I wish you could have seen my kitchen at about noon this Monday. Imagine 2 crockpots simmering soup, about 12 pounds of cooked and shredded chicken piled in a huge bowl. Cooling racks holding pancakes and muffins, an oven cooking even more muffins, tomato sauce and marsala simmering on the stove, 2 gallon-sized bags of chopped onions, over 40 total pounds of meat, and so much more…… it was ridiculous.
My friend Cathy and I decided to try freezer cooking since she is due with her first baby in about 5 weeks and I’m always looking for ways to make dinnertime a little easier now that Jude is toddling a bit and I can’t take my eyes off him for a minute. I’d read many mommy bloggers raving about Once a Month Mom, so we looked there for a menu, and we decided to settle on this one. Yep, that’s right. All that food is now prepared and in my freezer, and we did it all in one day! I expect to use the chili dishes for dinner, so this means I ended up with about 20 family dinners, 14 lunches, and more than 30 breakfast servings. I admit it was a long day of cooking, and there was a moment where I thought we were crazy, but it felt so good to wake up the next morning and open my freezer door to see all of that prepared food. When I think of freezer food, I think of boring casseroles, but Tricia at Once a Month Mom does such a great job of putting together a variety of dishes. She’s got s lot of great soups, breakfast ideas, and great entrees that you can easily add a side dish to for a delicious dinner.
I certainly learned a few things along the way in my first attempt at freezer cooking, so here’s my advice.
- Definitely do it with a friend. Eight hours in the kitchen is much more bearable if you have someone to laugh with and help out….especially when hour 7 arrives and you suddenly think the bucket o’ beef stew is really hilarious.
- Don’t be afraid to adjust quantities for your needs. It looked like such a HUGE project that I was afraid to do anything different from the suggestions. This worked out alright, but we could have saved a little perhaps. For instance, Cathy and I have 2 dinners each that include 4 pork chops each even though 2 pork chops in each one would suffice for our small families. Not that this is the end of the world since we can easily have it when company is over or finish it as leftovers later, but we could have saved a little money if we’d purchased fewer pork chops to begin with.
- Chop vegetables and do any prep work you can the evening before. While watching “Mad Men” Sunday evening, I chopped NINE POUNDS of onions and 4 pounds of carrots and peeled 40 cloves of garlic while my husband chopped six pounds of mushrooms. It sounds terrible, I know, but it really wasn’t too bad that night, and it saved a lot of time on the big day.
- Clear the kitchen as much as you can. I moved appliances we weren’t using (espresso machine, toaster oven, etc.) into another room so we’d have as much space as possible. At one point crockpots were cooling in my entryway and pancakes were cooling on racks on my living room coffee table. It was insane.
- Be careful to follow the directions on a recipe. You can get tired and feel rushed at the end and leave out something. I did this with a beans and rice dish, but luckily I only left out some extra beans, so it’s okay. (We already ate that one and it was yummy!) It is very, very easy to get overwhelmed and careless though, so you have to pay attention.
- If month-long menu plans look too overwhelming, maybe scale it down a bit. You could take off 1 or 2 dishes and have a little less on your plate, no pun intended. For that matter, you could give it a small try and make only 2 or 3 dishes and see how you like it. In my opinion, everyone could benefit from the breakfast ideas. It’s a great way to streamline your mornings.
- If you have children, get a babysitter for sure. This probably goes without saying, but it would be nearly impossible to do this with even the most well-behaved child around.
- Clean out your freezer before you even think about doing this. I know, duh. But seriously. It’s SO MUCH FOOD.
- When choosing a menu, consider the season you are moving in to. Cathy is due in September, so we chose a more fall-ish menu with some soups and stews. You would not want to eat that stuff in July, but you also wouldn’t want outdoor grilling items or something tropical in the fall or winter. I’m so looking forward to throwing some already-assembled beef stroganoff in my slow cooker and eating it on a cooler fall evening.
In the end, we came out spending the exact same as I usually do for that number of meals, but the first time should be the most expensive too because we each shelled out about $35 for all of the Glad containers we used. Plus, as I said before, I will adjust portion sizes on the meat when I do this again. Overall, it was a really great experience, and I am excited to reap the rewards of my hard work in the coming weeks. Once a Month Mom is fabulous, and she even has printable labels, so you end up with these perfect little meals.
There are many other websites that promote this idea, so you could look here, here or here for a few recipes. I know we won’t use them every night, but it’s so nice to have that option for busy days. With 20 dinners, I’m thinking I’ll be enjoying these for the next 2 months, so one day of sore feet and an aching back was worth it for sure.