First, I am dieting. I most frequently fall off the dieting wagon because I don't have a proper plan for dinner or I don't have the energy to follow through with a plan I have made. On nights that I don't know what is for dinner or I am just exhausted from everything the day required, I make something quick and easy (read fattening) or we eat out (read fattening).
Second, menu planning and shopping exhaust me. These are my least favorite responsibilities, right behind doing the laundry. I would rather clean the bathroom, really. It is the perpetual nature of the tasks. I know I can't do away with the work altogether but I wanted to streamline it as much as possible.
Finally, I wanted to spend more time with my family each night and less time in the kitchen. With the major cooking done, dinner prep is so easy. Clean-up literally takes minutes, especially with all four of us contributing.
However, preparing for the cooking day itself and keeping the kitchen running on the cooking day required careful planning. There are many ways to go about freezer cooking. In fact, Money Saving Mom has a meme going right now on the topic where you can get lots of ideas.
Actually, that was my first step... to gather lots of ideas. For about three months, I read blog posts and thought about why I wanted to bulk cook. Some moms do a little here and there and some do a month's worth like me. Others bulk cook every other month or a few times each year. One group of moms co-op their freezer cooking day. It is really important to decide what will be most helpful for you and make your plans accordingly.
Once I decided that I would take the plunge and cook a full month's worth of breakfasts, dinners, and desserts, I bought a spiral notebook with five sections. I labeled each section as follows: breakfasts, lunches, snacks, dinner- main dishes, dinner- sides, desserts. Though I would not be cooking lunches or snacks for the freezer, I still wanted to gather more ideas. As I visited blogs and looked through cooking sites and books, I jotted down several ideas in each category.
Then I narrowed it down to seven main dishes with accompanying sides, three breakfasts, and two desserts. I created a page for each dinner dish and wrote its recipe along with ingredients and cookware needed on that page. Then I decided on side dishes and wrote them on the page with the main dish they would accompany. Some of the sides were things I could cook and freeze, some were things I could buy already frozen. A few things will have to be bought and prepared fresh. Everything can't go in the freezer. Trust me, I tried! :)
Here are the final menus:
- Chicken Pot Pie with roasted sweet potatoes and corn
- Tater Tot Casserole with orange glazed carrots and peas
- Swedish Meatballs (low fat version) with salad
- Chicken Stir Fry with fresh fruit
- Mexican Chicken with Molly's Mac n Cheese (for the non-dieters in the family), green beans, and fruit and nut bread (bought from the Kroger bakery, ready-to-bake)
- Tagliarini, okra with onions and peppers, and Italian bread (bought from Kroger, ready-to-bake)
- Baked Chicken (to be made the night of), brown rice, hominy, broccoli, fruit and nut bread
- sausage biscuits
- two batches of cookie dough (frozen in sets of six- take from freezer and bake in a portion that does not tempt me to indulge)
I made 3-5 portions of each main dish. This gives us enough for one month with a couple extras to give to my parents. On weekends, I will make a crockpot meal. The breakfasts are for the boys. We thaw the night before or microwave in the morning, and they have a piece of fruit to go with. Also, this plan often provides leftovers for lunch the next day.
Here is the plan I followed for cooking day:
- Cook all ground beef while boiling noodles for mac n cheese.
- Strain ground beef and store in fridge. Mix mac n cheese, place in four foil baking pans and bake.
- Boil pasta for tagliarini. Assemble tater tot casseroles, except for cheese, and freeze.
- Remove mac and cheese from oven and allow to cool. Strain pasta and mix tagliarini. Set aside to cool.
- Boil carrots while peeling sweet potatoes.
- Prepare sweet potatoes and place in four foil baking pans and place in oven. Strain carrots and add glaze. Set aside to cool.
- Wrap mac n cheese and Tag and place in freezer.
- Remove sweet potatoes from oven and set aside to cool.
- Prepare Mexican Chicken. Place in oven to bake. Wrap and freeze chicken breasts for Baked Chicken. Cube chicken and prepare stir fry.
- Set aside Mexican Chicken and Stir Fry to cool. Wrap and freeze sweet potatoes and carrots.
- Prepare Chicken Pot Pie filling and set aside to cool. Make meatballs for Swedish Meatballs. Set aside to cool.
- Mix muffins and bake first round. While baking, make sauce for Swedish Meatballs and set aside to cool.
- Mix second batch of muffins. Remove first batch and allow to cool. Put second batch in to bake. Wrap and freeze chicken pot pie filling, except for one portion which goes to the refrigerator. Wrap and freeze meatballs and sauce in separate containers.
- Remove second batch of muffins and allow to cool. Mix third batch and bake. Mix cookie dough.
- Remove muffins from oven and allow to cool. Place 1st batch of biscuits in oven to bake (I used canned... shhhhh).
- Spoon cookie dough onto Glad Press and Seal paper. Seal in groups of six, place in large freezer bags, and place in freezer. Wrap muffins individually, place in freezer bags, and place in freezer. During this step, remove biscuits from oven and place the second batch in to bake.
- Remove second batch of biscuits and allow them to cool. Cook sausage and cool.
- Mix pancake batter and cook. Stack pancakes on a platter and allow them to cool.
- Assemble sausage biscuits, wrap, place in large freezer bags, and place in the freezer.
- Wrap pancakes individually in press and seal paper. Place in large freezer bags and into the freezer.
- Line a deep dish pie pan with a pre-made pie crust. Fill with pot pie filling that was stored in the fridge. Top with second crust, seal, cut slits, and brush with egg. Bake in oven on 400 for 30 minutes along with one portion of sweet potatoes. Microwave frozen corn. Serve for dinner.
- Clean the kitchen.
- Take long bath.
- Take three Excedrine Back and Body pain pills.
- Go to bed and sleep well, knowing there will be very little cooking to do for the next month! :)