Monday, July 10, 2017

Make Ahead Meals: Bye bye Pizza Night

The Set Up

A long, long time ago, I used to plan all of our suppers for the month. This was so I could shop for all of the meat and pantry items we needed during Safeway's Customer Appreciation Day. We would get 10% off the entire grocery bill. Now it's 15% and I'm even more interested in saving money than I was then, so I sat down earlier this week and planned two weeks plus everything we needed for the Make Ahead Meals. (All of our other shopping trips will be at other grocery stores so I can compare prices.)

The Rationale

It's summer. And while I normally love to cook, I am not a fan of spending any more time than absolutely necessary near hot things--like a stove--when it's summertime.

Eating out--or, more likely in our case, ordering out is expensive. And it doesn't help my waistline, either! So, the only way to beat the heat, save time (and money) and stay mean and lean--is--you guessed it--to make meals I can re-heat quickly or throw in the crockpot.

Because I am an excessive planner, I sat down with my work schedule and figured out how many of these meals I'd actually need--and then I doubled it (sort of).

The Recipes

Lentil Butternut Squash Curry x2
Cilantro Lime Chicken x2
Slow Cooker Turkey and Black Bean Chili x2
Mediterranean Eggplant x1
Spicy Peanut Chicken x2
8 hamburger patties

We've eaten all but the Spicy Peanut Chicken before. That one is from a recipe I found in a book from the library. Any Peanut Chicken recipe would do, really, as it is essentially cooking the meal and the freezing it, just as you would left-overs. The rest of the MAMs are all assembled, frozen, and then thawed and dumped into a slow cooker. Easy peasy.

The Assembly

"I made thirty meals in four hours--and then I didn't dread dinner-time any more."
Most blogs are full of cheerful statements like this one.
Not this one.

I may never set foot in my kitchen again.

I set everything up (well, what I thought was everything) and began. I honestly expected I would be able to chop and assemble everything the same day. I had only one small problem--I needed black beans-- but I hadn't cooked them yet. And then I realised I didn't have enough spices for everything. I had to make a late night run to Walmart for paprika, chili powder, and parsley flakes. Of all the stupid things.

This shows them after they'd soaked for a couple of hours. I put them on the boil while I chopped the squash.

The squash nearly killed me. It seemed I chopped forever. And of course, I had to make dinner, too.
At the end of Day 1, I'd made only two of my recipes. Just before bed, I realised I needed to cook even more black beans.

On Day 2, I was pretty anxious to get the meat based meals out of the fridge and into the freezer. I took the beans I'd soaked overnight and started cooking them. As I had to leave for work at 5pm, I'd also planned a crock pot meal for supper with some really old chicken backs I'd found while doing my freezer inventory. Thawing and deboning those took a solid hour. So, after about three hours in the kitchen...with temperatures rising by the hour.... I'd managed to make only one of my Make Ahead Meals, the slow cooker Turkey and Black Bean Chili (which is awesome, by the way).

The third Day I was desperate to get the remaining chicken breasts and ground beef into the freezer. The Spicy peanut stir fry was time consuming, but very simple.

The burgers were messy--but also simple. Apparently, the key to homemade burgers is not to man handle the ground meat too much--and to dimple the center of each patty. My husband was quite disappointed we weren't having any for dinner that night.

Finally, finally, late today I made the Mediterranean Eggplant.

So, now I am all set for those night's when I am not home to cook--and the morning's are too rushed to make anything.

Bye bye, pizza night.

More MAM's:

New Leaf Wellness has several recipes and free batch cooking/assembly instructions.

5 Dinners 1 Hour is a batch cooking meal plan site. There are some recipes for free.

Thirty Handmade Days has quite a few original recipes. Looking forward to trying them.

Once a Month Meals is another meal plan site. All the meals are freezable, though. I tried a few of their free plans but didn't really like it. I also found the way they constructed the prep lists confusing.

Happy Money Saver Mom has many different kinds of Make Ahead Freezer meals, including some that can go into the crock pot.

Self Magazine has some really delish looking MAMs for the crockpot.

eta from the comments: Living Well Spending Less has an 11 part series, each one with five recipes made twice for freezer to crockpot cooking. I'm linking to Part 11 as it has all the previous parts linked on the page. (Thanks Marie!)


Anonymous said...

I did these a couple of times and also found them to be very time and labour intensive. Really, it's the chopping that takes forever. Basically, you're working now to save time later. It does make sense. But I was the same as you--I did not enjoy making all those meals at once AT ALL.

These days, I tend to make twice the recipe of part of a meal to freeze. So, if I'm making a chicken and broccoli pasta dish, I'll double the recipe of chicken and marinade, and freeze one meal of it. Then, on that future day, I'll take the chicken out in the morning, and then just have to cook it and the pasta, and steam the broccoli. I also tend to cut up vegetables and freeze them when I have extra--like, I'll cut up one big onion, use half, and freeze the rest. That way, when I need cut onion the next time, I don't have to cut it (the part I hate). I find this less painful then making a whole bunch of meals at once.

I also keep painters tape in the kitchen and a sharpie, and I write the directions on the tape, and put that on the container I'm freezing. Then I don't have to look up the recipe again to see what temperature the oven needs to be or how long it has to cook or whatever.

Those meals look delicious. The great benefit of those crock pot freezer meals is that they require zero prep the day you use them, which is soooooooooooo nice.

How's the bathroom ;) ?

I hope you're enjoying the summer!


Anonymous said...

Hi Alana,
Living Well Spending Less blog has lots of "make 10 freezer meals in an hour" ideas. I haven't tried many of them yet as they didn't sound like things my family would eat, but I love the idea and the process looked very easy. They were all recipes to throw in the crock pot.

Bonnie said...

Are you ok? Saw there was a tornado In your area.

Alana in Canada said...

Hi Bonnie, yes we're fine. It was to the south east of us, thank goodness. We didn't even get much of a storm.

Bonnie Haupt said...

Glad to hear all is well. Living in Kansas I know about tornadoes. We are in heat now 80 at 1015 pm.Bonnie

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