We ate the last freezer meal yesterday. What a wonderful month it has been – every time I felt I did not quite have the energy to make dinner, or to go shopping, there was something yummy to pull out of the freezer to feed my family. I only made about 10 meals last month when I tried Once A Month Cooking for the first time, but it positively impacted my whole month! I will definitely be doing this again, probably as soon as next week.
For any of you who may want to try this for the first time, I thought I’d pass along what worked and didn’t work for me. First, what not to do…
Don’t do this alone – if you can positively help it. It would have been a marathon and I wouldn’t have succeeded with out the willing hands and good company of my sis-in-law, Elise. Every time I turned around, she was washing dishes again, like she was addicted or something. Find someone who is willing to try it with you – even if it means you have to split the meals, and not get as much stuffed into your own freezer. I found that even just the 10 meals made a huge difference in my month.
Don’t do it all in one day – I did a lot of prep work the day before. Actually, I went shopping Tuesday, Prepped food Wednesday, and did the actual assembly on Thursday, so it was a three day process. Here’s what I did the day before:
-soaked beans, cooked in crock pot overnight
-baked chicken breasts
-made cream of chicken soup
-soaked pasta dough
I also had already sprouted and dried grain and ground it for pastry, and all my cheese was already grated and in the freezer.
(right- rice and pasta dough soaking the day before)
Don’t try too many new recipes – It’s a lot faster to throw together a casserole you’re already familiar with, then to have to keep studying the recipe that you’ve never done before. Plus, if you don’t end up liking the new recipe, you’re stuck with 2 more of the same dishes in the freezer! If you try a new recipe, don’t make it one of the dishes you make multiples of.
Now for the tips of what worked for me…
Make a plan! You gotta have a plan! List each dish you are going to make, then the individual steps to build each dish. (ie. “Chicken Divan – cook rice, steam broccoli, make sauce, layer, sprinkle with cheese”) Next, figure out which steps dishes have in common (“peel potatoes” was a common step for three dishes). Now, plan which tasks you you will do in what order so the meals can come together smoothly. I began by getting the rice and pasta cooking, then peeling and cutting all the veggies. We cleaned up the veggie scraps, and browned two large batches of ground beef, one with onions, one without, while chopping the chicken I’d cooked the day before. Finally, we made the sauces and began combining ingredients and assembling each casserole as all of it’s components were ready.
Do the math! List all the ingredients to each dish, adding together how many carrots, potatoes, or stalks of celery you need total, then prep these all at once.
Double up! Plan to make at least two dishes from each recipe you use. This is something I didn’t really plan to do the first time, but with just a bit more time, I could have made two of each dish and had 20 meals! That’s how you get a month’s worth of cooking done – multiples of each dish. You’re already filling those burritos and have all the ingredients prepped – why not make another dozen? Just remember to shop for and prep enough ingredients. Also, use the same prep dishes over and over – make a sauce, rinse the bowl, make the next one, use the same spatula, etc. You may still have a lot of dishes, though!
Enjoy! Don’t hoard those freezer meals once you get them all made! They’re meant to be eaten – don’t give yourself a guilt trip each time you thaw one instead of cooking dinner from scratch. You did the work, now enjoy the fruit of your labors!
Finally, here’s a list of some the dishes we made…
Chicken Divan – a family favorite, freezes so well
Baked Spaghetti – the kids devoured this! personally, I felt it needed a little spicing up
Beef and Spinach Quiche – a new favorite – will make multiples of this next time!
King Ranch Chicken Casserole – a little more involved, worth every bite.
Nest time I do this, I plan to have some soups and things like straganoff and meatsauce on the menu, ’cause I can freeze those in bags or jars. I really need more casserole dishes, ’cause I used every one I had the last round. I’m also going to make sure I plan to make double or triple of dishes that are favorites. Oh, and make some breakfasts while I’m at it! My friend, Naomi, the one who inspired me to try this last month, just finished this month’s cooking, and made several breakfast items like egg-McMuffins and breakfast casseroles. Sounds like a great idea! Though maybe concentrate on breakfasts on a separate day. I’m excited for Round Two.
Do you have a favorite casserole or other recipe that freezes well or is easy to make in advance? I would love some new ideas for next week’s menu! Thanks!
And for more tips on fighting what I call “Kitchen Combat Fatigue”, visit this post from the archives,
and be sure to read the comments my awesome readers posted with suggestions of their own!