I recently shared about our regular Baking Days (see posts here, here, here, and here if you missed those posts) and many of you were interested in doing something similar. Michelle's guest post below is packed with tips to help you get started using your freezer and cooking from scratch to save money. Enjoy!
Guest Post by Michelle from Leaving Excess
I have always enjoyed cooking and baking from scratch. In my quest to be more frugal, I have been able to utilize my kitchen
enthusiasm to prepare wholesome food for my family; adding convenience by
making mixes ahead of time or freezing foods to use later. This helps me
to save money by not buying reducing the need for prepackaged convenience foods
or needing to rely on fast food or take-out meals during our often busy
weekdays and weekends.
Recently, many manufacturers have been putting
less product in the same package and still charging the same. The stakes
on the game of feeding your family for less just got higher. The
following are my tips for using your kitchen to save you money.
Tip #1: Work ahead. I love to cook. But I do not love to cook when I am under the gun to prepare dinner in a
hurry. Taking time to plan out meals and prepare the foods we will be
eating during the week ahead saves me a lot of time, headache, and money.
example: I recently committed to making all of our bread at home. The bread machine is a convenient way for me to mix the dough (which I prefer
to bake in the oven), but sometimes even measuring all the ingredients feels
like too much to fit into my busy day.
I now mix together the dry ingredients to our
family’s favorite bread recipe up ahead of time and store it in the
cupboard. When I need a loaf, I just put in the wet ingredients and yeast
and press a button. That makes it more manageable for me.
In addition, it saves me time because it is easier to measure the ingredients out five times, put
them in individual containers and be done that to drag the ingredients out five
different times. I also do this for our brownies,
cookies, quick breads, pizza dough, etc.
Tip #2: Make Extra. When I make a dish
for my family that can be frozen, I always make two. I have all the
ingredients out, so why not? In the end, you save time, mess and
Simply make two of the same dish and wrap one for the
freezer. You can put the dish into a freezer bag, work the excess air
out, zip the bag, and put it into another bag and do the same. You can
also use disposable baking pans, cover the top of the dish in plastic
wrap, and then cover the top again in foil.
This works well for
casseroles, meat with sauces, and marinades. For a marinade, I make two
batches at once, use the first, and store the second in a freezer bag (double
wrap as described above). When you are ready to use the marinade, simply
put the frozen meat in with the frozen sauce (in the bag) and store in your
refrigerator for a few days. As the meat thaws, it will absorb the
marinade. Turn the bag once or twice a day to evenly distribute the
marinade. Be cautious when freezing casseroles, as dishes with uncooked
potatoes, sour cream or mayonnaise do not freeze well.
Another wonderful thing to make extra of is cookie
dough. I usually make a double batch, bake one batch, and then freeze the
There are two ways to freeze the dough. First, you can make
the remaining dough into logs (about 12 cookies per log, so if your batch makes
3 dozen, make 3 logs), wrap the log in plastic wrap, wrap again in foil and
freeze. When you are ready to bake, you can slice the log into disks and
bake the cookies that way.
The other way is to use a scoop to make balls
of dough. Place the balls of dough close together on a baking sheet and store
in the freezer (uncovered) for about 1-2 hours, or until hard. Once the
dough is hard, place the dough balls into a freezer bag and double wrap the bag
into another freezer bag (being sure to remove excess air).
Freezing the cookies individually first prevents the dough
from freezing to itself and being one big clump. That way, you can take
out just as many as you need at one time.
I do this with hamburger
patties, freezing them individually, then store them in a bag until we need
them. Read the details here.
I also do this with waffles, making a double batch and freezing the extras to
be popped into the toaster on busy mornings. Read about that here.
Making extra muffins (our favorites are Banana Chocolate Chip and Zucchini),
packaging them individual, and freezing them makes mornings much easier. Simply toss a bag of muffins into your bag, and by the time you get to work or
school, the muffins will thawed and ready to eat.
When freezing, but sure
to label and date each item, so that you can find what you need, see what you
have and use what you have before it goes bad.
Tip #3: Preserve Nature’s Bounty. Have
you ever seen those convenience bags of pre-chopped frozen onions or
peppers? You can easily do this
for yourself during the peak of the season.
When you find a great sale on
onions, stock up, and freeze some for later. I like to prepare mine a
couple of different ways: I like to chop some to be used in casseroles or
sauces and I like to slice some to be used in stir-frys or on hamburgers and
Follow the same directions above for freezing cookie dough balls:
lay out the onions in a single layer on a baking sheet (you may want to cover
onions to prevent the smell from taking over your freezer!), freeze until
frozen, and then pour into bags and double wrap. That way, you can take
what you need and not have to fight a big clump of frozen mess. Read more
about freezing onions here.
This tip works beautifully for red, yellow, and green peppers
(ones destined for cooked dishes); woody herbs such as thyme and rosemary; and
fruits such as blueberries and strawberries (for baking or smoothies). Again,
you will want to label and date your bounty, so you can find and use the
food before it expires, generally about 3–6 months for fresh produce,
assuming a zero grade freezer and well packaged foods.
Tip #4: Prepare In Advance. Sometimes it is
just not physically possible to get home and get a meal ready all at the same
time. On those days, I rely on my crock pot to have a hot, nutritious
meal waiting for me at the end of a long day. I prepare what I can the
night before, chopping vegetables, opening cans of tomatoes or beans, and
assembling the dish in the crock pot bowl before storing it in our refrigerator
In the morning, I finish any last minute details and set the
bowl into the cooking unit and let it go to work. Often, I prepare rice
in the rice cooker using the delayed function to accompany the crock pot
meal. It is such a relief to know that dinner is already done on those
busy days! For more crock pot tips and links to hundreds of recipes for
the crock pot, read this post here.
Even on days when I am home, I notice that my stress level
is much lower when I have menus planned out for the week in advance. Not
having to scramble to figure out what is for dinner makes all the difference in
It also enables me to look in my freezer and pantry and see what
needs to be used. I can then plan my meals around those items, to be sure
I am wisely and efficiently using the foods that I have taken the time and
money to prepare ahead of time. When I know I am using chicken in two
days, I can take it out to thaw in the refrigerator so that I am ready to go
once the dinner hour strikes.
Finally, I would like to share that preparing foods in
advance and using the freezer may be heading into the unknown for you, but it
is not hard to do. If you have specific questions, feel free to leave a
comment on my blog, here on this post, or do a search online with the ingredient
you want to freeze or store in the search title. Just put one foot in
front of the other and enjoy the journey!
Michelle is a CPA, turned stay at home mom to four,
turned somewhere in between. She challenges the excesses that society
tells us we need and experiments with living a simple, uncluttered life on her
daily blog, Leaving Excess.