How much do I prepare for each meal? Do I make just enough for one meal for all of us or cook more than enough for leftovers? I have a friend who cooks for the entire week on Sundays but I wonder what you would think are the pros and cons of this.
Would you believe me if I told you that I STILL struggle with how much to make for dinner? Seriously. There are certain “truths” to feeding your family that consistently trip up my efforts to make “just the right amount”:
- When you make “extra”, no one will want seconds.
- If you make “just enough”, everyone will be famished.
- The minute you double a recipe to freeze for a future meal, no one will “like it” anymore.
That said, I have learned – through much trial and error – how to look at a recipe and assess how much needs to be adjusted to feed my family. I typically err on the side of making too much, but that’s because I have a husband who works from home and who is the only person I know who can reheat leftovers PERFECTLY (this is a gift, I swear – I can’t do it to save my life).
So how to help Caroline? Here are my guidelines for feeding a family of four (two adults and two biggish kids), which would probably be just right for her crew:
A “typical” serving of protein – chicken, beef, fish – is 8 oz. per person (4 oz. for little ones). Of course this is not an exact science, and if a dish is especially popular, Caroline might want to make more next time (beware rule #1 though…..).
A whole chicken (about 3-4 pounds) is perfect for 4-6 people. Any leftovers can be used for chicken salad, fajitas or soup.
I always make a pound of pasta. Always. That is all.
Another useful tip (and one I need to do myself more often) is to parcel frequently used foods for easy multiplying (or dividing). It takes a little time up to break up the packages and wrap it all up, but your well-stocked freezer will reward your efforts for months to come. For example:
Cut-up chickens: Freeze these in “half” portions. This makes it easy to take out exactly what you need, even if it’s an odd amount.
Ground beef: I have the butcher weigh out 1/2 pound portions so that I can take just what the recipe calls for.
Boneless chicken breast halves: I’ll wrap these individually and store in a ziploc bag in the freezer (they defrost quicker this way too).
Casseroles: When a recipe calls for a 9 x 13 pan, I”ll use two 8 x 8 pans instead. I’ll bake one dish that night and freeze the other one, unbaked. The 8 x 8 size is the perfect amount for us, and I love having a “spare” in the freezer for another time (unless rule #3 happens).
Cooking enough for leftovers is a great solution to the “what to make for dinner” dilemma – and can be a life saver on a hectic weeknight. With Caroline’s new found meal planning skills she can have two recipes on-hand that will use similar ingredients. For example, whenever I prepare chili I make sure to reserve a few cups for one of our other favorite dishes – chili, cornbread and pasta bake:
And finally, “marathon” cooking – is it worth it to spend several hours on one day to have dinners for the week to come?
Personally, I have never done this – though I can absolutely see the benefits, especially for people who work full-time outside the home. I prefer to take advantage of the do-ahead tips from this post to put me ahead of the game. Caroline might want to try this approach once or twice and see if she likes it (I’d be curious to hear myself).
Would any of you like to weigh in here? How do you figure out how much is “just the right amount” when it comes to dinnertime?
New to this series? No problem; you can catch up here!