Plan once, eat well all week: How to take the stress out of dinner time

Plan, Buy, Cook Book helps beat dinner time blues

Mango chicken from Plan, Buy, Cook. Photo: Bec Hudson

Mango chicken from Plan, Buy, Cook. Photo: Bec Hudson


Why the 4+2+1 formula can help save time and money in the kitchen.


There are all kinds of home cooks. There's the person who has a whole library of beautiful cookbooks but can never decide what to make for dinner or the one who rustles up the same dinners every week.

And then there's the friend who only has to glance at what bits are left the fridge and can whip up a delicious meal.

But whatever type of cook you are planning is the key. That's according to friends - and Aussie working mums - Jen Petrovic and Gaby Chapman.

From planning what to eat and shopping for ingredients, to chopping and prepping and cooking a nutritious feast that everybody (including the grandkids) actually wants to eat is, they say "one of life's greatest obstacles".

Throw in a job, caring commitments and all your other daily activities, finding the time to do all of this is sometimes near impossible.

Together they've written The Plan, Buy, Cook Book aimed at helping us simplify our lives - to 'plan once, and eat well all week'.

The book shows how home cooking doesn't need to be stressful or difficult and can help cut your shopping and weekday cooking time in half, improve your cooking skills and banish the 5pm panic and daily grind forever.

In the book, Gaby - mother of three boys who admits she's always panicked about what was for dinner - guides readers through the Plan and Buy chapters, demonstrating how being organised, having the meal-planning know-how and using their ingenious '4+2+1' formula can be a life saver.

Meanwhile Jen, a chef by trade, shows you how to implement these new skills with over 80 different recipes ranging from family favourite chilli con carne to the simplest falafel fritters.

The authors are keen to point out that the 4+2+1 is not a diet "nor is it designed to make you quit anything except worrying about the evening meal". It is a simple way to incorporate better planning and cooking-from-scratch habits for a fuss-free life, they say.

In a week this means cooking four meals from scratch (two which can be doubled-up and frozen or kept in the fridge for another day and two 'fast and fresh' meals), taking two foodbanked meals from the freezer (on a day you're busy perhaps) and making one super-simple meal.

Here are two recipe extracts from the book.

Mango Chicken

This super-fast marinade is always a winner on the barbecue. If you don't have any fresh coriander, you can substitute it with ground coriander instead. Cooking for a crowd? You can't beat this mango chicken recipe for ease.

Prep 5 minutes, plus marinating time of 4+ hours, cook 20 minutes (serves 4)


  • 600g boneless chicken thighs
  • 200g mango chutney
  • 6 fresh coriander (cilantro) sprigs, leaves picked, finely chopped
  • 6 flat-leaf (Italian) parsley sprigs, leaves picked, finely chopped
  • 1/4 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • Olive oil, for greasing
  • Vegetables or salad, to serve


  1. Trim the excess fat from the chicken.
  2. In a bowl, mix the chutney, herbs and spices.
  3. Add the chicken to the bowl and mix thoroughly. Marinate overnight or for at least 4 hours.
  4. If doubling the recipe, freeze the extra meal in its marinade, uncooked, for later use.
  5. Heat a barbecue chargrill plate or chargrill pan over a medium heat. While it is warming up, squeeze the lemon juice over the chicken. Sprinkle with a little salt before cooking.
  6. Rub the plate with a little oil on some paper towel, and cook the chicken thighs for at least 5 minutes each side.
  7. Transfer to a warm plate, cover with foil and rest for 10 minutes.
  8. Serve with your choice of vegetables or salad.
Try this Greek dish pastitsio from Plan, Buy, Cook. Photo: Bec Hudson

Try this Greek dish pastitsio from Plan, Buy, Cook. Photo: Bec Hudson


Pastitsio, also known as pasticcio, is a fabulously tasty macaroni lamb bake. It is like a Greek variation of macaroni cheese. It is worthwhile buying a whole nutmeg instead of using ground nutmeg, as it keeps its flavour better.

Prep 10 minutes, cook 1 hour (serves 4)


  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 500g minced (ground) lamb
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg or finely grated whole nutmeg, plus extra for sprinkling
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 100g tomato paste
  • 250g macaroni
  • green salad, to serve

White sauce:

  • 50g butter
  • 50g plain (all-purpose) flour
  • 750 ml (3 cups) full-cream (whole) milk
  • 1/4 tsp salt


  1. Heat the oil in a medium to large saucepan and cook the onion until soft.
  2. Add the lamb and cook until brown, breaking up any lumps as you go.
  3. Add the cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and tomato paste to the meat and cook for a few minutes, stirring continuously.
  4. Add 250 ml (1 cup) water, bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 30-40 minutes.
  5. Cook the macaroni in a large saucepan of boiling salted water according to the packet instructions. Drain and set aside.
  6. Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F/Gas Mark 4).
  7. To make the white sauce, melt the butter in a saucepan, then add the flour and cook out for a few minutes.
  8. Gradually add the milk in small amounts, whisking continuously. Bring it back to the boil each time you add more milk.
  9. Once thickened, add the salt and continue to cook over a low heat for 5 minutes (this helps cook out the flour). Set aside.
  10. Place the macaroni in a 30- 20 cm baking dish.
  11. Add the meat mixture and spread evenly over the top of the macaroni.
  12. Pour the white sauce over the meat mixture, then sprinkle with extra nutmeg and cook in the oven for 20 minutes.
  13. Serve immediately with a green salad

Recipes from The Plan, Buy, Cook Book byJen Petrovic and Gaby Chapman (Hardie Grant Books), $29.99 available where all good books are sold.