Meal StartersI've experimented, with great success, on making "meal starters" in the past. That's when you make up several packets of cooked ground beef, chopped up soup vegetables, sauces, and so on that go in the freezer. So when it's time to cook, you've already got a start and it takes less time and dishes to make dinner. This is great, especially if you KNOW you don't have time to make 18 meals in one day. It's crazy sometimes!
Double UpAnother idea I've tried successfully is to double up a recipe that I'm already making and freeze the extra for another day. It's brilliant! If you're already so short on time you can't make extra food but you already are making dinner, it takes maybe 2 extra minutes to put together the second batch of whatever since you've already prepared the ingredients for the first one. This works great for lasagna, pasta bakes, enchiladas, soups, chili, pancakes, cookies, and muffins. It's a great start. And it's helpful when you don't have much freezer space. It's still perfectly possible to do a "big cooking/freezing day" with just the freezer connected to your fridge, but it takes way more planning.
My PlanSo back to the big cooking day. I decided to just make up my own plan since I was basically doing that anyway for so long. I'm not going to post all my recipes. You probably have a favorite recipe for all or most of the family favorites I'm going to share anyway. If not, I'll post them eventually, if you ask nicely. ;) I just wanted to share my method. And, by the way, I love how this turned out. I love the food. I love that I have meals ready to go in my freezer. And I love that still have the flexibility to make dinner from scratch if that bug bites. Honestly, sometimes I LOVE to cook. But most days I'm
Make a list of family favoritesSo, first step is to make a list of recipes your family likes. It helps if many of the recipes share some common ingredients, but you don't want the meals to get boring by ALWAYS having the same thing. I had a list of 10 recipes (plus the sauces I was making from scratch) and then ended up with extra chicken so I made some other meals, too. I doubled those recipes so we would have each meal twice. That makes 20+ meals. We usually have leftovers, which we eat either for a lunch or for a "leftovers night" during the week. If you're running short on ideas, consider doing what the "Food Nanny" suggests and making a theme for each day of the week. She has her own plan, but our family just does things differently. Sunday is "traditional/crockpot". Monday is "ethnic." By that we mean, it's a good night for Mexican or Asian. We might toss in Indian food at some point. We LOVE Mexican, but we also enjoy a good stir fry or sweet and sour sometimes. Tuesday I have prenatals almost all night, so we call that "Fend for Yourself" night. Mostly that means The Boy Scout makes something
Make a list of recipes you want to make this monthConsult your long list and pick what you want to make this time. Some foods freeze better than others. Some shouldn't be frozen at all. Some need to be frozen before cooked. Some need to be prepared then frozen. It'll take a little research and experimenting to figure out what works for your recipes, but it's worth it for the money saved and the hassle gone. Anyway, here's my list for this time: beef/turkey (red sauce) enchiladas, chicken (white sauce) enchiladas, Taco soup, cheeseburger soup, broccoli-cheese casserole, lasagna, stroganoff, chili, cabbage rolls, and meatballs. Notice how some of these contain VERY similar ingredients? It's planned that way. I also made my own spaghetti sauce and enchilada sauce for these recipes. These are just the recipes I wanted to put together. We also have fish every week, but I didn't need to prepare it in any way. If you like marinated steaks or chicken breasts, those count as meals, too but all you have to do it dump the ingredients in a bag and freeze them. :)
Make a list of ingredients
Buy in bulkBuying items in bulk is a huge money saver. Buying those 5# bags of cheese from Sam's club saves at least 25%, even from the sales prices. Buying those big #10 cans of diced tomatoes and tomato sauce saved me over 50%. Bonus: I was trying to save money by reducing the amount of beef I bought. Some recipes HAD to have fresh ground beef or turkey because they were meatballs or whatever. Some recipes could be completely substituted with a meat replacement like beans/rice. Some recipes really needed to contain some amount of meat just so we wouldn't feel deprived. So when I went to Sam's Club to purchase my meat, I couldn't bring myself to buy the huge chub of beef they had at $30+ and they didn't have turkey in stock. I went to Aldi next since their frozen turkey is so cheap and their fresh beef isn't extraordinarily expensive. Here's the bonus. In the fresh meat section, they had fresh turkey and fresh beef chuck but at almost the same price. The also had fresh sirloin that needed cooked by the next day (my cooking day!) with a "$2 off per package" sticker. This made the sirloin cheaper then the turkey! I bought 6 lbs. Happy dance time!
I also usually buy two whole chickens that I cook in the crockpot or roaster oven, depending on the time I have available. I use the meat from one chicken in my recipes to freeze and save the meat from the other for meals to make "from scratch." Depending on my plans I'll either fridge or freeze it.
Plan to spend ALL day cooking
Make Like Foods at the Same Time
Here's How I Planned My Cooking Day
- Set chickens to cook overnight in crockpot.
- Set chili beans to cook overnight in crockpot. (I made my from dried beans instead of buying cans.)
- Chop all vegetables
- Brown 10# of turkey/beef/meat substitute
- Combine taco soup ingredients and freeze.
- Combine chili ingredients and freeze.
- Make spaghetti sauce and enchilada sauce.
- Make lasagnas and freeze.
- Make beef enchiladas and freeze.
- Make chicken enchiladas and freeze.
- Make broccoli cheddar casserole and freeze.
- Make cheeseburger soup and freeze half. Save other half for lunch today.
- Make up stroganoff sauce and freeze.
- Make up 4 lbs of cabbage roll meat.
- Make half ^ into cabbage rolls and freeze.
- Add Italian seasoning to other half and make into meatballs.
- Bake meatballs in muffin tins. Cool and freeze.
Note: Sorry for no photos. I'll add them later. I didn't take ANY pictures while cooking, even though I KNEW I should have. But this gets you started if you're looking for a way to do a "Freezer Cooking Day."
Edit: I forgot to mention that in addition to the meals I made above, I also bought fish for a couple weeks, ingredients to make a family favorite that doesn't freeze well, and enough stir fry vegetables for two meals. We keep a decent store of foods in the house, so we fill in the empty places with other meals.