Make Your Meals Do the Work: Cook Once, Eat for Days

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Just how many meals can you get from one recipe? No, this is not a Food Network challenge but a real life, “how am I going to make it through the week and provide my family with some healthy, fast, and flavorful meals?” scenario. I am a working mother to three and wife who fits daily exercise into her life. I strive to, at some point over the weekend, make a one dish meal and turn it into two or three meals for the early part of the week or for “fall back freezer meals.”

Today let's take a look at one recipe, my Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup, then see how this versatile, healthy and filling dish can be stretched for a few meals. The soup itself makes 12 servings, plus an extra quart of broth, so there are plenty of possibilities!

Stock the Freezer: One batch of chicken soup will yield an additional quart of chicken broth. Cool and freeze as is, or for freezer storage space, reduce the one quart to one pint by simmering on the stove over moderate low heat for 40-50 minutes. When ready to use, add back one pint of water.

Make Ahead Meals: Add a second 3-pound chicken to the stock pot. Prepare recipe as is, but do not add the meat from the second chicken to the chicken soup. Divide meat in half and use in the following recipes:

  • Use as a topping day on a salad to add essential protein. Try adding some seasonal fruit to the salad as well: try pears, apples or blueberries. (Use 3 ounces of chicken per serving.)

  • Substitute chicken for beef in a black bean chili, make white chili or use it for chicken enchiladas (or my Enchilada Stacker).

  • Use leftover meat to make Chicken and Vegetable Casserole.

  • Top a whole wheat pizza with chicken, chopped tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella cheese.

  • Make a grilled chicken sandwich using whole-wheat bread,jarred pesto or sun dried tomatoes and leafy greens.

  • Freeze the chicken for emergency dinners on your busiest nights.

    Keep Those Meals Interesting
    Eating the same thing for several meals can seem downright boring to some people. Here are some tips for recycling ingredients and keeping your taste buds interested.
    • Change up the second recipe as much as possible and switch the flavors. For example, I would suggest reformatting the poached chicken into an Asian or Southwest recipe instead of another savory thyme-based chicken recipe. The goal is to make everyone think you made from scratch a whole new recipe--only you will know the difference. (For example, you could make my Thai Chicken Coconut Soup)

    • Utilize the reworked item for a different meal. If the main ingredient was part of supper, use the reworked item in a lunch box or as a breakfast item--and don’t forget snacks.

    • Remember that flavors can heighten or become subdued once cooled. Taste the main reworked ingredient before you start to add new flavors or spices.

    Do you have any tips for using leftover chicken? How do you stretch one meal into many? Check out the rest of my recipes by clicking here.

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    _CYNDY55_ 1/1/2019
    Thanks Report
    ALEXTHEHUN 12/30/2018
    We always try to make meals that have multiple days' worth of servings. Report
    KHALIA2 6/8/2018
    Great tips! Thanks! Report
    CHERYLHURT 3/3/2018
    A roasted chicken from Costco will give us meals for at least three days. Report
    One of the big advantages of being retired is that I can now spend as long as I want cooking every day. Report
    Thanks for the recipes Report
    I wish I'd like cooking. Report
    There is a great website coming out soon, that has great recipes for cooking one main ingredient and splitting it off into two totally different meals. It's been a lifesaver for me. I cook on Sunday and Wednesday; with a busy schedule it works like a charm. I add a couple of side dishes each night. The food is delicious, family friendly, and kid approved. You won't get sick of eating the same thing when you "batch" cook. Report
    Precooking is my way of life, and has been for so many years I dont know if I'd be able to change that now! I work away from home at least 6 days a week~generally 9-10 hour days. Saturday evenings as well as Sunday at some point in time I am in the kitchen for at least 5-6 hours with the weeks main courses in mind. Thank heavens I LOVEEEE COOKING~creating new things on a regular basis.

    My personal favorite with chicken is to put skinless, boneless chicken breasts in the food processor with green pepper, fresh spinach leaves, garlic powder, onion powder, sea salt, and two eggs.....grinding all of it well. Then I make chicken patties with that adding them to a skillet with a small amount of extra virgin olive oil, and water....steaming them until they are actually slightly browned on each side. Mmmmm....yummy. Healthy and filling! Report
    I make mixture of onion, ginger and tomato with lots of spices. Also i store chopped coriander, chilli and home made green chutney of coriender, mint ginger and raw mango.. handy in my fredge so that hen ever i need to cook... minimum amount of chopping and cutting is required with healthy dressings.


    Sonea Mudgal Report
    This is a great way to plan. I like to buy bulk on sale, and make batches of dinners for the freezer. It saves time, money, and stress! Report
    thanks for the great ideas! Report
    Makes sense. My husband and I decide on Saturday what soup or stew we want to make on Sunday, and then spend Sunday cooking, and freezing the extras. Saves time with our busy schedules. Report
    SUNSET BOOKS has had these ideas for years. "MAKE A MIX COOKERY" is one that I have used over and over, which helps to cook fast without buying store boughten mixes. The "Hamburger MIX" is one of the basics that you cook up 10# of hamburger and then freeze it. Quick to then make Sloppy Joes, Chili, etc. Report
    There is only me, my husband and our two little 5 year olds who I cook for. I have found that when I cook any recipe and eat the correct serving size I always have left overs. What I do with our left overs is, 1st - packaging me and my husband for lunch, 2nd - I tend to package up a meal for my mother-in-law to take the next time I see her, and 3rd - if enough is left over, I freeze a meals worth for another day. Not all cooked meals can be freezed and so for example, when I am making a chicken casserole with crumbs on top, I freeze the casserole mixture in a pan, and when we are ready to have it, add the topping before throwing it in the oven. :) I have been cooking a lot more lately and now starting to find that we need another freezer from all the goodies I have been setting aside. :) Report
    I don't eat meat, although I would love to see another one of these on beans or something similar. =) Report
    I'm excited to see a post about this! Being a 4th year college student I kept giving myself the excuse that I was too busy to create a homemade healthy meal. Last week I quit making excuses and started cutting veggies and making a few staples (like whole wheat pasta and rice) for the week ahead to make preparing my vegetarian meals much quicker and easier. It worked! Report
    First day chicken in the crock. Use what you need for dinner take rest of chicken of bone and put skeleton back in crock over night to get the rest of the chicken for stock. Use the chicken the next night in wok use olive oil 2 tbsp. Add one cup chicken stock, cumin, chili powder and garlic. Make chicken taco salad served with black beans, lettuce, tomatoes and all the fixin's. Any left over chicken can be used for sandwhiches for lunch the next day. Stock can be boiled down and frozed. Report
    preparation is key to staying on track Report
    Great idea! I have done this in the past. Sunday is prep day! Report
    Great blog! I am going to do this this weekend! I bought 10 lbs of chicken leg quarters (for only .39 a lb!) and going to fix up several days worth of meals all at the same time! Report
    I've done this for years, batch cooking with my crockpot. It's very simple really. Just cook two big batches of completely dif meats - like a whole chicken and a pot roast. Always buy more than you need - also called planned overs. You have the first night with the original recipe from the crock pot (so 2 days of the week are taken care of, chicken night and pot roast night). Then you make crockpot soups (so 2 more nights, and many lunches, are taken care of - like chicken soup and beef veggie, so now you just took care of 4 nights DONE). Then with the planned overs you can make anything, very versatile, pick one new recipe to try that week, and do one family fav recipe that: casseroles, soups, BBQ beef in crockpot, philly steak & cheese sands, French onion dips sands, beef or chicken fajitas, enchiladas, black bean burritos, chicken quesadillas, beef and broccoli, Thai flavored beef & noodles, stir fries, chicken salad, turkey tetrazzini or chicken ala king, green bean casserole with chicken added and stuffing on top, it's endless. And you've already got the meat done so it's fast and easy to use the leftovers for something else. I've been having beef stew and beef barley soup this winter with crockpot beef planned overs; very hearty for this cold winter we've been having. Very delicious. Very economical. And because I controlled what went into it by making it from scratch, very healthy. Report
    I need more of these recipes. I know plenty with chicken, but not too many others. Keep posting these great ideas so those of us that are new to this can keep taking notes! Thanks everyone! Report
    I am definitely going to plan my meals this way. It is a great way to use leftovers in a new way. I get bored with my meals easily and thus need different meals every couple of days. Thanks for the post. Report
    Thank you so much for the ideas and the recipes!! Report
    I make big batches of marinara sauce and use it on pizza, pasta, chicken... I use chili on rice, pasta, pizza... and just about anything can be made into soup! Report
    I really like your ideas and am going to start looking at my weekend cooking to see what I can incorporate into other meals throughout the week. So good advice here. Report
    I make quite a few of my own soups. My husband and I usually take in the left overs for the next day's lunch. That is one less meal I have to buy for and there is nothing better than leftover soup! The flavor just gets better! Report
    I like the idea of a chicken pizza. Does anyone know where to get whole wheat pizza crusts? I've looked and been unsuccessful in finding them. Report
    when i make soup I always make enough to last us meal wise for 2-3 days, depending on the soup itself. my husband totally LOVES my chicken noodle soup, so it's no problem eating if for 3 days in a row. Since it's winter, I make it a habit to make soups every sunday to get us through the week and help stave off the winter chill. They are filling, wholesome, and healthy. Paired with some crusty bread and a salad, it's a complete meal! Report
    Chicken is the one thing I always buy when it is on sale.....and cook it for
    chicken tacos, chicken ~n~dumplings,stew, salads and soups. I just bake it and dice it or shred it for the meal I plan on making and label it and it goes in the freezer....ready and waiting for me.....I think I have 5 meals ready in the freezer now... Report
    Great ideas. I do love soup. Report
    I like preparing somethings ahead but I tend to get tired of food so I make enough for 4 - 6 servings at a time and mix it up with things that don't take long to make like sandwiches and omelettes. I prefer freshly looked foods as much as I can manage it. But then again I am a single student to I don't have too many demands on my time. Report
    I can buy a $5 rotissarrie (sp?) chicken and get 4 chicken dinners plus a pot of soup from the bones - or is it stock if it's bones - don't have the food network to train me on the difference. I live by myself so I can really stretch a chicken until I'm sick of it. But even with a small family - one dinner plus a pot of soup is a good deal for Five bucks! Report
    One of my favorite recipes is labor intensive, I usually make an double batch and cook them in smaller containers. Then I can freeze them & not over-eat at the same time! Report
    These are idea's, but I don't do leftovers very well and don't like eating the same thing 2x in one week. Report
    There was an aricle published by self whith a similar concept and recipies. I have made this several times and have really liked the time savings and the food. The only thing I change is to use black beans instead of shrimp, since I find reheating them makes them rubbery. I have put the recipies sparkpeople recipies.
    I try to cook every day, because we don't do leftover's very well. Report
    I tend to start with roasts. (My large pot is not big enough for 2 chickens; but the roast pan is.) Meat gets planned over as: salad, pasta sauce, stir fry (over rice or noodles); soup, wraps, pot-pie-like dishes either as a casserole or something served over toast . As the meat becomes skimpier: protein is rounded out with egg and cheese in quiche-type casseroles (crustless usually) or paired with another meat (chicken is great to make seafood meals cheaper or sausage meals leaner). Report
    I guess if I'd written this blog, I'd call it "cook for several days," eat for weeks! I don't do much with chicken, but if I'm making lasagne, melanzana, wild rice casserole, homemade marinara sauce, roast beef ... you name it ... I make enough for as many as 16 servings, and voilá -- Carli's Frozen Meals (no **** added)! LOL ... & oh yes, speaking of broth or stock for soup ... if you want to have your own vegetable stock rather than meat based stock, a good habit to get into is saving the small amounts of water from steaming or pan broiling vegies, combine them, and freeze them, instead of feeding the kitchen sink/sewer system! Report
    I almost forgot to mention something very important to the success of "cook once, eat twice" method. Package AND LABEL the extra food, so no one comes along and eats it. For food I'm planning a future meal of, I either write "save for Tues (Weds, get the idea), or I simply write "DO NOT EAT". This helps ensure the food is there when you are ready to make the next meal. Report
    As my family will attest, I am a huge fan of "cook once, eat twice (or thrice!)" meal prep. As long as I have to cook, preparing a little extra really saves a lot of time, money, calories and stress. Rarely do we have what would truly be called leftovers. The extra appears in another format. The pot of chili made one day becomes taco salad another day. The roast chicken on Sunday shows up as chicken wraps on Tuesday and I save the bones and leftovers for chicken soup a third day. Roast beef with plenty of roasted veggies makes a nice beef stew or vegetable-beef-&-barley soup. The whole key is planning. Report
    When I was single, I institued "Crockpot Sundays". I would let it cook overnight so that when it was time for work on Monday it was done. I would eat the contents for lunch everyday.
    I have to get a bigger crockpot now that there are two of us - generally the contents are gone by Tuesday. Report
    I always cook in batches so I'll always have something healthy to grab for dinner. As there are only two of us, there is always a meal handy. Report
    If You like these ideas, google OAMC (Once a Month Cooking) - there is tons of freezable recipes and using the knowledge from here most can be made diet friendly. Report
    ALWAYS cook ahead & use my crockpot to make soups out of left over chicken.. Report
    I always cook enough for two meals so have to cook only every other day.
    some good ideas and recipes I will have to check out. Report
    I do this with rotisserie chicken. I do use the skin for the flavor, just chill the stock and skim off the fat! And of course, the Thanksgiving and Christmas turkeys are in the pot way before the dishes are done! We used to wait until the day after to eat the soup, but now we have it for dinner. I have also tried roasting the bones, jury is still out on that one! Report
    I've always cooked once for multiple meals - a lean London broil or roast can be eaten the first day, reheated for another meal, cubed into marinara and served over pasta, sliced for a sandwich dinner, mixed into a veg stir fry, or sliced over a big salad. Same with pork roast, roasted/grilled chicken breast, etc. I have a whole series of quick meals that are based on whatever I baked/roasted/grilled on Sunday, so that DH and I can eat all week without having to go out or resort to higher calorie foods. Report