The Big Cook is the cooking concept of three Medicine Hat, Alberta moms – with 11 children between them – who swear that cooking en masse helps them stay sane. The idea is that you get together with a few friends to make hundreds of meals in a day using a variety of home-style recipes.
If this sounds overwhelming, it’s not. You don’t actually cook most of the meals with the group, you just prepare them. And that, the authors say, is the most time-consuming part of making dinner.
The coil-bound cookbook features 73 kid-approved recipes on wipeable pages that lay flat. Measurements are given for preparing one, four, six or eight family meals at a time as well as instructions for two sample group cooks, complete with grocery lists. The average cost per meal is about $8. Plus, you share more than your pot roast and mango chicken.
“It’s much more fun to cook with your friends than on your own,” says author Lorelei Thomas, a high school math teacher. “Once you try it, you’ll never want to go back to daily meal preparations again.” Her co-authors, dietitian Joanne Smith and Deanna Siemens, a retired registered nurse who home schools her children, agree it’s changed how they live, giving them more free time by ending the dinner crisis.
You can do The Big Cook in a regular home kitchen – no massive cooking pots or pans required. What you do need are some very large bowls for mixing ingredients. Then you pop uncooked family-sized portions into zipper bags ready for your freezer and everybody swops. Each bag feeds four to six people. You thaw and cook the meals at home on the day you serve them. Because most are not precooked, the meals are freshly made each time.
THE BIG COOK ADVANTAGE:
- No last-minute dash to the grocery store to pick up something for dinner.
- No frantic rush to prepare a meal while your hungry family hovers.
- Healthier meals since you’re less likely to grab fast food or take-out on the way home from work, the kids’ soccer or dance class.
- A supply of homemade main courses in your freezer ready to be cooked.
- Substantial grocery bill savings because you share in bulk buying.
- Encourages everyone to return to the family dinner table.
HOW IT STARTED
The authors, who met through their church, first started cooking together in 1997 as a solution to feeding their rapidly expanding families while juggling hectic schedules.
“When other parents at the hockey arena noticed we weren’t stressed by the usual dinner dilemma, they begged us to share,” says Lorelei. “We sold out of the first printing in a few months and it just took off from there.”
JOANNE, LORELEI AND DEANNA DISH ON HOW THE BIG COOK CAN WORK FOR ANY FAMILY.
PARENTSCANADA: How can you make over 200 meals in a day?
LORELEI: Preparing eight meals of the same recipe is nearly as quick as making one. Each recipe only takes about 20 minutes to make.
We do as many as 28 recipes in a day as a group. If four people make seven recipes each with eight family-sized portions, that’s two family meals of each recipe for each participant. You go home with 56 family meals, enough for about two months. We suggest four people start with 15 or 16 recipes in a day so you end up with a variety to prevent boredom.
PARENTSCANADA: What if people have finicky kids?
JOANNE: The meals can be customized to your family’s tastes.
LORELEI: You start with an assembly line of eight zipper bags with about two pounds of meat in each. Then you mix up the sauce and add the individual ingredients. It’s easy to say, leave the mushrooms out for one family.
DEANNA: The recipes are tried and true family favourites. My kids aren’t fussy but their friends are. I’ve never had anyone not like the recipes.
PARENTSCANADA: How do you shop?
LORELEI: It’s a good idea for the group to get together the week before to decide on recipes and make a shopping list. The actual shopping can be done the day before as well as some chopping of ingredients.
PARENTSCANADA: Is The Big Cook just for families?
DEANNA: It’s great for elderly people who live on their own. Just freeze in smaller portions and fill their freezer to help give them independence. It’s also perfect for pregnant moms to do before the baby arrives. When my kids go off to university, I plan to send them with a freezer.
PARENTSCANADA: What if my family doesn’t like casseroles?
LORELEI: The recipes focus on meat main courses that are the part of dinner that takes the most time. You add a salad or veg when serving.
PARENTSCANADA: What if my family is vegetarian? Everything seems to have meat.
JOANNE: We are from Alberta! But many of the recipes can be adapted for vegetarian meals or special diets such as low sodium. Meanwhile, you can simply substitute lentils in any of the beef recipes. There are also few milk or dairy ingredients. We promise the next book will have vegetarian recipes.
PARENTSCANADA: How about cooking?
JOANNE: Cooking can be adapted for the season by using different methods for the same recipe. Some recipes may be great stir-fried, barbecued, baked in the oven or cooked in a slow cooker. I have an idiot-proof pressure cooker. I can put in a frozen meal and cook it in an hour.
PARENTSCANADA: What if you don’t have a big freezer?
LORELEI: You can put about 20 family meals in the freezer of a regular fridge. Zipper bags require little space once the air is squeezed out. If you’re using a chest freezer, putting cardboard between the meals reduces clumping.
PARENTSCANADA: What’s the best thing about The Big Cook?
JOANNE: It reduces ‘supper stress’ for me. I have 60 meals ready to go in the freezer right now.
LORELEI: Meal prep is basically done, leaving you time to spend with your kids, go to the gym or just relax.
DEANNA: We’re also not driving to the grocery story every day, adding to global warming. It’s good for us and the planet. PC
The Big Cook is a national bestseller in Canada and has won a major award from Kraft and the Dietitians of Canada for promoting healthier eating. the practical recipes focus mainly on meat – beef, chicken and pork – and use standard kitchen staples. All have been tested for taste and nutrition.
The Big Cook is available at bookstores across Canada and at www.thebigcook.com.