5 days in: freezer cooking updates and observations

I posted about my freezer cooking for Advent a week ago.  For those who missed the post, here it is.  The gist was that I was embarking on a cooking adventure to make enough food to feed my family until Christmas beginning on November 15, the first day of Eastern Orthodox Advent.  This would give me ample time to do all the other 3,000 things on my to-do list without having to stress about meals.

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majudara (lentils and rice with caramelized onions)

The post apparently resonated with y’all, and I even had a reader prepare a spreadsheet with shopping lists and recipes.  I’m so jealous of her organizational skill! I think the idea is appealing to my fellow homemakers for the same reason it was to me: we want to spend the Nativity season focused on our families and on the other things we need to do.  Not on daily cooking.

Although this blog is dedicated to my Grandmothers and how they inspire me daily, I never knew of mine cooking in this way. (Although Mudder [Geraldine] was known for “putting up” plenty of veggies and prepared items from her garden.)  My grandmothers were full-time homemakers.  They didn’t have other full-time jobs in addition to their homemaking like modern women., so ease of cooking wasn’t the same type of priority as it is for my fellow homemakers. This style of cooking would have made them proud.  It is frugal, feeds my family healthy meals, and allows more time for me to spend with the people who matter.

We started eating the meals on Sunday and I finished up the cooking on Monday morning with a final sprint through the last 4 meals.  Wow.  I honestly didn’t know that seeing a full freezer could feel so incredible.  I opened it up several times throughout the day just to admire my work.

fatayar (lebanese spinach pies)
fatayar (lebanese spinach pies)

The feeling of having a freezer full of meals was topped only with the realization that I didn’t need to do any dinner prep on the first night.  I’m accustomed to the feeling of dread around 4:30 when I think “do I have everything I need for dinner?  I should really get started on it”.

Of course, the argument can also be made that I could just plan ahead for my meals.  Meal planing is wonderful.  Don’t get me wrong, I love when I’ve planned our meals.  But there is a certain level of crazy around the 4:30-6:00 hour around here.  Partially because my threenager is going through a phase and is severely grumpy and tantrum-y following his afternoon nap.  Also, since I provide in-home childcare, I’m sending babies home in the afternoon and evening and some days I can’t make it into the kitchen for more than 5 minutes without interruptions or various things on my to-do list to get children ready to leave.

Increasingly, dinner became almost impossible for me to prepare in the afternoons.  This was so incredibly frustrating for me since homemaking is kind of my thing and I work from home for goodness sake! There is no good reason I shouldn’t be able to cook, right?  But I still struggled for a while and this freezer cooking became a viable solution.

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byzantine lentil stew with fresh pita and lemons

We’ve eaten a few of the meals, and they’re all delicious.  Probably even more delicious because I’m not bone tired when I finally sit down to eat.  It’s a nice feeling to just pop a casserole in the oven or warm a soup on the stove without having to think.

Here are a few observations:

  • Thawing: I mentioned in the first post to thaw bagged foods in a bowl or pan so that they don’t leak.  I’ve already learned how true that advice is.  Thank you, baking pan for containing all the leaking and melted lentil soup!
  • Cooking in “spurts”: I never had a day devoted to cooking, although it would have been nice! I just didn’t have a day off.  I spent probably 5 different occasions cooking for an hour and a half or two hours at a time.  It wasn’t really too exhausting.
  • Twice as nice: I learned that it doesn’t really take any longer to make double of a recipe than it does to make one, save for the extra time spend dicing and chopping a few extra veggies.  The cooking time isn’t longer and the cleanup certainly isn’t harder.  So, cooking double of the 15 recipes made the task feel a little more manageable.
  • One meal at a time: If you don’t have the time to power through this scale of freezer cooking, I would suggest making duplicates of your dinners for a few weeks and storing them away to help with the crush of time around Christmas.  If you make double meals for two weeks, then you’ll have 14 extra meals for the crazy days.
  • $200 total: I didn’t keep meticulous records about my shopping.  I also happened to use a few pantry items.  But, according to my estimates, I spent around $200 total to make meals for my family for 40 days.  That is incredible.  Obviously I will still do some shopping for extras throughout the season of Advent, but I don’t plan on spending very much more on groceries.  And that gives me an amazing sense of freedom during a time of year when money can be a little tight.
  • Dry beans: I found that cooking dry beans helped to cut costs.  Several of the meals had beans as a main ingredient.  To cook a pound of dry beans I place them in a slow cooker filled to the top with water.  I then add 1-2 tablespoons of salt and cook on low for 10-12 hours.  I don’t soak the beans, although you’re more than welcome to do so.  I’ve never had an issue with un-soaked beans.
  • Tiny freezer- big meal selection: A huge freezer is definitely not a necessity.  Mine is a smallish side-by side freezer/fridge combo that has a broken ice maker.  The ice maker issue means that I have 1/4 of the freezer dedicated to my ice cube trays.  But, thankfully, space is not an issue. And I had plenty of space to throw in a few more Costco items after a trip yesterday.
  • Sides: Making a side dish (or some bread from my beloved “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day”) has been simple to do.  Having the main dish complete actually frees me up to make our meals a little more well-rounded. Adding some bulk to the meals also allows us to make more than one meal from the original frozen meal.
  • Lunches: We usually eat leftovers for lunches and the meals have been large enough to make extras.   I also have individual items (like burritos, black bean burgers, and the spinach pies) that will make for grab-able lunches if we’re running low on leftovers.
  • The master list: I’ve made a master list that’s prominently placed on the fridge.  I’m marking the meals off of the list as they’re consumed.  This will keep us from eating the same type of foods in a row and will give me a handle on what’s still left in the freezer.
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side 1 of the “master list” of freezer meals

I’ve been pleasantly surprised that this sort of cooking has worked really well for us.  I’ll update again in the future.  I think I’ve learned a valuable method to save myself some precious time.

I hope these tips are helpful to you and your family.  I’ve had fun preparing the meals and have never felt quite so accomplished.  It’s been fun to discuss tips and tricks with my readers.  I’m impressed with all you’ve all done to embark on this cooking experiment with me. I truly can’t wait to hear more about your experiences.

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