Little did I know over 11 years ago, when our Pastor’s daughter shared her new Freezer Meal cookbook that my meal planning was about to change forever. A cookbook changed your life you might be thinking???
Let me set the stage for you. You’re a stay at home Mom of 3: 1 toddler, 1 pre-schooler and 1 Elementary student. You’ve had a full day: cleaning up messes, doing laundry, trying to fix the appliance that is on the fritz, the phone won’t stop ringing with marketing calls. 2 kids are fighting, one is a bit too quiet and suddenly the clock strikes 4:00 PM. You know the drill, you realize you haven’t even showered yet today and in an hour and a half your husband will be walking in the door and you have to find something creative to do with a frozen pound of ground beef! Sound familiar??? Well for me it was too often my reality. I mean, let’s be honest, life doesn’t really work as depicted in this 1950’s photo, now does it?!
Nope. So, when “Don’t Panic.. It’s in the Freezer” was presented, it made perfect sense to me!!!!
OK, perhaps I have gotten ahead of myself … Just who is this person invading Tonya’s otherwise normal blog???
Let me introduce myself… Christy Eichelberger here…. Tonya’s 2nd cousin on the Schrock side. Tonya was the cutest little non-smiling flower girl there ever was… but that’s a whole nother story.
Here’s my family and as you can tell those small tykes at my house have turned into a college student and 2 High Schoolers. And that good looking guy is my hubby of 25 years (yes we were married at 14, LOL)
The cool thing is, after all these years and all the stages of life we’ve been through, this freezer cooking gig has served us well. So hopefully I can share it with you and no matter what stage of raising a family you are at, you can find some hope for those panicky moments that surround putting a meal on the table.
The concept of Freezer Cooking 101:
Take the worry out of meal planning by having several meals per week already made ahead and in your freezer to pull out and use. Have fun with friends while preparing the meals. Save time (cook 1 day instead of 12) Save money (buy ingredients in bulk to assemble the meals) and have way more fun with friends than doing it by yourself! Save frustration (always have a meal in the freezer to pull out when you have run out of ideas or time or both!)
What’s not to love???
Here are the nuts and blots:
You get your group and set your number of meals…. let’s say you have 3 people participating and you want to leave with 12 meals for the freezer. Each of the 3 of you are in charge of 4 different recipes for the group. You make 3 each of those 4 recipes. (so everyone leaves with 12 meals total) You shop for your recipes, do the precooking of any meat, etc. ahead, then you come together at 1 of the person’s homes on 1 day and make the meals together. We use Ziploc freezer bags and Glad ware reusable/freezable lidded pans. When you are done, you swap meals and you each go home with 12 meals …. ALL DIFFERENT! It’s awesome. You then have 12 meals to use from the freezer throughout the month!
Some things to keep in mind:
1. What time of day/week will your group cook? Look for people who desire the same- stay at home mom’s may like weekdays while kids are in school, some working moms may want to cook on a Saturday morning, etc..
2. How big is your family? If you have 2 kids, cooking with a family with 5 kids may not be a great fit. However, sometimes you can divide meals in half for smaller families cooking with larger groups or they may enjoy left-overs or entertaining guests with those larger meals.
3. What foods do the families like to eat? Some will enjoy casseroles, others meats and marinades for crock or grilling more. Some will want veggies in every thing, others with young or picky kids may not. Make sure you find tried and true recipes that are designed for the freezer. There are TONS of cookbooks and websites out there!
4. How many meals will you prep at a time? It’s nice to have 2-3 meals for each week for as long as you plan to go in between cooking. So we did 12 meals for 4-6 week increments. Remember, you have to be able to AFFORD to buy the groceries to prep your 12 meals for cooking day as well, so you want to cook with people on similar budgets for food, etc. and plan your quantity and timing accordingly.
Personally, since I started over 11 years ago, I have cooked in groups of all sizes from 2 (just me and my BFF) to 7 (gals from my church). I have to say my favorite number to cook with is 4 total and do 12 meals. So each of you do 3 recipes times 4. It just works.
Here are my current cooking clan members.
Christy, Jolana, Karla and Karla, still looking good after 2 1/2 hours of prep and clean up! We actually just formed and have only cooked 1 time together! They are experts now… really! It’s that easy!
Overwhelmed a bit??? Don’t be! Here is what you need to do to get started:
Find 3 friends much like yourself in stage of life and family members. Get together and have everyone find some of their favorite meals. (after trying them once, you will know if they are freezer cooking worthy!)
Find 12 (or whatever number of meals you decide to cook) great recipes and divide them amongst yourselves.
Pick a day to cook. I recommend a time when you will be least distracted. We try to cook once a month or within 5 weeks. DO what works for your group.. You can do this.
Pick a place with a large kitchen or one with plenty of room to spread out on card tables. (We rotate to a different house each month for variety!)
Shop the sales for meat that you will be using. If chicken breasts are on a great sale, then do plenty of chicken recipes.
The day before you cook, do your individual prep work. For example, we always come with all our hamburger browned and drained, chicken cooked if necessary and any veggies cut. This will make assembly time go really fast!
On cooking day, you can do it 2 ways: Either each person prepares all their own recipes, or you can all do 1 recipe at a time assembly line style.
Each cook brings her own pans and freezer bags. The hostess for the month provides tinfoil, salt, pepper, misc. forgotten spices and a black marker and labels for clearly identifying meals. Clean up between meals is a snap with so many hands. We even recycle everything and rinse out cans and bottles and put them in a giant garbage bag for the hostess that month to recycle! Cooking day: Assemble your recipes into the pans or bags, label them and keep in a cooler until you are ready to leave. (Food safety first!) Thankfully in Iowa most of the cooler cooking months we just leave our coolers outside on the deck or in the garage and as we take out ingredients, we replace them with completed meals.
The satisfaction of a full freezer after a few hours cooking with friends is PRICELESS!!! Trust me on this one!!
Here is what the top shelf of my freezer looked like after cooking.. almost full and we only did 8 meals for the first time with the new group instead of 12 like usual.
WHEW, I’ve probably bored some of you to tears and for others maybe you are thinking… hey, this could really work for me!!! If so… stay tuned tomorrow and I’ll share some of my family’s personal favorite FREEZER MEALS……