Today is Wildcard Wednesday! Anything goes! Wednesday will be the day that I randomly choose a topic that I have been interested in knowing more about. Today's topic is Freezer Cooking, AKA Once A Month Cooking.
Now wait, you say. Haven't you been freezer cooking for a while now? Not a while, but, technically, yes. I started freezer cooking in late November 2011. However, I mostly just downloaded a monthly menu, picked out about 10 meals (AJ and I are picky eaters, so I would be hard-pressed to find a 30-day menu that had 30 recipes we liked.), and downloaded all of the directions. I've decided to become brave and, gulp, create my own, Pantinas-family-friendly menus. Which meant research.
First, let me explain exactly what freezer cooking is. For those of us who have long, crazy days during the week, cooking dinner can seem almost insurmountable. Enter delivery pizza. And Chinese. And drive-thru burgers. And... well, you see where I'm going. This habit is not good for the waist, the heart, or the wallet. When the hubby made a crack that we should just write a check to JJ's Pizza Shack as if it's a monthly bill, well, I knew it was time to change.
With some halfway-decent organizational skills, a clean kitchen (which I know may be the hardest part of this!), and one day a month (or two days, as we do a paycheck's worth of dinners instead of one month), you can cook all of your dinners AT ONCE for the rest of the month. Then, on a crazy school/work day, you pull a dinner out of the freezer, let it thaw, then toss it into the oven. A bag of veggies and a couple of glasses of milk, and boom, a healthy home-cooked family dinner every night. Even I can do that, and I hate cooking.
So, how do you go about creating this miracle? Listed below are the steps that I have found helps in the organization, creation, and success of freezer cooking.
1. Download Evernote. Evernote is a free program for your computer and/or smart phone that saves any information from the internet that you select. In other words, a web clipper! If you are on Pintrest, this would work, too, but I like the utility of Evernote so much more.
2. Next, you need to research once a month recipes or freezer cooking recipes. Not just any old recipe from a cookbook will necessarily do. Somethings just don't freeze and reheat well. If you enjoy cooking and want to experiment with some of your favorites, by all means, give it a whirl. Personally, I like it when others have done the work for me. Get more recipes than you think you'll need. I would recommend double the amount you plan to make.
3. So, why so many recipes? Specifically for this step: check your favorite grocery stores for sales. If you have carnivores in your house, you know a big part of your grocery budget goes towards meat. If you have a large variety of recipes, you can pick the ones that have meat on sale.
4. Create a master ingredient list. There is a FABULOUS site called onceamonthmom.com that has one of the best files for helping you combine all of the ingredients from all of these recipes to make grocery shopping less of a headache.
5. Go grocery shopping. Sorry, but nothing can make this any better.
6. DO NOT cook the same day you go grocery shopping. I did this the first time in November, and not only did I not want to look at food again, I was a bit, shall we say, snarly by the end.
7. For this next step, you need a place that you can spread some papers out. Print out all of the recipes you plan on making as well as this wonderful sheet from www.momsbudget.com, another FABULOUS site for freezer cooking advice. To me, this is truly the hardest part. I'm not one who can successfully get the main dish and the side dishes to all be done at the same time. Take some paper (I rip regular sheets in half to keep from wasting paper) and label at the top, one for each sheet: Chop, Dice, or Mince; Brown; Boil (Spaghetti or Rice); Pre-Heat Oven; Mix.
8. Personally, I number each recipe and just work with the numbers, but the hubby likes to know which recipe we are talking about, so we abbreviate the titles. Either way, go through each recipe and add to your paper lists any steps that go with the sheets. These are the majority of the early steps you will do. There should not be too many more steps on each of your recipes outside of these.
9. Take that wonderful sheet you got from www.momsbudget.com and start ordering your steps. At this point, the order is going to depend completely on your recipes and your cooking skills. I like to brown meat on medium, so I know I have time to do all of the chopping and mincing while that is going on.
10. Make sure to follow the freezing directions exactly as they have been printed! Sometimes you can combine meat and liquid, sometimes they need to be bagged separately. Know ahead of time!
11. Finally, create labels (or, as in our family, Post-Its that hang out on the freezer!) that have the directions for cooking on the day you want to eat the dinner. Some require fridge thawing, some require microwave thawing, some can be cooked straight from the freezer.
Following this method, I just organized the freezer cooking we plan on doing for tonight for the next two weeks. I'll let you know how it worked out for me. If you decide to give this a try, please leave me a comment and let me know how it worked for you!
Thanks to www.momsbudget.com and onceamonthmom.com for their fabulous advice, recipes, and printables that made my life so much easier!