Monday, November 5, 2012

Once a month {cooking}

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Don't worry... this is not going to turn into a food blog!  But when I posted this picture on Instagram yesterday and started talking about not having to cook for a month, I got a few questions. 

I wasn't going to write a blog post about it but then I realized that less time cooking = more time to sew.  Yay!

I decided to do a trial run of slow cooker meals made ahead of time a few months ago.  This is the site that I started with.  It was a success so I went for another round.  Since school started this type of cooking has been a life saver for me!  I put something in the crock pot in the morning and when we get home all I might have to do is to make some brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat pasta, etc...

Up until yesterday I was making all slow cooker meals but I decided to branch out yesterday and make some freezer dishes that freeze well to be thawed and baked in the oven later on.  It gives us a little more variety and also some individual servings for when Steve travels or Chaney isn't home and I don't want to make a giant crock pot meal.

Here's what I made:
- slow cooker white chicken chili (2 bags)
- slow cooker black bean taco soup (2 bags)
- slow cooker shredded Mexican chicken tacos (2 bags)
- slow cooker chicken tortilla soup (2 bags)
- slow cooker chicken fajitas (2 bags)
- slow cooker corn & potato chowder (2 bags)
- freezer chicken spaghetti (2 pans)
- freezer black bean, spinach & chicken enchiladas (2 pans)
- freezer healthy spinach and chicken pasta rolls (10 rolls)
- freezer meatloaf & mini-meatloaf muffins (36 muffins)
- freezer chicken parmesan Italian loaf (2 small loaves)
- freezer chicken pot pie (2 pies)
- freezer breakfast burritos (10 turkey sausages/egg/cheese, 10 black bean/egg/cheese)

We are a family of 2 adults and 1 kid so I split the ingredients into two gallon size freezer bags/pans so we have 32+ meals that will still leave leftovers for me to take for lunch in my cute lunch crockpot.

Some of these meals will also create leftovers for another family meal... like the shredded Mexican chicken.  Leftovers of this meat make a great chicken enchilada soup the next day.

I also stretch the ingredients by focusing on more vegetables as ingredients and less on meats.  Healthy vegetables and non-meat proteins are often better for you and I tend to think that the American diet has their meat portion sizes way too big.  Just my opinion though... ;)

- These meals are from scratch so I know exactly what's going into our meals which is important with my allergies.
- Nothing is from a box so none of those nasty preservatives.
- Lots of vegetables & healthy carbs
- Flexibility.  I have adapted some of the recipes to use whole wheat pasta, brown rice, red potatoes instead of russet potatoes, turkey instead of ground beef, etc.  I haven't had one of these modifications turn out bad with any of these recipes.
- And the obvious... saving time.  All of this took me about 4 hours.  Steve helped me some and my feet were killing me at the end but that's better than cooking for 30-45 minutes every evening after work. :)

- Initial time investment... it's a long day in the kitchen.
- Grocery shopping is on a larger scale since you are stocking up for meals for a month or so. 
- A giant mess in the kitchen after cooking all this!  A big thanks to Steve here!
- You have to plan your freezer space out well.  Lay your bags flat to freeze and they stack nicely though.

- Cut all your vegetables first.  It's easier to grab what you need to fill your bags instead of stopping to cut veggies with each recipe.
- Kitchen safety.  Rinse your meat.  Pay attention to your utensils and the meat you used to touch them.  I do all my chicken meals first, clean the counters, put those utensils in the dishwasher and then move on to my beef and turkey meals.
- Here are some tips on freezing pans of food so your dishes aren't tied up in your freezer.
- Several of the recipes call for chicken broth.  Use the broth made from the recipes that call for boiling and shredding your chicken.
- Label your bags/pans.  You might be able to tell what it is before it's frozen but let's just say that we've had some surprise dinners in the past because what I thought was one thing turned out to be another meal.
- If there are special instructions for cooking/reheating, write them on the bag.  You might think you will remember but that's not always the case, especially if a few ingredients are added after the dish cooks all day.
- Buy your ingredients on sale and stock up when you find a good sale.
- Pinterest is your best friend.  I found every single recipe on that site.  If you follow me there you can find all my favorites under my "food to make" tab.

The math:
- I spent approximately $170.00 supplies, ingredients and sides to go with these meals.
- 32 dinners {feeds 3}
- 32 leftover lunches {feeds 1}
- 20 breakfast burritos {feeds 1 per person}

That's $170.00/84 meals = $2.02 per meal {not per person} 

So not only does less time cooking = more time sewing... less $$ spent = more $ to spend on fabric.  Not bad at all!

Let me know if you have any questions.  I'm not a pro by any means but I'll do my best to answer them...

*Edited to add... the most frequent question I'm being asked is if I'm cooking the meals before freezing or after.  Both. :) 

It depends on the recipe... most of the slow cooker recipes {in bags} are cooked in the slow cooker after freezing the raw ingredients in a bag.  Just like a lot of stovetop or slow cooker recipes that aren't frozen, you combine all the raw ingredients and cook them all at once.  As a general rule the only meat I pre-cook before putting it into freezer bags is ground beef but only because it won't form into that ground beef texture cooking in a slow cooker.

Some of the recipes that are frozen in a pan have parts that are pre-cooked and then frozen and then some have been mostly cooked and are ready to be put in the oven after defrosting. 

I know the question of putting raw ingredients together will probably come up but if you do some reading here you should get most of your questions answered. I did a lot of research on this and came to a comfortable conclusion because all the ingredients are being frozen at the same time and cooked at a high temperature at the same time as well. We have been eating meals like these for several months and we have never had an issue. :)


Jenniffier Kramer said...

Thanks for sharing I will have to come back later to check on the links. I keep trying to do this but the busier I am the harder it seems to be to organized enough to tackle this.

Lynne said...

Wow! So organised!

Veronica A.M. said...

I used to do this when Samy was just born! It so nice to see a reminder, and so awesome to remember how healthy it really is! I should probably start doing this again, especially if it means more time for sewing and extra $ for fabric!! LOVE this!!

Angie said...

Totally AWESOME post---thank you bunches. :)

Marcia said...

Thanks for the list of recipes. Although I have retired and am home to "cook" dinner, I love your list of recipes. Two for one is a huge help. I need to do healthier, low-fat meals since my gallbladder surgery 3 weeks ago. I will be checking the list and links often in the coming weeks.

Kim said...

Thanks for posting this! It might just be the kick start I need to start making meals ahead of time.

Elle said...

I think this is so brilliant! There is a business here that helps you make all these meals for the freezer by having veggies pre-chopped, etc., but I love to cook and am convinced I can do it better/healthier. After losing power this summer, I've been afraid to restock my freezer fully, but I really miss having dinner ready to go, and when work gets back to normal after the election, I'll be happy to have done this! So...I see my plan for the weekend now!

Sharon - Lilabelle Lane said...

We are a family of 6 and in winter I do a lot of slow cooker meals and always make more thn we need a freeze a few serves. Doesn't take long to get a great variety in the freezer and also makes to great or a "throw together" night where everyone can pick their own meal

Becky said...

Too funny about more money and time for fabric and sewing! You (like me) are a true addict LOL! I'm pretty good about doubling easy to freeze recipes and socking away meals in my freezer (I call this my "food bank"), but I may have to look into this for some tips and ideas! Of course I just gave my slow cooker to Goodwill today (no kidding) because I so rarely use it. :-/

Carla said...

Great post full of ideas, Jennifer. It is a real encouragement to cook smarter. My daughter will love your ideas...I'll pass them along!

Tamara said...

When we had 4 teens we made ahead alot. The breakfast burritos would fly out of the freezer! I also had a buscuit recipe that were better than the buscuits in the grocery freezer. I agree the processed food is killing people! The kids grumbled at first when i took away the hotpockets but now as yoing adults feeding their own families i see them making healthy choices.

Tamara said...

When we had 4 teens we made ahead alot. The breakfast burritos would fly out of the freezer! I also had a buscuit recipe that were better than the buscuits in the grocery freezer. I agree the processed food is killing people! The kids grumbled at first when i took away the hotpockets but now as yoing adults feeding their own families i see them making healthy choices.

CitricSugar said...

You are a slow-cooker, make-ahead all-star! When I lived alone, I always tried to make more than one meal's worth and store the rest when I could so that I wasn't wasting valuable chopping/cooking energy or food for that matter. Thanks for the reminder of awesomeness!

quiltzyx said...

This sounds great - I love my slow cooker & use it a lot. But I have a question - are you just putting the ingredients into the bags you're freezing? Then you take those out & throw them into the crockpot? I figured I must missed something when I got to the part that you did all that in 4 hours....

Amira Ameruddin said...

Thanks for sparks my initiative to start back doing this.. I used to this but instead of a month, i cook for two weeks.. I'd love to save more $$.. I hope i'll get to try this again this weekend..

randi--i have to say said...

Good for you! It has to feel great to know this is all done and ready to use!

Ann Marie @ 16 Muddy Feet said...

Next time you do a cooking marathon, wear very comfy shoes, it helps a LOT!!!

Mary said...

I'd love to try this. I have 2 meals where I feel like a genius because I can turn it into something else. The first is I do a pork roast in the crock pot and then the next day I shred the leftovers and mix w bbq and we eat over baked potatoes. The other is turning taco meat from one night into sloppy joes with lots of veggies. I have to just leave some cut bell peppers for one kid who won't eats sloppy joes but he's eating the peppers so I'm good with that! I really hate cooking and have done a horrible job with making my kids not be picky as a result. I have 1 good eater, a decent eater, and a tyrant.

Cara said...

So, are you freezing the ingredients for each meal? Or are you cooking each meal & freezing it to be reheated later?

Laura said...

I used to do this often. I have gotten out of the habit, but thinking about jumping back in. I think I will, you have encouraged me!

Josie McRazie said...

I love this idea! Another pro... it does make budgeting your food $ easier! It also makes you focus on how much you save by cooking vs going out!

Katy Cameron said...

Oh good, I'm glad I'm not the only nutter that shops by the month and makes huge batches of things for the freezer! Enjoy :o)

Michelle said...

So happy to read this post! I do the same thing at times. My favourite is Cauliflower and chickpea curry, mini quiches (they freeze really well0, bolognese, minestrone and savoury mince which I use as a basis for shepherd's pie, chili con carne, pita breads and salads, etc.

Will take a look at those links. I haven't got a slow cooker, but I do use my faux le creuset for EVERYTHING! LOL

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