Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Feeding My Family From the Freezer

And to clarify right out of the box, I don't mean this...


I'm speaking about my very own LG upright freezer happily housed in my basement laundry room - my faithful companion these last three years - enabling me to feed my family in a way that really, really suits me.  I'm taking about my method of going from this:


to this:


to this:


I LOVE serving my family dinners that that are healthy and that they enjoy, but I get very little pleasure from actually sorting out that project every day of the week.  I don't know what it is, but there's something so difficult/annoying/time-wasting (???) for me about getting a dinner together nearly every day, that a couple years ago I decided to treat myself to pre-made dinners most nights during the cold winter months.  Again, this isn't to say that we're eating store-prepared dinners or take-out all the time.  Home prepared meals are important to me. (But I certainly won't say no to the occasional Indian take-out!!) This is about my system of putting healthy, home-cooked meals on the table in the evenings... it's just that I made them weeks - or even months - ago!

(I should take this opportunity to thank my husband, Russ, whose hard word, budgeting ingenuity, and generosity is what permitted me to get a large upright freezer years ago, and each subsequent year to do wacky things to the grocery budget, and take nearly two full weekends "off" just to cook.  Thanks, Babe!  I love you!)

Last year I wrote about stocking my freezer and how I feel it's such a gift to myself and to my family.  (Check out these posts here and here!)  I still feel immense gratitude and personal satisfaction every time I take something out of there and we eat a delicious dinner that I "didn't even have to make." All the work was in the past, so it's mostly forgotten and it really does feel like we're eating food that magically appeared!

This year I thought I'd give you a quick idea of how it works. I can even go on as long as want to - I've got lots more time for blogging now that... dinner's done!  

I've mentioned before I divide up my cooking mostly over two weekends in the fall - soups and casseroles.  (Last year I had a third category which was Crock Pot freezer meals.  I *might* do this again right before the baby's born, but it just wasn't a priority for me this past fall.)

I've already written about how I cook all my soups in a matter of a few days.  Casseroles are similar.  I get all my recipes together and make a master shopping list.  This year I had chosen seven different casseroles, each of which I double or triple.  I think I ended up with 16 casseroles. 

I head out on Friday evening or early Saturday morning to do my grocery shopping, and then get started right away.  In addition to food ingredients, I get lots of aluminum pans and foil :)  The weekend before Thanksgiving was my big casserole weekend.  On Saturday I made the pasta casseroles and the chicken casseroles. On Sunday I made shepherd's pie and lasagna.  And then I was too tired to do anything more until Wednesday night, when I realized if I didn't get some more of my fridge cleared out our Thanksgiving leftovers might be homeless.  So, I quickly finished up with the finish rye casserole (recipe care of Heather at Mama Knows, Honeychild!  Delish, as always, H!) 

Russ is willing to get the kids out of the house for me the majority of the Saturday and Sunday that I'm cooking, so I have the place to myself - I make messes, listen to loud music or audio books, drink tons of coffee, and cook like a crazy person - all without interruption.  For me, the key is efficiency, so there's always a few things going on at once - I may be chopping vegetables for the casserole I'm currently assembling, but I'm also browning the beef and sausage for next day's lasagna, or soaking the lentils for the shepherd's pie (I made it with half beef/half lentils this year), or boiling noodles, or cooking rice. 



Casseroles and soups are always labeled with defrosting and cooking instructions, as well as additional notes like "add bread crumbs and cheddar cheese half way through baking" or "needs more sauce" or "serve with tortilla chips and sour cream."  That way, even if it's a meal that's being eaten while I'm not around, no one (Russ) has to guess at what needs to be done.  

Besides dinners, I also use our freezer for ridiculous amounts of freezer jam and frozen whole berries from summertime picking, apple sauce from fall picking (and pear sauce this year, thanks to the fabulous  Mary!!) as well as frozen cookies and breads (of the breakfast variety, like pumpkin cranberry bread, etc...)  I really enjoy baking, but don't get to it very often anymore, so when I do, I just double everything and then throw it in freezer bags.  It's been absolutely wonderful to pull a couple oatmeal raisin cookies out of the freezer as needed (needed by whom, I shall not say ;) )  

Even with this abundance of food nearly at my fingertips (I DO have to trudge down to the basement to get it...) I still do "meal planning."  About once a week I head down there and pull out a variety of stuff to bring up for the next seven days - you know, one meal with beef, one with chicken, and three soups - usually two of which are meat free.  Everything for the week gets transferred up to the kitchen freezer until it needs to be defrosted.  I also get the sauces, jams, and cookies we'll want for the week.  


I use my kitchen dry erase board to plan out the week, leftovers included - this ensures that I remember to defrost stuff and also allows me to plan veggie sides or breads, etc... where needed. 


As for variety, it's never been a problem - there are enough different soups and casseroles that, with the occasional pizza night or dinner with my parents, we never eat anything twice in two weeks.  And every so often I actually do make a fresh dinner if the urge hits me or the price for the groceries was too good to pass up.


I love my freezer-to-table method.  It works so well for me.  I am so energized and cheered by my weekends of crazy cooking.  I feel so productive in the moment (obviously!) and I'm so happy thinking ahead to the tasty meals that will be awaiting us months later. Once in a while I feel a little pang of guilt that I don't make more hot and fresh meals for my family, but it doesn't last long.  I'm confident that they are eating healthily (even though  it's "fast food") and I am always so content and grateful to know that dinner is done and I don't have to rummage through the pantry or panic at 4:30 in the afternoon about what to make for dinner.  (I do enough of that over the summer!)

* * * * * *

I think most busy moms have a meal planning/preparation/rotation system that works for them.  But in case you think there's a chance you share this love of frozen-dinners-on-hand but don't know where to start, here are two more posts to check out...

Freezer Meal Ideas and Tips
How to Host a Frozen Meal Exchange

And although the page isn't that well organized, a lot of the recipes I use can be found at the Recipe tab at the top and in the post on planning for the soup party referenced above :)  


PS - You can tell how much I love talking freezer meals, but even I can see I might be yammering on about this a little much.  I will try to refrain from writing about this again.  Will try.  





8 comments:

  1. If it works...don't worry about a thing!!! YOU are remarkable!!!

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  2. That is one beautiful freezer and your system is amazing. I don't think I could ever give up those weekends like that (or really, be organized enough ahead of time to make it happen!) but I can see that it pays off big time. I usually make enough of most of my soups to have leftovers for freezing and even that makes me feel like a rockstar homemaker.

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  3. Years ago, I got together with a group of moms and we pooled our supplies and created tons of freezer meals for our families. It was so much fun and I really appreciated having those meals in my freezer. Thank you for reminding me of this!

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  4. I agree with Mary! I am super impressed, but do not think I could pull it off at all. Cooking for two weekends straight would be tough for me.

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  5. I officially crown you the Freezer Queen!! I just love LOOKING at that freezer picture. I am no where near this level of awesomeness, but you have inspired me to always have a handful of meals (or at least meal starters) prepped in the deep-freeze. It's like an insurance policy for dinner time!

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  6. You are awesome! Wow, u have inspired me! I may not be able to do 2 weekends either but maybe a morning to cook a few meals should be a good start for me! Thanks for sharing your wonderful system!

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    1. Thanks, Kelly! I just wanted to clarify for you (and Mary and Katie!) that I the two weekends I spent were not back to back - that's even a little too much for me! I usually do one weekend in Oct and one in Nov. A little more manageable that way! One year I didn't do the two packed weekends - it was before I had the stand-alone freezer - I just always doubled whatever I happened to be making for dinner any given night. It was a "gentler' way to ease into having meals on hand!

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  7. I always do this before a new baby comes, but it never occured to me to REALLY do it for ordinary time, as it were. Hmmm. I've got some thinking to do.

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