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

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

If 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.

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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!

RELATED: 8 Easy Recipes That Non-Chefs Can Make

bulk cooking

How far ahead of time can you prepare meals?

I don't think of it in terms of days, but in meals. Three doubled recipes give me six bags of meals. Each bag feeds my small family for days. We love leftovers, though! 

About once a week I prepare a fresh meal from start to finish—I like to experiment and test recipes. All the same, I'll often double that recipe, too, so I can freeze some for later.

Other than that, we basically live off our frozen meals!

Some of the things I've made by freezing and then slow-cooking? Orange beef stew, ginger cranberry pork roast, Moroccan lamb and more. You can find some of my recipes on my blog.

RELATED: 7 Satisfying and Freezer-Friendly Meals

Do you save money by cooking this way?

My family spends a lot on food because we buy organic and from local farmers, but my readers rave about how this way of shopping saves them money. One of the best ways to make this work for your budget is to choose a recipe with ingredients that are in season or on sale, so you can assemble a ton of meals from those items while the prices are low. Also, assembling and freezing food in advance means you always have a meal in your house to turn to, instead of having to go out last minute and burn through your food budget.

What have you learned from starting a blog and publishing a cookbook?

I love the business and job I have created for myself through my blog. It started as a way for me to occupy my mind and give me a creative outlet. It has turned into a thriving business since my cookbook came out, for which I am beyond thankful. The first couple of recipes I posted on the blog took off on Pinterest, and it seemed like people really wanted more recipes. That gave me the courage and confidence to produce a cookbook.

 

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