In part 1 of this freezer cooking series, we began working toward cutting our cooking time in HALF by doing some basic meal planning and using technology to our healthful advantage. One of the tools we have is the freezer. Ya’ll–your freezer is so much more than a frozen black hole of forgotten popsicles and cooler bags! With a tiny bit of effort, yours can be a time and money saving haven!
One of the easiest ways to cut your cooking time in half is to cook once, eat twice.
It takes about the same amount of time to cook two batches of spaghetti sauce or two lasagnas as it does to make one. Freeze the second one and you’ve got a meal ready for an extra crazy night. Maximize your money and your space by doing this when there’s a particularly good sale on a main ingredient.
A variation on this is simply planning for leftovers.
Many moms tell me “my family doesn’t like leftovers.” I answer with 1. “it doesn’t matter” and 2. “just try it.” Once they do, many of them LOVE how much calmer their evening is and their relief far outweighs the sighs over leftovers. Just doing this once a week might bring you surprising relief from meal time stress. Leftovers are NOT a punishment, kids!
But if even doubling a favorite easy recipe starts your heart a-beatin’, I’ve got a baby step that’s even easier. Just prepare a very large batch of a favorite main ingredient. Then freezer in meal-sized portions.
I do this with beans in my massive slow cooker. Then when it’s time for a bean based meal, I grab a bag and go. You can also do this with ground beef. If you are motivated, you can go ahead and cook the batch, either plain or with spices. If you need to keep it at baby step level, just dump the uncooked meat in a storage bag or container with your favorite spice blend. Think taco spices or Italian seasonings as a base for many different types of dishes. When it’s time to cook, you’ve got your base ready, and the meal will come together in a jiffy with much less mental energy.
And mental effort is what we’re trying to reduce here. THAT is what will help slice your cooking time in half. That’s why I start with the gateway meal planning strategy. Other ideas to help reduce your mental load around meals include:
- put effort into one month’s meal plan and re-use it each and every month. I don’t do this myself because how I cook varies with what’s in season. But I do . . .
- keep past meal plans and rotate them through the seasons.
- teach your kids to cook, even one or two meals, and expect them to lead meal time once a week or so. (AND clean up after the meal!)
- Have a cook-less meal once a week. Veggies, cheese, crackers, olives, hummus, and more are nourishing and EASY.
- FREEZER MEALS
Freezer cooking takes a bit of up front thought, but making freezer meals can be SUPER easy.
They can also be SUPER complicated, if you let them. You can make them work with canned sauces, seasonings, and salsas, OR you can do them completely from scratch. They can be dump and go crockpot meals (my suggestion for those who are overwhelmed) or they can be fancy endeavors. But if you can get a few in the freezer, just a few, your mental load AND your cooking time will be reduced by half, if not more. You can find freezer meal recipes at the library, online and you can definitely use your family’s favorites. My two suggested starting points are The Crockpot Lady’s Dump and Go recipes and Erin Chase’s free course.
So put your freezer to work for you.
If trying freezer meals sounds overwhelming, just double up a recipe or plan for leftovers. Or simply prepare portions of your main ingredient for faster prep when you cook. For me, there is NOTHING as awesome as knowing I have a complete dinner ready in the freezer and that I will NOT be struggling to get it served up on time.
Amylee Udell is a happy wife, a mom of three girls, and has called the Duke City home since 1997. She is the Productive Mama and the author and creator of the Freezer Meal Club Success Ebook and course. She has taught classes in childbirth and parenting, fermenting, culturing, and sourdough bread baking. Amylee spends a lot of time at church and homeschooling and loves skiing with her family, reading, trying new foods, and working with other moms to navigate the challenges of motherhood.