How to Prep Big Meals

M.G. McIntosh




  • Voice in the Wind Magazine Inc.


Are you planning a holiday meal? Here are some tips from prep cook to help you cook a big meal with less stress.


Take 20 minutes out of your day to sit down and write out what you want to cook for your upcoming meal. You’ll be surprised how far a little thought can take you. First, create a list of things you want to serve. Then write down each item’s shelf life. Now, figure out how many people will be eating at your house each night – par value. Last, figure out how many portions each recipe of a food item will make. For example, 5lbs of mash potatoes will serve 10 adults (approximately). All this information will help you make the best decisions for your big meal.


Roast Beef (per roast)6
Mash Potatoes (per recipe)10
Steamed Vegetables (per recipe)6
Yorkshire Pudding (per recipe)6
Apple PIe (per pie)12

This chart shows the yield for each recipe. This is how you’ll match the number of people you’re cooking for to the amount of food you’ll cook. Each recipe of mash potatoes (5lbs of mash per recipe), will make enough food for 10 people. The yield is normally shown in cook books alongside the recipe.


Here is an example of what the finished list could look like:

Par Value55510102010
Roast Beef (per roast)
Mash Potatoes (per recipe)
Steamed Vegetables (per recipe)1112242
Yorkshire Pudding (per recipe)1112241
Apple PIe (per pie)

So, what is this chart telling me? Well let’s look at the first line (par value). This is how many people will be eating at your house each night. For Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday it will be 5 people (which we’ll assume is your family only, no guests). Starting Thursday you are joined by another family of 5 people (relatives). They are staying until Sunday. On Saturday you will be joined by your friends as well – and you’ve invited 10. So 5+5+10=20, Saturday’s par value. Each item you want to serve is listed and the number of recipes needed each night is shown too.


ItemShelf Life
Roast Beef (per roast)4
Mash Potatoes (per recipe)4
Steamed Vegetables (per recipe)4
Yorkshire Pudding (per recipe)4
Apple PIe (per pie)4

This chart tells me my food will stay fresh enough to eat for 4 days. Please note that this is an illustration only. Not all food has a shelf life of 4 days so please check your expiration dates and your best before dates to get the most accurate picture of the quality of your food.


Let’s use mash potatoes to illustrate. First take note of the par values for the week. They are low Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and rising Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Mash potatoes have a shelf life of 4 days. In other words, I can make more than I need, starting Wednesday and I know that it will be gone by Saturday at the latest so it won’t spoil. I can “par up”. Here’s what that looks like. Monday I would cook just what I need (0.5 recipe). Tuesday I would cook 1 recipe. That’s enough for both Tuesday and Wednesday. This means I can come in on Wednesday and there will be leftovers. I can choose to skip cooking mash potatoes or I can do another recipe so I have a total of 1.5 recipes in the fridge on Wednesday. By Thursday, I will have 1 recipe left in the fridge. This process of gradually increasing my leftovers ensures I never have to do more than 1 recipe of mash each day.  This is how we “par up”. We do this when par value goes up and stop when it peaks (usually Saturday per the chart). This is why I need to know how long my food will stay fresh. This method only works for food that has a shelf life of more than 1 day. It’s also how we pace ourselves in the kitchen. On Thursday, Friday and Saturday I will do 1 recipe of mash. Sunday I will assess what I need based on what’s left in my fridge because I will have fewer people eating at my house on Sunday and Monday is back to one family of 5 people. In other words par value is going down, so I can make less than par. I will only make what’s needed. Each recipe should be in its own bowl and dated. It’s crucial to know what to serve first, so that nothing spoils. Make sure you rotate!


If I chose to skip mash on Wednesday, I can cook something else instead. Often it is easier to cook more of one item, than it is to cook small amounts of many items. Try to imagine putting the yorkshire puddings and roast beef in the oven at the same time. Seems like a bad idea right? Exactly. Two very different items that can’t be in the oven at the same time. With that in mind I could choose to make enough vegetables and yorkshire pudding for Saturday. When I get ready to cook on Friday I will make enough yorkshire pudding to cover Friday and Saturday. This ensures the oven is free on Saturday for the Roast. Since I already know that Mash potatoes are going to be boiled on the stove top, I can plan to cook just Mash and Roast Beef on Saturday. Less running around because I’m only cooking two items (3 if you count the apple pie) and not the whole menu. This is another way we pace ourselves in the kitchen.


  • Shelf life: how long the food lasts before it has to be thrown out.
  • Par value: how many people are eating at your house each night.
  • Portion: one serving. This is based on the amount the average person eats.
  • Yield: how many people can have a portion per recipe (or batch) cooked.


At the end of the day there isn’t really a right or wrong. Personally, I like having fewer items to cook each day and also smaller amounts so I use a combination of these methods. I always check my fridge to make sure I’m not making too much. If no one ate any of my steamed vegetables, for example, I should put the brakes on cooking them. I could make enough for 5 people to eat them and then I’m the only one who eats them. So always keep an eye on “sales” or meals served. Check your leftovers to see what people liked (so there aren’t any leftovers) and didn’t like (there’s more leftover than you expected) and adjust accordingly. The idea is to make sure that there isn’t any food being thrown out on Monday. It might take a few tries to ‘dial it in’, that’s all part of the process. I hope this proves helpful. As always, please like, share and tell all your friends. We’re on twitter too so check out our handle @vitwmagazine. Thanks!


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