If I were to discuss portioning in the sense of 4 ounce bits of meat, my Tall, Dark, and Slightly Neanderthal Husband would assume he’d done something terribly offensive, and was being punished severely. So, this isn’t that kind of portioning.
Around here, the concept of portioning is more an attendance to preparing meals that allow a lot of flexibility to accommodate the appetites of a wide variety of people. We have six people: two adults, two who are early teen/tween, and two bitty shrimpy people. Translating to portions, this means four adult portions, and two more that are sometimes near-adult, and sometimes still in the realm of existing on Fairy Dust and their own saliva.
My meal planning needs to be flexible enough to work with those two littlest appetites. If I plan too much, we get Zombie Leftovers that linger in the back recesses of the fridge, lurking and moaning, until it just gets too apocalyptic in there, and I end up purging the contents straight into the garbage, containers and all, being too frightened to lift the lids and risk all that lifting entails.
If a meal can be done casserole style, I have a few options. I can prepare a 9×13 dish, and we’ll eat it for dinner, then lunch, then we’ll ignore it for 48 hours, then have it for dinner again, to the great protest of everyone but me. I can do it up in a smaller pan (say, a pie plate, or an 8×8 dish) and we’ll eat the whole thing for dinner, and everyone will gripe that there are no leftovers.
My favorite meals are those that can be portioned and frozen in small-serving bits, such as making meat pies or savory bread puddings in a muffin tin, or tiny loaf pans. In those cases, I know the little girls will eat one bit, and everyone else will need two. Any excess bits get wrapped and stored in the frozen for another meal or snack.
Other things can be made very individually, like meatballs and ravioli. These are especially easy to portion according to appetite; it’s simple to just ask everyone if they’re interested in two, or four, or six tonight? and break out that many. (This is why “flash freezing”–spreading food out on a cookie sheet and letting it harden in the freezer for 20 minutes to an hour, then bagging for storage–is so handy. I don’t have to defrost everying to separate out the portion I need.)
The second type of portioning I do relates to meal planning itself. I like to plan seven dinners per week. Yet, I know that we’ll actually consume five of those meals, and have leftovers twice. That gives me two sets “banked” meal supplies each week that just hang out in the freezer or pantry, waiting. Over the course of a month of planning, I can bank just over a week’s worth of meals without even trying.
This does several things: I can take an entire week off from planning or cooking! Or, I can swap meals in an out for greater variety. Or, I know I have a “love meal” on hand, should someone I know be having a rough time and need a little extra nutritional hug. (Sometimes, this is completely non-nutritional, though. I like having frozen homemade cookie dough balls in my freezer, so it’s easy to grab out a dozen, pop them in a small freezer bag, and deliver them to anyone “requiring” cookies at the moment.)
The banked meals mean I can run away for the evening, knowing that my Tall, Dark, and Slightly Neanderthal Husband need only pop something frozen in the oven, or even that my children can fend for themselves if TDSN and I run away together for a few hours. Or, we can toss something in the oven and all go out–no prep, minimal clean-up, perfect for the nights that I entirely spaced Pack Meeting (being an avid indoors-woman, Scouting things tend to hover outside of my range of attention), and we have No Time.
While I’m definitely not perfect with any of this, I do know I’ll continue to consider portioning for decades to come. As our family size changes, I’ll move toward portioning all recipes in two-person servings. At that point, a regular “serves six” recipe will make three banked meals, and I’ll be the woman you see dancing around the grocery store, tickled pink at the idea of no leftovers in the fridge, ever.
Because at my house, about once a month, the fridge can be a very… scientific place.