Preparing Food Ahead for College Student, Single Person or Family

Note: I’ve included our video illustrations below as 2-minute mini videos so you don’t have to watch one long video. You can just watch the little video clips you want to. However, if you do want to see the full 30-minute video you can view the complete video HERE.

As a single mom with three kids who all had different dietary needs (one vegan, one a weight lifter, one with specific tastes, and me with food allergies) I had to develop a method of cooking that would allow me to meet the dietary & health needs of my family while also having time to take care of my business and other home needs. This method proved so successful that my son started using it immediately upon leaving the home and I recently taught my daughter how to cook using this method as well. The benefits are numerous – this method saves money, allows flexibility in diet, accommodates different dietary needs without requiring you to cook multiple meals, is healthy, and saves time.

So why did we decide to make a food preparation video/tutorial? It seems there are already so many online. My goal is to try to present a method that is easier and more flexible than a lot of the tutorials I have seen.

I’ve seen a lot of food preparation videos and I think one thing that’s discouraging for me is that in a lot of them is that there’s this long grocery list and then there are all these complicated recipes with exact portions. In my family not everyone eats the same portions so I have to usually make more than what the normal portion would be. If I follow the standard formula there wouldn’t be enough food. Also it’s very discouraging for me to have so many different recipes and so much going on with the process.

I’ve also seen a lot of methods where the recipes will use mostly canned and preprepared food that are just put together. That doesn’t make sense to me either because if you are just using all canned or preprepared food you might as well take 10 minutes to prepare it every evening instead of preparing it ahead of time. This also does not fit well with our goal to eat mostly whole foods.

So with this video series and blog post I want to emphasize that I’m showing you a method that you can adapt your own needs and that to make it comfortable and easy and fun for you. I’ve gone months before not using recipes at all and just making very simple dishes with meat and vegetables and spices I just randomly put in there. It doesn’t have to be complicated. The shopping list will really depend on the portions you need for your family and what recipes you decide on. Like I mentioned before one of my daughters is vegan and so when she is here are usually split everything into halves and make a vegan portion of whatever I’m cooking.

For that reason I’ve included a vegan variation of each recipe. However I’ve also included this variation to show you how you don’t need to be restricted by the recipes and how easy it is to substitute. Don’t be put off by the fact that you may need special ingredients. For example I can’t use milk or gluten in any of our cooking because of an intolerance I have. But you are welcome to add in breadcrumbs or cheese or whatever to any of these recipes. You can also easily make them vegetarian or vegan. You can do that with any recipe. Over the years I’ve stopped using special cookbooks for a lot of things because I realized that you can just simply substitute the recipes you already have with other things.

Step One: Set Up Your Food Preparation Area

The first step to cooking ahead or making any kind of cooking more efficient is to make sure that your food prep area is organized and well supplied. Your spices, grains, and all basics should be organized and easy to access. We keep our spices on turntables and all of our cooking and baking basics in labeled containers that are easy to access. When food prep day comes around you will also want to make sure that you put all the ingredients and tools you will need on the counter ahead of time. Everything. It will slow you down if you have to keep opening cupboards, looking into the fridge or searching for tools. For a visual you can see the video below.

Video: Intro: Cooking Ahead for College Student, Single Person or Family

Step Two: Plan Your Method

You need to decide what your needs are and what method you will use. What are the dietary needs of your family? Do you need to restrict sugar, wheat, dairy, meat or portions for anyone? What are the eating needs of your family? Will you be eating together (perhaps cook ahead more dishes in one large serving dish), will they be taking food to work or school (perhaps use a standard 3-divider container to store prepared meals individually) or will each person eat at a different times and have different needs (perhaps use the mix-and-match method we show in this video and store each different food item in a different container). See the videos below for visuals…

Video: Cooking Ahead for College Student, Single Person or Family: Part One: Your Method 

Video: Cooking Ahead for College Student, Single Person or Family: Part Two: Your Needs

Step Three: Set Up Your Space and Maximize Your Efficiency 

Once you have your ingredients set up and have decided what your needs are you can get started on your project by maximizing your cooking space and making as many “no recipe” items as possible.

Video: Cooking Ahead for College Student, Single Person or Family: Part Three: Maximize Cooking Space

Video: Cooking Ahead for College Student, Single Person or Family: Part Four: The No-Recipe Cook: Part A

Video: Cooking Ahead for College Student, Single Person or Family: Part Five: The No-Recipe Cook: Part B

Step Four: Pre-Cut and Pre-Prepare Your Ingredients

To make preparing your recipe dishes even more efficient you should now do all your prep work ahead of time. You will start by cutting all your vegetables at once. You can easily see how this will increase efficiency. If you have four recipes that need onions and you prepare all the onions at once (especially using a food processor) then your preparation steps for your recipes for onions have been reduced from four steps to one. By doing this with all the ingredients in the recipes you will reduce your prep time by up to 80%. We also prepare all of our grains ahead of time in bulk by making 10 cups of brown rice in the rice cooker, pasta using the largest pot in our home, and bread using the bread maker. To see how we pre-cut all of our vegetables and prepare grains ahead of time for the recipes you can watch the videos below…

At this point in the process you will also start storing some of the pre-cooked meals and ingredients such as the no-recipe salmon and the pasta or rice you have cooked ahead.

Video: Cooking Ahead for College Student, Single Person or Family: Part Six: Vegetable Prep

Video: Cooking Ahead for College Student, Single Person or Family: Part Seven: The Grains

Video: Cooking Ahead for College Student, Single Person or Family: Part Eight: Storing the Food

Video: Cooking Ahead for College Student, Single Person or Family: Part Nine: What Counter Looks Like After Prep Work

Step Five: Make Substitutions

You do not need a special recipe book for vegan, gluten-free or dairy-free cooking. You only need to figure out which substitutes work for you. You can read about my gluten-free conversions HERE. To convert any dish I make into a vegan dish I will often split the recipe in two and make half the recipe one way and the other half with the vegan substitutes. This reduces my cooking time as I only need to make one recipe and not two different meals. Here are some of the substitutes I use in our standard recipes. You can also see visuals of this method by clicking on the video links below…

  1. Do not add meat to the recipe and add more vegetables (see Beef Stew recipe)
  2. Add portobello mushrooms instead of chicken (see Orange Chicken recipe)
  3. Use black beans instead of ground beef (see Picadillo recipe)
  4. Make some recipes that are vegan for non-vegan members of the family

Video: Cooking Ahead for College Student, Single Person or Family: Part Ten: Converting Dishes to Vegan

Step Six: Make the Recipes

If you have performed all your prep tasks in steps 1-5 then making any recipe should not take you more than five minutes. In fact, my favorite method of cooking ahead is to do the prep work the day before so “cooking day” goes very quickly. Remember – these steps can be done over a number of days instead of all in one day. In step six you will simply mix together and prepare your recipes quickly using the ingredients & spices you have set out on the counter ahead of time and all the ingredients you have pre-prepared in some way. You can watch the videos below for a visual of how the final recipes might come together so quickly.

Video: Cooking Ahead for College Student, Single Person or Family: Part Eleven: 5-Minute-Picadillo

Video: Cooking Ahead for College Student, Single Person or Family: Part Twelve: 5-Minute-Turkish Rice

Video: Cooking Ahead for College Student, Single Person or Family: Part Thirteen: 5-Minute-Mexican Rice

Step Seven: Fill in the Empty Spaces

To finalize your food preparation you may (or may not) need to add in some “easy” fillers. Perhaps your recipes were low on vegetables or you need more vegetable side dishes. Or perhaps you are low on grains. At this point you can “fill in the blanks” by cooking up some frozen vegetables with your favorite spice mixture or cooking up a quick extra pot of noodles (gluten-free extra for me).

Video: Cooking Ahead for College Student, Single Person or Family: Part Fourteen: Quick Side Dishes

Step Eight: Enjoy Your Meals!

Once you have cooked up and stored all your pre-prepared meals you can enjoy them any time you want. We store some of the meals in 3-divider containers so they are “ready to go”. Other meals we store in different containers so we can “mix-and-match”. For a family meal I may store an entire meal in one large casserole dish. View the videos below for a visual.

Video: Cooking Ahead for College Student, Single Person or Family: Part Fifteen: How to Use Your Prepared Meals

Video: Cooking Ahead for College Student, Single Person or Family: Part Sixteen: Containers for Prepared Meals


We wanted to do this all in one day because my daughter was just visiting for the one day but also we wanted to videotape it. However, on a regular basis when I do this I will do some of the prep work the day before. I may even spread the tasks out over a few days in-between other tasks I am doing in the same area so it often seems like I am not even doing the task at all. For example, if I am doing dishes and sweeping the kitchen floor that is all the time it takes to cook up a large pan of salmon. If I quickly prepare it before I start my other tasks it will be done and I feel as if I haven’t even had to cook at all.

The way we are doing this food today is different then I would’ve done it 10 years ago or even five years ago. Over the years I’ve had various methods of preparing food ahead of time. When I lived overseas frozen and canned vegetables were either not available or very expensive so I would actually go to the farmers market every week and then come home and chop up all the vegetables and put them in the freezer to make preparation easier all week.

However, you may choose to use more frozen vegetables that I do or fewer. In addition there certain kitchen tools you may or may not choose to use. I remember sitting around the table with other women rolling grape leaves when I lived in Egypt and we would all spend three hours rolling a pile of grape leaves and enjoying each other‘s company and then we would split them up and take our share home. The sense of community and being together made the job go quickly and we all ended up with a lot more food than we would have if we done it alone.

We also used no tools to help us. When my children were younger I wanted them to have the experience of shaping the bread by hand and I refused to own a bread machine. Keep in mind that the methods and tools I am using can be modified according to your situation. For example if you have a lot of children to help you make bread and that would probably be a wonderful way to make bread. However if you are a single person living alone you may want to use a bread machine like I have switched over to.


Jamaican Jerk Chicken
1 lg, onion, chopped
8TBS. Wine Vinegar
4 TBS. Vegetable Oil
1 TBS. Sugar or Honey
2 TBS. Paprika
2 TBS. Thyme
1 TBS. Red Pepper or Cayenn
1 tsp. Salt
2 tsp. Nutmeg
1.5 tsp. Allspice

1. Process all until smooth in a food processor or blender or just mix together in a bowl/Ziploc bag.
2. Put 20 drumsticks or 20 chicken tenders in this to soak for at least 24 hours.
3. Heat oven to 475 degrees F
4. Line cookie sheet with foil and arrange chicken on it.
5. Bake 20-25 minutes.

Vegetable Meatloaf
2 lbs. Ground Beef
2 Eggs
1 Onion, Chopped
3 TBS. Fresh Parsley
1/4 C. Wheat Germ, Oatmeal or Gluten-Free Oats
3-4 Large Carrots, Shredded or Chopped in Food Processor
2 Medium Zucchini (or substitute other vegetable if needed)

1. Mix all and put in 2 loaf pans
2. Bake air 350 degrees F for 1.5 hours
3. Serve with a couple spoons of chutney, tomato sauce or catsup over the top.

Mandarin Orange Chicken
1 lb. Chicken Breasts, Cut into Cubes
2 Cups Sliced Mushrooms
1 6 oz. Can Frozen Orange Juice
1/2 Cup Scallions (Green Onions), Chopped
1 11-oz, Can of Mandarin Oranges (or use fresh)
1.5 tsp. Poultry Seasoning
1 tsp. Salt

1. Cook chicken breasts in a wok with a bit of olive oil or vegetable broth.
2. Toss in mushrooms and cook those.
3. Add rest of ingredients except oranges and continue to stir-fry those.
4. Bring to a boil and simmer for 3-4 minutes.
5. Serve with rice or grain.

1 Large Onion, Chopped
2 Cloves Garlic, Chopped
1 Large Green Pepper, Chopped
1/2 lb. Ground Beef, Cooked and Drained
1 tsp. Cumin
3/4 tsp. Corriander
3 Tomatoes, Chopped OR 3 8-oz. Cans Diced Tomatoes
1/2 Cup Green Olives
1/2 Cup Golden Raisins (or mix)

1. Saute onion and garlic in a bit of olive oil or vegetable broth
2. Add peppers and saute another 2 minutes.
3. Add beef, spices, tomato, olives and raisins.
4. Boil until thick or about ten minutes.

Easy Beef Stew
3 lb. Stew Beef
2 Cups Tomato (or 2 8-oz. Cans Diced Tomato)
1 lb. Green Beans
6 Carrots, Cubed
2 Potatoes, Cubed (or sweet potato)
1 Onion, Chopped
1 Turnip, Cubed
1/2 tsp. Salt and Pepper
3 TBS. Tapioca
1/4 Cup Fresh Parsley or 3 TBS. Dried Parsley Flakes
1/4 Cup Fresh Chives or 3 TBS. Dried Chives
1 tsp. Orgeano
1/4 tsp. Allspice
1/2 tsp. Majorum
1/2 tsp. Cloves
1 tsp. Garlic
1 tsp. Paprika
2 TBS. Worchetershire Sauce

1. Put all ingredients together in crock pot and press the applicable “cook” button. Mine has settings for 4,6 and 8 hours so I choose when I want it to be ready.

Turkish Rice Pilaf
1 TBS. Olive Oil
2 Cups Brown Rice, Cooked
3 Cups Onion, Chopped
1/4 tsp. Cinnamon
1/2 Cup Golden Raisins
3/4 Cup Sliced Almonds, Cashews or Pine Nuts

1. Saute onions and nuts with a bit of olive oil or vegetable stock
2. Add remaining ingredients until everything is distributed evenly in the rice.

Mexican Rice
5 Cups Cooked Brown Rice
1 Onion, Chopped
1 Green Pepper, Chopped
1 Bunch Scallions, Chopped
1/2 lb. Mushrooms, Chopped
1/4 Cup Chopped Chives
1 lb. Canned Diced Tomatoes
1 Can Artichoke Hearts
1 Cup Cooked Corn
1/4 Cup Fresh Corriander
1 tsp. Cumin
2 tsp. Chili Powder
Dash of Tabasco or Chili

1. Saute onions, green peppers, scallions and mushrooms.
2. Add rest of ingredients and mix together with rice until everything is distributed evenly

“Fried” Chicken or Vegetables
Chicken Tenders OR Large Portobello Mushrooms
These will be your base item then you will dip them in the wet dip and coat them with the coating below…

1 cup skim milk, almond milk, cashew milk, or coconut milk
1 egg or egg substitute

1/2 Cup Cornmeal
4 TBS. WW Flour or Amaranth Flour (or any other flour)
1 tsp. Onion Powder
1 tsp. Garlic Powder
1 tsp. Paprika
1/2 tsp. Poultry Seasoning
1/4 tsp. Black Pepper
1 tsp. Salt
1.5 tso. Rosemary
1/2 tsp. Oregano
3/4 tsp. Curry

1. Take your base item (chicken tenders or portobello mushrooms) and dip them in the dip.
2. Next, coat them on both sides with the coating.
3. Place them on an oiled cookie or baking sheet.
4. Bake at 350 degrees F for 20 minutes covered with foil.
5. Bake 10 more minutes uncovered.


  1. As a family of nine I feel like our whole day consists of cooking, eating, cleaning. I’m really looking forward to reading and working through these steps. Like you, we have varying dietary needs that are getting more complicated as we age. I would like to get to the point where our days feel calm and relaxed with lots of time for learning and play.

    Keisha Forbes
    • Oh my! A family of four really kept me on my toes – especially since they all eat different foods. I can’t imagine a family of 9! But the good part is you will have more food-prep helpers. I sometimes did this alone and it was definitely faster and more fun when my helpers were around. It cut the time by 50-75%. Another consideration is the storage space. We have on large stand-alone freezer but that can only hold enough for our family of four. You would need to store things in ziploc bags or in larger portions to save space.

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