After seeing so many people talk about how terrific this once-a-month-cooking deal is, I decided to try it for myself, to see if the hype lived up to the reality. The story you are about to read is real. The names have been changed to protect the innocent… (cue the Dragnet music…)
First things first, I did my homework. I researched at my favorite research site, Pinterest. I found out what to do, what not to do, and many helpful suggestions. The main difficulty I had was that most of these people were cooking for an army, it seemed. I don’t need near as much food for just my husband and me, even with frequent guests. With this in mind, I looked for a lot of crockpot meals that were mostly dump it in and go, and these seemed to make the most sense for me. I planned for fifteen meals. We eat out occasionally, and even with the pared down recipes, I was still able to sometimes make two bags from a single recipe. So, fifteen prepared freezer meals, along with some prepared ingredient bags like the taco beef, was plenty for a first run of this system.
Let me tell you, life will happen while you are in this process, so don’t let it throw you too much of a curveball. My intent was to do all of the shopping on Thursday so I could have the whole day Friday to complete this task. That did not happen. My week fell apart about Wednesday, and it was everything I could do just to drag myself through the days. Friday morning rolled around and I was not ready. I usually wake between 6:00 and 6:30, so I figured I would start the prep and cooking about 8:00 after I finished my normal morning routine. I finally got out of bed about 8:15, so that was not happening, and I still hadn’t shopped!
Now, this is something you must understand about me. I have this weird passion, no – an obsession – with alliteration. That may not seem to have anything to do with this venture, but oh, it does. I had already named it “First Friday Freezer Fest,” and I couldn’t change plans unless I was going to wait until the following month! Like I said, I can be weird…
I hurried through my hygiene routine, because I knew the other parts of my normal schedule would not get done that day. Thankfully, I had already made my shopping list or this project definitely would have waited another month! By the time I finished shopping at my three stores (yes, three stores, because I was also taking advantage of sales and coupons for this endeavor), it was almost 12:30 p.m. And I was already exhausted.
Cue another curveball: two of my lovely daughters decided that it would be a perfect time to drop in for supper and a visit. Not that I mind! I love it when my children come over, and I wish it happened more frequently. That said, this put a hold on my progress for about four hours. At least I got some ice cream from Pinocchio’s, which may have made up for the whole ceasefire in my cooking plan.
So I soldiered on, went with the flow, all those other clichés, and went to bed, planning to finish up on Saturday. This was okay because I had at least started on Friday, so I didn’t have to change the name. After my Breakfast Club Bible Study group, I resumed the itinerary of cooking, packaging and freezing. Freezer Fest was done by 2:00 p.m.
In all, this actually took only about six or seven hours, not including the planning and shopping. I hit a few snags along the way about which no site warned me. Will I do it again? Yes! Will I plan a little better, including time for snags and incorporating back-up plans? Yes! Am I happy with the resulting meals? We shall see. I already used one freezer meal that never made it to the freezer because it became supper for our daughters’ visit. It was good, too!
Here is the list of meals I prepared, along with some helpful (I hope!) hints to make your freezer fest run a little more smoothly.
White wine chicken with artichokes http://newleafwellness.biz/2015/05/18/crockpot-white-wine-chicken-with-artichokes/
Spaghetti squash with bacon and spinach http://www.buzzfeed.com/christinebyrne/spaghetti-squash-with-bacon-spinach-and-goat-cheese#.ftLPNVLDm
Ham and beans http://www.food.com/recipe/crock-pot-ham-and-beans-96347
Chicken broccoli stir fry http://passthesushi.com/chicken-and-broccoli-stir-fry/
Sweet chili sesame chicken http://www.carlsbadcravings.com/asian-sweet-chili-sesame-chicken/
Hot hamburgers (family recipe)
Chicken chili relleno casserole http://www.ladybehindthecurtain.com/chicken-chili-relleno/
Smoked sausage and cabbage (two variations – family recipes)
Balsamic beef roast http://thechicsite.com/2013/07/16/slow-cooker-balsamic-pot-roast/
Potato, broccoli, cheese and egg casserole http://www.cozycountryliving.com/easter-brunch-potato-broccoli-pepper-jack-egg-casserole/
Stacked chicken enchiladas http://www.gimmesomeoven.com/chicken-enchilada-casserole-recipe/#_a5y_p=1587442
- Start with a clean kitchen.
- Eat breakfast or lunch, depending on what time you start. Preparing this much food is difficult when you are hungry. You may want to plan for a snack break also. (Just because I am sharing this event doesn’t mean I am against eating out. My two favorite restaurants? McDonald’s and Cooper’s Hawk.)
- Put a bottle of frou-frou wine or refreshing lemonade in the refrigerator to chill.
- Clear the counters as much as you possibly can, especially if your kitchen is sadly lacking in counter space like mine.
(…and here’s Cooper’s Hawk! https://www.coopershawkwinery.com/)
- Make sure all of your dishes are clean, your dishwasher empty, and a new liner in your wastebasket.
- If you have a cabinet with pull-out bins for trash and recycling, you may want to remove them from the cabinet and place them in the floor near where you are working. It will be tedious constantly trying to open the cabinet with messy and/or very full hands.
- I filled my sink with hot, soapy water so I could wash multiple use items as I proceeded. This included pieces like my food processor container and blade, my cutting boards (I only have two!), and my colander.
- If you have those handy dandy bag holders that I have seen on Pinterest (https://www.pinterest.com/pin/317855686171018469/), use them. If not, you may have a container that will hold a bag open quite nicely. Just fold the top over the rim of the container so that the bag is held in place and food doesn’t end up on the outside of the bag. I have one that is perfect!
- Assemble your ingredients and recipes.
- Spices and herbs can remain in the cabinet to save counter space if they are easily accessible.
- If you know all of the onions (or whatever else you are using) should be chopped, go ahead and do that. Then you are only chopping them once and can measure out the amount needed. One onion chopped will usually equal about one cup.
- Have a black Sharpie handy. Write the name of each meal and any necessary cooking instructions on the front of the bag before filling it with the ingredients.
- Most of my chosen meals did not require pre-cooking of any ingredient. I would like to say I planned it that way… If you have meats that must be cooked, get that started first. Ground beef can brown while you are assembling other meals, and chicken breast can simmer on the back of your stove. You could also put the chicken into a crockpot, depending on how much you need to cook, and shred or chop it as needed.
Bacon is wonderfully simple to prepare in your oven, with very little mess and no splatter burns!
- Placing the bags on their sides in the freezer will allow for maximum storage space and ease in finding just the freezer meal you want. On the left is my upright freezer in my garage. It is not always this neat or this empty. In two weeks, it will be filled with a side of beef from the county fair, so organization is very necessary at this time! My kitchen refrigerator on the right needs a makeover desperately…
When it is all done, sit back, relax with a glass of chilly refreshment, and revel in the fact that you will not have to put much thought into several meals for a while.