I've mentioned that I did a big cooking session to fill the freezer so there would be plenty of meals for postpartum. I thought I'd write a post on how I went about my “once a month cooking” adventure :p
I started online and on paper. I thought about meals the family likes that freeze well, and I also searched online for good freezer meals. Most suggestions came from a mailing list and a forum I post on regularly.
I tried new recipes in the couple of months before I wanted to do my cooking so I could make sure they were enjoyed by the family 🙂
A few weeks before my cooking day I sat down and planned out my menus – I planned lunches and dinners out. I did this just as if I were planning my regular weekly menus out. I just chose from my “freezer meal” list. Some of the lunches I picked are based on canned goods and dry goods so I didn't need to freeze them. I ended up picking about 10 freezer meals.
I decided that I'd quadruple each freezer dish to give me four of each one that could be eaten over the course of a few weeks.
In addition to the main dish for each meal I also planned side veggies, garnishes, grains, etc. out.
Then I worked out my shopping lists. I planned everything to cook each dish into my list. I also put all canned, dry, and frozen goods for the side dishes onto the list. This way the only shopping that needs to be done is for fresh vegetables and dairy.
Making out my menu and shopping lists a few weeks before I actually wanted to cook allowed me to watch for sales on the ingredients I needed.
Final Plans and The Big Trip
I planned to do my cooking mostly on a Saturday when Scott would be available to keep track of the children. I decided that for this freezer cooking session I didn't want kiddo help. When they're older that might be more feasible 🙂
At the beginning of the week during my cooking week I made out a plan for my cooking sessions. This is a tip I picked up from reading about Once a Month Cooking. The smartest way to go about a huge cooking session is to group all like things together.
So I planned to chop all vegetables I needed on Friday night. I also planned to brown all the ground beef I'd need browned.
I planned all my big cooking tasks for Saturday. I generally planned that out by what I'd need going into which dish – and how long it needed it. I had a couple of crockpot meals that needed about 6 hours each, so I planned one to start in the morning and one to start in the afternoon. I also had a couple of soups that needed my big soup pot so I planned one of those for morning and one of those for the afternoon.
Oven meals and assembling casseroles, mixing marinades, etc. I fit in where I thought they'd make the most sense.
Friday morning I loaded the kids up and we went shopping for all the ingredients I hadn't gotten on sale in prior weeks. That was a big shopping trip and it was pretty tiring. I made sure to get spices and other cooking staples I thought I might run out of.
I organized my shopping list by where everything was located in the store so I'd be able to get it done faster. It was helpful to do that, especially being very pregnant with three small children in tow.
Cooking and Freezing
After we put the kids to bed Friday night I started the ground beef browning on the stove in batches. I can leave meat safely browning in our big skillet and go stir it every few minutes. I set all my veggies up on the dining room table and sat down to chop them. I checked the beef every once in awhile.
I bagged all the veggies in the same bag that would be going in a meal together. I checked to see if any needed to be sauteed and I did that on the stove Friday night as well.
I also rolled meatballs for one recipe. In the future I will put meatballs in a different dish – I put them on a flat cookie sheet (no rim) and they leaked some in the fridge. I had to clean that up Saturday after I was already really tired!!
On Saturday morning I started my first crockpot meal and made a huge pot of spaghetti sauce in my stockpot on the stove. While these were going I mixed and baked a batch of cornbread to go with one of our soups.
Next I started a soup in the big stockpot and began a pate cooking in the skillet on the stovetop. While those were cooking I made my meatball sauce and poured it over them to freeze. Then I assembled a casserole that just needed to be frozen – it will cook completely when I thaw.
I worked the rest of the day much like this with the rest of my recipes. I let each recipe cool some, then bagged in plastic freezer bags. These are not my first choice for freezing – however, I need to get a lot of meals into a regular size freezer so this was a compromise I choose to make.
I did place my bags of food into other pans so it would freeze in a nice shape. For instance I lined my four spaghetti sauce servings up in a 9×13 inch baking pan, then placed that in the freezer. They froze into four uniformly sized blocks that stacked nicely in the freezer when I took them out.
It took a good amount of time to get everything in the freezer. I had my first several dishes in the freezer then loaded everything else in the fridge. Sunday morning I transferred another batch of meals to the freezer. Monday morning I moved the final round of dishes to the freezer. I staggered like this so the freezer didn't have to work too hard at any one point.
The day was very long, and very tiring. I did as much of the work sitting as I possibly could. That was helpful. I also made sure that I had an easy lunch and dinner planned for that day, and that I ate plenty of snacks and drank a lot of water. Scott took care of breakfast before I got started 🙂
I tried to wash my cooking pots, pans, and utensils as I went along so I didn't end up with an overwhelming pile of dishes at the end.
I did save one recipe – tamales to do several days later. I did that because the children really like helping me make tamales, so we did that together on a different day 🙂
All in all I'm very pleased. I know that I'll appreciate those meals when Scott goes back to work. He's insisting he can take care of all the cooking during his couple of weeks home with us, so I'm looking forward to a couple of weeks of him cooking and then a few weeks of me not having to think about meals after he goes back to work 😉
One last thing I did was make a list of my meals and directions for preparing them (thawing and baking times, as well as what side dishes to serve with them). I posted this list on the fridge so I can easily get the meals ready while I'm caring for a newborn and the older children 😀
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