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Tips and Tricks to Combat Cooking Burn Out

by Tara Kuczykowski on February 12, 2010 · 21 comments

Freezer CookingPhoto by bowbrick

The following is a guest post from Beth at In Good Cents:

We all know the truth. Staying home and cooking is much more affordable and frugal than eating out.

I love to cook, but with three kids who think any time I’m in the kitchen is the perfect time to start acting crazy, I burn out quickly. After just a few days of cooking, I find myself on the phone with my sweet husband saying, “Please… please… please, stop on the way home and pick something up!”

The good thing about knowing your flaws is that you can plan ahead to combat them so that to the outside world you appear to have it all together, when you’re really flying by the seat of your pants.

I’ve come up with a few ways to combat my own tendency to burn out on cooking at home:

The Encore Meal

The art of the encore meal can be tricky to learn for some. Basically, it means spending time to make one thing that can be turned into something else just as delicious. You’ll do all or most of you prep work the first day, then spend the second day just changing it up bit.

Confused? Let’s see an example:

Day 1: Cook a whole chicken & serve with sides
Day 2: Take the left-over chicken and use it to make quick & easy Chicken Enchiladas

or

Day 1: Make Chili in your slow cooker
Day 2: Turn that Chili into Chili or Mexican Pizza, Chili Nachos, Haystacks, or Taco Salad

Once you master this art, you can turn one meal into two or three or even make it last an entire week if you don’t get sick of eating similar meals ever night.

Left-Over Night

When you cook at home a lot, you accumulate a lot of left-overs. You can enjoy them for lunches or take a page from my book and have a left-over night to empty the fridge.

This has become a family favorite for my kids. The rules are simple. I put out every left-over item in our refrigerator and the kids pick whatever they want. My husband and I have no say. This is the one day I can’t remind them to eat their vegetables or not to fill up on bread.

I bite my lip as my oldest daughter fills her plate with meat and bread and simply enjoy my night off.

Design Your Own Meal

Another tradition we’ve created in our household is Salad Night. Once a week, instead of me cooking, everyone makes their own meal. I lay out all the items we have in our house that could potentially be put in a salad (meats, nuts, vegetables, fruits, croutons, etc…) and everyone tosses in their favorites.

My kids have come up with some delicious and creative salads, and I get to smile because, unbeknownst to them, they are eating something extremely healthy. You’d be surprised what foods can be turned into a delicious salad.

But designing your own meal doesn’t have to be about salads. Another of my children’s favorites is something my mom used to call Kiddie Kabobs when I was little. She’d set out cheese squares, chicken chunks, olives, and more. Then we’d stick them all on a kabob stick with a marshmallow at the end and enjoy.

Cook & Freeze

The most obvious method to avoid cooking burnout fpr many of us is too cook and freeze. What does this mean? Whenever you’re cooking anything, double up the batch -- or even triple it -- so you can freeze the extras. Next time you’re not in the mood to cook or know you’ll be running behind, you can quickly pull something out of the freezer to thaw and toss in the oven.

Tada - a quick meal with absolutely no prep time!

Chicken & Spinach Parmesan Hot Pockets

I’m sharing this recipe, not only because it's the perfect freezer recipe, but also because it can be a delicious encore meal to follow Chicken Parmesan, Chicken & Spinach Salad, or even plain chicken breasts. Unfortunately, when I make it though, there are no left-overs.

Ingredients

Pocket
• 2 1/4 cup flour
• 1 egg
• 1/8 cup sugar
• 1 1/8 tsp yeast
• 1/3 cup milk
• 1/3 cup water
• 1/4 tsp salt
• 1/2 stick butter (melted)

Stuffing
• 2 cooked chicken breasts, diced into bite-size pieces
• 2 cups pasta sauce
• 1/2 cup fresh spinach
• 2 cups grated Parmesan

Directions
1. Mix and then kneed all of the pocket ingredients until well blended. Cover and set aside to rise for about 1 hour or longer.

2. Preheat oven to 350.

3. When done, separate dough into approximately 6-7 equal piece. Kneed, roll and flatten each piece into a circle. Top each circle of dough with chicken, douse with pasta sauce, layer with spinach, and sprinkle with Parmesan (leave a bit of Parmesan for later).

4. Gently close each circle of dough around the chicken stuffing mixture and seal by pinching. At this point, you can gently shape them as well, if needed. Top each one with remaining Parmesan.

5. Place on a foil-lined or greased cookie sheet or baking sheet and place in the oven for approximately 20-30 minutes until done. Serve hot.

What other methods do you use to fight cooking burnout? Do you have a favorite freezer recipe?

Beth is a wife and mother of three who shares tips and tricks at In Good Cents to teach her readers the skills they need to dramatically cut their own grocery budgets.

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Lisa Marie Mary February 12, 2010 at 7:52 am

These are some really great ideas - I especially like the 'Design Your Own Meal' one! That sounds like a lot of fun and a great stress relief on the family chef! :)

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2 Lori Reeves February 12, 2010 at 9:19 am

Great article! I get burned out, but I keep cooking! We've even decided that on our beach vacation this year, guess who's doing all the cooking! :) It really will save a load of cash. I love the salad night idea. And I try to do the encore meal as often as I can. My favorite is to make chicken fajitas one night and then fajita quesadillas the next night. Still mexican food, but different and definitely delicious! Thanks again for a great article!

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3 jenny February 12, 2010 at 9:27 am

Great article! Burnout happens fast here and knowing it's not just me also helps.

When I was a child, my favorite day was "any day": a term my mom used for leftover day. It was fun to choose my dinner. Can't wait until my kids are older and can do this too and be as excited about it too!

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4 Samantha February 12, 2010 at 10:12 am

When making spaghetti or some other meal that requires ground meat I will cook twice the amount of meat i need then refrigerate half when i am done for the next day to make chili, or tacos or even hamburger helper if my husband will be cooking that day. (he only does this like once a month if that).

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5 Kelly February 12, 2010 at 10:26 am

We also do breakfast night when I don't feel like cooking or frozen meal night for all those meals u get cheap/free with coupons. I was wondering how many this recipe makes. Thanks for the great ideas...as for the grow your own herbs do u plant with seeds..or buy the plants somewhere?

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6 Lindsay M February 12, 2010 at 10:27 am

I am love using leftovers! Keeps things fun and interesting!

Chili leftovers are great as Chili and Cheese Enchiladas. Blend up chili in blender. Put shredded cheese into tortillas and place in baking dish. Then pour chili all over and top with a little more shredded cheese. So good and a new favorite at our house!

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7 Lee Brinn February 12, 2010 at 11:46 am

Love the site; great helpful info for moms (and dads). Wow how tough it gets to fit it all in! Thanks for the help! I cook as part of our family team (Often my family takes one for the team when I do)and can use all the suggestions I can gather hahaha. Thanks Tara!

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8 Mariah February 12, 2010 at 12:10 pm

Thanks for sharing the recipe. It sounds delicious!

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9 Amanda February 12, 2010 at 12:33 pm

I've recently started using relishrelish.com . It's a meal planning website. It's preloaded with lots of recipes, or you can add your own. You go on and pick your meals for the week and it will generate the recipes and even the shopping list!

I love it!

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10 Diane February 12, 2010 at 2:08 pm

I don't mind the cooking. It's the cleaning up during/after the cooking.

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11 momforhim February 12, 2010 at 2:30 pm

I've got several freezer recipes posted here:

http://momforhim.blogspot.com/search/label/Freezer%20Cooking

That's my favorite way to avoid burnout. Good article!

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12 Christine February 12, 2010 at 3:51 pm

I also do a sandwich night, usually on Friday. I'll do Rubens, French Dip, Chicken Ceasar Sandwich, Tuna Melts etc...

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13 Clayton February 12, 2010 at 4:01 pm

Burnout is such a problem for me and my wife. We don't have kids yet so there are not as many mouths to feed. I really appreciate your tips and tricks. We used to make a pot roast and then eat off of that and make sandwiches with it for the next few days. Thank you for your post.

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14 Deborah February 13, 2010 at 10:23 am

Loved the fix your own salad idea... why should mom do all the work!

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15 Anna Smith February 13, 2010 at 12:38 pm

Great post. I use my freezer A LOT to help me out when I'm about to call my husband for take out. And nothing beats having delicious, good for you, homemade leftover meals from the freezer!

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16 Beth @ In Good Cents February 13, 2010 at 4:03 pm

Thanks so much ladies! I love your ideas too. I always need new ways to avoid burn out, since it happens too much here too :)

I do love involving my kids in cooking, so salad nights and design your own meal night lets them get involved with less mess than if I let them in the kitchen :)

This recipe makes about 6 hot pockets, but it depends on how big you make them and how much you stuff them!

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17 MysterySoup February 14, 2010 at 5:17 pm

Great article with some good tips. I like that there is a variety -- the freezer people and crockpot people tend to want you to cook that way for every meal, every time.

My kids tease me that our food goes through one final stage: Aerosol. I confess I do not know how to aerosolize food yet, but I will let you know if I figure it out.

Basically, start with meat on bone, serve in slices on day one. Evening of day one, simmer bones and scraps for hours on low with onions, limp carrots from the back of the veggie drawer and the white insides of the celery (saved for this use) to make stock. Cut the meat up on day two and serve with sauce over starch of your choice. On day 3, chop it fine and mix with cream cheese or mayo and herbs as a cracker or sandwich spread. Day four, add beans and veg to stock for a soup. Optional day 5: put the leftovers of this soup and all the other leftovers in decent condition in the blender and add some milk or cream. More soup! For the final day: Aerosol. It is all there is left. Someday I will learn how.

My college daughter wrote me a nice note recently saying she was tired of eating at the cafeteria all the time and missed eating with us at home, having Mystery Soup. Aww!

This method saves money because you can buy bigger cuts of meat and spend less time cooking on days 2-n. Someone told me that you can boil chicken bones long enough that cats and dogs can eat them as pet snacks, thus wasting nothing.

If you don't like having the same thing every day, you can freeze this at any stage as long as you do so BEFORE you add mayo. Don't forget to add spices at the end so leftovers don't become a spice jungle. Tarragon and chervil are great in a stroganoff type dish. It's a unique flavor I learned from a student from Germany. Curry and chili powders are also useful, as is italian seasoning and Herbes de Provence.

Serve that soup with a hot crusty bread and a salad, and everyone will forget it is day 5. That is one of my tips -- don't remind everyone. Just serve it.

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18 Patti February 18, 2010 at 1:46 pm

Thank you so much for the ideas! This post really spoke to me because as a SAHM of 2 girls under 6 & pregnant with our 1st son I feel guilty if I don't cook dinner every night, but like Beth as soon as I step into the kitchen my girls go wild and I'm just too tired this pregnancy to cook all the time.

I agree I love the idea about create your own meal and the Encore Meals (I've done these in the past but I don't do them often enough, I have to aim to do it once a week.)

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19 Beth @ In Good Cents February 18, 2010 at 2:30 pm

Patti,

I was exactly there not long ago! I have two girls under 6 and a 6 month old boy :) I wanted to curl up on the couch by the end of the day, not cook!

Good luck with your pregnancy and hopefully the ideas will save you a bit of time in the kitchen (and you can use it for a big nap!)

Beth

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20 caroline April 11, 2010 at 3:34 am

i'm just now seeing this but thought i'd comment anyways. Have you considered make your own pizza night? You can buy the pillsbury canned crust that you roll out, get the mix in the box, or the premade crusts, then let everyone add their own toppings. We did this when i was growing up and we all seemed to like it, and we've actually done it before when friends came over- each couple made a pizza bc we got big crusts. We buy either pizza sauce or just use cheap spaghetti sauce, mozzarella and some blend of cheeses, pepperoni, cook some bacon, have pineapple, olives... whatever you like.. and you could even pull out leftover chicken, onions, or whatever else needs to be used up.

Also, when we were little, my mom used to buy a big pack of english muffins, cut them in half, and top the cut sides with pizza sauce, cheese, and pepperoni. Bake to melt cheese or a little longer (not burnt but to crisp the pepperoni a little) then cool on stove top. She used to put these in our lunches and we'd eat them cold for a change from the usual sandwich. I make a big batch and put 2 mini pizzas in each quart freezer bag then freeze. Then when my husband wants a quick snack or meal and im not cooking yet, he can take care of himself! (i usually leave a few bags in the fridge when i make them for the next day or so and some mysteriously disappear from the pan while they're still hot! You could put other stuff on them- i just do pepperoni bc thats what i grew up with.

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21 Alexis April 12, 2010 at 3:53 pm

I am a mother of 2 & expecting also so you can imagine I suffer from cooking burn-out pretty easy also. I love getting my oldest involved in planning meals. She loves it & she usually picks out simple things that I may pass over just because I have that '3 course or 4 square meal' mentality so getting her involved allows for a breathing room in the monday meal planning mess :) Love the quick & easy recipes too!!

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