One of the smartest decisions I’ve ever made in the history of motherhood was venturing into bulk cooking freezer meals. There is nothing better than a healthy and delicious hot meal on the table at the end of the day. As much as I love cooking, doing so requires energy and effort…both of which run a little low when stuck at home with a preschooler and an infant. Having a stock supply of both heat and serve and crock pot meals sitting in the freezer has really taken the pressure off.
They are great on long exhausting days that I find myself propping my eyes open with toothpicks just to get through, and busy days when I’m on the go trying to keep my sanity in tact. I’m sure they will be equally appreciated when I am back to balancing both work and family responsibilities.
While planning and preparing for my dive into this new cooking concept, I spent some time online checking out what I later realized to be, too-good-to-be-true bulk cooking plans. Things like…”how to make 20 meals in 30.8 seconds and still keep your kitchen clean” and “how to be the perfect house wife and make enough meals to feed the starving children of Africa in 20 minutes”.
As much as I TRY to be superwoman, it’s just not always possible so reality check: there is absolutely nothing wrong with investing in a full day of cooking to prepare a month or more of meals. In this post I will share step-by-step how I went about my most recent batch of bulk cooking and pass along some tips so you can customize your own plan.
- Create the menu: Many of the meal plans I came across online included less-than-appealing options and were not suited for my family’s tastes. I ended up picking and choosing recipes from a number of online sources, some of which I added to my freezer meals board on pinterest. I also threw in some tried and true favorites from my collection of family recipes. I tried to build a menu with variety including soups, stews, vegetarian, chicken, pork and beef meals that would pair nicely with fresh made rice or noodles. I also incorporated thaw and heat, cook from frozen and crock pot recipes. I was also mindful of selecting recipes that shared common ingredients to shorten my grocery list and to save time with batch preparing the meals.
- Plan ahead: Originally my plan was to spend one full day power-cooking although I soon realized I was a little too ambitious considering it was in the heat of summer, I was 9 months pregnant and in early labor. Seriously…what was I thinking!? Since my giant belly kept me over a foot away from the edge of the counter, I reluctantly gave into the idea of breaking my cooking up into two, four hour sessions over two days to spare my back. If I wasn’t pregnant, I’m quite confident my a-type stamina would have kept me going in one long session. In my advance planning I decided I would spend day one cooking food that required pre-cooking and day two would entail raw assembly line style cooking. I had selected 11 recipes so I decided to double each recipe and ration so I could feed 4 adults with one meal.I carefully planned out some of my first steps so I could multitask and minimize my time by working on a number of meals at the same time instead of cooking one meal end to end then moving onto the next. Do not…I repeat…DO NOT attempt this with children running around the house. Send them to Grandmas for the day or make arrangements for them to be out of your hair. Trust me on this one.You will also want to put some thought into how you will store and freeze these meals. I used large freezer bags so I could lay them flat and stack them to minimize freezer space. I also used some disposable tinfoil containers that I picked up at Dollarama for meals that can be baked or heated up in the oven. This makes for easy clean up and gives you the option to bring a meal to a guests house or pass along some soup to a sick friend. You could also use freezer safe plastic or glass containers. Be prepared and have space available in the freezer. I did my cooking after a recent visit to Costco so had to rely on my expert packing skills to make everything fit in our freezer. I outlined my meal and cooking plan below, indicating where I was able to squeeze an extra meal out of the doubled recipe. My efforts resulted in 27 meals and 2 batches of mini corn bread loaves. Check out the printable recipe cards for my bulk cooking menu here.
- Day one – Some Precooking required
Split pea soup with ham x2= 3 meal
Sweet Corn bread x2
Sweet & sour meatballs x2
Taco soup x2 = 3 meals
Quiche with ham, veggies and cheese x 2
Day two– Raw assembly line style
Chicken cattcitorre x2
Orange chicken x2
Coconut curry chicken x2
Maple dijon chicken x2
Hearty beef stew x 3
Maple mustard glazed pork chops x2
- Groceries: I went through each recipe to create a shopping list of ingredients and increased the quantities on my list as I found them listed on additional recipes. Check out the printable grocery list for my menu here. Here are some other tips I came up with:
- Buy bulk – I picked up a bulk bag of peppers, onions and zucchini at Costco and saved a ton of money
- Check your cupboards and work with what you’ve got to shave down the grocery list
- This isn’t gourmet cooking so no need to get the finest cuts of meat, chicken thighs are a cheaper alternative to chicken breasts for recipes that call for meat to be cubed
- Alter recipes to have more of the vegetables that are in season, on sale and what you love
- Consider saving some time for a little more money: boneless skinless meat, thin-skin variety potatoes that don’t require peeling, pre-chopped vegetables etc.
- When in doubt, always buy the larger package. It’s not fun to have to go out in the middle of cooking to get more of something
- Don’t forget to add food storage to your grocery list if applicable i.e bags, foil containers, saran wrap etc.
- Bring a calculator to determine the number of cans you need to buy to equal the volume required based on your grocery stores selection
$236 /27 meals = $8.74/meal portioned for 4 people = $2.18/person per meal
- Start cooking & freezing: This is the hardest part. You know you have a full day ahead of you so make it fun. Grab a girlfriend to help, pour a glass of wine, crank the music…whatever motivates you.
- Clean and sanitize your work space before you begin
- Organize and layout all your ingredients on the kitchen table
- Set up your work station by pulling out knives, cutting boards, can openers, mixing bowls, measuring cups etc.
- Set up a sink of soapy hot water so you can easily rinse off measuring cups and spoons for reuse with other ingredients
- The food processor is your friend – invest or borrow
- A kitchen scale is also helpful to have
- Keep your garbage/green bin close by with the lids off
- Tidy as you go, putting away ingredients you will no longer need
- Work in an assembly line fashion whenever possible – wash all produce, open all cans, prep and chop each vegetable type and keep in prep bowls for use in multiple recipes
- You cook, your partner cleans at the end…. that’s only fair right?
- Ensure your containers are sealed well to prevent freezer burn and label appropriately. Check out printable instructions for the meals I cooked.
I guarantee you’ll stop at the half way mark, look around the kitchen and want to cry. There will be food on the floor and in your hair, dishes in the sink, and it will look like your kitchen cupboards vomited all over your counter tops. You might ask yourself, ” What was I thinking? Am I really cut out for this? I wonder if I could pay my mother-in-law to come over and finish for me? Could I squeeze in a nap while the biscuits bake?” Keep going…. YOU CAN DO IT!!! A-type power being sent your way! You are about halfway to realizing the greatest sense of accomplishment, peace and ease of mind that a mother can possibly achieve. Don’t stop now…you got this!7