Meals for the masses
Saving time, money and energy is the idea behind The Big Cook
By Shana McNally
IN 1996, THREE busy moms with 11 children among them regularly met at a church
nursery in Medicine Hat, Alberta. It seemed
whenever they got together, they groused
about the same thing: Getting dinner on the
table every night took far too much time,
effort and money.
Their solution? Every three to four
months, Joanne Smith, Deanne Siemens and
Lorelei Thomas engage in a day-long meal-cooking marathon, preparing 200 ready-to-eat meals from more than 25 recipes. At the
end of the day, each goes home with 30 to 60
meals (each of which serve four to six people)
packed in zipper bags to freeze and then cook
at a later date.
“Providing healthy, homemade meals
became hard to do as the busyness of life began
to take over,” says Smith, a registered dietitian.
“The three of us decided to get together to
cook ‘en masse,’ creating many meals at the
same time to be used on future days.”
Innovation turned into profit when they
published The Big Cook ( www.thebigcook.
com) in 2006. A national best-seller, it recently
received one of six regional awards from
Dietitians of Canada and Kraft Canada, called
the Speaking of Food and Healthy Living
Award, which recognizes initiatives that
encourage Canadians to eat healthier.
Necessity and the mothers
The inspiration for their own cooking
marathons was simple—necessity and efficiency—as Siemens, Smith and Thomas were
pressed between their full-time careers as
bookkeeper, nutritionist and high school math
teacher, respectively, in addition to the requirements of feeding and raising their families.
The trio start planning their menu a week
in advance and are quick to point out the
main benefit of their system: saving time.
“That hour and a half of cooking every evening is time you can spend with your family,”
is time you
Health is another benefit, they say. If you
eat at home you will know what is in your
food and be more conscious of nutritional
content and portion sizes.
In addition, cooking ahead cuts down on
costs by eliminating last-minute trips to the
grocery store and the local fast-food chain. Of
course, with bulk cooking comes bulk shopping, and the three are avid Costco shoppers.
“Costco has virtually every ingredient in the
book in larger quantities,” says Thomas, who
has a master’s in education.
From cooking to booking
The Big Cook was originally conceived for
family and friends; the trio self-published
1,000 copies as You Can 2 Publishing with
their husbands’ financial backing. That way
they could create the book they wanted: with
full-colour photos, nutritional analyses, complete grocery lists, conversion charts, pages
that can be wiped clean if spilled on and a coil
binding so it will lie flat.
The 73 beef, chicken and pork recipes
are tried, tested and tasted (kid
approved), with directions for one,
four, six or eight meals for each recipe. The idea is that four people can
make eight meals from each recipe so
that each leaves with two zipper bags
of every recipe. They estimate the average cost at less than $2 per person.
The book includes main courses
o nly, and each is labelled as slow cooker,
o ven, stir-fry and/or barbecue. Crowd
p leasers include Thai Chicken, Mighty
Meatballs, Barbecue Beef and Swiss Chicken
Their book proved to be ideal for anyone
who wanted to plan ahead, and soon word of
mouth made the small print run for friends
and family unrealistic.
Word of mouth also meant that others
would benefit from the trio’s cooking production. “They [the meals] were originally
intended for our families, but we share the
smaller portions with parents, grandparents,
community groups and students, because you
can freeze in whatever portion size you want,”