The One Hour Project: Make A Quadruple Batch Of A Casserole

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This post is part of The One Hour Project, in which you can spend just one hour to put your finances in a better place without a big lifestyle change, through frugality or other financial choices.

One of the biggest challenges for most people when it comes to cooking at home is the time; a busy lifestyle often puts people in a position where they would rather just go home, flop on the couch, and eat whatever takeout or delivery food they have on hand or just microwave a meal. The only problem with this (aside from potential unhealthy eating) is that it’s very expensive, often more expensive than you think.

One great solution to this problem is to save up meals in the freezer that can just be popped in the microwave at your convenience. I wrote about recipes for once a month cooking before, but doing that usually requires an entire weekend. Instead, it might be worthwhile to just invest an hour preparing a lot of a simple but tasty dish and putting most of it into Ziploc bags that can easily be microwaved for a tasty meal.

So, here’s an example of one. I took one of my favorite casserole recipes (which is just a specific variation on the do-it-yourself casserole recipe) and multiplied all of the ingredients by four. I did this very thing just a few days ago and it took about forty five minutes; I wound up with a meal for my family and five Ziploc bags with enough in each one for the three of us (not counting my daughter yet because she’s a long way from table food) to eat a meal.

What You Need

4 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
3 cups Minute Rice
1 pound to 20 ounces broccoli florets
3 cups chicken stock and 2 1/2 cups milk or 4 cans cream of chicken condensed soup and 4 cups water
3 cups shredded cheese (your choice of flavor, I like monterey jack)
1 teaspoon oil (optional; it makes the chicken cook better)
fresh ground pepper to taste
several freezer Ziploc bags

What You Do

Chop up the chicken breasts into small pieces, small enough that a normal bite of food would include one piece of chicken along with some other stuff. Put the chicken breasts and the oil (if you’re using it) into the largest pot you have, then crank up the heat and lightly brown the chicken (the chicken pieces should be very white with hints of brown here and there on them). Add the broccoli and the liquid ingredients and the pepper and bring it all up to a boil. Just as it boils well, dump in the rice, stir it around, then remove it from the heat for five minutes. After five minutes, add all of the cheese and stir until the cheese is thoroughly melted. Eat what you wish, then bag up the rest into appropriate meal-sized quantities – if you live by yourself, this may be as many as eight to ten bags – for a family, it will be much less. Pop the bags in the freezer.

Then, whenever you want to eat the stuff again, yank out a Ziploc bag, put the food into a bowl, and microwave until it’s gently steaming. I like to put a bit more cheese on top, but that’s up to you.

What about the chicken stock? It’s not really necessary, but I find that chicken stock is one of the most delicious liquids on earth. I like to occasionally prepare a large batch of it for my own use for cooking, but it is not vital for this recipe in any way.

This whole process takes an hour, is very cheap (the ingredients can easily be had for under $15 total), and can make a ton of meals. The cooking isn’t complicated and the reheating is very simple, too. Why not spend an hour and make yourself a batch?

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25 thoughts on “The One Hour Project: Make A Quadruple Batch Of A Casserole

  1. Great suggestion. I hate cooking but don’t mind reheating!
    Do you know/think this would taste okay with tuna? I’m just not a big fan of chicken.

  2. I love it when Trent writes about food. But I’d add a few suggestions, mostly for health reasons:

    1) Chop the broccoli florets up small. Other chopped veggies work too… we usually just grab a freezer bag of mixed veggies (peas carrots, beans, broccoli).

    2) Watch the fat. I’d add more oil (olive oil, if you aren’t cooking it too hot) and less cheese.

    3) Watch the sodium. Between all those soups and cheeses it might get pretty high per-serving. Chicken stock can really bump this up, depending how much you add.

    4) If your kids don’t like the veggies, you can try blending them together to a paste. This works even better when blended with cheese.

    The great thing about batching cooking is you can create your own meals. You can make it much healthier than “Healthy Choice.” :) And as Trent says, it’s much more economical. Hey, and it tastes better too!

  3. According to nutritiondata.com, this recipe is 5000 calories total (I entered the stock + milk version and assumed 1% milk, no added oil). That’s 8 portions of 833 calories each! There’s also NO dietary fiber. Switching your instant rice to brown rice drops the calories to 4563 and adds some dietary fiber. Of course, brown rice makes the price go up…

  4. Hello all. New reader and first time poster here. :)

    I really like this recipe and the general idea of cooking a lot of food and freezing it for future meals. My mom and I once spent 4 hours cooking one Sunday and we had food for 5 of us for 2 weeks. We did several recipes that used many the same basic ingredients so that we had some variety but it was still super easy to make. The bonus was that I got some great quality time with my mom.

    As far as the nutritional content, I’d definitely use brown rice as others have suggested, but I’d also pick a low fat cheese, like mozzarella, and make it with non-fat milk and low sodium chicken stock. You won’t notice the difference (except maybe the rice), and it’ll make the meals a lot healthier.

    For convenience, you could also substitute almost any vegetable for the broccoli here. I’ve got a bunch of spinach in the fridge that needs to be used up, so I’ll throw that in when i make this recipe tomorrow. :)

  5. ehh… sorry, my days of mucousy casseroles are over :/ This is as casserole-y as I’ll get. No reason you can’t make dinner every night and have it be quick and cheap.

    Tonight for example, I had fried kale (a few drops of sesame oil in an otherwise dry pan, some sesame seeds, spray with a bit of soy sauce halfway through), beet salad (grated beets, diced pear, lemon juice) and steamed carrots (left over from last night) with some accidentally protein-enhanced chocolate cake (I accidentally used vital wheat gluten instead of normal flour – weirdest texture ever! but it tastes fine). This took me maybe 10 minutes and no planning beyond “huh, what’s in my fridge right now that needs to get used?”

  6. Trent did say that he had one meal ready, plus the 5 frozen ones from this recipe. Even discounting the amount that his 2 year old would eat (I don’t have kids, but I doubt toddlers eat anything like full adult portions), that makes 12 servings from this recipe, at a little over 400 calories each. That’s a perfectly reasonable dinner for an adult.

    Broccoli does have some dietary fiber in it. I’m a vegetarian, so this recipe isn’t really my thing, but you could do much worse health-wise, especially if the alternative is ordering pizza or takeout Chinese food, or cooking some sort of ready-made frozen meal that’s loaded with sodium.

  7. Are you supposed to cook the rice first? Also, my hubby buys brown rice for Indian food lunches every day from ethnic markets. Can we substitute brown rice and again, cook first or after?

  8. Ms. Clear – minute rice is already cooked and basically just needs to rehydrate and get warm. If you’re using brown rice I would cook it first, or else if you’re going to bake the casserole add some extra liquid (I would guess about 2 cups) and bake it for ~45 min.

  9. Yeah–o’course the broccoli adds fiber! Brown rice is fiber-rich, too, but it takes forever to cook and some of us aren’t nuts about it (heh heh! you COULD add nuts to the recipe, maybe!). Minute rice, being processed food, likely is low in nutrients all the way around, and IMHO it tastes like cardboard. Converted rice (which you can also buy in bulk at places like Sprouts) is much tastier, far more nutritious, and only takes 15 or 20 minutes to cook. Try altering the recipe like this:

    First, brown the chicken. About the time the chicken is almost browned to your taste, add 1 or 2 cups of converted rice and stir around in pan drippings. Let this brown a bit (watch: don’t scorch it). Then pour in your liquids. (2 cups of dry rice will make a LOT of cooked rice, but I think you have enough liquid in your recipe to accommodate it. If you enjoy a more soup-like meal, go for 1 cup.)

    Allow this to simmer until the chicken is about cooked. About 10 minutes before you expect the chicken to be done, add the frozen veggies–since they’re blanched, basically all you need to do is defrost and heat them them in the hot dish.

    For a note on the relative nutrition of converted vs. white rice, see http://www.foodsubs.com/Rice.html or http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parboiled_rice.

  10. This looks yummy. The only thing is I am not fan of cheese so I will probably find a substitute. I’d also use brown rice precooked too. Overall, even with the cheese this looks healthier than fast food or take-out.

  11. The only problem I have with this system is all those baggies. I hope you’re washing them out and reusing them, otherwise you’re spending a fortune on baggies in order to save money on meals. You can just as easily use reusable containers for this and the meal is already in its own dish when you’re ready to reheat.

    I would also use brown rice for more nutritional value and fiber, but I know that brown rice can really be a pain to figure out sometimes.

  12. re: reusing baggies

    I haven’t been able to do this effectively, is there a secret? They seem to become more brittle when frozen and the baggies get torn after a few uses.

    Instead we use tupperware-style or pyrex containers. These last longer.

  13. If you’re using brown rice and you cook it before you add it to the pot, be sure to add a LOT less liquid to the mixture because the rice won’t soak it up.

  14. I could never get into cooking ahead and then I found a line of cookbooks called “Cooking for the rushed. They are lifesavers. Complete with a new way to do a grocery list and what to do before you change your clothes when you walk in the door. I think the website is http://www.cookingfortherushed.com. She also has a television show. I tried it and love it. Saves me a ton of money on groceries and time.

  15. Making mass quantities of food does have it’s benefits. One thing to keep in mind when doubling a recipe is to modify the amounts for both cooking and baking. Case in point: The recipe I use for baked mac&cheese calls for 1 lb of cheese. The first time I made a double batch I used 2 lbs. Although it wasn’t necisarily a bad thing, it was a bit cheesy. The next time I used 1.5 lbs and it came out perfect. I’m not sure why that is, common sense would argue that you would simply double, tripple, etc. all ingredients. It looks like this recipe could be modified a bit.

    One thing I noticed about this recipe, there’s 64 1 oz servings of chicken. It seems a bit excessive. Although I assume there will be other things served with this meal, it is drastically unbalanced. This breaks down to more than 5 servings of chicken per serving, more than most people should eat in a day. Plus there is cheese and milk added. The recomendations for protein intake discourage consuming more than 35% of total calories from protien, but no less than 10%. The risks of ODing one’s self on protein include heart problems, kidney disease, and bone loss. And there can’t be more than 2 grams of fiber per serving.

  16. Actually, when food pyramids or similar devices recommend 2-3 servings of meat & alternates a day, a serving equals one ounce. On top of that, the US recommended daily allowance of protein (1 gram per kilogram of body weight) is roughly twice the actual amount necessary (see also: WHO’s guidelines), basically as a margin of error. So if you’re eating three “servings” of 4 oz a day, you are getting 8 times the protein that you need. Refer to daydreamr’s comment re: heart problems, kidney disease, bone loss.

  17. The pyramid guidelines that I looked up say FIVE one ounce servings a day for a 42 year old woman who is 5′ 6″. I don’t know how tall Trent or is wife is, but I’m guessing Trent’s protein needs might be 6 oz per day. For his son figure 2 oz. And I didn’t look closely at the milk and cheese amounts in the casserole, they would first be counted as calcium rich foods and for me (that 5’6″ woman) the daily allowance is three cups. Is this a high protein dish? Yes. most meat based dishes are. This dish was DESIGNED to have a heavy chunk of the day’s protein in it. This is how the typical American diet works. Most of the food is at “dinner” with the other meals getting shorter shift. Is it the healthiest of all meals? No. Is healthier than having deep fried cheese and fried potato skins as an appetizer at TGIF’s before a 6 oz steak with potatoes(cheese sprinkled on top)? Yes. Is it cheaper? Yes. But this isn’t a finance blog.
    Wait, yes it is….

  18. I think Sharon is right, but here is a link to what I think she’s referring to.

    As I recall, the last USDA food pyramid used 2-3 oz. servings of meat and recommended 2-3 servings per day. That would make 4 to 9 oz. per day of meat or equivalent. But the new My Pyramid does give amounts in ounces rather than servings. There is a calculator on the site to tailor this a little more, but the chart gives 5-6 oz. for most adults, a little more for more active people. So probably 1 lb. per day should cover all three of them.

    Based on the fact that he says to eat what you want, then split into 8-10 bags if you’re single, the whole daily portion of only meat/equivalent for the day would be in the package. Also, dairy products and whole grains have proteins that should not be overlooked. Obviously, there is still the possibility that USDA still has meat/protein blinders on and that the needs could be revised downward, although they have made a lot of progress over the past 30 years.

    Also: I seem to recall having good success freezing lentil barley soup. It’s a personal favorite as we long for autumn, very hearty, and if you refrigerate it the first night the rosemary blends wonderfully.

  19. I’m a big fan of the site. But for this one, if I do the math, not counting expense of using the appliance, the time, and the clean up, I don’t see a lot of savings here for convenience food. I can usually get a reasonably, comparably tasty and nutritious convenience meal for about 2 bucks. I find I save more money when I “restaurant” at home, e.g., make steak and grilled artichoke: costs about 8 bucks made at home, and 30 dollars at a restaurant (I eat out nice twice a month, down from 5 times a month). Probably a matter of taste and lifestyle, but there is law of “diminishing returns” (aka leftovers) esp. when it comes to casseroles. I am curious about soups, though, whose inherent mushiness I can accept. I’m not a foodie, but I think Trent has a midwestern bias that is pro-casserole. He is also much more financially solvent than I.

  20. I agree with Redhelper. I dont notice the savings as much when I cook vs. eating a $2 frozen dinner or pizza delivery. However, when I cook salmon or seafood at home (we are big seafood eaters) I notice how I can make a complete meal, including wine for around $7, versus at least $35 in a nice restaurant.

  21. I made a quadruple batch of lasagna after reading this post. I bought all of the supplies at Costco, including a #10 can of tomato sauce for $1.99.

    I was NOT happy with the results of cooking in mass quantities. The quality wasn’t the same. However, in the future, I will make an enormous batch of marinara sauce from another large can of tomato sauce and freeze it. I can also buy the mozarella cheese in bulk, and cut it into usuable size amount and freeze that too. It changes texturally, but will work great for lasagna, baked ravioli, etc.

    Thanks, Trent – I wouldn’t have bothered trying it all before I read your post!

  22. A great site for bulk and freezer cooking is 30daygourmet.com. They have free recipes on the website and free newsletters that include recipes.

  23. I just tried this today and it turned out great. We buy chicken in bulk from Costco, so I wasn’t sure what 4lbs. looked like. Instead, I just used two good sized boneless skinless chicken breasts. Next time I will probably use three, but two worked just fine. It took less than a third of a $5.49 block of cheddar to come up with the three cups shredded – substantially cheaper than buying it pre-shredded (as I typically do). I will probably let the (fresh) broccoli florets cook for a minute in the water before adding the cream of chicken soup in the future, as I like them a bit more cooked than they came out. I’m guessing they’ll cook a bit more when I reheat the casserole later though.

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