Here are some of the things that work for me:
Baking: I try to get all of my baking done by Wednesday. Most cakes and cookies freeze very well, and so there’s no reason not to make them in advance. Also, I almost always make a double recipe when baking, which means we don’t have to bake every week.
Kugels: I also find that some kugels freeze well, and I try to make these in advance and freeze. [Suggestion: When making potato kugels in advance, bake them only halfway and then freeze. The kugels don’t even need to be defrosted when it’s time to finish baking them; they can go straight from the freezer to the oven on Friday afternoon. (We’re going to be using this model for the bar mitzvah IY”H.) Hat tip: My mother (Thanks, Imma!)]
Chicken: I clean and spice/marinate the chicken on Thursday afternoon/evening. It then sits in the refrigerator overnight, and I put it in the oven 1.5-2 hours before Shabbat (depending on the specific recipe).
Soup: As a minimum, I put all the ingredients (except for the water) in the pot on Thursday. Occasionally, I add the water and cook the soup on Thursday as well. Otherwise, the pot sits in the refrigerator overnight, and I add the water and cook the soup on Friday. (I always make soup in a big pot and freeze the extra in plastic containers.)
Cholent: I check the barley and beans on Thursday, and then let them soak [covered] overnight. Also, I peel and chop the onions and store them overnight in the refrigerator. I do everything else on Friday morning (including peeling the potatoes).
Fish: I don’t make this too often, but when I do, I prepare the onions, carrots, and spices on Thursday and store it all in the refrigerator overnight.
Salads and other side dishes: Ideally, the vegetables get washed on Thursday, and then I take care of chopping etc. on Friday.
As you can see, in general, I do much of the prep. work on Thursday, but then I leave the actual cooking for Friday. The advantage to this system is that there’s less pressure on Friday, but much of the food is still cooked fresh right before Shabbat.
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