I am giggling at the title of this post because it suggests that I am an expert on this subject- which I am not. I have, however, made freezer meals once-a-month for the past couple of years and LOVE it. I have had several people ask me to share the "how's" of the process, so I am finally blogging about it. But before I get into the nitty gritty, here are a few reasons WHY we do it:
1) It TOTALLY works with our schedule. With our retail store closing at 6 pm and me doing photoshoots in the early evening, we frequently don't get home until 6:30 or 7:00. I know many families that eat dinner right at 5 every night, but we are late eaters- and if I can put a meal in the crock pot and have it ready when we get home, it is a huge relief. Even the non-crock-pot meals have easy directions written on top- so if Shawn gets home early, it's not hard for him to preheat the oven and pop it in.
2) It TOTALLY works with our budget. We have a monthly food budget of 360.00 every month. I have had people tell me that is crazy generous, and people say it is crazy small. I believe your budget for groceries is just a matter of scale- the bigger your overall income, the bigger your food budget can be. So, whatever your budget is- is your business. This is ours. :) I try to allot around 30.00 per week for weekly quick trips to the grocery store for things like milk and fresh fruit and veggies for snacks. I am also a couponer and do my best to buy the most expensive things on my grocery bill- toiletries- on sale at Walgreens or CVS. So, that means I am typically spending around 240.00 on our freezer meals.
3) Leftovers! We usually have leftovers from each meal that we happily eat for lunch the next day. If you have a non-leftover-eater in your home, you need to either convert them or plan to make your meal portions smaller. :)
I must start this section by saying that one of my awesome past brides/friend, Bandi, was the one who got me started doing this. I thought it was genius and still use some of the recipes she shared in this blog post.
1) Set your budget and shop your pantry. What do you already have in there? Rice? Noodles? Spaghetti sauce? Using these staples can really save you some $$ when planning your recipes.
2) Make your meal plan. You can buy one online (just google once-a-month meal plan), or make up your own out of your favorite recipes or others. I have most of our favorites pinned on my Pinterest board HERE.
If you are just starting out, I would suggest looking at your calendar and deciding just how many nights you will actually need a meal. Don't make more than you need to- and don't make too little- should you get sick of having the same thing over and over! I am usually planning about 20 to 25 meals- which usually falls around 4-5 recipes, quadrupled. If we are planning on eating at home 4 nights per week, I like having the option of 5 different meals, so we aren't eating the same exact thing every week.
Choose recipes that will work well with freezing- I once thought it would be cool to do fish tacos...and that's when I learned that defrosted cabbage is DISGUSTING and to mix the marinade for the fish separately, then combine when cooking. Trust me on this one :)
I would also suggest limiting yourself to 2 meals that require pre-cooking. For example, I love chicken spaghetti, but you have to cook the chicken before mixing it with the rest of the ingredients and putting it in the casserole dish. The same goes with anything that requires ground beef or turkey. Crock pot chicken recipes like one of our favorites, French Chicken, just require me to throw the already frozen chicken breast in the bag with the other ingredients, and freeze. WAAAAY faster.
After you have decided on your recipes, don't forget foil pans/foil, muffin liners, ziploc freezer bags, etc. I have found foil pans at Wal-Mart and Dollar Tree for pretty cheap. The foil pans (and not having to wash dishes) are SO worth buying those new each month.
Also, don't forget your sides! You can stock up on frozen veggies here and things like crusty bread which freeze well and make for easy side dishes.
3) Make your shopping list. You will first need to decide how many of each recipe you will be making (I usually quadruple recipes- so 4 of each recipe). Then I make a list of all of my recipes in a word document and convert all of the measurements to fit with the amount of meals I'm making. (AHHHH- MATH!!!) So, if the original recipe calls for 1 cup of flour, I change it to 4 cups.
Also, you'll want to check the serving sizes- I will take "family" recipes that feed 8 and split them into two meals (4 servings each). This usually gives at least one of us leftovers for the next day.
I do my shopping list very simply- writing out the ingredients I need recipe by recipe, changing the quantities as I go.Then I go back through and decide which items I can buy at Sam's or Costco and which I will go to the grocery store for. I can also frequently find good coupons for canned tomatoes/seasonings/frozen items at Target.
Side Note: I do my best to find recipes that are meat/veggie based, although I LOVE carbs and noodles and potatoes (very prevalent in many freezer recipes). I also always use ground turkey instead of beef- just our preference!
4) Go shopping. This takes longer than you think, so don't give up! Some days I try to do this the day before so I'm not super tired. Bring a friend or if you are really brave, bring your 3 year old. :)
5) Set it all out at home. Double check to make sure you have all your ingredients. Some people suggest prepping at this time by chopping all veggies, cooking noodles, browning meat etc. - but that is too overwhelming to me (and I'm afraid I'll mess something up doing it all at once) so I just typically go recipe by recipe.
6) Get cooking! Start with the recipe that will take the longest. If I am baking muffins- I will go ahead and start those so they can be cooking while I work on something else. Before I start a new recipe, I will label the ziploc bags or foil covers with the recipe name and date, along with the cooking directions. Your kitchen will be a GIANT MESS. This is a great time to ask your husband to take your child and just. go. At least that's what I do.
Be aware that you might run into issues when you realize you need to cook 3 lbs of pasta in your regular sized pot. Obviously, that won't work- so you may have to borrow some extra pots/pans, or just split it up. Unless you have a commercial kitchen...that's when I wish I lived in the Duggar home. :)
My sister Layne helped me this last time and we split all the meals- getting about 13 meals each- which was perfect for our July since we will be traveling a lot. It was wonderful to have a helper!
Once you're finished, find a way to squeeze it all into your freezer. Amazingly, I still don't have a separate deep freezer- we just use the one on our fridge. It's been all we need so far!
Here's a few links to our favorite recipes:
I'm sure I've missed several important things- so if you have a question, please post it in the comments below so everyone can see the responses!