If there was just one thing that you can’t really understand about deployment until you ACTUALLY go through it, it’s probably how much your daily life is thrown off schedule. Think about how much significant members of your family (spouses, parents, significant others, event children) do to keep the house running and life moving forward. Removing them doesn’t remove the need for their contributions, it just shifts them to someone else and changes the way they have to get done. Cooking during deployment is the perfect example of that.
I’m very lucky in that my husband shoulders a significant portion of the kitchen duties. But even if he didn’t, I get used to cooking for two people and then suddenly, I’m down one whole mouth to feed. That changes the way I shop, cook and eat. It would be the perfect excuse to shift into college eating habits (pizza, carbs, take out), but I try not to let that happen. Instead, I really try to focus on ways to make cooking during deployment easier, more fun and less wasteful.
Tips for cooking during deployment
Make a meal plan.
One of the best ways to reduce overbuying is to plan out your meals before going to the grocery store. I do this even when my husband is home and it really keeps things on track! Each week, I sit down and plan out what I’ll eat for the next 5 days (weekends are a little more fluid) and make my grocery list accordingly.
This helps me determine what ingredients and how much of them I need to purchase. For example, if I know I’ll eat chicken two nights, I can buy a pack of two chicken breasts, rather than buying two and only needing one.
Re-package and freeze.
But don’t worry if you overbuy a little bit! You can re-package and freeze many of your groceries, especially meat. Just make sure to freeze things thoroughly and keep an eye on how long things sit in your freezer, as eventually things do go bad. This chart gives you guidelines for how long to keep different food items.
Consider buying frozen single serve fruits and veggies.
Not into portioning, repackaging and freezing fresh produce? No big deal. Most produce can be purchased with all that done for you! The frozen fruit and veggie section of the grocery store is a unsung hero for cooking during deployment. You can purchase single serving frozen produce and in just a few minutes, you’re on your way to dinner.
The best part is that freezing fruits and veggies often preserves their nutritional value, making this tip both healthy and easy!
Split bulk shopping hauls with friends.
Who doesn’t love bulk shopping? You’re talking to a recent Costco convert, but buying in bulk when you’re cooking for fewer people doesn’t always work. That’s where friends come in! Share produce, meat or even shelf stable foods with friends (especially if they have significant others who are deployed too) is a great way to take advantage of lower prices without worrying about stuff going bad before it’s eaten.
Cut recipes in half.
If you’re not such a fan of leftovers (cough me cough), consider taking favorite recipes and cutting them in half. You may still have some extra, but it won’t be quite as overwhelming and you won’t have to eat the same thing at every meal for a week straight.
I wouldn’t suggest trying to cut a meal for a family of four or more down into a single serving. That’s too much math and it can really mess up the taste of the finished product. Look for recipes designed for two or three people and cut those down; a great one is my hummus chicken recipe.
But even if you make too much, you don’t necessarily have to eat exactly the same meal multiple nights in a row. Look for ways to reinvent your leftovers a bit so dinner is new each night.
For example, I like roasting a chicken for dinner, but can’t eat an entire chicken at once! So I eat enough for dinner and save the rest for later in the week, knowing I can turn it into burritos, quesadillas or chicken salad.
Make it fun.
Cooking dinner is a very social event in my house. My husband and I chat while we prep meals and we enjoy eating dinner together. So when it’s just me, things can feel a bit lonely. But there are a few ways to make things a bit more fun!
Turing on some fun music, trying new recipes or even inviting over a friend or two for dinner help make cooking seem less like a chore and more like my husband is home again.
How do you handle cooking during deployment? What are your best tips for making it easier and more fun?