All featured products are curated independently by our editors. When you buy something through our retail links, we may receive a commission.

Planning out a week’s worth of meals—every week—is invariably tiring and overwhelming. How to shop and plan and think and cook (and clean!) when you’re bogged down with everything else that’s going on in your life? 

Well, Jen Petrovic and Gaby Chapman, two moms who have certainly felt the same way, have a solution they swear by: the 4+2+1 formula. Found in their cookbook “The Plan Buy Cook Book,” this formula makes the whole process of brainstorming and cooking a breeze. Instead of worrying about gathering ingredients and thinking up novel ideas for a diverse selection of meals, Gaby and Jen maintain that all you need to do is follow the 4+2+1 formula. 

The Plan Buy Cook Book: Plan Once, Eat Well All Week, $18.68 on Amazon

Buy Now

The 4 stands for the the four meals you’ll cook every week, two of which you’ll double the recipe for, freezing the leftovers. The remaining two will be quick meals that can be made within an hour. The 2 stands for the two meals you’ll pull from the freezer, to be accompanied by a quick side—whether that’s a salad, rice, or vegetables. The 1 stands for anything that can be defined as leftovers, or something that can be thrown together super quickly: We’re talking the super easy stuff like scrambled eggs or toasted sandwiches. By following this process, Gaby and Jen not only hope to encourage other home cooks to spend less time shopping and cooking, but also to prevent excess food waste.

Related Reading: The Best Chickpea Recipes Besides Hummus

It may seem a tad confounding just reading about it, but once you actually begin the process, it’s pretty straightforward (and it’s all explained below, straight from the book!). Plus, the cookbook is filled with plenty of recipes that fit squarely into the formula; accompanying each recipe is a tag that states what category this meal falls into, whether it’s a Double-Up Meal or something Fast & Fresh. For instance, you can make a big portion of mango chicken, slick with sweet and sour chutney, or quickly throw together fettuccine carbonara, dressed with arugula, bacon, and grated parmesan. 

Rani Garbanzo Beans, $21.99 on Amazon

Buy Now

Don’t believe it? Well, you can test it out by making a big pot of chickpea curry, one of Gaby and Jen’s Double-Up Meals. The curry is shot through with fresh ginger, garlic, turmeric, cumin, and chili, with a base of diced tomatoes and chickpeas. At the last minute, a fistful of spinach is stirred in until wilted. Serve over rice or with a slice of bread, then pack up the leftovers and you’ve got an entire meal already prepped and ready for the next night. How thoughtful!

Recipes excerpted with permission from The Plan Buy Cook Book by Jan Petrovic and Gaby Chapman, published by Hardie Grant Books January 2020, RRP $24.99 Flexibound.

Dinner Done = 4+2+1 Explained

4+2+1 is not a diet, nor is it designed to make you quit anything except worrying about the evening meal. It is simply a way to incorporate better planning, buying and cooking-from-scratch habits for a fuss‑free life. It can be adapted to any diet or recipes with ease.

THIS IS OUR MEAL-PLANNING 4+2+1 FORMULA

X4 

Cook 4 meals from scratch each week: 2 Double-Up meals and 2 Fast & Fresh. Double-Up two meals each week. Eat two this week and freeze the rest. The remaining two meals should be Fast & Fresh. These are meals that you can make in under an hour.

X2

Take 2 Foodbanked meals from the freezer

Simply toss together a salad, or cook some pasta, rice, or vegetables to accompany your defrosted Foodbanked meal on the night as required.

X1

Have 1 Super Simple meal

Leftovers, takeaway or something easy like toasted sandwiches or eggs on toast will round out your week.

Having a formula doesn’t mean you are tied to set meals on set nights; you can vary your plan as long as you have the ingredients. You can also either choose to use some of our fabulous and varied meals, or substitute some with your own recipes. It will work either way.

THE SECRET

The key is to ‘Double-Up’ two recipes – cook twice as much as you need – to make two freezable meals each week. Plan to eat one of each of these meals this week and freeze the other meals for eating two weeks down the track. We call this ‘Foodbanking’.

Double-Up meals might be substantial one-pot meals like our Chicken & Chorizo Braise or pasta sauces that go into the freezer as nearly complete meals, or basics like Hamburgers, Lamb Kibbeh, or any of our marinated meat recipes that can be frozen uncooked. Or they might be pantry meals or soups. You need to put two meals in the freezer each week to achieve freedom from the daily dinner grind.

The other two meals you make from scratch during the week should be ‘Fast & Fresh’: meals that don’t take a lot of preparation and cooking time. The key to these meals is having the ingredients on hand, ready to go.

Importantly, you also need to plan to eat two Foodbanked meals each week to save you cooking time. You should use your previously Foodbanked meals within two weeks to keep everything on high rotation. This way, you are not stockpiling food that takes up freezer space, and you are still keeping variety in your cooking by having meals from two weeks before.

And because we are all about simplicity, we also include what we call a ‘Super Simple’ meal in the mix. This might be leftovers, takeaway or something like eggs on toast, toasted sandwiches, jacket potatoes or flatbread pizzas. Plan to make one Super Simple meal each week that anyone in the family can cook.

7 NIGHTS OF DINNER DONE = 4+2+1.

With this, you should be able to do all your cooking in about two hours when time is really tight during the working week, instead of the countless hours you now spend thinking about, shopping for and cooking meals each week.

You can use your own recipes, or try ours. To know if your regular recipes can be doubled up and frozen, see below for our quick guide.

Our Cook section is divided into Double‑Up meals, Fast & Fresh meals and Super Simple meals. We have also included handy Speedy Sides and BBQ Salads to accompany any of your meals.

The recipes include a range of cuisines, from European, Middle Eastern and Asian to Mexican, as well as family favourites such as hamburgers. They are designed to expand your cooking repertoire through simple techniques using ingredients readily found in the supermarket.

Chickpea Curry Recipe

This is one of Gaby’s share-house recipes from her student days. I made a few adjustments and added garam masala, which adds a great flavor to the dish.

Recipe notes: Soak dried chickpeas overnight, then rinse. Place in a saucepan with plenty of cold water. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer until tender (at least 90 minutes). Note that 110 g (4 oz/ ½ cup) dried chickpeas is equal to 400 g (14 oz) cooked chickpeas.

Chickpea Curry

Prep Time: 5 minutesCook Time: 1 hourServes: 4
Ingredients
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed or grated
  • ¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • ¼ teaspoon ground chilli
  • 1 x 400 g (14 oz) tin diced tomatoes
  • 3 x 400 g (14 oz) tins chickpeas, drained and rinsed, or 330 g (11½ oz/1½ cups) dried chickpeas, soaked and cooked
  • 1 quantity Perfect Steamed Rice (see below) or bread, to serve
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala
  • 100 g (3½ oz/2 cups) baby spinach
Instructions
  1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat. Add the onion, ginger and garlic and cook for 5 minutes.
  2. Add the spices and fry for 2 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon of water if it starts to stick.
  3. Add the tomatoes and 300 ml (10 fl oz) water and bring to the boil.
  4. Add the chickpeas and simmer for 40 minutes.
  5. Steam the rice according to the recipe below, or follow the packet instructions.
  6. When ready to serve, add the garam masala and stir through the spinach. If doubling up the recipe, split the mixture in two and allow the extra meal to cool to room temperature. Refrigerate overnight before freezing for later use.
  7. Serve with rice or bread.

Header image by Bec Hudson.

Amy Schulman is an associate editor at Chowhound. She is decidedly pro-chocolate.
See more articles