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Category: Baking Day

Freezer Cooking Day: The Shopping Trip

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A freezer cooking day can't happen without lots of supplies on hand, namely groceries. While I have been stocking up over the last few weeks with this in mind, there were still some last-minute things I needed to buy for tomorrow's big Freezer Cooking Day. So I loaded up all three little ones and stopped into our local grocery store, health food store, and Aldi. Whew!

All told, we spent right around $50 for the groceries shown above including two big bags of chicken and four packages of organic grass-fed roast beef marked down from $8.99 to $1.59 at the health food store. Gotta love those kinds of bargains!

It looks like we'll be spending right under $100 total for this Freezer Cooking Day. It should well carry us through upcoming Christmas get-togethers, provide some homemade Christmas gifts, and take care of most of the cooking and baking for the entire month–especially since we still have some meals left in the freezer from last month's Freezer Cooking Day–so I'd say it's well worth the monetary investment.

I don't plan to buy many more groceries the rest of this month so the additional $75 or so we still have leftover in our grocery budget envelope should be plenty for the next four weeks.

But first I have to actually tackle the cooking!

Next up: The Detailed Step-By-Step Freezer Cooking Plan

Freezer Cooking Day: The Master Plan

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Tomorrow and Wednesday of this week (December 1-2, 2009), FishMama from LifeAsMom
and I are hosting another a Freezer Cooking Day. We'll be live-blogging our progress and sharing
tips and recipes along the way on both of our blogs.

If you'd like to
join in the fun, you can sign up at the Facebook Event page here, follow along (and participate!) on twitter with the #oamc hashtag, or just check our blogs for updates, pictures, and more! We'd love it if you'd like to blog about any baking or cooking you do and share your links here. I'll post a Mr. Linky up tomorrow so you can post your plans and recipe lists. In addition, I'll have a Mr. Linky up on Wednesday evening for you to post what you accomplished.

I tried splitting up my cooking between two days last time around and I ended up exhausted, with a very messy house and cranky children. It is so worth it to have most of the cooking and baking for the month done in one big swoop, but I realized I needed a different plan of action this time.

So I'm going to do my shopping and prep work tomorrow afternoon and I'll be doing the actual cooking and baking on Wednesday. My mom is willingly taking the girls for most of the day on Wednesday so I can focus on cooking and baking. And unlike last time, I plan to do nothing else besides feed and take care of my little guy, cook and bake, clean up the kitchen, and blog and tweet about my progress. We'll see if things go a little smoother this time!

Here's my Proposed Freezer Cooking Plan:

Breakfasts:

Pumpkin Pancakes x 3
Muffin Mixes (for gifts, breakfasts, and dinners)

Main Dishes:

Tuna Noodle Casserole x 2 (haven't decided whether I'm going to use turkey or tuna!)
Ham and Cheese Breakfast Casserole (using leftover Thanksgiving ham!)
Marinated Chicken
Barbecue Chicken
Stromboli x 4
Turkey Shepherd's Pie

Snacks/Desserts:

Brown Sugar Biscuit Twists
Banana Bread
World's Easiest Christmas Candy
Sugar Cookie Dough
Hot Cocoa Mix
Slab Apple Pie

A few of the items I'm making to give me a head start on Christmas gifts and to have in the freezer if I need a quick snack or dessert to take to the many gatherings which always happen around this time of year. I did this last year and it was a huge help! The rest are just things to help fill out our weekly menus for the month of December. We already have some meals left in the freezer from last month's Freezer Cooking Day so we should be all set after the cooking and baking I do this week.

I'll be posting a detailed and ordered list of my plan tomorrow and also a picture of the groceries I'm purchasing to pull this off. And then the real work begins Wednesday!

FishMama has her post up here of everything she's planning on cooking and baking tomorrow. I'm trying not to feel like a loser when I compare my list to hers especially considering she has twice as many children as me and she's not bringing in recruits to help with them. But I'm not superwoman so I just have to do what I can do! 🙂

The Method to My Madness: Start Where You Are and Learn As You Go

Every time I blog about a Baking Day or a Freezer Cooking Day, I invariably get a multitude of questions that go like this:

Can you tell me how you package the meals for freezing them? Do you just put them in a metal 9×13 and then cover the top with tin foil? Does this keep out freezer burn for you?

Or this:

I'm wondering if you use aluminum baking pans? I want to make up a bunch of stuff, but then I'd have to go out and buy a bunch of throw away pans for it…I've done it before. Now that I've cut my budget in half for groceries, I'm wondering if there is a way around this?

Or this:

It appears that you have frozen many items in the dish that they will ultimately be baked in; do you purchase additional dishes just for freezing? do you use foil pans? do you just own a billion more dishes than I do? I'm just curious as to your freezer storage method – not so much the wrap in foil/use a freezer bag, but do you use all your dishes and how do you fit them all in your freezer along with milk, butter, etc. that you seem to stock up on and freeze throughout the month?

For a number of months, I've just pretty much avoided these questions because I didn't really know what you'd think of me if I answered them. But I decided this Freezer Cooking Day it was high time I come clean on this whole freezing thing and what I do.

Are you ready for this?

I have no idea what I'm doing. Seriously. There really is no precise method to my madness; I just work with what I have and do the best I know how.

I'm not much of a "follow-the-directions" kind of gal (which is one reason I have a very hard time following recipes exactly!) so it's rather comical anyone is coming to me for advice–especially when it comes to cooking. I have a long history of flopped dinners. In fact, growing up, many of my family members were afraid to eat anything I made for fear of what it might taste like or be made of.

Practice has provided much progress in my cooking abilities, but I still have huge room for improvement. And as far as freezing goes, I'm just learning as I go.

So I'm probably not the person to go to if you're looking for specific and detailed instructions on how to freeze food. But I hope that my admission encourages you: it doesn't take much skill or knowledge or know-how to make up food for your freezer. It just takes some energy, some perseverance, and the willingness to make a few mistakes along the way!

Of course, I think it's helpful to check out books from your library on freezer cooking (you can see a few of my favorites here). But I think book-learning is almost always trumped by hands-on learning.

Now that I've confessed I don't know what I'm doing, here are the answers to your questions as far as what I do when it comes to freezing: I usually freeze half of the meals in the pans they'll be cooked in and half the meals in freezer bags laid flat (to conserve space). I usually try to use the meals in pans first as they are more prone to freezer burn. But I've rarely had a problem with this so long as they are sealed well.

I sometimes use a few foil pans–if I have some on hand–but most often, I just use freezer bags and glass or metal pans. I don't have a huge collection of pans (I'm a minimalist, remember?), but since I won't be doing much cooking because most of our meals are already made and frozen, I can tie up most of my pans for a little while without even missing them. I do try to make sure I set aside at least two pans of some sort since I usually have something or other I have to cook each week!

This is what works for me and for our family. It may not work at all for you or yours so please do what works for you. Amy has a post here with a freezing method that works for her. If you're the type who needs to have a detailed freezing tutorial, I'm sure they are out there. I've just never taken the time to look! (I take that back. I just did a quick search and found many different tutorials, including this one which is rather comprehensive.)

Think you're up for some cooking ahead (and I hope this week inspired you to save time and money by doing so!)? Don't be intimidated! Just start small, make a plan, work the plan, and learn as you go. You'll improve a little bit each time until you're soon an accomplished Freezer Cooking Pro!

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Who says you have to have a big deep freeze to cook ahead? I don't! You know all the meals I made earlier this week? All 21 dinners plus 14 breakfasts? That's them all stashed in my over-the-fridge freezer along with some frozen veggies and bread. Get creative with your freezer space and you can probably do a lot more with it than you once thought possible! I know that's certainly been the case for me!

Wondering how you can pull off Freezer Cooking on a budget?

Frugalfriday

Were you inspired to try your hand at Freezer Cooking this week but skeptical as to whether it's possible to do on a budget? FishMama shares tips for Freezer Cooking on the Cheap for her Frugal Friday post today.

Just for the record, everything I used to make my meals this week was well within our $40/week grocery budget. Best of all? We've yet to even touch any of the grocery money for the month of November–and I already have a freezer full of meals! Which means–you guessed it!–I'll even have more wiggle room to stock up this month on bulk purchases (and maybe even to splurge on some more healthful ingredients–like the coconut oil I've been eyeing for the past few months!).

Truly bulk-buying and bulk-cooking are allowing us to eat much more healthfully on a very slim grocery budget. It's taken some practice and time to get there, but that practice and time is starting to really pay off.

Freezer Cooking Day: The final results (and come link up your posts, too!)

I made it to the end of the list. Well, okay, not quite, but it's the end of the day so I'm calling it quits.

Compared to FishMama's accomplishments, it looks like I didn't do much at all these past two days. But she's pretty much Superwoman's clone, so I won't feel badly (I used to live in the same town as her and have spent lots of time with her and she's every bit as amazing as she seems on her blog–even moreso in real-life!).

Here's the fruit of around eight hours of labor:

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Here are the final tallies along with links to the recipes:

2 dozen Whole Wheat Waffles
2 dozen Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins
2 dinners' worth Freezer Mashed Potatoes
2 batches Granola
3 dinners' worth of Turkey Meatballs
3 dinners' worth of Slow Cooked Pepper Steak
3 dinners' worth of Farmhouse Chicken
8 dinners' worth of Chicken Tetrazinni (I made two different varieties since we really like this!)
4 dinners' worth of Chicken Broccoli Rice

All in all, we now have 21 dinners in our freezer plus at least 14 breakfasts and some snacks and sides. That will most certainly cover our dinners for the next month (and we still have some meals leftover from last month's Freezer Cooking Day!) plus a number of breakfasts, too. What a great feeling!

Freezer cooking is not for the faint of heart. It's a lot of work and I won't be lying one bit when I say that there's a point in the middle of every Freezer Cooking Day that I wonder what on earth I've gotten myself into. But it is worth persevering through as it saves me so much time, energy, and effort the rest of the month.

In fact, I rarely cook much during the month outside of my Freezer Cooking Day! And we eat out a whole lot less when our freezer's full, too. So it saves me lots of mental thought and physical labor the rest of the month and it also saves us a lot of money, too.

Things I learned from this month's Freezer Cooking Day:

::Always double-check to make sure you have more than enough ingredients on hand (so you're not trying to make a big batch of granola without oats!)

::Don't try to do other things on Freezer Cooking Day. Cooking a month's worth of meals is enough work for one day. Sigh. Why do I always have to learn these things the hard way?

::It's better for me to start early in the morning instead of waiting until the afternoon. Otherwise, I run out of steam way before I run out of recipes I'm supposed to cook.

::And in the same vein, I think it works better for me to do all the cooking on one day instead of breaking it up over two days.

I'm making a game plan for next month's Freezer Cooking Day based upon the successes and failures I had the past two days and looking forward to implementing it the first week in December when FishMama and I plan to hold another Freezer Cooking Day.

But for now? I have a very messy kitchen to attend to.

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Did you have a chance to do any baking or cooking this week? If so, post about it
on your blog and leave your link below to your direct blog post. I'd
love it especially if you could share pictures and recipes so we can get ideas for our next Freezer Cooking Day! And I'm guessing many
others would be inspired as well.