Hi my name is Cat. I am a 32 year old mother of 4. My husband and I both work. I am also a full-time nursing student. I struggle to cook for my family when school is in session due to the sheer overwhelming workload that comes with nursing school...So I am always open to recipes and ideas. I am tired of processed food/take out approach that I adopted last semester (resulting in nearly 15 pounds gained). I wish to adopt a healthier approach this next semester for both myself and my family. The major issue for me is that I don't have a lot of time in the kitchen and I am thinking of trying to plan a weekly menu that I can cook the majority of our meals on Fridays (my only day off). Consequently that is also my study day so again time is of the essence. I am hopeful that by joining this forum I may adopt some helpful habits...
Certainly there are people and systems for once-a-week cooking though many of them are simplifications of the once-a-month cooking concepts. These tend to rely on spending one day filling the freezer with things that you can thaw in the fridge while at work and slip in the oven when you get home. Or maybe set in the oven to thaw on a time bake so it's ready about the time you get home. I have neighbors who cook this way.
Alternatively, there are some cook books by well-respected pros I think offer more flexibility and variety. And are much more similar to how I handle this sort of thing.
Jacques Pepin has written two cookbooks on this topic. Fast Food My Way and More Fast Food My Way. There are also accompanying PBS cooking programs for these books. Generally I prefer the books to the TV shows, but this series is an exception. In the TV show, he cooks a two or three course meal pretty much completely in the 23 minutes of the show. Very little is not shown cooking completely. And he puts together the different recipes in the book into a complete meal. This information is not in the books, sadly. But in the show, you see how he works on the different recipes while part of one recipe is cooking and then steps over to that dish briefly, then on to another. This sort of cooking skill is important to any time pressed home cook. Check with your library to see if they have the DVDs.
One tip from the show that is quite useful: The first thing Jacques does when he gets home is put on a pot of water to boil. So many meals need that pot whether for pasta, or rice, or vegetables or even soup. After the water is on, then he goes and changes or whatever else. By the time he's done changing clothes, the water is boiling and ready to use.
This will give you a feel for what sorts of things he does in the series. http://www.kqed.org/w/jpfastfood/home.html
And Sara Moulton has Sara's Secrets to Weeknight Meals, also a PBS series and cookbook. The TV version is good, but the cookbook stands alone better here.
She also had a guest forum here at Cheftalk. http://www.cheftalk.com/f/78/q-a-forum-with-sara-moulton
Certainly stocking your freezer with some frozen home-made pasta sauce, left over stew, and such is simply smart planning for those nights when things just don't work out. Or when you screw something up. Been there, done that. But as you develop basic cooking skills such as knife skills, sauteing, pan frying and so forth, you'll find that you can bang out a meal for the family in about 30 minutes without too much stress at all.
In all of these situations, keeping the right things in your pantry, freezer and fridge are essential. But there is no one list as those ingredients should reflect the things you and your family like to eat.
I've been going through my storage the last few days both pantry and other. My food storage tends to focus on Asian, Mediterranean and to a lesser extent Mexican ingredients.