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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Cooking ahead

So, at different stages of life I have done the whole "freezer cooking" thing.  I've cooked in mass quantities and spent a whole day filling the freezer.  I've also had stages where I cooked fresh every night.  What I've discovered is that neither of those situations really works for our family.  Here are a few reasons why:

1) We love variety
2) I have 2 growing boys who have unpredictable appetites
3) produce co-op
4) sale cycles

1) We love variety.  A few years ago I challenged myself to make a meals that fell into different ethnic groups (asian, spanish, italian) each week.  This not only forced me to avoid all meals being pasta based or rice based, but it allowed for different spices and flavors to be introduced each week.  Because of this, we have boys who have fairly unique flavor pallets, and now, I like to make sure some of their favorites show up every few weeks on the menu.

2) My grade school age boys can have HUGE appetites one day and graze the next.  One thing I didn't like about freezer cooking is that it left very little room for portion control.  Because meals were cooked so far in advance it was hard to know exactly when the meals would be used later in the month, especially in the fall.  Often, meals sat way longer then I expected due to schedules changing.

3) We participate in a twice a month produce co-op.  We have an abundance of fresh fruit and veggies most of the time.  I LOVE being able to create meals off what is fresh and in season, right from my fridge.

4) Meal sales go in cycles.  We mainly each chicken breast, so when it goes on sale I like to stock the freezer with 15 or more pounds at a time.  If my freezer is full of meals, then I miss out on the meat stocking.

So, what have we been doing?  I have figured out that I can cook for an entire week in about 2 hours (or less) on a Monday morning!

Sunday: (15-20min of work)

1) Make a Menu (include all meals to be eaten that week, figure out if anything can be easily doubled to freeze for a future meal)
2) Make a list of all ingredients still needed (I will pick these up Monday morning on the way home from working out, on the way to cook)
3) Pull out meat to thaw in fridge

Monday: (1-2 hours of work)

1) Get all ingredients out for all meals to be cooked
2) Get containers out for all meals
3) Begin cooking
4) Monday-Wednesday meals are good in the fridge, anything cooked to be eaten past Wed goes into the freezer.

1) If a meal needs to be cooked day of (like ravioli or quesadillas) make sure all ingredients that can be prepped are (make the sauce, or steam a veggie for the side)

2) Put that crock pot to good use!

 3) Making Muffins and Bacon for breakfast?  Cook them both ahead, freeze the muffins, and store bacon in fridge, this makes for a 30 second prep on breakfast in the morning!

4) Think outside the box.  Have some extra zucchini?  Shred it up and freeze it for a future meal.  Making rice?  Double the amount to use as a side on "leftover night".

5) When making your menu build in nights for leftovers, and "give me a break meals".  For us, that can be breakfast, soup and sandwiches or frozen pizza.  

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