I recently attempted to do a ton of make ahead meals based pins I saw from The Test Kitchen of Melissa Fallis and Momma and Baby Love . I love this idea since I hate to cook every day but I do love to do marathon cooking. (The picture below is from Momma and Baby Love )
Warning about to go off on a tangent. If I am going to take the time to clear off my counters, go shopping, prepare a menu, I am going to do it big. If you come to my house for dinner you will go away very full and you better take home some left overs. Trust me there will always be left overs. Not because the food was bad but because I always make so much. One of my fears is that someone will show up and they won’t like the main dish so I always have options including something vegetarian, gotta have appetizers, drinks, and of course desserts. Show up to my house craving chocolate? I have it covered. Don’t like chocolate, that’s ok because I will have some sort of pie/cake/trifle that isn’t chocolate.
So I read the post about making freezer meals and as mentioned I loved the idea. Several books/magazines etc. I read in the past had you cook a bunch of meals then freeze them. Later you just thaw them and pop them in the oven. When I do cook what I don’t like is the prep and then the clean up. The cooking part is fine with me. I loved this blog because all you did was prep everything, freeze it then plop it in the slow cooker in the morning and you came home to a nice cooked meal.
Why I hate slow cookers – Oh no another tangent- I have nightmares about slow cookers from my childhood. (sorry mom) Mom had an old mustard yellow crock pot and she often made a type of chicken soup in it. Now the soup was pretty good but she put whole pieces of chicken with the bone it it and there is just something about chicken on the bone that grosses me out. Especially the way it just fell off as you were trying to eat it. Several recipes require that you almost cook the entire meal before you put it in the slow cooker. Whats up with that? If I am going to do all that work I might as well just finish it on the stove. Other recipes I have tried, the flavors meld together and any subtlety of flavor gets burned out of the ingredients and you end up with something that tastes like partially pre-digested mush. But the worst part was cleaning the dang thing. This was way before liners and removable inserts came along. You had to be very careful so you wouldn’t scratch/chip/drop/break the ceramic insert. You also had to be careful rinsing since it was an electrical appliance. All of this helped me develop a deep hatred of all slow cookers. I even threatened to disown anyone who bought me one for my wedding. Well several years later I have seen the light and have come to love my slow cooker. Especially since I can pull out the insert and plop it in the dishwasher!
I decided to take the pinterest challenge and try some freezer meals. I made my list, went shopping and started chopping, dicing, measuring, and basically making a giant mess. I ended up making 4 recipes for the freezer (enough for 8 meals) and one pot roast which I made the next day. (9 dinners + left overs total). The cost of all the ingredients was about $100. If you plan ahead and shop sales, stock up you can probably do much better.
The recipes from her site include: Savory Vegetable Beef Soup, Teriyaki Chicken, Healthy BBQ Chicken, Stephanie’s Goulash, Balsamic & Onion Pot Roast*( not a freezer meal but I am sure it could easily be adapted.)
I found the meals easy to prepare and easy to cook. They were good but I think they needed some tweaking as some were a bit bland. Chris happened to say the Balsamic & Onion pot Roast was one of the best I had ever made, so that is certainly a keeper!
Will I do this again? Yes absolutely. It was nice to just spend one day prepping and have 8 meals ready to go and all I had to do was dump it in the slow cooker and turn it on.
I do have some advice for anyone wanting to try this.
- Read and print out the recipes so you know what you are doing before you go shopping. I didn’t realize the roast was not a freezer meal. It was a very good pot roast but I spent the entire day prepping everything else and there wasn’t time to cook the roast that day. Knowing my schedule for the week I was afraid it would go bad before I had a chance to cook it. You also want to make sure the amount of the recipe fits in the size slow cooker you have. I bought the giant big daddy one so I don’t have to worry.
- Baby steps – Start small, make only 4-5 make ahead recipes at first don’t try and do a months’ worth of meals until you get the hang of it.
- Shop the day before. After shopping unloading the car, putting everything away I was almost too tired (lazy) to start prepping/cooking.
- Don’t put away your groceries. Huh? Don’t put them away? That’s right, unless they need to be refrigerated do not put them away. Put all the vegetables that go in multiple recipes together like onions and carrots. Special ingredients set together with the recipe. I like to put everything out on my table. I place the ingredients on top of the recipe so it is ready to go.
- Clean your kitchen. I have a very small kitchen and only about a 3 x 2 section of counter space in which to prep. I make sure it is all clear, dishes are done, move or put away anything that I don’t need to prep such as the coffee maker and bottle of vodka, no wait I may need that.
- Chop and prep common ingredients – If you need a total of 10 chopped onions/potatoes/carrots chop and prep these first, place them in a large bowl. You can then divide these into bags easily as you assemble the freezer bags.
- Enlist your husband/partner/spouse – I found there was a lot of chopping to do, Chris is really good at chopping onions and would have made things go a lot faster. Somehow he ended up disappearing that day, I think it was some type of evil plot.. If you don’t have a partner make sure you pull out your food processor. I use both my giant food processor and mini chopper.
- Partner up – Partner up with a neighbor or family member. This will allow you to buy some items in bulk for extra savings and help split the work. Just by extra zip lock bags/freezer containers and split everything.
- Label you bags first! – I forgot to label my bags before I filled them and it was very hard to write the directions afterwards.
- Mix ingredients together – Mix the ingredients in a large bowl before you put them in the freezer bags. I found that when I first made this there would be a pocket of carrots on one side of the pot and a pocket of meat on the other. Here is my short cut since I don’t like to dirty an extra bowl. Fill the bags about 3/4 full include some liquid and all the spices, zip the bag and shake, squish, rattle, and roll to mix it up.
- Don’t put everything in the bag – I found that some of the bags were incredible full so be careful. If there is something you can leave out like canned tomatoes or dried beans, save them till last and add to the bag only if there is room. These items are easy to add the day you are cooking and won’t go bad sitting in your cupboard. Just make sure you mark them so you don’t use them by accident.
- Thaw overnight. – If you remember put the freezer meal in the fridge to slightly thaw overnight. This makes it much easier to squish it out of the bag and into the slow cooker. I place the crock liner, the bag, and any extra ingredients all together in the fridge so That I don’t have to think of it in the morning when I am racing to get ready for work.
- Spray the pot with cooking spray – Don’t want to spend hours scrubbing spray your pot! You can also use a liner for easy clean up but I find these to be expensive. One comment I found on one of the blogs was to line the slow cooker with a store bought liner, add the ingredients, then twist seal and freeze in the liner. This saves the need to thaw ahead of time and makes for easy clean up. Not sure how well the liners work as freezer bags and not sure if the cost is worth it. Try it out and let me know.
- Don’t be afraid to experiment – A recipe doesn’t have to be labeled “freezer meal” for it to work. Just choose ingredients that freeze well. Heck you might even want to buy them already frozen to save some time. Shop for sales and buy in bulk!
There are some of my quick tips and tricks. Please share with my some of your favorite prep ahead freezer meals and let me know some of your experiences!
Recommended Books :
Dinner is Ready – 30 Meals in One Day