A few years ago I was reading on the Balancing Beauty and Bedlam blog and I stumbled across an old article about how the author, Jennifer, would cook up a huge quantity of a meal (about three times larger than what they could eat at one setting), and then, she would take the leftovers and divide them in half, and serve them two different ways over the course of the next two days.
So she put in the work up front to cook once on day 1, then on days 2 and 3, she spent a little bit of time turning the first meal into something totally different.
I’ve always loved this idea because let’s face it…coming up with and cooking a brand new meal for each day is sometimes daunting. And on the busiest of weeks, it becomes considerably more difficult.
I started putting Jennifer’s excellent “Cook Once” idea into practice, and I have a few different main staple meals that I do it with. I’d love to share one of those meals with you.
Chili–Cook Once, Eat Three Different Meals
I make up an enormous (seriously, it’s HUGE!) pot of chili on day 1. I keep the costs lower by only using two pounds of ground beef, and using six cups of dry beans. I also buy the institutional sized cans of diced tomatoes, crushed tomatoes, and tomato sauce instead of the much smaller cans.
I throw it together in the morning, let it simmer all day, make a simple cornbread recipe in the evening, and serve it with sour cream and shredded cheese.
It’s always a huge hit, and there is always a ton left over.
On Day 2, I will take half of the leftover chili and make it into Chili Mac. First I add at least four cups of water to the chili to thin it out, and I heat it up until it is simmering. I cook the macaroni right in with the chili, so you have to add enough liquid for the pasta to cook well.
So I add the right amount of macaroni, which is usually just one box worth for our family, we like to have a higher chili to noodle ratio, but if you don’t have quite as much leftover, or you need to stretch it for a crowd, just add more macaroni and more water.
Simmer the chili mac until the noodles are the right consistency (I go just a little longer than the box directions, al dente Chili Mac isn’t that great). I stay close to the stove while the pasta is cooking and stir every few minutes to keep the beans or the pasta from sticking.
After the pasta is done, taste and adjust your seasonings. I serve this up with sour cream and shredded cheddar cheese again.
On Day 3, I make up a Chili Tater Tot Casserole. The first thing that you need to do is get the tater tots in the oven and get them nice and crispy and golden brown on a baking sheet (usually about 30 minutes in a 400 degree oven).
While the tater-tots are cooking, warm up your chili and thin it out some. You don’t want it to be soup consistency, but you do want it to be thinner than chili. The tater tots will absorb some of the liquid, so you don’t want to be left with dry, crusty chili.
Once the tater tots are crisp and the chili is hot, spray a casserole dish with non-stick spray, scoop your tots into the dish, and level them out. Then, pour the chili on top, and top it with a layer of shredded cheese.
Place your casserole dish back in the 400 degree oven and let it cook for 10-15 minutes. Serve with sour cream.
None of these three meals are an exact science, notice I didn’t provide a recipe for any of them. This is because you’ll need to adjust these for your own family’s tastes and preferences.
Every family has its own chili recipe, so use yours and get started! Cooking this way is especially helpful during a busy week when you would otherwise be tempted to order take-out or use more expensive convenience food.
I always serve each meal with a salad. All of the tomatoes in the chili are fantastic, but I like to add in something fresh too.
This principle of Cook Once, Eat Three Different Meals is just one more weapon in your arsenal to keep your grocery budget down, and the health of your children up.