Reducing Food Costs: Cooking with a Friend

Editor's note: When we heard about Jennifer Maiser's plan to make a week's worth of cook-ahead meals with a friend as a way of saving money and reducing food waste, we asked her if she'd blog about the project on Serious Eats. Today is the first installment.


I'm really lucky to have a good friend, J., who lives in the same building. Both of us are struggling with how to eat great food at a reasonable price, and have been counting our pennies when it comes to our food budgets. I tossed out an idea last week and she bit: How about if we pool our, cooking together one day a week and taking home our individually packaged food to eat throughout the week?

Both of us see the genius in this: It forces us to plan menus, it's more fun to cook together, and we'll be able to get more variety than if we were to cook for one person. I have never really learned to cook individualized portions, so a lot of things I make end up being eaten all week or wasted. Since January, I've had a resolution of cutting my food waste, and this will help me toward that goal. I quickly get bored with fridge choices, so I need to have a lot of variety in the menu in order for this to work.

Luckily, J. and I have similar tastes. Between her dislikes (curry, olives) and my dislikes (sweet entrées), there is a ton of crossover of flavor. We're both compulsive planners (Virgos), so our detailed emails back and forth work with our personalities. The menu has gone through a few iterations and I think we've settled on our first week's plan. My goals for next week's menu are not to do anything too gourmet or labor-intensive, and to make dishes that we are used to making. I want to get comfortable with this idea before we start introducing new recipes into the mix.

I wanted to create a few entrées and a few sides that could be interchanged with one another so that I wasn't locked into eating one entrée with exactly one side. We're trying to cook for lunches and dinners to get us through the week. Here's what we're planning:


  • Baked ziti with spicy sausage and spinach
  • Lentil soup
  • Pork stew with rice


  • Sautéed greens (or similar vegetables from the farmers' market)
  • Salad greens and dressing
  • Farro salad with various vegetables (dressing on the side to be mixed in on the day of eating)
  • Potatoes au gratin
  • No-knead bread

With two ovens and two stovetops and a crockpot, I think that this menu is doable. I usually eat savory things for breakfast so I foresee having the potatoes and bread for breakfast. Also, I like that a lot of the dishes are freezable if we overcook. The next step in this plan is to make a shopping list and try to keep it economical.

What do you think, Serious Eaters? Is this this menu too ambitious? Too boring? What's worked for you in your menu-planning forays?

More: Cooking with a Friend, Week One