Thursday, December 8, 2011

Menus and freezers and budgets, oh my! (Part 2)

Okay, so in part 1 I said that next time I would talk about how I shop. But I also said I'm not good at sticking to a plan. So today instead, I'm going to talk about how I cook to freeze. There are three main strategies I use, and they work well for different things.

1. Freezer Day

The idea here is to block out a day (usually a weekend) and to just make a whole lot of food to put in your freezer. Some people call this Once a Month Cooking, and actually make 30 different meals in one day, but I have never managed to do anything like that. Usually I just choose one thing to make a lot of, or a few things that have common ingredients.

For example, this past weekend, my husband and I made 15 pans of lasagna. This honestly isn't much harder than making one or two pans of lasagna. Mixing a ton of filling isn't any harder than mixing a little. We just made the sauce, cooked some ground beef, then assembly lined the lasagna in disposable foil loaf pans. We had extra sauce so I froze that in Tupperware containers for easy spaghetti nights.

I find that this method works really well for me for most casseroles, where cooking the ingredients is really the most time consuming part, and having them pre-assembled means a super easy dinner. I don't pre-bake them; I just bake them on the day I plan to eat.

The problem with this method is that it takes a huge time commitment. Especially with a toddler running around, it's hard to block out that much time. My husband and I ended up doing the bulk of the prep after bedtime, and were up until 11:30 cleaning up. Boo.

2. Just make extra

This is actually the method I prefer. Instead of trying to make a month or a year's worth of something, I just make a little extra. Since it's just the two (and a half) of us, and most of my recipes are for four, I usually have extra anyway. Sometimes I go one step further and double it. Then after dinner, I pack up the extra and freeze it.

This is so easy because it doesn't take any extra time at all in my dinner prep, and gives me fully cooked, microwavable dinners for nights when I don't have time to cook. I like to do this with chili, sausage and peppers, shredded meat for tacos or sandwiches, stews, or anything that might require a long cooking time the first night.

3. Prep and freeze

Some things are just better if you make them the night of, but you can make your life easier and save money by doing the prep work ahead of time. For example, I keep a bag of diced carrots, onions, and celery in my freezer. I can dice it during naptime and then just grab a handful when I need it. I also buy bell peppers when they are on sale (because holy crap they get expensive), cut them into strips, and freeze them in freezer bags. You can even cook your meat ahead of time for recipes that use cooked meat. Browning an entire 3 pound package of ground beef doesn't take any longer than browning a single pound, and then you have some options for fast cooking dinners. Baking a whole bunch of chicken breasts ahead makes life easier too - just defrost as many as you need to make quick enchiladas, salads, or sandwiches.

Some people will even prepare and measure the ingredients for a specific recipe into a freezer bag. For instance, you could freeze sliced peppers and onions along with a chicken breast in a bag for quick, no prep, fajitas. Just dump the whole bag into a pan and sautee it up. I don't have much experience with this, but it's something I'd like to try more of.


Rach (DonutsMama) said...

Thanks for these tips. I always forget to use my freezer.

Sarah said...

I seriously cannot wait to get a stand alone freezer. We have a side by side fridge freezer right now.

Top shelf is milk, second shelf is ice and microwave meals for dh lunch if needed. First basket is breads, odds and ends, leftovers, second basket is raw meats, third basket is veg, fruits, and big meats like turkey or whole chicken.