Over the last six months, Steve has stepped in and taken over the majority of the household meal planning and preparation. And in doing so he has realized what every home cook ever has realized: making a healthy and cost effective meal every single evening is kind of a drag.
It takes a lot of work and planning and sometimes you just don't want to and everyone eats frozen burritos (unhealthy) or we order pizza (unhealthy AND costly) (but oh so cheesy).
I've always done meal planning on a weekly basis, and he picked up that process really quickly: Sunday morning over pancakes and coffee we make a list of what meals we'd like to eat for the week, and then we fill out a shopping list of needed ingredients we don't already have on hand. We shop at Costco and usually have all of the staples required for any of our normal meals.
In October we decided to try making up a bunch of meals in advance, and tossing all ingredients into a gallon freezer Ziplock bag so that it's ready to pull out and throw in the crock pot any morning neither of us wants to cook.
It worked really, really well. The initial setup cost was pretty big, but subsequent weeks shopping trips were either super cheap or non-existent. Some of the meals were bland and some we just didn't like, but there are always more meals to try.
Today we restocked our freezer with bag meals, here is how we did it.
The RecipesBasically any crock pot recipe will work, because basically anything can be frozen. Soups and stews and large hunks of meat work best, as does chopped chicken in sauce.
Last time we wrote out the recipes by hand and tallied up how many of each ingredient we would need. But this time Steve harnessed the power of the spreadsheet and made a giant sexy list of each individual recipe and their required ingredients, and automatically tallied how much of each ingredient we needed to buy and then I fell in love with him all over again because spreadsheets are sexy.
For instance, this most recent freezer-bag-making extravaganza we made 28 bags, which required 20 pounds of chicken breasts, 4 pounds of stew beef, 3 pounds of dried beans, and "lots" of potatoes, which all gets divvied up into different bags of meals.
We had the majority of the ingredients on hand, because I love having a well-stocked pantry. I wouldn't want to know what would happen if the urge for chili bacon mac and cheese or home made Belgian waffles would strike and I was out of flour, or cheese.
Who runs out of cheese? Heathens, that's who.
Then we took our list to Costco and bought everything that is possible to put into one Costco shopping cart. We had 20 pounds of chicken breasts. We had 4.5 pounds of spinach. We had canned tomatoes and canned beans and canned cream of mushroom soup. But at least we weren't the guy with a flat full of only 10 pound sugar bags and 5 gallon buckets of vegetable oil.
Chopping of All The ThingsAll of the shopping only took two hours because we have a LIST and I stick to a list like a shopping TYRANT. Deviations from the list are countered with lashings and public shaming. We hauled everything home and unloaded it on the counter.
Then we got to chopping: 6 cups cubed potatoes, and 6 cups of sliced potatoes. 13 cups of chopped onions, 3 cups of chopped mushrooms, and 4 cups of chopped spinach. 6 cups of zucchini, 12 green onions, 7 bell peppers, and 14 cups each of broccoli and carrots, all chopped.
Then there's the meat: ground beef to brown, stew beef to cube, chicken breasts to chop and/or be quartered, ham to cube.
We put everything into bowls until we ran out of bowls. Then we put things in pots. And candy dishes. And anything we could get our hands on that would hold 14 cups of vegetables.
Plus all of the canned or packaged ingredients: herbs, spices, half & half, tomato sauce, vinegar, wine, rice, beans, mustard, grape jelly, olive oil, cream of chicken soup, home made chicken and vegetable stock.
Every ingredient we needed was pulled out and placed on the counter for easy access, which was basically the entire refrigerator, freezer, and pantry.
The chopping was really the bulk of the work. We didn't really consider the amount of work it would be to chop 20 pounds of chicken and 14 cups of carrots. But two hours later we were done and ready for the assembly.
AssemblySteve made these great ingredient lists for each meal we made, and we did each one twice. Two beef stews, two chicken cacciatore, two meatballs, two jambalaya. We each grabbed an ingredient list and two Ziplock bags, then started assembling our meals until the amount of chopped items dwindled and then vanished.
The three of us assembling two bag meals each in my kitchen was tight, but very doable as a family. There were a few instances of tripping over each other, and one bottleneck where we all needed to use the can opener to open 15 cans of canned things at the same time, so we all stood there and impatiently watched Donovan struggle with the can opener. Because COME ON WE ARE WAITING.
Despite that one bottleneck (Donovan) stopping production for a full five minutes, it was a really fun and efficient process. We ended up with extra cheese and extra cans of cream of mushroom soup, and we tended to over-measure one pound of chopped chicken, so we had to grab two more breasts from the freezer for the last few bags.
Results are the reason
The whole process took 2 hours of shopping, 3 hours of prep and 1 hour of assembly. But we ended up with 28 meals in our freezer, ready to be grabbed and thrown into the crock pot in the morning for a yummy and healthy evening meal.
My freezer is happy.