One of my favorite things to do is cook ahead for the week or freeze meals to have handy in the months to come. I do several of these throughout the year and several mini sessions as well.

How I Plan My Freezer Cooking Day

Start with a list of your favorite meals and produce in season or on sale.

I notice our tastes change often, so I usually begin by asking my husband and teen daughter a few of their current favorites and then decide if those are freezer friendly. I start a list and include a few old standbys.

I take into consideration what is available from the garden, what is on sale that week, or what is in season and I can count on getting it as cheaply as possible. When I was working outside the home we planned a huge cooking day over Labor Day weekend to carry us a few months into the school year. That sure was a lifesaver when you are getting back into the swing of things after a somewhat lazy summer. Here we are in January and that supply would have run out by now. So what to cook? My list might look something like this:

Stuffed cabbage rolls in tomato sauce

Filled peppers

Italian Meatballs

Swedish Meatballs

Tatertot Casserole

Vegetable Beef Soup

Chili

Chicken Corn Soup

Ham and Bean Soup

Pasta e Fagioli (pasta and beans)

Chicken Stock for gravy and for soup

Chicken for Chicken and Waffles (on a week night? YUM)

Chicken for Chicken Noodle/Rice Soup

Chicken with onions and peppers for fajitas

Chicken, Broccoli, Rice and Cheese Casserole

Green Beans with garlic and olive oil

Waffles

Consider storage options and don’t forget about storage space. You might use plastic containers or ziplock freezer bags. The bags work well for me. I fill them and store them flat. Thaw them in frig and pour into pan and reheat. Set them on a plate in frig to thaw. You can foil line your casserole dishes and pour in, and freeze. Take the frozen block out of the casserole and put it in the freezer. Just place it back into the same casserole dish when you thaw and bake. You can even use foil pans to help with clean up. I know that is not best for the environment, but how much trash would you accumulate if you had to run out to get take out food due to no time to cook? If anyone has a more “green” approach, we are all learning and any comments on that subject are surely welcome.

When you have figured out how many meals of each recipe you would like and which storage items you will need, start your grocerly list. I usually triple or quadruple each recipe. Keep in mind not to do this for baked goods. Your results will not be the same. When I do multiple baked good recipes I set up my bowls like an assembly line and speed up the process that way, making each individual recipe. Trust me.

At this point I also start to think about how I can healthify each recipe. Some suggestions might be to use ground turkey instead of beef for the Tatertot casserole and chili. Make sure it is lean breast meat turkey though as poultry skin is just as fatty as hamburger. You could use grass fed lean beef and add beans to stretch it if you’re making sloppy joes. Adding oatmeal to meatloaves is also a great idea. I pack all the vegies into soups that I can and when I’m heating them up I add a handful or two of greens such as spinach or kale. My family will not eat plain greens but I know they will eat them if they are in soup or mixed into a salad of more recognizable greens.

Your Grocery List

Yes this will look like a lot, but it will save you a ton of money in the long run. Look down through each recipe and write down all of the ingredients you need. If you need an onion for 3 different recipes and you are tripling all three make hash marks beside onion so you know how many you will need. You can go back and write “9” beside it when you are done to make things easier while shopping. Do this for each ingredient. I rarely put all of the meat called for into soups – no one notices. You can do this for casseroles too. Increase the veg and take out some of the meat. Better for you and your pocketbook.

I usually plan my list throughout the week. Our grocery store flyers come out on Sunday. I shop on Friday and do some veg prep, like chop all of those onions. Pull out your food processor for this one or get some help from your husband or friends. This is great to do with friends and then split the recipes. On Saturday I finish prep and start cooking. It’s a good idea to plan to eat one of your finished dishes on this day. Wear comfortable shoes and take breaks. Again, enlist help from other household members. Many hands make light work.

The Cooking Day

Plan out how you will handle each recipe before the actual cooking day. I always put my chicken stock on first so it has plenty of time to cook. This way I know I will be able to take the chicken out to cool, shred or cut it up and have time to make the chicken recipes before the day is over. I mix up my meatballs and put them in the oven in batches of around 25. While those things are on I brown my other meats and get soups going in crock pots or on top of the stove. Once the cabbage roll recipe tripped me up because I forgot I had to steam the cabbage ahead. It all turned out well. Be flexible and keep going. It is so worth it when you have a freezer full of food ready to go. Soups, chili, cabbage rolls, etc. all taste even better reheated too!

Remember to cool your items before storing. It’s not good to let things hang out for more than two hours. I usually fill my sink with ice water and ice and plunge a bowl of soup in there and then stir and ladel it into bags once is it cool. Probably not a good idea to bag up your food while hot.

Other good things to make ahead are:

Sloppy joes or hamburg bar b que

Pulled pork bar b que

Meatloaves

Salisbury steaks

Taco meat

Minestrone

Panko breaded chicken breasts rolled around a stick of cheese

Even if you do not cook the item, any kind of prep work that will get supper rolling for you and make life easier is worth it. Even buying chicken in bulk, marinating it and puting it freezer bags or into a casserole dish all ready to thaw and cook is a great idea and may speed things up enough to resist throwing up your hands and ordering out. You can make an easy side such as couscous, which takes only 5 minutes, and prepare a salad. There is dinner in about 30 minutes. Your pizza wouldn’t get there that quick and you certainly couldn’t drive anywhere and get served that quick. It definitely wouldn’t be as good or as good for you. Pizza can be healthy yes. Why not whip up some pizza dough ahead, thaw and put it on your counter to rise during the day and make your own pizzas sometime. The kids will love it.

I hope you have something constructive to take away from all of these ideas. There are many more ideas, freezer cooking recipes, and help at your local public library or other places on the internet.

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