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Make Ahead Meals

By November 7, 2010 8 Comments

This post is by Melissa Kirby, a contributor to Dustin’s blog.

My husband and I sent our kids off to Grandma and Grandpa’s house this weekend.  We didn’t go out for a high calorie meal and a movie.  We went to the Farmer’s Market with a large list and spent the day preparing and freezing a month and a half worth of dinners.

We find that freezer meals save us time, money, sanity and health.  At the beginning of the week I pull a few dinners out of the freezer to thaw and when we get home at night, dinner is half done.  This saves us from going out to eat or ordering pizza.  Both things that can rob us of our good health and hard earned money.

Here’s how to make your meals ahead of time:

1.  Sit down and pick out 15 to 20 recipes you’d like to make.  This will give a month to a month and a half of meals when you double your favorites and cook from scratch on the weekends.

2.  Make a shopping list for all the recipes.  I start by writing down all the ingredients and quantity of each ingredient one recipe at a time, adding additional quantities as I go.  For example: the first time I need an onion I write it down and put a tally mark next to it, if there is an onion in the next recipe I put another tally mark.  If one recipe calls for 4 chicken breasts and the other calls for 8 oz of chicken; I write “Chicken breast – 4, 8oz”.  Then I go through the house to see what I already have available and cross that amount off my list.  If I need 12 oz of soy sauce and have 4 oz I cross off the 12 and write 8oz.  Once I’ve done all that I re-write the list in order that they appear in the grocery store with the total quantity next to each item.  Make sure you add different sized freezer bags to your list.  Get good quality bags!  It’s less expensive to buy the more costly bags than to to throw out half your food because it’s freezer burnt.

3. Go shopping.  I like to start at the Farmer’s Market and then get the remaining things at the grocery store.  Some things you need to consider while shopping is how much time you have to make everything and cost.  Is it worth spending a little extra to get the pre-sliced mushrooms?  Are green beans in season or should I buy frozen?

4. Prep.  Your food processor is your best friend when making large quantities of food.  Most things can be chopped or shredded or mixed in your food processor: veggies, cheese, sauces, etc.  Prepare enough of each ingredient to cover all your recipes.  It doesn’t take much more time to chop 5 onions that it does one; you already have the cutting board, knife and food processor out.  Separate ingredients by step:  Put the chicken in a gallon freezer bag and the veggies in a quart size freezer bag and the sauce in another quart size bag.  Now put both quart bags into the gallon bag and seal.

5. Freeze.  Make sure you label your bags with the name of the recipe and the date.  Put your recipes where you can find them; you’ll need them for the cooking directions.

6. Enjoy.  Take out what you want to make a day or two before you need it.  Refer to your recipe for the cooking directions.  Sauté the chicken until no longer pink, add veggies and cook a few more minutes, add sauce and simmer.

Save a copy of your shopping list and recipes together so you can use them again.  I have quite a few recipes from Saving Dinner that have directions specifically for freezing.  She also offers freezer menus which include a ready to go shopping list.  This makes freezing meals very simple.  If you don’t have a lot of freezer space, try making two weeks worth of meals at a time and freeze everything flat so they stack nicely in your freezer.

It takes some work to prepare that many meals at once but is worth it to know exactly what’s for dinner each night.  Plus my husband and I got to spend some time together without the kids under our feet.  We put on some music, munched on Farmer’s Market finds and had adult conversation.  When the kids are older we’ll make meal prep day a family affair.

I challenge you to give freezer meals a try and let me know how it goes.