Welcome to post number two of how not to starve when your school schedules start back again. It’s a time of family transition for all of us and these meals make it so much easier on busy days. In my last post I told you how I do fully-prepared freezer meals, so check that out if you missed it. Today I am explaining how I plan for freezer meals you cook on the day you eat them.
What You’ll Get:
A freezer meal planning method you can apply to any of your own favorite recipes. These meals are prepared uncooked and then frozen. You cook them on the day you want to eat them.
Links to the simple delicious recipes I’m using. In my next post, I will share how I optimize them for Instant Pot (my true love) along with instructions for crock pot cooking.
Tips on how not to screw it up like I have. This is your gold mine right here. Your welcome.
Note: These recipes are generally healthy whole food and mostly gluten free. …Um, because I’m going to add warm homemade bread. Yum!
What You Won’t Get:
Step by step instructions for each recipe. If I did that, each recipe would be an entire post. Part of learning to do this in your real life is to sit down and use the method yourself. You’ll need to walk through the process for yourself, with recipes you love, in order to make it work for your family and your available time.
Lot’s of fancy food pictures. Sorry. But could I really be The Remedial Homemaker and also have all the gear and skill for amazing food photography? No.
Hear This: Planning is the most important part of freezer meal prep. Don’t skimp on this. It’s time-consuming but not difficult, and you need to do it or your prep day will be much harder. …Like when I ordered forty pounds of chicken and figured it would only take a few hours to cut it all up and put together meals and I had done literally nothing in advance. Don’t do that. It will remind you of the limits of your mortality but it’s not fun.
Warning: If you have never done this, you may want to start small. Maybe only do two or three different meals so you can see what you think of the process. Confession, I generally don’t start anything small. That holds true for freezer cooking as well. My first session took 8 hours, mostly due to poor planning, and I had about 30 meals and a backache to show for it. Honestly, I prefer this approach because there’s nothing like the deep end for learning, but still, I feel duty bound to inform you that if you start big, it will be a little overwhelming and you will have a truly stunning mess to clean up when you’re done. If you wanna come to the dark side with me, then dive in girls, you’ll have so many meals in the freezer and it will feel great…but not till you’re done. It now takes me about 4 hours to make about 27 meals, but it may take you longer when you’re beginning. You’ve been warned.
Step One: Decide What You Want To Make.
As I mentioned in my last post, I plan around protein. This helps me save steps and manage cooking times. I do all my main ingredient cooking, then all my ground beef meals, then all my chicken meals. I will walk you through each of these as I do them in upcoming posts. It isn’t super important what you choose as long as you like it and it’s suited to freezing.
Consider your preferred cooking method as you plan out what to make. My whole purpose in freezer cooking is to save myself time and brain space on busy or otherwise crazy days. Therefore, I optimize my recipes for pressure cooking, but they can also be optimized for a slow cooker. Consider cooking times for different ingredients as you decide what you want to make. If you put pasta in your Instant Pot for more than about 5 minutes it disintegrates. You need to know the cooking times of your recipes in order to avoid errors like that. You can still do pasta dishes, but the noodles need to be added on the day of cooking. Read through your recipe directions and consider what will need to be left for the day of cooking, and what you can assemble and freeze ahead.
Step Two: Put Together An Ingredient List.
Print out all your recipes and really go over them for quantities. If you’re doing 8 meals that will serve your family twice, how many onions will you need? Garlic? How many pounds of meat? Beans? What kind of wine will you be sipping as you cook? These are important matters. Make a master list. Check sales and prices on canned goods to save money.
Consider how you might use the same ingredients for more than one kind of meal. For example, I’m going to prep a very good white bean chicken chili. It uses cannellini beans. How else might I use cannellini beans? Do I have a ham hock? Since I’m going to make cannellini beans, could I just set some aside with ham and a ham hock for ham and white bean soup? If it doesn’t add much work, I usually go ahead and add that second meal as well.
Add to your master list quart and gallon sized freezer bags. Don’t forget these. I forgot them. Also, make sure you have enough spices. Don’t assume you have enough in the spice drawer and have to leave in the middle of your cooking session like some people…
Step Three: Prioritize Your Prep List
Think through the steps of your recipes and decide which things you can do the day before. Then decide what order to do the remaining tasks on the day you are freezer meal cooking.
For example. Many of the recipes I am doing include beans. When I have a protein that can handle longer cooking times, like beef or chicken thighs, I just pour dry beans in the bag and freeze them unsoaked and uncooked with the rest of the ingredients. When I have a shorter cooking protein like chicken breast or sausage, the beans should be pre-cooked. If you don’t pre-cook them, your meat will be over cooked by the time your beans are done. You can use canned beans but I love the delicious ease and frugality of cooking them from dry in the Instant pot so I make mine from scratch a day or two in advance and store them in the fridge.
What else can you do in advance with the meals you have? Think it through. What could you dice, measure out, or cook ahead? What should be done first on your cooking day?
Step Four: Plan Something For Your Kids To Do
This is going to take a few hours if you do more than a couple meals. What can your kids be doing? Maybe play outside with a new sprinkler? Could you rent them a movie and put out snacks? Better yet, can they go to a friends house for the morning? It’s best to plan this as well so you don’t find yourself tired and irritated by all the interruptions.
Yes, you can have them help you. I don’t. You know why? Because it takes a lot of concentration to do 10-30 meals at a time and I have a hard time managing the helping expectations of my kids and also actually getting the meals made. I prefer to have them help me on the days I make the meals for dinner.
Step Five: Clean Your Kitchen
It’s nearly impossible to do this quantity of food prep in a messy kitchen. You need your dishes clean, put away, and your table and counters clear. You will mess it all back up but start with as much free space as possible. I do all this in a truly tiny kitchen and I MUST start tidy or there will simply be nowhere to put things down.
What I’m Making:
Ok, so those are the basic steps for planning out your freezer meal day. I am planning for all my meals today. I will go shopping this evening or tomorrow morning, then do my ingredient prep, then beef meals, followed by the chicken meals. I’m hoping to finish all the cooking this week, and then I’ll write you a post for each. Follow the blog so you don’t miss out! Let this list be a jumping off point for your own meals. Focus on planning well and managing cooking times. I’ll be updating you with my progress and mishaps over at The Remedial Homemaker Community Page on Facebook. Join us!
Ground Beef Meals: plain seasoned beef (to go in whatever I want later), taco beef, chili (it’s so good), and Italian pasta sauce.
There are no links for these because they’re my own recipes. I will share the basics on my next post, but you could simply make these items how your family prefers. Also, no, beef doesn’t get weird when reheated after being frozen. The trick is to be reheating more than re-cooking. Even my chili cooks long and the beef tastes great.
Chicken Breasts and Thigh Prep: white bean chicken chili, Tuscan chicken stew, chicken and lentil stew, chicken veggie soup base. The soup base is the main ingredients to adapt for several different meals. These recipes aren’t all converted to freezer meals in a pressure cooker but I am simply adapting them. They are simple and taste great!
Choose some meals, go through this planning process, and cook with me! Please don’t hesitate to ask questions in the comments or over at the group page.
May your aprons and Bibles both be well-worn,
The Remedial Homemaker