Friday, May 4, 2012

Sharing Meal Prep Wisdom

My kids will vouch that at the height of our feeding frenzy, this is exactly how our freezer looked! And, it was and IS a life and time saver!  I'm a great cook, but honestly don't enjoy spending time in the kitchen.  I figure if I'm going to do it, I'm going to do it as efficient and nutritious as possible.  I hate pre-packaged frozen meals and processed food.  Ewww... Yuck!  Blah!

How to get the most out of Costco shopping and save time!?  A little planning goes a long way. When preparing my grocery shopping list I always have my recipe database open in the kitchen.  I know this sounds a bit OCD, but taking the time to add your favorite recipes to a good recipe software saves so much time in the long run.  I already have a good idea of what meats, pastas and bulk items I'm buying at Costco, so I can quickly pull up 'chicken' recipes, or 'pork,' 'pasta,' ect. and choose two to three recipes for each item.  This way I can do a quick inventory of the pantry to make sure I have all the necessary ingredients or add what is missing to the list.  I don't over buy or under buy - who doesn't want to be more efficient?

Once I return from my Costco adventure, I divide all the meats up into individual meal portions and place them in the appropriate freezing container.  Most of the time, that is a large freezer ziplock bag. In an assembly line fashion, I take out all the ingredients I need for each meal and add to the bags or pans.  If it is something that shouldn't be mixed with raw meat, I place that particular ingredient (ie sour cream, shredded cheese, chopped vegetables) in separate zip lock bags before bundling them all together in a final bag and label.  Some recipes require a bit of cooking prior to freezing.  When this happens, I will fry up a couple pounds of hamburger, or cook chicken before dividing (i.e. enchiladas, casseroles, lasagna).  Freezing also works great for marinades, stews, chili, soup and sauces.  Make them ahead of time and simply freeze them.

Want to save more time?  Hate chopping and dicing?  I buy frozen chopped onion and some other vegetables in a bag.  Who needs a pound of chopped onions?  Normally, not too many people unless you are making three recipes.  Three cups, three different bags -- done, and done!  Best part, no tears or smelly hands.

This method really helps with saving money, because that large tub of sour cream won't go to waste -- you just got three meals out of it!  In a typical trip to Costco buying a package of each meat (you know how big they are), I can get 14 meals pre-made! Feeding a family 4-6 portion sizes.

Pre-making and freezing also makes for easy meal planning for the week and provides variety.  I make everything from stews, soups, enchiladas, casseroles, pork roasts, meatloaf and grilling marinades and spaghetti sauce ahead of time and freeze.  I know exactly what I have for baking, grilling, slow-cooking or stove top cooking. When I can't be home to prepare dinner, the family can easily thaw something.  I also label bags and include cooking instructions using a black sharpie marker on sticky back labels.  No excuses!

Large meals usually take 48 hours to thaw in the fridge.  So, plan accordingly.  After bagging meals, I usually throw 2 in the fridge to begin with and then each time I make one, I pull another from the freezer so it will be ready to make in two days.  Again, efficiency makes a huge difference and decreases frustration and stress. Clean up is also much easier with pre-made, frozen meals!  Decrease in dishes...BONUS!

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