Make more time for the things you love (ahem...yoga) by making freeze-ahead meals.
I loathe a dirty kitchen.
I mean, I really can't handle it. When I'm cooking or baking, I get out the exact ingredients and supplies that I'll need. I put each ingredient away as soon as I use it. I'll wash dishes and wipe down the counter as I go. My goal is to have less to clean up at the end.
Also, I may have a little OCD.
But you should have seen my kitchen the other day! I sort of wish I had taken a picture of it just to prove that I can handle the fact that it looked like a disaster zone! My husband walked in while I was in the middle of prepping 31 freezer meals, and I think he was even shocked by the state of it. I had ALL of my spices out, all of my cooking oils, all of my baking ingredients, all of my measuring cups/spoons/bowls, every vegetable, all the meats. It was pure chaos.
And it was glorious.
Everything was at my fingertips for the entire process, and by the time I was done, I had 31 dinners in my freezer! And even though I didn't clean everything up until the end, in a process that seemed to take forever...I know and am grateful for the fact that there are 31 days in my near future on which I will have more time to do the things I really love.
I happened upon the Freezer Friendly website for this meal plan a few years ago and was super impressed with its organization and printable grocery list. I also liked the use of whole ingredients in the recipes and the variety of the recipes themselves. The site has a variety of freeze ahead plans that you can browse, as well.
Having prepped these meals twice now, I have some great practical tips for you!
1) Give yourself a good long day or two shorter days to get this done. It took me probably 8 hours total, and I even had a good helper for most of the prep.
2) Buy minced garlic! It will save you soooo much time.
3) If possible, buy pre-chopped onions. Do they sell those in the freezer section? If so, this would also be a HUGE time saver! There is at least 1 onion in almost every one of these recipes.
4) Get one of those little "gadgets" that hold bags open. This makes it pretty simple to load things into the gallon baggies.
5) Label all of your bags before you start with a Sharpie. Write the name AND number of the recipe and also the date you prepped it.
6) Don't prep by the number...prep by like ingredients, especially the meats. For example, make all the chicken breast meals first, and then the chicken thigh meals, beef meals, turkey meals, etc.
7) Don't worry about being super exact in all of your measurements. It really won't matter too much in the end.
8) Buying all of the ingredients at one time is going to be expensive, especially if you go organic on your veggies and meat. However, if you'd buy these ingredients at some point anyway, it's totally worth it for the fact that you get 31+ (leftovers and lunches!) prepared meals!
9) I made these a few years ago, and we found that we actually liked the meals better NOT cooked in the crockpot. So instead of thawing overnight and putting in a crockpot all day, I'll thaw throughout the day and then just cook on the stovetop at dinner time.
10) If you can't find all the ingredients, just search for easy substitutions. I couldn't find non-quick cooking pearled barley anywhere, so I substituted arborio rice.
11) READ the directions for each recipe before you start loading the bag. Some ingredients aren't needed until the day of cooking and some recipes have a specific order for putting in the ingredients.
12) Just get out EVERYTHING you'll need right from the beginning...all your spices, sauces, cans, measuring cups and spoons, etc. Also, have one cutting board for veggies and one for meat. Your kitchen will be a DISASTER but at least everything will be easy to find.
13) Make sure you have plenty of room in your freezer before you start. These take up quite a bit of space.
14) Most of the recipes say that the meal should be eaten within 3 months, so if you want to, you can spread these out to have 2-3 per week and they'll last you that long!
The printable version of this has the entire ingredient list for all 31 recipes, the ingredients you won't need until the day of cooking, and great suggestions for side dishes!
After 6 months off, these are going to be life-savers when my family is back in the thick of school, cross country, and soccer *hopefully*. And, if we're stuck at home again, I guess I'll just have more time for yoga!
Written by Scottie Bruch, SDYC Presenter and Co-Organizer. Scottie truly doesn't like messiness in her life and truly might have a touch of OCD. She returns to her middle school and high school libraries this fall with apprehension.