What’s for Dinner, Mom?

It’s 5 pm and the kids are hungry. You rummage through the refrigerator looking for leftovers – no such luck. You hastily attempt to prepare a simple Spaghetti Bolognese and realize that you’re out of pasta. The doorbell is ringing and your eldest son just called. He’s bringing his girlfriend for dinner.

We’re all aware of the chaos that a lack of organization around mealtime can bring! Instead of dinner being a time when the family comes together, it can be a time of frustration.

For Kathy Cottrell, a schooling mother of two teenage sons who lives in Scottsdale, Arizona, part of the solution has been planning and preparing meals in advance. For the past 15 years, she has planned two month’s worth of menus, cooked the entrees and stocked her freezer with tasty dishes ready to re-heat and serve with ease.

What are the benefits of advance menu planning and cooking?

  • The dinner hour is much more peaceful. No after-work scrambling to put food on the table.
  • The family eats together more frequently.
  • You save a great deal of money when you buy in bulk and avoid impulse purchases at the grocery store.
  • You also save money that you would spend eating out “by default” because there’s nothing appetizing and convenient to eat at .
  • You save time by shopping and cooking all at once.
  • You get to choose the best time to cook.
  • The rest of a meal gets more attention. If you already have your entrée prepared, you can make a nice dessert.
  • Having dinner parties becomes a lot less complicated.
  • Stressful times from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day can be much calmer.

The key principle in bulk cooking is to think ahead in order to save even one or two steps. Kathy encourages women to look at their own lives and prepare for the activities they do over and over again, such as frequent church potlucks or taking cookies to their child’s school. You can gear the method of bulk cooking to whatever their particular needs are. “You’re already making a mess when you cook, so make it worth your while!” she says.

How to cook in bulk

Begin by looking for recipes that can be frozen either fully or partially. See three of Kathy’s favorites.

  • Plan your menus.
  • Make a complete grocery list.
  • Check your pantry for your current inventory.
  • Buy everything on your list.
  • Add up the quantities of produce required and cut it all up at once.
  • Use crock-pots to get your chiles, stews or stroganoff going.
  • Cook and cut up all the chicken you need.
  • Cook all your other meats.
  • Cook the rice, stuffing and noodles.
  • Begin assembling your dishes.
  • Let cool and cover well with heavy-duty aluminum foil (or use Ziploc freezer bags).
  • Put directions for cooking directly on the dish.
  • Date it (the day you made it).
  • Freeze it.
  • Keep a list of the meals on your refrigerator and cross them off as you use them.
  • Pull out the meal you want in the morning, thaw it and pop it in the oven at dinnertime.

While cooking for two months might seem like a humungous undertaking, it really serves to be a more efficient way of doing the several little time-consuming things we do everyday. But if this seems too intimidating, Kathy has some suggestions for easing into the program.

  • Never again make only one meal at a time. Always at least double the recipe.
  • Cook, cut up, and freeze large amounts of chicken.
  • Look for recipes that utilize your prepared chicken.
  • Cook and freeze meatballs. Use with sauces, gravies, and in spaghetti. Serve over rice, pasta, or with potatoes.

Food isn’t spiritual, but a lot of spiritual things happen around food

Time spent planning family mealtimes can indeed yield lifelong, and even eternal, dividends.

Sharing dinner together, according to a study by Dr. Catherine Snow of Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, is of more value to child development than playtime, school, and story time. (1)

Dinnertime still holds special significance when the kids get older. A recent study showed that teenagers who ate dinner with their families five or more times per week were least likely to be on drugs, to be depressed, or to be in trouble with the law. They were also more likely to do well in school and have healthy friendships. (2)

For Kathy, planning and cooking meals in advance has not only blessed her family, but allowed them to minister to many people– providing meals for sick people, kids’ camps and unexpected company.

The Cottrells have also opened up their to many college students who came from troubled backgrounds and shared the love of Christ with them. She says, “We’ve found that simply having them in our and providing the order of a family dinner taught them what family was. We’ve had other times where we’ve counseled people or we’ve had people over to our for all kinds of spiritual gatherings. Food is a key part of that, even though it’s not spiritual in and of itself.”

Kathy began bulk cooking by rigidly following the instructions in a book called Once A Month Cooking by Mimi Wilson and Mary Beth Lagerborg, which contains a complete two-week and one-month plan. She recommends it for anyone considering bulk cooking and assures that “it’s a way to enjoy your family more. It’s a way to enjoy your company more and to be a more relaxed and ready hostess.”


1 Quoted in Bringing up Boys, by Dr. James Dobson, Tyndale Publishers, Wheaton, IL: 2002.
2 ibid

Stefanie Coutinho is the managing editor with Christian Women Today. To e-mail Stefanie, click here.

To e-mail Kathy Cottrell, click here.

Reprinted with permission from Christian Women Today http://www.christianwomentoday.com

About Mary Ann

Mary Ann Kelley has been creating meal plans online for over 15 years, first as part of TheHomeSchoolMom's cooking resources for busy moms and later on Menus4Moms, which has been highlighted by "Diner's Journal," The New York Times' Blog on Dining Out, and PBS Parents' "Kitchen Explorer."

Mary Ann loves cooking and she loves planning/organizing, so meal planning is a natural intersection of the two. She believes her mission for the meal plans is being fulfilled when visitors let her know that she has helped them save time and money by teaching them to plan ahead and become more efficient in the kitchen.

When Mary Ann is not cooking, she enjoys reading, researching genealogy, and traveling.

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