Tuesdays are simplicity days at SimpleProductivity blog.
Wouldn’t it be nice if you could cook one afternoon and not have to cook again for a long time? Join me in imagining: cooking on one afternoon, and having a whole bunch of meals ready to go for the next month. Or even just cooking a few things and getting 5 or 6 meals done at once.
For those of us with busy lives, it is something we could all wish for. Cooking at home is going to be better quality than eating out, and far cheaper too. But how do you do this?
Make-ahead meals have been around for a long time. I remember researching this very topic a few years ago, and was astonished by the sites that came up.
The Evolution Of Make-Ahead Cooking
Once A Month Cooking
The first place I ran across the concept was in Once-A-Month-Cooking (OAMC). The concept is easy, but I could never swing the execution. You spend one day a month doing food prep and eat out of your freezer for the next month. You assemble recipes, make a shopping list, shop, food prep, assemble and freeze the results.
More recently, a slew of retail establishments popped up that take the hard work out of OAMC. They have set recipes and do the food prep. You go in, assemble the meals and take them home. The catch: a month’s worth of meals will run hundreds of dollars.
Saving Dinner Mega-Menu Mailer
About this time, my dinner guru Leann Ely at Saving Dinner came out with Mega-Menu Mailers. She put together the recipes and the shopping list, and gave some assembly instructions. I did a couple of these, but was exhausted by the six hours of cooking. Also, we really don’t care for fish, and the fish recipes languished in the freezer, only to be claimed by freezer burn.
With straight OAMC, I couldn’t get it together enough for me to do. Cost puts the assembly places out of my reach, and the Saving Dinner variety left me exhausted and with dishes we wouldn’t eat.
Saving Dinner Five For The Freezer
Leann Ely at Saving Dinner released a smaller version of the Mega Menu mailer: sets of 5 recipes that could be made and stuck in the freezer. While good, some of the dishes languished in the freezer because I never had the extra ingredients on hand.
I still wanted to do this, however. I wanted to have dinners in the freezer that we would use. There are two ways to do this: make double, and mini-cooking sessions.
This one is easy. When you are making a dish that will freeze well, make two and pop one in the freezer. Not much extra effort, and easy to do. Over time, this will build up a stock of extras to be used.
However, if you pull one of these meals out to give to a sick neighbor, make sure you have tasted the recipe first!
Mini Cooking Sessions
In this method, you do a freezer cooking session, but only using one type of meat and limiting the dishes to 5 or 6. By limiting the meat choice, you won’t have as much prep work, and by limiting the amount of meals you will limit the effort.
Doing a mini session is fairly easy:
- Select your base ingredient (chicken, ground beef, etc)
- Find recipes with like ingredients (onions, peppers, veggies, etc.) Pick recipes that are complete straight out of the freezer: nothing to add later.
- List and buy ingredients
- Prep the ingredients (cook the meat, if necessary, chop veggies, etc)
- Assemble and freeze.
I have done both the mini cooking sessions and the double-up recently. The double up is working best at this point, because I can do it in stages. There is no big hit to my grocery bill, and I gradually build up the stock in the freezer.