1 Day, 6 Dinners: One Mom’s Secret to Quick, Home-Cooked Food

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dinner once a monthIf you didn’t have to spend any time cooking dinner every night, imagine what you could do instead.

Stephanie Brandt Cornais knew her answer: She craved more time for gardening and yoga. And, as of November 2009, she also needed the time to take care of her daughter Penelope, who was born with spinal alignment and nursing problems that required Cornais to take her to multiple medical visits each week.

So Cornais cooked up a way to get that room to breathe: She figured out how to prepare meals for a whole month at a time, in just a few hours.

Because of her daughter’s health issues, Cornais decided not to return to work after having the baby. But she’s made the most of that time at home. She now authors the blog Mama and Baby Love and has since published an eCookbook, “From Your Freezer to Your Family: Slow Cooker Freezer Recipes.”

We caught up with her for tips on how we, too, could get by with just a few hours of cooking each month.

What motivated you to start cooking ahead?

When I decided to stay home with my daughter, I wanted to figure out a way to make a homemade, made-from-scratch, “real food” dinner every night. It seemed so overwhelming and unattainable, other than for a Sunday dinner when I had time to be in the kitchen for a couple of hours.

When Penelope was about 5 months old, I started doing bulk cooking days and freezing what I made. It produced a large variety and quantity of meals but was exhausting.

RELATED: 5 Easy Lunch Recipes to Save Time and Money

Penelope was about 9 months old when I switched to slow cooker freezer meals. This method is perfect for someone who doesn’t know how to cook! These recipes only require assembly, and no actual cooking. You just need one day in which you have some time, so you can chop vegetables. By using your slow cooker, you’re not in the kitchen actually cooking. When you’re done, you just freeze it all.

How have you fine-tuned the process to fit your life?

I save time by assembling all my ingredients at once—chopping and so forth—and freezing them. Then, when I’m ready to make a given recipe, all I have to do is dump my bag of pre-chopped items into the slow cooker. I use six reusable, gallon-sized freezer bags to store my ingredients, which makes three recipes. Some people like to assemble enough for even more recipes at a time, but I prefer prepping only three recipes at once, so I don’t need to dedicate the whole day to assembling ingredients, but I’ve made enough that I always have a good rotation and something new to pull out of the freezer.

When I’m ready to make a recipe, I just toss the pre-chopped ingredients in the slow cooker, so they essentially cook themselves!

  • betty

    sort of depressing! good that this worked for her, but the thought of encouraging others to do this is sad to me. cooking is such a joy and i find that taking the time to make a meal daily is like a meditation and being in the moment of the meal forces me to move a little more slowly, eat more slowly, set the table properly, etc, which always de-stresses me. only doing that once a week?! you can achieve the same savings by planning ahead – the principle is the same.

    • Stephanie Cornais

      I’m curious, do you have kids?
      I love to cook too, for the same reasons you mentioned, but life is life and when you work full time, have kids and have a household to manage, it’s hard to get a home cooked, made from scratch meal on the table every night for your family. This way of cooking solves that problem for busy moms, who don’t want to resort to fast food, store bought frozen foods or take out.

      • http://www.facebook.com/dolores.zornow Dolores Zornow

        I’m with you Steph! I’m retired now and have plenty of time to cook, and I love to cook!!! Too bad we didn’t have these options back in the 50′s & 60′s when I had 5 growing children and had to work! Would have been a blessing for sure!

    • sigmatheta

      I love cooking, too, but some days it’s just not going to happen. I’m glad I have the alternative of frozen meals so I don’t wind up in the fast-food drive-through or standing exhausted at the stove while everyone is cranky and starving. And on a rushed night, re-heating frozen food that I lovingly prepared myself on the weekend does not stop me from setting the table, having a conversation with my family, etc. It’s a nice compromise. These days, if I cook at all, I cook double and freeze half for the non-meditative days life slings at me.

    • sigmatheta

      By the way, Betty, you’re absolutely correct that good planning also saves time. But the best laid plans…

    • Tania

      I don’t think she is saying everyone should this but rather giving those of us who don’t have time to cook or don’t care to another option. I get home from work late and I’d like to work out. I also write a blog and am working on a book so if a method like this gives me more time to write, that makes me personally happier than cooking each night. To each her own. I don’t think it’s depressing you like to cook instead of say doing something that works for me. We’re all wonderfully different.

  • stephanie

    I don’t think this is sad at all, Betty – I hate cooking, it doesn’t de-stress me, it stresses me out. And if you asked me what I’d rather do – cook or spend time with my special needs child – my child would come first every single time. Bravo to Stephanie Brandt Cornais, for being creative and creating more time with her child.

    • Stephanie Cornais

      Thanks Stephanie!!

  • Adriana

    I think this is a wonderful idea! I do love cooking but only If I do not have to feel rushed! Most days I do not have that luxury. It would be wonderful to but everything together before I go to work and come home to a warm meal! This is excellent thank you for writing this!

    • Stephanie Cornais

      Totally! Thanks for reading!

  • E. Brown

    I’m not a mom, but a busy working woman with 60-80 hr workweeks. I do have a beloved slow cooker that I pull out and use (bless the creators of this thing) and I already try to use Sundays as my day to prepare meals for the week. What I haven’t explored is freezing those meals to extend their shelf life after cooking it. I think this is a great idea for anyone who is on the go, on a budget, and trying to maximize time. Thanks Stephanie! I will be checking out the blog/cookbook for some recipe ideas.

    • Stephanie Cornais

      You could also freeze some portions of the left overs too. I like to freeze leftovers in small, personal portions so that I can grab one from the freezer and pack them in lunchboxes to take to work. Then I just reheat and have a healthy lunch too!

  • http://www.healthywealthyfamilies.net/ Hilary Martin, MBA, CFP®

    I LOVE ways to save time in the kitchen. I bought the ebook and can’t wait to try my first recipe! Thanks for this useful article.

  • lili

    So glad I ran across this. I am about to take my 6 year old daughter to Europe for treatment – leaving husband and 10 year old son here in the US. I use my slow cooker often, but this hadn’t occurred to me. I have no time to make a cook/freeze meals before I leave, but I can certainly leave frozen ingredients for my husband to drop into the slow cooker before he leaves for work every day. I’ll be gone a month and he’s a little bit unsure about how he’s going to cope. And here’s the solution. Thanks for posting this, LearnVest – and thank you, Stephanie x

  • dnotes

    There’s also a wealth of information at organizedhome dot com I too have found that combinations of crock pot and pressure cooked meals,( see also missvickie dot com) using vacuum sealer packets allows for as far reaching meal prep as a month to three months worth of pre-made meals to draw from. This along with good shopping habits of couponing, sales and seasonal produce purchases allows for significant savings!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1283085539 Kelly Boucher MacDonald

    My two grown daughters and I do Once-A-Month cooking for our families. We pick out meals together, shop on a friday afternoon and cook/prep on Saturday. It usually is an eight hour day of cooking BUT we come away with meals for at least 21-24 meals… (I like to eat out once in awhile). The money savings is UNBELIEVABLE too. Once is was $80 each, another time $90, and that’s a whole moth of dinners. The majority are crockpot meals but not all. The prep for each meal is done and labeled and EASY to pull out of the freezer and cook…. I LOVE it!

  • Oakway Packs

    I am the opposite Stephanie but I understand what you mean. Cooking destresses me when theres no pressure and its just for me to eat myself.

  • ksgirl73

    I guess I’m not seeing how this works for everyone. There are some things that just don’t freeze well. I’m single so I tend to freeze quite a bit, but I find that fruits and vegetables just don’t freeze well. I end up tossing more because I can’t use them up before they go bad.