Monday, March 5, 2012

Freezer Meals: Introduction and Prep Work

Well, let me first say - this is an adventure!  However, my experience will be a little different than yours.  A lot of time was spent organizing photos and angles to ensure I got some decent shots to explain the meal making process.  

To brag a moment, I think this went well for my very first time and I did it alone.
Total - I spent about six (6) hours in the kitchen and ended with thirty-two (32) dinners.  Now, our home meals normally take an hour from start to finish.  Six (6) hours of my Sunday evening, has saved our family (me - the cook) a total of twenty-six (26) hours this coming month! 

Also, consider the age old family question - what sounds good for dinner?  I dunno...  THIS WAS WORTH IT!

This blog entry is for those of you considering freezer cooking or wondering what it takes.  I do not have a fancy kitchen, see:

That's my one butt kitchen.  I don't have any special tools, machines, or anything out of the ordinary.  Most of my kitchen supplies have been passed down to me by my mother and grandmother.  I've never been taught professional cooking but love to spend time with my mom and rest her soul, my grandmother in the kitchen.  I learn from watching and trying...lots and lots of trying.

On the same note, I am not photographer and I didn't spend special time making my kitchen look perfect. I wanted to document, so you will see the mess progress with each picture. 
It's real life folks!

What style works for you?
Freezer meals can be done a number of ways. You can cook before and freeze the meal for heat up, partially cook, package everything in a dry bag, and so on. I really don't want to have a ton of work when it's time to cook but I also don't want to loose out all the nutrients by pre-cooking my meals. So almost all of our choices include meals that can been 'dumped' into a bag and later 'dumped' into a pan or crockpot and cooked. There are so many health benefits, I don't want to miss out on them.
How to prepare and shop

Step One: Choosing the Meals
Figure out what your family eats normally, then start checking out freezer recipes that will work.  For our family, we eat a lot of chicken but I try to incorporate beef and pork when possible.  We also love Mexican/Tex Mex, so I know those will always be a hit. 
I spent HOURS searching the web for meals and finally found a good list.  Lucky for you - I'll put them in one place.  We are a family of three, so make sure when planning you include how many are in your family.  You may need to double for larger families but most of these serve 4-6.  My promise - these meals will always be easy.  I need easy in my life.
Here is what I chose for our meals:  (links to come as I post each recipe)

Taco Soup (1 batch)
Chicken Tortilla Soup (2 batches)
Chicken Quesdillas (1 batch)
Savory Vegetable Beef Soup (2 batches)
Teriyaki Chicken (3 batches)
Healthy BBQ Chicken (2 batches)
Sloppy Joes (3 batches)
Beef Brisket (2 batches)
Chicken With Creamy Chive Sauce (4 batches)
Santa Fe Chicken (2 batches)
Homemade Simple Chilli (2 batches)
Meat Sauce (3 batches)

Now that you've chosen your meals, it is time to choose how many of each you will cook.  Since most of these options are new to our family, I just went with two or three of each.  So you'll need to double, triple, etc. the ingredients for each meal. 
Step Two: Making your shopping list
I prefer to everything on my laptop.  I'm a sucker for clean and organized lists...
Take each of your recipes and copy the ingredients down - measurements too.  Dump everything into MSWord and organize the madness into groups.  

Such as, you have three recipes that call for onions - put all the onions together and see how many you need.  Then get everything grouped into categories: Veggies, Meats, Fruit, Canned....this will help you purchase everything in bulk and save a TON of money.
Shopping List:

(3) Can of Corn (undrained)               (2) Can of Dark Red Kidney Beans
(4) Cans of Light Red Kidney Beans  (1) Can of Pinto Beans
(2) 20oz can pineapple chunks          (5) Small Cans Hot and Spicy V8
(1) V8 large bottle                               (2) 10 3/4 oz can tomato puree
(1) 28oz can diced tomatoes split       (1) 15 oz can of Tomato Sauce
(2) 6oz can Tomato Paste                  (2) cans diced tomatoes and green chiles
(3) cans diced tomatoes                     (1) Quick Cooking Tapioca
(3) cans cream of chicken soup          (3) cans cream of celery
(2) boxes of chicken AND beef broth  (4) cans black beans
(2) 24 oz. jar thick and chunky salsa   (1) bag uncooked White Rice
(40) Ziplock Freezer Bags!!!
1lb Ground Turkey
5lb Lean Ground Beef
14lbs Chicken Breasts
4lbs package of chicken tenderloins
7 Ibs Beef Stew Meat
(3) cups dry cooking wine – I used a dry white 
(3) Package of Taco Seasoning  
(6) Envelopes of Italian salad dressing mix
Basil                   Black Pepper
Brown Sugar      Butter
Chili powder       Flour
Ground cumin    Mustard
No-salt added ketchup
Olive Oil             Paprika
Parsley               Red Pepper
Rosemary          Salt
Sugar                 Thyme
Worcestershire  Teriyaki sauce, large
(1) large bag Carrots  (4) Bay leaves
(5) Red Onion            (14) White Onion
(18) Garlic Cloves      (7) celery stalks chopped
(12) Red Potatoes      (1) bag frozen green beans
(3) Green Peppers     (1) Red Pepper
(1) Zucchini                 Parsely leaves, fresh
Will Need When Cooking Actual Meal
16 Corn or flour tortillas
Sour cream
Shredded Cojack cheese
4 to 6 hamburger buns
Noodles, egg and spaghetti
Step Three: Getting ready to shop
I would strongly recommend planning out your day for cleaning/shopping then cooking the next day.  Before you take off to shop, clean your kitchen from head to toe.  My motivation was to imagine my mother coming over for a white glove test.   (love ya mom!)

While cleaning, clean out the fridge and freezer and make sure it's ready for the job.  There is nothing worse than running out of space after a long shopping haul. 

Finally, make sure your vehicle is up to the test.  Do you have a cooler if needed?  Is there plenty of space in the trunk or backseat to pile high?  Remember, this is a whole month of shopping.

Step Four: It's time to shop
The shopping can honestly be scary.  I wanted to coupon cut everything but I knew I'd spend hours upon hours to only save a few dollars.  So I sat and thought for a moment.  I've been shopping in the same area for years, I know where the good deals are and I know how to shop.  Do not underestimate yourself.  Go kid free if you can or ask a partner to go with you and help. 

I separated out our trip into three stores: Jay's Produce Stand, Costco, and the Commissary. 

I was able to spend $25.00 at Jay's for all the veggies and fruit.  They have a wide organic selection and unbeatable prices, their only down fall is the 20 minute drive.  You can really fair well at speciality places like Jay's or like - remember they are buying larger quantities and can give you better deals.

Next up, we hit the Commissary.  It's again out of our way but the prices are unbeatable.  Here we picked up all of our dried foods, canned foods, and other non-perishables.  I try to hit their sales area for good finds and often buy a four pack even if I only need one.  The best way to calculate is how much you are paying per can.  If I have to spend an extra $0.50 now to save $1.00 next month, I will. We spent around $45.00 for freezer meals here.
Finally, my favorite place - Costco!  (For my southern friends, it is like Sam's Club...but better) This is the place I come for all the meat we will be purchasing.  You can't beat bulk packages from Costco - I've tried.  Here was the big spender, around $200.00 for all our meat. 
Side note, I already had all the above spices -
so those weren't included in my trips. 

Now remember, this cooking will cover all our meals for a month....
  • How much do you normally spend? 
  • Do you take more than one trip each month?
  • Even much food aka money is wasted?
Step Four: Organize when you get home
If you are planning my thought process, you'll be cooking tomorrow.  So get everything in your drawers and shelves for easy removal.  I put all the veggies in sacks to easily pull and throw on the counter when it was time to cook.  The canned goods were all stacked against the back counter for easy grab and go. 

Make it simple to pull everything out and also let the family know what shouldn't be touched!

Step Five: Preparation
If you plan to use your laptop or printed paper for the instructions, make sure it's all ready for the big day.  Also, make sure the dishwasher is empty and all your gadgets are ready for the big show.  Next entry will include our cook day.

This is not complicated; just take your time and prep.  Preparation is 90% of the battle.

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