Stop cooking now! Unless you know these cooking secrets, you are wasting time.

From the minute you go back to school until the day you get out for summer, your time is not your own. Whether you love to cook or not, you may not have the time you to create a masterpiece meal every day kitchen. Still, you want to eat well.

These three cooking secrets will save you time and sanity.

Secret One: Once a month cooking

Once a month cooking is a huge system with fans and followers across the nation.

The basic premise is this: It takes the same amount of time to cook one meal of something as it does many. Cook a lot, and you get to eat a lot. Since eating a lot will make you really unhealthy, it’s better to freeze the leftovers for future meals. Then, you have food for days, weeks, or even longer, and don’t have to cook every day. 90% of your meal is ready on demand when it’s time to eat.

How to get started:

1. Get a calendar and choose two or three main ingredients that you eat a lot. Make a list of all the meals you could make with those main ingredients, filling in the dates on the calendar until it’s full. You can repeat meals as often as you want until you feel a family revolt.
2. Once the calendar is full, pull out your recipes, and make a list of all the ingredients you’ll need for all those meals.
3. Go shopping for ingredients, and don’t forget a single thing.
4. Designate a prep day when you won’t be disturbed.
5. Chop and prep ahead like a chef, multiplying and adding for all the recipes. When all the prep work is done (chopping veggies, cleaning foods, organizing the kitchen tools) start your meal-prep assembly line, cooking all your recipes in an order that makes sense.

Example #1: Chicken:

  • Roast several chickens, putting different flavors on each, like barbecue, jerk, adobo, or tandori.
  • Package legs and wings in meal-sized portions in Foodsaver bags. Strip breast meat for dinners and freeze or slice and freeze for chicken salad, risotto, or casserole.
  • Fill a soup kettle with bones, water, and stock veggies (onions, carrots, celery) to make a stock or soup, then freeze the soup (omit any pastas until serving time–they turn to lumps of glue) in deli containers in meal-sized portions, adding the pasta before serving.

Example #2: Ground beef:

  • Form some ready-to-grill burger patties. Freeze uncooked.
  • Make and cook meatballs. Freeze in dinner-sized portions either in or out of sauce.
  • Make a few meatloaves. Bake and slice. Freeze in meal sized portions.
  • Brown a ton of ground beef. Make a pot of chili and freeze in deli containers or freezer bags.
  • Take some of the pre-cooked ground beef and freeze plain, ready to add to a recipe.

The old you would have cooked seven times to get all that food. The once-a-month you cooks five chickens at once like a pro, thinking ahead to all the meals you’ll enjoy after a long day of school.

Secret Two: Once a month cooking, modified

Follow the same planning and cooking method as above, but one main ingredient at a time. Do this if you have less time than you need for the whole month’s cooking at once. You can still get a couple months’ meals out of one ingredient. You’ll start rotating the meals in the freezer until you have quite a variety.

Secret Three: Cook like you normally do, but always quadruple the recipe

If you’re making something, make a ton. No more “one tin of zucchini parm.” Make three. It takes a tiny bit more time to cook in bulk, but you get an exponentially large payoff in the end.

Finish strong!

Make sure you have your deli containers, Tupperware, Foodsaver bags and wraps ready to finish strong.  Package and label each ingredient for the freezer. You’ll be getting tired at the end of a long cooking session. You might be tempted to wrap and freeze later….Don’t. You don’t want to waste a thing. The extra few minutes of packaging, labeling, and dating time makes a big difference.

Make a game out of this

If you have foodie friends, take these cooking methods and make an event out of it. Everyone can bring a recipe or two, prep, cook, and package them together, and trade all the foods equally, all while drinking generous amounts of coffee or wine. You could even have everyone make one special meal in their own kitchen in bulk, and bring the packages to the Drink & Swap. Everyone gets one of everyone else’s special meals, along with the recipe.

The next time you cook, roast or barbecue, consider how you can multiply your recipe and cook ahead for later. Don’t just make leftovers, manufacture meals. This will save you from “too tired to cook” takeout, and rescue you from those days when you’re standing in front of the refrigerator saying, “There’s nothing to take to school for lunch today, I’ll just grab this apple and two carrots,” then being mad at the apple because you wanted something more–or worse–eating out of the school vending machine.

Use these three cooking secrets–they’ll save you time, anxiety, and money during your busy school year and you’ll feel like you’re at a five-star restaurant every night!