This week I did my first huge freezer meal batch cooking session. Whew! What an experience! Since this was my first time I’m definitely not an expert but I thought I’d share what all I did anyway (especially since several people have asked after hearing that I was going to do this).
Before Hudson was born I had a long list of to-do items that I wanted to get done – things like getting the nursery all perfect, clean the house from top to bottom, etc. But it never really crossed my mind to get meals prepared ahead of time. I believe maybe I thought of it at the very end of my pregnancy but didn’t get around to it before he was born.
I hope recovery with Parker won’t be as difficult as it was with Hudson, but with Hudson it was a long, LONG time after he was born that I was ready and able to start really caring about and/or cooking good meals. Thankfully we had my mom those first few weeks to feed us and for a good while after she left we lived mostly on pizza and other take out. Talk about hard on your health and your wallet! So this time around I made getting good healthy food prepared a huge priority! In fact, that’s what I asked my mom for for Christmas…that she would come and help me get meals ready!
So this week was the week and here’s an overview of what I did:
Step 1 – Picking the meals
I started by making a list of all the meals I wanted to make. I went through our list of common supper ideas and wrote down the ones that I thought would freeze well (mostly soups, casseroles, and other “one dish” meals). I had also posted on Facebook asking my friends for advice, tips, and/or meal suggestions and got a lot of recipes that way so I went through all those and chose a few to try. Then finally I checked out Pinterest and looked at a bunch of recipe ideas there (mostly breakfast, I really wanted to make ahead some breakfast meals and I didn’t have any good ideas).
Step 2 – Ingredients
Once I had a list of quite a few favorites as well as several new recipes to try, I wrote next to each one how many batches I wanted to make of each one (whether it was taking a large casserole and splitting it into two smaller dishes to use for two different meals or doubling/tripling a recipe).
Then I started going through each recipe and writing down what all it called for. I kept a running total and added to it as I went through each recipe until I had finished my list.
Step 3 – Grocery list
After I had this HUGE long list of ingredients I wanted to get it a little less confusing before I actually headed to the store. The first thing I did was to condense quantities. For example, since I’d just added to each item based on what the recipe said I had several things that looked like this:
chicken: 3 cups, 1.5 cups, 1 lb, 1.5 lb, 2 breasts, 4 breasts…
Depending on what the recipe had said I’d just written down cups of something or pounds of something or number of bags or whatever. So spent some time trying to add things up and say I need X number of whatever.
Then I did something that I’d eventually like to do for all my grocery trips – I sorted my list based on category (or actually based on what was grouped together in the store). So I listed all the produce together, meat, canned goods, pasta, and so forth. I hoped (and was right) that this would keep me from having to make multiple trips back and forth across the store because I’d missed something while I was in that section.
Step 4 – Shopping
Thanks to my pre-sorted list this wasn’t too bad. It didn’t take much longer than my normal weekly trip, although my cart was WAY full!
Step 5 – Cooking
The main event! Like I said, my mom came and we got to work fixing all this food. It was definitely an ordeal. We started around mid-morning and worked all day, then when Michael got home from work he jumped in and helped out too.
I’m not sure that my way was the most efficient. We did some things in large batches and others we did along the way. For example, the first thing we did was cook up all the chicken at once then chop/shred it and divide it based on how much each recipe needed. However, with things like onions and green peppers we chopped as we needed them for each recipe and I’m sure if we’d chopped all that at once it would have helped a little.
While mom was starting the chicken cooking I worked on putting together the crockpot freezer meals – those were super fast because I didn’t have to cook anything, I just dumped all the raw ingredients in a bag, sealed them up, and they were off to the freezer. That made me feel very accomplished :). If we end up loving those meals then I may start doing that way more often because they’re so simple to assemble!
After the chicken was cooked and the crock pot meals were done we started in on all the chicken dishes. Once those were done we moved on to all the ground beef dishes. We finished off with the breakfast foods.
We spent probably 10 hours cooking that day, but a lot of that time was actually spent corralling, distracting, and taking care of Hudson. Tip for the future – if you plan to do an all day cooking marathon, find someone to come watch your child(ren) so that you can just focus on cooking. Hudson made things go a lot slower for sure.
A lot of people have asked what we cooked so here are the recipes we made that one day:
Crock pot meals (these are all new recipes that I haven’t tried yet)
- – Hawaiian chicken
- – cilantro lime chicken (minus the cilantro)
- – fajitas
- – Teriyaki chicken (recipe from a friend, I don’t have a link for it)
Old faves (things we’d made before)
- – baked ziti (split the recipe into two pans)
- – baked spaghetti (split the recipe into three pans)
- – lasagna (split the recipe into two pans)
- – spaghetti sauce (doubled to make two meals)
- – “regular” chili (tripled and divided into 4 gallon-sized bags)
- – white chili (doubled and divided into 2 gallon-sized bags)
- – chicken tortilla soup
- – enchiladas (split the recipe into two pans)
- – chicken casserole (split the recipe into two pans)
- – chicken and black bean quesadillas (we had one random chicken breast left over so I used it and some cheese, beans, and tortillas we had on hand to make several quesadillas – they will be good for quick dinners or lunches)
New meals (found via Pinterest or recommendations from friends)
- – sloppy joes
- – Mexican lasagna (recipe from a friend, I don’t have a link for it)
- – breakfast burritos
I had two other meals planned – chicken and rice casserole (split into two dishes) and some breakfast sandwiches. We did not get to these because I didn’t have enough chicken for the casserole or enough eggs for the sandwiches. The casserole I made and froze the next day and the breakfast sandwiches will be made as soon as we get more eggs from our “egg lady” at church.
This weekend Michael is going to make a big batch of pancakes that we can freeze. I also had two meals already frozen, things we had made recently and frozen half of the dish (pizza bites and vegetable soup).
(Note: have a deep freezer in our garage. No way would all of this fit into our freezer attached to our fridge.)
(Another note: My mom brought several of her pots, knives, measuring spoons, bowls, etc. That really helped us not have to be washing dishes constantly since we had so many. We still had to wash quite a bit and ran the dishwasher I think three times that day, but we were able to do more or go longer before we needed to wash something.)
So from that one marathon day of cooking we ended up with 27 meals plus 20 breakfast burritos plus 7 quesadillas (for another supper or lunches). Once it’s all said and done we should have 31 meals, 20 breakfast burritos, 12 breakfast sandwiches, and a whole bunch of pancakes.
Total for ingredients came out to about $350. Yep, I nearly choked when I had to pay that but if you do the math that’s not very expensive per meal, it’s just a LOT up front.
A couple of things about that $350
- – We buy almost all organic – beef, chicken, cheese, etc. and that jacks the price up
- – I was low on a bunch of spices all at once so I had to stock up on those too, plus I went ahead and got extra aluminum foil and Saran wrap to have just in case, so that cost is included in the $350.
- – I did not shop the sales or coupon. In all of my work to get every thing pre-planned before I went to the store I totally forgot to check for coupons. I doubt it would have made a huge difference but I’m not a big coupononer anyway; someone who is could probably get a lot of deals. As far as shopping on sale goes, I totally intended to do that but that meant having my list ready far in advance so I could shop when particular things went on sale. Unfortunately, especially because of Christmas, I didn’t get that done so once I had the list done I just had to buy at whatever price it was since we were down to the wire. In the future I’d like to be more prepared so I can buy chicken when it’s on sale and beef when it’s on sale and so on.
And there we go! I was very proud and impressed by our first freezer meal cooking experience. I’m not sure that I’d try to do quite so much at once again, especially not at 36 weeks pregnant, because it was a long, hard day. But I know it’s going to be SO worth it after Parker is here.
Oh and I guess I should add in a Step 6: Inventory
Once everything was nice and frozen I organized the deep freezer and took inventory of what was in there. I hung it inside our pantry door so when we’re meal planning each week we can look at the list, pick out what we want, and then go pull them from the freezer rather than trying to remember what we have or go out there and rummage around constantly. I even made some notes under certain meals indicating what we need to get to go along with that meal.
Have you ever made freezer meals? Any tips you want to add here?