Occasionally I have written a little about freezer cooking - the phenomenon where one
I have been freezer cooking for two years now. I first tried it more out of curiosity than anything else, to see if it actually worked. Once I found out how well it worked, it became a necessity that I depend on to keep my family eating healthy even when we are having a busy life.
While I have spent many hours searching out freezable recipes, or adapting my own, I have found a wonderful resource that supplies me with a fresh supply of tested, tried and true recipes to use. There are even plenty of gluten and dairy free recipes that fit the needs of my family.
Why Freezer Cooking? Our family is very busy. It's not just because of home schooling, though that certainly plays a big part in it. I often found that by the time the girls finished their work, and I finished correcting it, everyone was hungry and dinner was nowhere to be found. This was a problem. Also, we often have activities or appointments in the afternoon. Because we have limited diets and a limited budget, grabbing dollar items from the local fast food joint is not an option. (Not to mention it's the least healthiest option!) I needed to come up with a way that cooking and meals were cared for without consuming my day.
How does it work? Since I am now a veteran 'freezer cooker', I have a pretty good idea what items I will be using every month, and I watch for them to go on sale. Each week when I grocery shop, I stock up on several things: fresh produce and dairy, sale items that we need for food or household use, and items that will be needed for my next big cooking day. Once a month, or as my schedule allows, I compile a cooking menu, print out my shopping list, and hit up the local grocery stores, filling in whatever items are still needed to fulfill the list for the big cooking day.
With the program I use, I am able to create a shopping list that tells me exactly how much is needed for all the recipes, so I am able to purchase exact amounts without waste. It also gives me a prep list.
Cooking Day works the best when I am able to take the time to prep meat and veggies the night before, then start in early on the actual meal preparation.
How long does a cooking day take? I have found that if I am able to spend 2 hours prepping veggies the night before, then setting up ground beef and chicken to cook overnight in the crock pots, that I can get an actual cooking day done in about 8 hours. (Including cleanup!)
How are the meals stored? I have purchased extra 9x13 pans and pie pans whenever I see them at garage sales or thrift stores. I often use those to store freezer meals such as chicken dishes or quiche, wrapped in several layers of foil. Many meals can be placed into gallon size freezer bags as well. I try to do a lot of flash freezing, so that my meals are not all 'stuck together' in the freezer.
What types of meals are made? We do a lot of vegetables and meat here. I make nearly everything gluten free, and many of the meals are both gluten and dairy free as well. That way, everyone in my family can eat it, and I don't have to worry about cooking separate meals every time we eat. Some of the meals are breakfast items, while others are crock pot meals, or soups and stews.
Does it really save money? Yes! Undeniably so. I have to say that sticking with a consistent once a month cooking schedule has cut our grocery bill in half. That is even with making specialty items gluten free. I am able to buy many of my food items and spices in bulk which gives me a cheaper price overall. Also, I watch for sales or clearance meats, and will stock up on those. This past week my grocery store had "buy one get one free" sirloin roasts. The week before, they had half price chicken. Prior to that, there was a huge after-holiday meat clearance which I took advantage of.
What else does it save? Time! On my cooking day, I am able to cook all my meats at once. Using my food processor, I can chop up an entire bag of onions in just minutes. I usually will prep all the veggies and line them up in bowls, taking out what I need for each recipe as I put it together. While it may take 8 hours to do a big cooking day, I then have approximately 25-30 meals stocked up in my freezer. That means I get a free pass on cooking for most of the breakfasts and dinners for the next month. I try to make the dinners large enough that the leftovers can be used for the following days' lunch. It also saves a ton of time in cleanup. On those days that we eat a prepared meal from the freezer, the only cleanup I have is whatever pot was used to cook it, rather than all the prep materials.
Where can recipes be found? While I do have a pretty amazing collection of recipes on Pinterest, my go-to website for freezer recipes is Once A Month Meals because it is so user friendly.
The perks of membership at Once A Month Meals are pretty amazing. First of all, there are so many choices of different menus: traditional, whole foods, paleo, gluten/dairy free, diet, vegetarian, allergen, baby food, and mini. With the exception of the mini menu, each of the others includes about 12 new recipes every month. All of them have been tested already, so they are fine tuned and ready to cook. My favorite perk of having the Pro membership is that the menus are swappable, meaning I can choose recipes from several different menus, or favorites from past months, and replace any of the current month's offerings.
I recently signed up as an affiliate with Once A Month Cooking, because being a member for two years now has definitely made me a believer! I wish to promote their site to help others who are striving to feed their family a healthy lifestyle frugally.
If you wish to try out their program, a monthly basic membership is $10/month or $99/year. A Pro membership is $16/month or $170/year. While the basic gives you access to all the great recipes, I really like the Pro because it comes with the swappable recipe features. I currently have three menus customized and saved. Several of the recipes have become family favorites that we use repeatedly.
This year I will be posting regularly about our freezer cooking journey. It's not just all about casseroles and crock pot meals. Actually, my family pretty much hates casseroles, so that was my main reason for taking so long to actually try out freezer cooking. I was so surprised to learn that crock pots and casseroles are really a very small part of it that can be easily avoided if you wish.
Again, if you would like to check out and try ONCE A MONTH MEALS please use my affiliate link to support my blog.
In the meantime, I would like to offer a chance for you to try out Once A Month Meals for FREE! Please see the giveaway below for an opportunity to win a one month membership and try it for yourself! (starts at midnight on 1/18 and runs through 2/1)
I am sharing this post with the Living Frugally Roundup at the Old Schoolhouse. Click the banner to be inspired with some other great frugal ideas! (Link will be active starting 1/21/15)
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