At the beginning of November, I knew I had a lot of writing projects and other responsibilities. And I knew that I wouldn't have time to make meals from scratch every night. So, I decided to try making meals ahead of time and freezing them. Turns out, I love it! Every night, I knew what was for dinner and I just checked the menu in the morning to make sure I thawed what needed thawing.
When I started out, I chose to make simple meals, not meals that needed recipes. I knew that if I made it too complicated, I wouldn't stick with it. My November menu included things like tacos, lasagna, chicken enchiladas, stirfry, and meat loaf. If the meal involved meat that needed browning, I browned and seasoned it and then froze it in meal-sized containers. I made two meatloafs and froze them in the loaf pans. I baked a bunch of chicken breasts and cubed them up for stir fry and shredded some for enchiladas. I browned steaks and cubed them for chili and beef stew. At the end of the day, I had at least 25 meals worth in the freezer.
In planning my menu, I just printed a blank monthly calendar off the internet and then had my day planner with me as I scheduled meals. That way, if we had a meal somewhere else, I could pencil that in and didn't need to cook. Or if there was a night I'd be away from home, I wrote frozen pizza on so my guys would have a quick meal (I also froze several homemade pizzas).
Once I had the menu planned, then I thought through each item to see which ingredients needed to be added to the shopping list. I do one big monthly shopping since we get paid once a month. On the first Saturday of the month, I had a cooking day.
Last month, I found that I swapped meals around a few times based on our schedule changes. And that worked great!
This month, I'm keeping it simple again. Maybe next month I'll try a few recipes that involve more complicated cooking. I can only wonder why I didn't try this a long time ago!
We don't eat out very often, so we're home most evenings. Believe it or not, my grocery bill for an entire month for a family of four is around $250 (avg $75 per week) and I don't use many coupons. Between Sam's Club bulk stuff and Aldi, I can get most of our food. I get a few things at Wal-Mart and a few things at a local grocery store and I often shop for what's on special. For the most part, it's cooking from scratch versus boxed meals that saves the money. I also find that making one big trip to the grocery store is cheaper than weekly stops when I'm likely to pick up things we don't need.
There are some helpful websites that have tips for getting started on freezer meals. I'm still discovering more of them. Here are a few:
- Once a Month Mom - steps for getting started
- Frugal Mom - 7 easy steps to freezer cooking
- Musings from a Mom - Freezer Meal Swap
- Make-Ahead Meals for Busy Moms
If you're already a make-ahead meal person, we'd love to hear your favorite dishes that freeze well.