When my finances get tight, I worry about food. For some reason, when the money runs low, I want to bake. Not a great coping mechanism for someone who’s had weight loss surgery, but there you are. Fortunately I have teenagers, so none of it lasts long. But from a practical angle, it makes sense. I try to keep a well stocked pantry so that even when the money’s tight, I can still feed everyone without breaking the bank.
But occasionally the pantry isn’t enough. That’s when freezer cooking is my friend. I don’t do it regularly (no Once a Month cooking for me), but when the urge and the income align, I spend a week planning and a weekend cooking. This past weekend was that week.
It started with the list. What did I want to put up? I try to get a mix of proteins in. Chicken recipes are easy to come by for the freezer, beef, pork and fish less so. I try to do about 10 different recipes, figuring to get 2-3 meals out of each. I have some pinned on Pinterest, but I really need to start a dedicated binder just for freezer cooking recipes. Although many of the recipes I do are just my regular everyday cooking that I package up and freeze. Most things you cook anyway are freezable. Just double the recipe when you cook and stash one away for later! It’s not leftovers, it’s just frozen. If you eat frozen pizza, you’ll be fine with freezer prep meals.
Next up is cleaning. Trust me on this one. You need to clean the fridge to have room for all the ingredients, and you need to purge your freezer(s) to have someplace to put the finished products. Plus you want clear decks and an empty dishwasher for production day. DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP.
Then there’s the shopping, which I do the day before the cook. I make 3 stops. First off is the dollar store. Yup. You know all those tinfoil pans you can get 3 for $3.50 at the grocery store? Guess how much they are at the dollar store? Aw, you cheated! And they have both square and round ones with the waxed cardboard lids like you get from takeout places, which are perfect for freezer cooking. So I got a dozen of the rectangular ones, and then off we went to Costco.
I love my Costco membership. It pays for itself with three trips to get cheese, as long as I can resist buying any of the optional extras. Ground beef is a lot cheaper, and the fresh salmon was $1.50 cheaper as well. Even the chicken thighs were cheaper, although you had to buy a lot. Not a problem. We eat a lot of chicken. And it’s vacuum sealed in 4 packs, which is perfect for us. Add in three kinds of cheese and my protein bars (plus lunch for my shopping helper) and we did well. $250 for 25 lbs of raw chicken, 12 lbs ground beef, 3.5 lbs salmon and 2 rotisserie chickens as well as 5 lbs each of cheddar and mozzarella, 2 lb of string cheese, 3 bottles of ketchup, the protein bars and parchment paper. Oh, and Ziploc bags, although I goofed and got the regular kind instead of the freezer bags.
All the fragile stuff went into the cooler in the back of the car before we went to stop #3, the grocery store. I like the local Giant, because the store brand is good quality and the prices are the best around me. I’m not going to go to multiple stores to get stuff, as I’m already trashed from Costco, so Giant it is. From there I get all the canned and dried stuff like pasta and tomatoes, plus anything else we need at home (why does milk cost more than a gallon of gas? And why do my kids drink so much of it?) We spent about $70 there this time out. Came home, unloaded it into the fridge and pantry and then I got the heck out of Dodge and went to spent the evening with Nikki and Deb. I probably should have gotten to bed a teensy bit earlier. Learn from my mistake.
Sunday morning, I got up at 8 and got to work. Well. I emptied the dishwasher and had breakfast. I should have already had a strategy for how to go about this, but the weather was putting a damper on things. It finally decided to go into the 90’s with massive humidity. We had an excessive heat warning on for that afternoon, but by then I was committed. Fortunately most of the things I had planned didn’t require actual cooking, so I figured I’d get the hot things out of the way first.
First thing I did, though, was throw half a dozen onions into the food processor. 80% of what I was cooking needed chopped onions, so I just got that out of the way, put them in a Tupperware on the counter and scooped from that whatever I needed. Next I put dinner in the crockpot. I found an interesting recipe for Jambalaya online, so that was dinner and three meals for the freezer. (If you make this, plan extra time for the rice to cook through) I plugged the crockpot in in the laundry room so it wasn’t in my way on the kitchen counters.
Then I got serious.
Chicken dump bags (called that because you dump stuff into the bags) in Caribbean, Cantonese, Sticky (peanut butter based), and “Sticky” (kind of barbecue) flavors, 2 bags each
By the time that was all done, it was 4:00 and I could barely stand, so the salmon waited until Monday, when I made three different marinades: Maple Dijon, Asian, and Balsamic that I snazzed up with my precious orange/cranberry balsamic. (I’ll share the recipes in another post.) Should make a really nice fish!
In the end, I had 33 meals in the freezers, and not much room left. They were both working so hard, they were having a hard time of it. Our popsicles all half melted, to the point that when Morgan took one and went to pull it out of the wrapper, all that came out was the stick! And that was all from stuff that wasn’t even hot from cooking.
But now, as long as I don’t lose power, I’ll always have something to feed everyone. I only cook outside the box 4 days a week (the box being mac & cheese on Mondays (which Morgan cooks), spaghetti on Wednesdays, and pizza on Fridays), and most of the time I don’t need something out of the freezer. I’m only using one of these this menu cycle, or at least that’s all that’s planned. But if we have another scorching day, at least I know that I can grab something and drop it in the crockpot, or if I want to bake, I don’t have to do that on top of making dinner.
Now I just need room in the freezer for ice cream so I can make these blueberry pie ice cream sandwiches I found…