Monday, December 13, 2010

Cooking ahead Part 1: Planning for the day

With our first baby on the way, and me sick as ever, it's time to plan ahead and get the freezer stocked. Once A Month Cooking (OAMC), Batch Cooking, Freezer Cooking, Make-ahead-meals (MAM) and many other names all refer to making food ahead and freezing it to save time and money when dinner time rolls around.

Why Freeze meals?
For our family, the primary reason is dietary restrictions, money, and time. Most store bought convenience food contain things either I or my husband cannot eat. However, eating out is both expensive, and probably not that healthy. Finally, making everything from scratch, while fun, takes a lot of time. My goal is to have a freezer filled with nutritious meals that fall into one of three categories: 30min-1 hour in the oven, microwave, or slow-cooker

Getting Started?
  • Make a list of meals your family likes (aim for things baked in the oven, or that have leftovers that reheat well to start with).
  • Pick 3-5 of those meals and make double portions the next time you make them. Freeze the extra portion, then enjoy another night. If your family still likes them, you are set. Once you know what works and what doesn't you can add 1 or 2 new dishes each cook session.
  • Create a master list of the meals you plan to make, gather the appropriate recipes, and make a grocery list. Make a task list (more on that later)
  • Shop the day before you cook to avoid feeling overwhelmed.
  • Do as much prep as possible, before starting to cook and combine ingredients into recipes.
Task list:
Figuring out the most logical order in which to complete each recipe, and writing a detailed list will save you time, and make the experience fun instead of overwhelming. I will provide an example in a future post.

Depending on your family size, freezer size, and budget I recommend the following containers:
  • Freezer Ziplock bags (name brand-trust me on this one): works great for soups, ground meat, stews, curries, cookies, muffins, etc
  • Disposable lasagna pans (with the cardboard lids): great for anything going straight into the oven--the lids allow you to write the instructions where they are easily accessible, but aren't strictly necessary.
  • Permanent marker (or labels): I recommend permanent markers because I find that labels fall off
  • Large cookie or baking sheets: you need these initially to help items freeze flat
Cooking day:
Clean your kitchen and all dishes, wear comfortable clothing, and grab a few pod casts or some music to listen to. You will find aiming for making 6 x 4-5 meals less overwhelming for the first month of dinner.

Next time I will post my meal list, task list and grocery list for cooking 3 months of food.

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