Cook Once, Eat Three Nights – Fancy Tricks to Save You Time

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Can you picture a scenario where you cook once and eat three nights in row without a lot of extra work? I’ll show you how!

Cook Once, Eat Three Nights - Fancy Tricks to Save You Time | Life as Mom

If you get my weekly Tip Sheet, you know that occasionally I ask for your feedback on things that impact our lives as Moms. While I love getting to write about whatever I want here on Ye Olde Blog, I like it better when I hit the topics that resonate with YOU.

So a BIG thank you to everyone who took my Help Me Help YOU Make a Great Meal survey! It’s not too late to offer your two cents, so please do. I love to hear what’s bugging you so I can be helpful. It’s the big sister in me, I guess.

You all posed such great questions about ways to feed a family. One recurring comment was in regards to making several recipes (either ahead or throughout a week) that use common ingredients so that you can reduce prep time and streamline dinner preparation on subsequent nights. Yes! That’s how I like to roll, so I can save time and use up what we have.

Stopping food waste is a great way to save money. Consider this, if you are wasting 1/4 of the food you buy, you have the chance to SAVE 25% (or more!) on your grocery bill!

So it behooves us to make the most of the food we cook. That’s why the whole Cook Once, Eat Three Times practice is a great one for you to hone.

Cook Once, Enjoy Three Dinners

Consider this scenario: Whole chickens were on sale at ALDI last week for 79 cents/pound. Buy two 5-pounders (about $8) and roast them. Enjoy Roast Chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy and steamed carrots one night. The next night serve Chicken Pot Pie and the following evening enjoy Chicken Noodle Soup.

The beauty of this scenario is that you can do the bulk of the prep work the first night and kick back the next two nights. Here’s how:

Night 1 Prep:

  1. While the chickens are roasting, prepare the pie crust.
  2. Then as you peel and chop carrots, make extra for the pot pies and shred a couple for the chicken noodle soup.
  3. While you have the grater out, shred the onion and zucchini for the soup and place all the shredded veggies in a tupperware and stow it in the fridge.
  4. Since the peeler is already out, peel lots of potatoes. Reserved enough boiled potatoes for the pot pies and mash the rest for the first night’s dinner.
  5. When you make the gravy, make enough for the roast chicken dinner and extra to go in the pot pies. Use the gravy recipe here; make double.

Cook Once, Eat Three Nights - Fancy Tricks to Save You Time | Life as Mom

After dinner on Night 1

  1. After you enjoy your roast chicken, remove the meat from the bones and start the chicken stock to cook in the crockpot overnight.
  2. Chop the meat and divide it into portions: for pie and for soup.
  3. Assembled the potpie filling and stow it in the fridge.
  4. Refrigerate the soup portion for night three.

Cook Once, Eat Three Nights - Fancy Tricks to Save You Time | Life as Mom

Day Two

  1. In the morning, strain the stock and refrigerate it, covered.
  2. That night, since you already have your pie crusts, chicken, carrots, potatoes, and gravy prepped, all you need to do is assemble the pot pie and bake.
  3. If you’re not planning on serving them this night, you can easily freeze the pie for a future dinner.

Cook Once, Eat Three Nights - Fancy Tricks to Save You Time | Life as Mom

Day Three

  1. About an hour before dinner, assemble the soup. The veggies, chicken, and stock are already prepped. A quick saute, stir, boil, add noodles and it will be ready. Serve with grilled cheese sandwiches or simple saltines and butter.

How else can you cook once and eat three times?

You can do this same thing with lots of other meals.

  • A beef pot roast can become tacos and Beef and Barley soup on later nights.
  • Bean and Rice bowls can become sides to enchiladas and then on a subsequent night be added to soup.
  • A pork roast transforms easily into BBQ sandwiches and chili.
  • Roasted veggies can be an elegant side dish to grilled meats and then be added to quesadillas, pizza, or minestrone later on.
  • Grilled Tri-tip makes for great sandwiches and taco filling on subsequent nights.

A Word About Leftovers

I’ve met people in my travels who had no qualms about eating week-old leftovers or take-out that had sat in the car overnight. What you do is your business, but if you’re feeding other people, particularly pregnant women, young children and elderly folk, you may want to reconsider the safety of some of your practices.

A general rule of thumb that I learned in catering was not to serve something past its third day. The USDA says that prepped food is good under proper refrigeration for FOUR DAYS.

Having a meal plan posted on your refrigerator will help you remember when you made a certain dish. If in doubt, throw it out.

I know times are tough, but being uber-frugal at the risk of your family’s health is not wise. Your ROI could result in food poisoning, something every mom should avoid for her family.

That said, the USDA has a great chart that tells you practically everything you need to know about the Basics for Handling Food Safely.

How do you make Cook Once work for you?

Originally published October 19, 2009. Updated September 2, 2017.

About Jessica Fisher

I believe anyone can prepare delicious meals—no matter their budget.

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  1. Jen@Balancing Beauty and Bedlam says

    Oh yes, you know you're a mom after my own heart. I love C.O.S.T. cooking and I don't think there is a meal that I make that doesn't include thoughts towards what that next meal will be. 🙂

  2. Kimberly Dawn Rempel says

    Great ideas! I can see that if I just follow even some of your advice our dollar would stretch further, and we would eat healthier. Thanks!

  3. kouponkrazi says

    Super great ideas! Thank you. I do similar by cooking a whole chicken on Sunday, making stock & using the left-over chicken for either soup or Chicken & Dumplings later in the week. I love stopping by & reading what new things you are doing!

  4. Susie says

    I like the idea of big dishes doing double or triple duty:-)

  5. Ruby lane wives says

    I saw a video on you tube that made a chicken last for 4 meals for a fam of 4! this is good too. stupid question what exactly do you do for roasted vegetables? what do you use how do you do it mine always seem to burn on the edges!!!

    • Kathleen Duffy says

      One trick I learned when roasting vegetables is to preheat the pan in the oven before placing the veggies on it so they sizzle and start to pick up color right away.

  6. Kimarie @ Cardamom's Pod says

    I love doing this and am actually trying to PLAN for this. The past few weeks I've been working on being a better steward with our grocery money – checking coupons, working the sales, etc. Last Friday I purchased the biggest pork roast I could find – it was on sale for 98 cents a pound. Roasted it Sunday and had roast, mashed red potatoes (also on sale buy 1 get 1 free), peas, and homemade rolls. I put the rest of the roast in the crockpot Sunday afternoon to cook really soft for BBQ sandwiches Sun. evening. Today we had enough BBQ and rolls leftover for lunch, and enough potatoes for supper tonight. Just had to take the rest of the meat on sale and make a meatloaf for tonight and meatballs to freeze for another day, and chopped up a bunch of on sale collard greens.

    Thanks for ALL your tips, and for this being a place where I can "jabber" about the nitty-gritty details and joys of feeding our family of 11 in a more efficient way! It's so fun to see a grocery store receipt of $109 and see underneath that I saved $87 dollars!!

  7. CatWay says

    I've recently started cooking for two nights at a time (eg. On Monday cook for Monday and Tuesday), then I only have to reheat on the second day. I'm loving this, it saves so much time. I got the idea by reading a book Table Tucker (it is a down under book (Australia/NZ)) – the book also has plans to help you do this all year round.

  8. Coby says

    You have inspired me to dig out the whole chicken in my freezer to cook today. We will have roasted chicken with roasted potatoes and carrots tonight. I think i will whip up some homemade bread to go with it this afternoon. I will also make the pizza dough for thursday. Then I plan on making stock with the bones overnight. Tomorrow we will have a family chicken and biscuit recipe with spinach salad. Then on thursday we will have BBQ chicken pizza. I should also have enough stock to make several bathces of homemade cream of chicken soup to freeze and use later in other recipes.

    Thanks for the great tips. I am a new reader to your blog and I really love it. Keep up the good work!

  9. FishMama says

    Jen, here's my blonde moment, though I am not blonde, what does C.O.S.T stand for?

    Kimberly, let us know how this works for you.

    kouponkrazi, your plan sounds great. Glad you were inspired.

    Ruby Lane Wives, here's how I do my veggies:

    Kimarie, jabber away.

    Catway, sounds like a great practice — and a great book.

    Coby, enjoy your chicken!

  10. Keowdie says

    I love doing this. Our local supermarket often has meat specials, where I can get whole chickens for less than $5! And they often do a 5/$20 sale; the cuts of meat are usually pretty good, and if done correctly, I can usually end up basically getting 2 of those 5 meats for free.

    I have always spent several hours hovering over the stockpot as the bones boiled. I never thought of making the stock in my crockpot over night! That's a great idea! Thanks!

  11. Dawn says

    When I'm not sure I will get to use leftovers in a timely fashion I pop them in the freezer instead of letting them waste in the fridge. My meatloaf often becomes the 'meatballs (ok cubes) in sauce later in the week and we love using leftover pork for BBQ sandwiches.

  12. Gina @ MoneywiseMoms says

    I do this all the time, with pork, ground beef and chicken. Even when I make a big pot of spaghetti sauce, it's used 3-4 times before it's done.

  13. Hailey's Beats and Bits says

    i usually do one cooking for two meals but right now i am rethinking…. thanks

  14. Shannon says

    I don’t know what C.O.S.T. means either. Could it be Cook Once Serve Twice or Thrice? Haven’t started the whole meal planning thing yet. Running into resistence from hubby who is scared we will be stuck eating things we don’t like or want simply because it is on the menu. (He does lions share of cooking.) Have any of you run into this problem and do you have any advice.

    • Jessica Fisher says

      I think it must be Cook Once, Serve Twice. She never responded to that, did she? 😉

  15. Janet says

    I get three meals from one large batch of bolognese. I serve it over pasta on day 1, over meatballs on day 2 and as a dipping sauce for quesadillas on day 3.

  16. Alice E says

    I want to chime in and agree about freezing leftovers for later. Since my hubby doesn’t object to eating a couple days of leftovers, and it’s just us, I still make big batches when I cook. Then if there is too much pasta or whatever to eat up in a couple more days I freeze the rest in individual servings to eat for lunches later. I also do the same thing with cut up leftover roast or chicken/turkey freezing it in meal size packages to use later.

  17. Pat says

    I love this post! Now that it’s just the 2 of us I have found that cooking all the meats, and sometimes the sides too, on one day works for us. Then we decide what we want to eat the night before usually at dinner and I know what needs to be thawed and or warmed up. It’s working really well because I worrk 2 evenings a week during the dinner hour and I know he’s got dinner.
    This week the l/o pot roast from Sunday will make 3 meals. Sundays dinner with sides, The gravy will go in Shepherd’s pie with ground beef on Tuesday and the l/o meat will become soup for Saturday. Monday was taco salad. Wednesday will be broccoli cheese soup from the freezer with tuna slad and crackers l/o from Christmas. Thursday will be l/o Chicken fried chicken from Saturday with gravy and the extra mashed potatoes I’ll make when I do the Shepherd’s pie. Friday is clean out day!.

  18. Keri says

    Thank you so much for this post! I know I found it years later, but I made all 3 recipes this week and they were a big hit with my family of ALL boys! I live in south Florida so I took note on your responses when some other people said they had extra liquid in their pies. I made my gravy pretty thick when I baked the chickens, and used just that gravy for the liquid in the pot pie. I let it rest for about 10 minutes after I pulled it out of the oven and it was perfection! These recipes were amazing and super friendly to our budget. Can’t wait to stock up the freezer and try some more of your ideas!
    P.S. The seasoned butter under the skin of the chicken……… BEST IDEA EVER!!!!!! Not sure if that is common knowledge or not, but it was new to me, so you’re my hero lol! Seriously the best chicken I have EVER made! Thanks again!!

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