Friday, August 18, 2017

Freezer Cooking

One of the ways I am able to serve food from scratch every day AND keep my sanity in spite of my large-and-growing family is precooking and freezing meals. 

Originally, I did this only in preparation for another baby, aiming to have about 4 to 6 weeks worth of breakfasts and dinners prepared and ready to go by about 36 weeks of pregnancy. Which, honestly, is pushing it because my already low energy levels during pregnancy go to virtually zero sometime by week 32. And my belly gets too large to stand in front of the kitchen counter comfortably, and turning sideways is only feasible for so long each day - ha! So this time around, I will be aiming to have all meals done and stashed by 7 months of pregnancy. 





As our family keeps growing (and growing), there are ever more opportunities for unexpected events to crop up that could throw dinner for a loop. I also like to precook meals for the times my husband and I go on little getaways, so that my awesome mother-in-law doesn't have to worry about cooking when she comes over and keeps the family circus running in my absence. Finally, I run several produce, meat, and other food-based co-ops that land me with huge loads of food at one time, typically about every other Saturday. Needing to process lots of food at once naturally led me into batch cooking and freezing.



Every family is different. What works best for us is to make enough of any one meal to last us for dinner one night, as well as lunch the next day. By planning on serving leftovers for lunch every single day, I never have to stress about making lunch during our busy mornings (homeschooling or otherwise). In addition, I try not to serve cold cereal more than once per week for breakfast, usually less often, which means that every day I cook breakfast and dinner. 

Since most recipes for our family already need to be quadrupled to be enough for two meals (dinner one night plus lunch the next day), freezer cooking for me looks different from most. Rather than making 20 or 30 meals in one day to last all month, I can on an average Saturday only make about 4 entrees, 4 breakfasts, as well as do the usual prep work for the week ahead. Since my family still wants to eat even on marathon cooking days, I can count on stashing 2 or 3 each of those breakfasts and dinners in the freezer, and leave the rest for immediate consumption that weekend, further freeing up our busy Sundays. Consequently, freezer cooking is not a monthly, but typically weekly event around here, usually on Saturdays as that is a day us homeschoolers like to stay home anyway and let the rest of the world enjoy the crowds at stores and everywhere else. :) 

In addition to these big cooking days, I cook dinner every night except most Sundays and those days when life is crazy and I have to pull a frozen meal out to save dinner. This is how slowly, over time, I can build up a freezer stash for those extended times like vacations or baby breaks.

I got ALL this organic produce, plus a 22 lb box of dried dates, for just $10!! I don't think there is another place in the country where healthy produce is this inexpensive!


The pictures above are from Saturday two weeks ago. In one day, with the help of some of the older kids, we made:

16 lbs pork carnitas (enough for 8 meals - I froze half)
10 pints pesto (enough for 10 meal - I froze all) 
6 pans of jalapeƱo poppers (enough for one meal and one snack - bwahaha! - I froze none)
2 quarts pico de gallo (enough to last for various meals that week - I froze none)

1 gallon of cooked pudding (enough for 1 breakfast and one snack - I froze none)
10 quarts of tomato soup (enough for 2 meals - I froze none)
32 strawberry scones (enough for 2 breakfasts - I froze half)
3 quarts tomato sauce (enough for 2 meals - I froze all)

 
 Miriam made all the jalapeno poppers by herself!

While there are free resources for freezer cooking available online, these do not work well for our family. Most focus on making small (for us) amounts of many different foods. Quadrupling a batch means that all the grocery and prep lists will no longer work for us, not to mention it would be impossible to make that much food in one day. 


https://onceamonthmeals.com/?ref=zsanderson



For years, my favorite resource for freezer cooking has been Once a Month Meals. For a membership fee of $16/month, members get access to ALL their menus for all menu types. These include traditional, real food, paleo, vegetarian, slow cooker, allergen, diet (with several THM-compliant menus!), gluten free dairy free, baby, mini, and Instant Pot. 

The last two menu types are my favorite! Mini menus save me the work of having to put together my own menus with fewer meals. I just simply up the serving size to our needs. With the recent gift of an instant pot, my batch cooking has been made even faster and easier, and the Once a Month Meals menus even more helpful! 

 This is a very helpful infographic breaking down the various menu types


Members can use any new menu or any menu in the archives (they have over 600!), and do not have to choose a specific menu type. Additionally, members can fully customize any menu to fit their individual needs and preferences, or even design their own menus from the thousands of recipes on the website. The program then generates the necessary grocery and prep lists. This is great for someone like me who would rather make mass amounts of fewer meals.

In addition, one really helpful resource is the Once a Month Meals Community, which all members have access to. You can search for tips and advice, connect with other freezer cooks, and share your story and experience.

Last but not least, I love how beautiful the Once a Month Meals website is, how easy it is to navigate, and how thoroughly everything is explained. They even have a YouTube channel! 

If you would like to give Once a Month Meals a try, you can sign up for their newsletter and receive a dietary specific mini menu. (Note: These menus come in a PDF format and are set for four servings and cannot be customized. But they give you a good idea of what the printed resources look like and how to set up a freezer cooking day.)


Homemade fajita bowls with the pork carnitas. They were incredible!!!

I have recently become a Once a Month Meals affiliate, which means that if you sign up for membership through any of the above links or the ad in the side bar, I get a small referral bonus at no additional cost to you. And if lots and lots (and lots) of you sign up, I can replace my old counter tops and finally bring you food photos without 30-year old tile - ha! :)


Please note: This post contains affiliate links.

6 comments:

  1. This amazes me! I have made freezer meals before on a Saturday and been exhausted, and there are only 4 in our family! Miriam looks so grown up! (and very much like her dad I think)

    I am now hungry after reading this blog post!

    Continued prayers for you and baby during this pregnancy.

    Jessica

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  2. I'm so hungry now hahah. all looks great. I wish i could be that organized but with working and being pregnant myself time and energy just doesn't allow. I'll figure it our eventually i guess lol

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  3. I'd love to start doing freezer meal but just don't have the space. Our freezer is quite small. Our refridgerator is pretty small as well ha. Do you get all of your recipes from the Once A Month Meals? I ask because I see a lot of pictures of good food and would love to know where you get the recipes for them. (Like the fajitas with pork carnitas and the tomato soup) (:
    Prayers for you and your family!

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  4. Would you please consider doing a post on how to start an organic food coop? Thanks so much.

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  5. This is why I love your blog so much, Zsuzsa!! You are always calling me to a higher standard, and giving me the motivation to keep trying. I am in absolute awe of your freezer-cooking awesomeness. I have not gotten too much into freezer cooking, after one exhausting stint when I was first married, but I love your ideas and intend to try them! :) My goal right now is to freeze three weeks of crockpot meals for morning-sickness time, so we'll see how this goes.

    Love, love, love this post! Thank you for sharing!!!
    Diana

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  6. Wow, this could be really helpful as I recently cut out all gluten and dairy from my diet. Mealtime planning has been a little more complicated lately. Thanks so much!

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