Freezer & Crockpot- One day, 30 Meals!
This blog post has been at the tip of my fingertips since two weeks before I gave birth to my youngest baby boy.
Considering he is on the cusp of ten months old, I admit I’ve been slacking.
Anyway, let me tell you the story of how this went down. It started with me lying in bed, out for the count. Sick, pregnant, starving. I had a cold, and I asked Ben for some comfort food. Specifically, I wanted him to make me chicken and biscuits. What I got was a laugh at the notion of him cooking, a couple of pieces of watermelon, and a peach. My pregnancy hormones (I admit it, I was whacked) induced tears. Annndd…that’s when it hit me…
Let me start this by saying, my husband is WONDERFUL.
He’s kind, sweet, a fantastic husband and father, amazing at what he does to make a living, just a wonderful person… but a chef, he is not.
Having gone through labor and delivery and the postpartum period twice before, I realized, while Ben planned to stay home with me for a while after the baby was born, I wasn’t going to have time, energy, or desire to cook meals for our family of soon-to-be SIX, and he wasn’t going to be much help in that department, either.
While I only gained 32 pounds (not too bad!), I was anxious to get my body back. Postpartum rules state that you cannot exercise (aside from walking) for 6 weeks after delivery, so in order to get my body back on track before that, I had to put the focus back on my nutrition. Lean proteins, fresh and organic produce, healthy fats, and water. I also truly believe that food and adequate nutrition helps your body heal more quickly, and I wanted my body to heal from the stress pregnancy and childbirth put on it.
I decided then and there that, much like meal planning, planning ahead for this was the key to success. But, it wasn’t a reasonable expectation for me that I could (or would) be roasting chickens for hours in July or August and heating up the house to unbearable proportions. It also was unrealistic for me to be spending hours meal prepping with a hungry newborn, zero sleep, and three other kids home on summer vacation staring at me.
My freezer and my crockpot were my answer.
At the time, I was fostering a new obsession to pinterest (follow my pinterest page!), so decided to search for a bunch of healthy, supportive meals that could be made ahead, frozen in freezer bags in family-sized portions, and then taken out in the morning by my husband to cook in the crockpot for the day.
I was on a mission.
I needed my meals to be:
- Mostly supportive, with some “snack” type things and easy “treat” grab-n-go foods for the kids mixed in
- Could not wipe out our food budget for the month; that is, we still had to be able to survive the rest of the month on our “Food” budget, and not take money out of other places
- I needed/wanted the meals and sides to use up some of our weekly CSA basket and overabundance’s in our garden, so that it would be even more of a money saver.
- Mostly all-inclusive and done-for-you. I wanted EVERYTHING to be in the freezer bags, so that I didn’t have to run to the store to buy/add more ingredients, or anything that would be too difficult for Ben (or even my oldest child!) to simply dump into my crock pot, and turn on in the morning. Everything had already in the bag, seasonings and marinades included.
Knowing this, I set out on a mission: Fill my freezer with at least 30 family-sized meals pre-made for me so I would have a month of dinners and leftovers before the baby was born. Some of this (sauces, a couple of batches of strawberry preserves, and some stewed tomatoes) was done in the days leading up to what I affectionately call “prep day,” so I do not include this in my “total time,” because I would have canned or stewed them regardless. Most people buy their sauces and jellies these days, anyhow.
Here’s how I did:
- 17 “double meals” (enough to last us 15 days, plus leftovers for the next day) (plus the fixings)
- 36 mini pizzas made with homemade pizza sauce using tomatoes from my CSA, Farmer’s Market or garden, topped with more garden fresh veggies – enough for 12 quick lunches for the 3 kids if needed in a fix (sauce was made before “prep day”)
- Made and canned 12 pints of delicious tomato sauce – again, using the fresh organic tomatoes, and chocked full of other vegetables that happened to be in my garden or kitchen when I made them (done before “prep day”)
- Made and canned several various-sized jars of strawberry preserves for quick breakfasts, or to mix in with oatmeal
- Some delicious “ice cream sandwiches” -made with whipping fresh cream and berries, spread between two graham crackers, for when the kids need some sweet treats
- TONS (and I mean TONS) of zucchini breads and muffins. I have lost count, but I have at least 6 loaves and at least 6 dozen muffins in the deep freezer. Again, for quick sides or grab n go snacks for the kiddos. Made these with all organic zucchini and summer squash, as well as organic flours, sugars, and upped the zuke content (also done mostly before and after prep day)
- As my weekly CSA basket came, I made it a point as I was putting the vegetables away to prepare at least ONE them for the freezer. I have, for instance, diced and frozen: onions (for adding to omelets or other quick -cook lunches), as well as green peppers for the same reason; flash steamed (just long enough to bring out the vibrant color of the vegetable, then taken off the heat) broccoli, carrots, and cauliflower and froze them for a quick vegetable side dish, sliced zucchinis, beet greens, and spinach.
- I had two whole chickens in my freezer, as well as a package of organic chicken thighs. I put all three in my big crock pot one day, and just let the chicken cook with a little bit of water, some carrots, some celery, and some onions. When it was done, I pulled everything out, shredded all the meat, and put the shredded meat in a freezer bag. This can be simply taken out of the freezer, put in the fridge, and used for chicken salad, chicken to put ON salads, thrown in quick soups, the possibilities are endless. I also removed the stock from the bottom of the crock pot, skimmed the fat off and strained it, and saved the stock for a someday soup.
Here’s what everything looked like on the counter:
In the sink:
And, in the other sink:
(Note: we were thawing to cook the meat here- Remember, raw meat should only be frozen and thawed once. You should not thaw frozen and uncooked meat, separate it, and then freeze it again! It should be separated before freezing. So only one freeze/thaw!)
The meals made this day were:
- Carrot Ginger Soup (Double batch)
- Steak fajitas (2 batches)
- Beef Stew (three batches)
- Vegetable soup (3 batches) and beans
- Chicken Soup (2 batches)
- Chicken Chili (3 batches)
- Marinated Beef Tips (1 batch)
- Chop Suey (1 batch) (basically, a tomato and beef with pasta dish-I only did the sauce and pre-cooked the beef, noodles will be cooked and added the day of)
Also stocked up on things like:
- Spaghetti Squash (they cook great in a crock pot with 1 cup of water on low for 8 hours, and have a long shelf life)
- Frozen Pizza dough
- “Healthy grab-n-go Kids snacks for the fridge and freezer- fresh organic fruits and vegetables, individual servings of yogurt tubes- I like Stoneyfield Organic for the freezer, organic dried fruits, cereals
- Cartons of chicken stock
- Stocked up when on sale of organic condiments, especially clear salad dressings now that my garden and CSA are in full swing.
How I did it:
1. Figure out what you want to make, and how many portions: First of all, I had to figure out exactly what I wanted. I made a list of our favorite recipes, scoured pinterest and online blogs for inspiration, and tried to have some of them be similar so I wouldn’t end up with leftover random ingredients (like a 1/2 knob of ginger that I wouldn’t be able to use right away that I could use in a soup as well as another stew).
2. Make a shopping list: I looked at the recipes, figured out what I had on hand, what was ripe in my garden and in my CSA basket, and made a shopping list based on that. Don’t forget freezer bags- I used gallon sized.
3. Shopping Day: I didn’t just do this on a whim. We planned an entire day to do the shopping and cooking, and started early in the morning. We chose a day when the kids would be out of the house, and Ben and I formulated a plan. First it was the farmer’s market for fresh meats and vegetables, then the co-op for herbs spices, and bulk dried beans, then the grocery store for “randoms” (like organic chicken broth) that I couldn’t get at the other two places. We looked at the weather report, too, and planned this on a day that wasn’t too hot outside, so that cooking and prepping wasn’t miserable in a hot August kitchen.
4. Prep the kitchen for success: Before we left that morning, we made sure the sink was empty, all the dishes were done, the dishwasher was empty, and the fridge was cleaned out. That way we could simply come home, unload the groceries into the fridge, and get to it. No need to stop the process because we needed to wash a dirty knife, or couldn’t find a cutting board.
5. Prep the ingredients: We had an idea that it made most sense to start by peeling/washing/prepping/chopping all the vegetables first. We have a butcher block, so eventually, one clean sink was filled with washed and unpeeled/unchopped vegetables, and the top of the butcher block was covered with chopped vegetables.
Bonus points if you get your husband to help you!
6. Bag and go. As soon as the ingredients are prepped, add the stuff to the freezer bags, including spices, label them neatly with contents and date, and be extra careful to squeeze out the air. If there are any special instructions (for example, you could write “add 1 carton chicken stock 1 hour before serving”), write them on the bag in permanent marker.
AIR IS BAD! It makes freezer burn happen quicker, and you just don’t want that! Something I found very useful was to use packing tape to attach “other” ingredients right to the bag. For example, fajitas- we prepped all the meat, peppers, and onions in the marinade, and then taped the tortillas (which freeze great!) to the seasoned fillings.
Here’s what the fajitas look like all taped together, and packed in the freezer just like this:
My kids (and my husband, too!) were so excited to be able to go to the deep freezer, and select a delicious meal for dinner in the postpartum weeks. It was an amazingly helpful thing to have done, and the best part was being able to spend time with my little munchkins (especially the new one) in those early blurry newborn weeks.
Total Cost (not including things I had already had on hand, or anything in my garden): $148.70.
Total Time spent shopping/prepping/packaging: 5 hours.
Considering it’s a half hour trip each way to get the groceries, plus the time spent in the store, I’d say we did excellent!
Would I do this again? Absolutely! I think not only is this great for prepping for a baby, but also it’s a fantastic way to prep for a surgery, a sports season (at our house, we are on the go insanely during baseball season!), or any other time.
Have you ever spent time pre-making and freezing your meals? When you make a casserole, do you make an extra to pop in your freezer for a day when you’ve got less time? Tell me about it in the comments section below!