|Bags of Italian sausage, peppers, and onions ready to go into the freezer!|
F is for Freezer Cooking
As a mom, one thing that is very important and high on my priority list is that my family eats together, and has healthy and tasty meals when doing so. I have found it very difficult to devote time to cooking, especially with a busy homeschooling and church schedule. Since it is important though, I have been on the hunt to find a way to make it a little easier.
Last year, I first heard of the phenomenon of "freezer cooking", also called "once a month cooking." I bought a book full of recipes, and of course, searched around on the internet for good ideas.
Freezing food isn't a new concept to me. I would often make more of a recipe than I needed, so that I could freeze some. Or I would freeze leftovers in small containers to eliminate food waste, and have something easy available for a future lunch. I found that making and freezing muffins and waffles was cheaper than buying them already frozen, and that it was healthier too!
I am also very aware that with the multitude of food allergies here in the family, freezing food and snacks would make cooking multiple meals at once a little bit easier on myself. (Most meals I cook at least two separate things, sometimes more! This accommodates dairy allergies, gluten free needs, and many more....)
When I first looked into freezer cooking, it seemed a little overwhelming. I ended up starting small, and just doing a few meals, to try it out. Since I found it very convenient, and thought the meals tasted good, I explored more.
Last fall, I actually WON a year long membership to "Once A Month Mom," which is a website dedicated to once a month and freezer cooking. They have actual full month menus that will give you a variety of meals. They also have gluten free and whole foods menus available. With the menu comes a shopping list, recipe cards, and directions. You can enter the amount of people you are cooking for, and the site tailors your list to accommodate that number of people.
In January, I had my first official cooking day! I had my menu and recipes ready, and got my shopping all done. I was ready to tackle that list!!! It ended up taking myself and a friend a day and a half to complete everything! I didn't get discouraged though, I just kept pressing on.
I am now in my fourth month of cooking this way. Maybe not enough to be a 'veteran', but definitely enough experience to know that I love it, and probably will never go back to my old ways as long as I have children in the house to school and feed!
Another website I found that has some really great recipes is "Six Sister's Stuff". They even have a list of "8 Crock Pot Meals In An Hour" that you can assemble and throw in the freezer. (It did take me a little longer than an hour, though).
I have devoted a whole Pinterest Board to freezer cooking recipes I have found. One of my kids' favorite things for me to make is a huge stack of waffles. Occasionally, I will get out the waffle iron and make a HUGE batch of batter, and spend about an hour just making waffles. The kids are allowed to eat a couple, but the rest get tucked into the freezer. I will flash freeze them on cookie sheets, then pack into gallon freezer bags. The kids love having them for a quick and easy breakfast.
On my last cooking day, I took some pictures. Not only did I want to remember how crazy the day was, but I thought I could post here and maybe encourage someone else who is struggling to find the right balance in meal preparation. While my family is not crazy about casseroles, they have adapted a bit, because they know it is better for all of us overall to have a calmer household in the afternoons. They also know that if we are out all afternoon with appointments or activities, that it is nice to come home and eat when we are starving, and not have to wait another hour till mom can get something scraped together for dinner. They have had a lot of patience with me as I try out new recipes on them, to find what works and what doesn't. I have also tried to take some of our family favorites and adapt them to be freeze and reheat meals.
As a result of the extra planning, shopping sales, buying things in bulk, and making meals that don't have a lot of leftovers and waste, I have been able to cut our grocery bill almost in half with freezer cooking! That has made me very happy, and also given me a little more money to spend on fresh produce.
Here are some pictures from the past month:
Canned and dry goods piled up and waiting to be used.
Cheese to be shredded.
Shredding cheese is a great job to involve the kids in meal preparation!
Produce and perishables
Veggies! It takes a long time to prep the veggies!
Piles of meat that I got on sale very cheap!
All the meat laid out and ready for us to start cutting and cooking!
The crock pot will become your friend! It's great to set something in there, start the school day, then smell good stuff all day long! It's wonderful to know that dinner is almost ready!
Making and freezing a huge batch of egg rolls! Take out as many as you need, for a quick lunch or for a real Chinese dinner!
Big batches of homemade granola!
A quick, easy, and healthy breakfast!
If you would like to try out freezer cooking, I have a few pieces of advice that I have been learning along the way:
- Start small, with just a few meals that you can do in an afternoon, and see if your family likes it, or if the style of cooking suits your tastes.
- Use good freezing materials! Spend the little extra to get good quality bags that won't leak.
- Shop sales and stock up on meats that are cheaper.
- Don't neglect the side dishes! There are some really great sides you can make and freeze as well, such as cooked rice, cooked potatoes, pastas, biscuits, and cookies!
- Your food prep day will always take longer than you anticipate!
- You should try to do your cooking on a day when your kids can be occupied with doing something else and you don't have to watch them, unless they are old enough to hang in there with you all day and work hard, and be a help in the kitchen. If they do help, make it rewarding for them by getting them a special treat or something to munch on.
- Always practice good food safety habits when thawing meals. Best way is to thaw in the fridge the night before, then put your food into the crockpot in the morning.
This post is linked up with "Blogging Through the Alphabet" at "Ben and me." Stop by to see what everyone else wrote for the letter "F".