At the end of February I succeeded in prepping 24 dinners for the month of March and putting them in our huge deep freezer. It was my first real freezer cooking session, and part of why I did it was to see if it would save us money and time. Here’s what I found:
It was a TON of work.
It took me almost a month of planning out everything exactly the way I wanted it. I’m sure this isn’t typical, because it was my first time doing it, but it was a lot of stress. I don’t know why I chose to do a lot of items that required multiple uses of the bread machine/slow cooker; I made 4 batches of pizza dough, and each run takes an hour to make! I’m not hands-on the entire hour, but that’s 4 hours of staying home just waiting for the first batch to get done so I could start the rest. I also had to time everything so that I only did one slow cooker meal per day for the 3 days I did the cooking.
I also chose to cook on a weekend I knew I’d be busy, which was a dumb move. That Saturday I had to be at church from 2:30-6:30, and then again Sunday morning from 7:30-12:00, and then a meeting Sunday night. If I do this again, I’m freeing up my entire weekend.
It really did save us money.
For almost 2 months prior to the cooking session, I lowered our grocery bill by $10 each week to help pay for all the up-front costs of the freezer meals. By doing that, I was able to pay for all the food with that money, which left us with our month’s worth of regular grocery expenses to spend on side items and other stock-up items. It was so awesome being able to stock our pantry while knowing we already had dinner in the freezer!
Another way it saved us money was through batch cooking and making our own “pre-made” items. One example is the pizza sauce; ever since I tried this recipe, I can’t ever buy store-bought sauce again. It makes enough for 4-5 pizza nights and then some, and the entire recipe costs less than $3.00. Another example is bread/English muffins. I always hated paying $3.00 for a 6-pack of muffins, so I found out how to make my own and for $3.00 I can triple what you can find in a regular pack at the store. This also goes along with the above that it’s a lot of work, but it saves money in the end!
It saved a lot of time during the dinner hour.
Every evening, around 4:15, I start dinner, usually letting Allison watch TV. It’s not usually a huge deal, but I hate recipes that have a lot of ingredients and steps, because it just takes forever; the first two that come to mind are enchiladas and pasta bakes. By doing all this work beforehand, all I have to do is make sure dinner’s thawed, turn on the oven, and stick it in! Almost zero effort, and I don’t have to worry about what Allison might be getting into while I’m cooking.
What I’ll do next time
I’m already starting the “next time”, both this past weekend and all this week. I, like a dummy, scheduled a freezer cooking session on the same weekend as my weekend at church; and EASTER weekend, to boot! So a lot of the stuff I planned on doing is getting pushed to this week. Next Monday you’ll have a full report of this mini-cooking session!
If I do a full month of dinners again, here’s what I’ll do differently:
- Use simpler recipes. I’ll save all the bread machine recipes for days when I don’t have a lot to do. Otherwise, during my freezer cooking sessions, I’m going for simplicity; so, more “dump” slow cooker meals where I just dump everything into a bag and freeze, and more batch cooking of the same meal. Pasta bakes are pretty good at making multiple meals!
- Spend less time planning. I can’t believe I spent a month doing the last one. I think it’s because I spent 20 minutes here, 20 minutes there, planning everything, and I just got stressed. Next time, I’ll schedule a one-hour session to just sit down and plan it all, and just forget about it until the time comes.
All in all, I’m very happy with how everything turned out! I can only imagine how time-saving it can be for working parents and those with kids in sports and other evening activities… and stay-at-home parents with multiple kids. =) If any of you have tips to share for next time, leave me a comment!