A couple putting away groceries.

Cooking can be an enjoyable experience, but it can sometimes feel overwhelming, especially if you’re also cooking for a partner or child. If you’re busy or trying to fit home-cooked meals into an impossible schedule, you can complete a one-week meal prep for two to save time and money.

You’ve heard of cook once, eat twice — let’s take it to the next level.

Counting your meals

Whether you’re cooking for yourself and a partner, a child or someone else you’re caring for, the first step in saving time and sanity in the kitchen is to know how many servings of food you need for a week.

  • How many times a week do you both eat at home?
  • How many times a week do you need to pack food to go?
  • How many times do you eat food from school, work, restaurants, social outings or other meals where you don’t have to cook?

If you eat at home more than your partner or child, figure out the number of meals you eat at home or pack to go.

Customizing to your needs

After you know the number of servings you need, consider:

  • Are there food allergies?
  • Are there food preferences?
  • Are there major differences between serving sizes (such as a parent and a small child)?

If only one person has food allergies, you can simplify by preparing all meals to be allergen-free. Or, if one person can eat dairy but the other can’t, for example, you can prepare dairy-free main dishes but add cheese or sour cream on the side. By choosing main dishes that work for both people, you can easily customize side dishes to taste preferences or allergy needs.

Choosing what to make

You can choose to cook several different dishes, or you can work from one to two main proteins for the week that you serve with different sides or with different seasonings or sauces. For the latter, pick a protein and list out the meals and number of servings you’ll need to shop for. Let’s say you’re going to batch cook chicken breasts to cover everything. Now that you have your main protein, consider ways to differentiate each meal, such as:

  • Chicken breast paired with brown rice and a steamed vegetable
  • Sliced chicken breast on an open-face sandwich with bread, cheese, honey mustard, lettuce and a side of chips
  • Chicken seasoned with chili powder and cumin and served with tortillas and other taco fixings
  • Diced chicken combined with chicken broth, chopped carrots and other ingredients for a simple chicken soup
  • Sliced chicken paired with salad greens, dressing and a mix of vegetables, fruit or other salad toppings

Making your list and shopping

Once you’ve planned your proteins and side dishes, it’s time to make your list and shop. If your child or the other person you’re prepping for might stay home sick from school, skip a dinner outing or otherwise require more food, consider buffering your plan with an additional two to four meal servings. It’s always nice to have a few leftovers in case your plans change.

When you’re buying in bulk for a week of prep, don’t forget to consider store sales and stretch your grocery dollars by saving with coupons and cash back offers.

Cooking your meals

After you’ve done your shopping, it’s time to get the bulk of your cooking done. Choose the least busy day of your week, and cook any main proteins. Using canned tuna or other precooked proteins will reduce the cooking burden for your prep day.

Also, consider other prep that will save time later. This could include:

  • Washing and cutting vegetables like carrots or bell peppers
  • Precooking rice, quinoa or beans
  • Slicing or shredding cheese (or buying pre-sliced or shredded cheese)

Most foods will be fine if you cook, refrigerate and eat them within five to seven days. If you live in a high-humidity area, keep your house warm or have your refrigerator set to the warmest allowable temperature, you may want to split your cooking days and prepare foods twice per week.

Storing and enjoying your food

You may want to purchase storage containers that stack efficiently in your refrigerator. Square or rectangular containers tend to be more efficient, and a glass storage set will often stand up to frequent washing better than plastic sets, saving you money long term.

To make sure your food lasts the week, store your meals in portioned-out containers. When it’s time to get a meal ready, you don’t have to worry about how much chicken you can cook for taco night without dipping into the next meal’s portion. You just take the container out, reheat and finish prepping.

It may take a week or two of experimenting to make sure you have enough (but not too much) food for two. But with a little practice, you can save significant time and money by using a one-week meal prep for two approach.