautéed onions and peppers, chili, black beans, refried beans, salad, and guacamole or other favorite nacho toppings. You can also use leftover hard corn taco shells and with the same ingredients make a Mexican lasagna to bake in the oven. This is a lighter version, not as many “chips” per serving. Both options are yummy!

Taco week:

Sunday: Make a large batch of ground beef, ground turkey, ground chicken, or tempeh and black beans. Serve with crunchy taco shells.

Monday: Burritos.

Tuesday: Taco salad.

Wednesday: Mexican stuffed pepper with leftover ingredients and yellow rice, millet, or quinoa; top with salsa and/or sour cream.

Thursday: Quesadillas or fajitas with sautéed peppers, onions, and avocado.

Chicken breasts week:

Using different marinades can totally change chicken breasts into a variety of meals. Instead of chicken, you could also use pork tenderloin, turkey breast, homemade seitan, or baked tofu that you can grill. Bottled Italian or Caesar dressing makes an easy marinade.

Sunday: Chicken breasts, grilled vegetables, and baked potato with butter or sour cream.

Monday: Chicken salad on French bread or stuffed in a whole wheat pita with grapes, Craisins, celery, and sunflower seeds. Or use Tzatziki sauce or Bolthouse Yogurt Dressings Creamy Caesar dressing for chicken pita sandwiches.

Tuesday: Salad with grilled chicken, avocado, cannellini beans, and strawberries or other fruit you like.

Wednesday: Chicken pizza. Use an already made pizza crust or ask your local pizza joint for dough to form; most sell it for very cheap. Top with shredded chicken, leftover roasted vegetables, and use jarred pesto sauce instead of tomato sauce for a different flavor sensation. Top it with a sprinkle of cheese or some chopped olives and sundried tomatoes.

Thursday: Stir-fry leftover grilled chicken, pork, or tofu with barbeque sauce and stir fry veggies. Serve over microwaved minute brown rice. Top with drained crushed pineapple or mandarin oranges for a sweet and tangy accent.

There are so many ways to get creative with your dinners even while using the same ingredients. Sit down and think about what sorts of things you can eat in bulk. Make a large pot of food and figure out how to turn it into a salad, sandwich, pizza, stuffed pepper, lasagna, quesadilla, or enchilada for a variety of different dinners from the same basic dish. If you like the idea, the possibilities are many! And if eating the same food for five nights in a row sounds like too much, consider using this technique for half of the week instead. Even three meals would be cost saving and could mean three fewer take-out meals during your busy week! Stay tuned next week for the final blog in this series, quick and easy dinner ideas that are balanced and get my RD stamp of approval for the fourth trimester and beyond!

featured image by Angie Gray