I'm sure you've heard that it's wise to cook a bunch of meals and freeze them so that after your baby's born, all you or your spouse has to do is pop some pre-made food into the oven or microwave for a quick dinner.
The issue is, not everyone knows how to do that. I struggle to feed us fresh food that is edible, much less enjoyable, and the idea of actually preparing in advance, freezing foods, and hoping they taste good a month later is downright intimidating. It's no surprise that I didn't do this.
However, since it is such a good idea, and is something you can do at any time just to help ease your workload, I went looking for some freeze ahead dinner tips so even the kitchen inept can do more now so you have time to spend with your new baby ... and naps when you can sneak them in.
There's some basics you need before you get started:
- Heavy-duty freezer bags and foil: You can store your meals until you're ready to reheat. Double-bag soups and stews, just in case.
- Ingredients bought in bulk: When cooking in bulk, buying in bulk saves money, and effort. Two giant cans of beans trump the same amount in eight little ones.
- Large pots and mixing bowls: Since you're making large batches, you need large tools!
- Food processor: You don't want to be chopping or grating by hand when you're doing large batches.
So, that part seems simple. That I can do. It's when you start the planning that I go into panic mode. So many of the websites I looked at base every single meal around some meat that they recommend you buy in bulk. I prefer to only eat meat a couple times a week, so that doesn't work too well for me, but if you're a "it's not dinner without something dead" type of person, one website suggests you choose three meats that are on sale and buy them in bulk, then start planning meals that feature that particular ingredient.
SuperCook has this great feature where you can enter all ingredients you have and it'll list all the recipes that use what you've got. Using similar ingredients for different meals can save a lot of money and effort, and with a wide variety of recipes, you can still ensure that not all meals taste the same.
Once you have an idea of what you want, grocery shop in person or online. "Process" ingredients right away: If you've got a big roast, for example, cook it, serve it for dinner with some mashed potatoes, then clean off the meat. Do all "slicing" tasks (such as onions, celery, etc.) that you're going to want, then saute all your onions or simmer all your tomatoes for your different recipes. The idea is that you're cooking all your meals for the next week or even month all at once, so allot a full day or so for this. Make little "stations" on your kitchen table for different meals, so you can put all the ingredients together for each thing as they become ready. Consider writing each recipe on a notecard to set up at it's "station" so you can check things off as you add them.
Whew. I know this seems overwhelming. Well, maybe just to me. Cooking is a frantic dance of disaster in my house. There are some other suggestions for the same idea, but in a more simplistic way: when you're cooking dinner, make way too much. If you do lasagna, set out two pans, cook one for that night, but cover the other with foil and stick it in the freezer. If you make pasta sauce, spoon some into freezer containers before you serve dinner (especially helpful for portion control, so your husband doesn't use up all the sauce you were planning on using next week). Put a whiteboard on the front of your freezer and write down each thing and the date you stuck it in there. Simply erase it when you take it out to eat it. Then there's no "Oh man, I forgot about that!" unpleasant surprises next time you dig deep into the freezer.
Hopefully this gives you some ideas for places to start. Whether you're getting ready to have a baby or are just tired of cooking every night, this seems like a time and money-saving choice, though I'm concerned about my lack of freezer room, despite the promises that a little organization (hah!) goes a long way. Hopefully, all the work is worth it and you take one thing off your shoulders when your new baby arrives. You could also ask family and friends to maybe bring a dish when they come to see the new baby, so your frozen stash goes even further and you get a wide variety of food!
Can share some more insightful tips to help those of us who are culinary-challenged?
Image via lisaclarke/Flickr