My daughter was invited to a tea party today, and I had the chance to visit with a very dear friend of mine who has just started working full-time after being a stay-at-home mom for almost a decade. She is very grateful for the blessing of this job, but tired. Caring for two children, a house, working full-time, taking kids to activities, helping with homework, and cooking dinner is exhausting. She told me they ate out every night last week, but knows this can’t continue, and would rather have her own home cooked meals. I gave her some advice I’ll share with you as well.
Planning is essential in putting dinner on the table every night. Hopefully you are not going to the store and paying full price for dinner ingredients, so you have to allow time for things like meat to thaw. First you need to write out a plan. Here is a free printable weekly menu planner. Start by seeing what’s already in your pantry and refrigerator. Then move on to the sale ads. If you don’t have any recipe ideas on hand, check out an ingredient search like this one from Supercook, or this one from Allrecipes.com. The goal is to make meals by both rotating your stock, and buying only what is on sale as much as possible.
By implementing good time management in the kitchen, you will have the biggest yield for the smallest amount of work. Think about recipes that freeze well, and double the recipe. Eat one dish that night, and stash the other in the freezer. Casseroles, baked pastas, and grilled chicken are all great examples of things that freeze well. I do not cook casseroles before freezing. You may wish to buy disposable pans for the freezer meals. If you have a vacuum sealer, you have a good advantage in no-fuss freezer meals. With vacuum sealed foods, you can employ the boil-in-the bag method. The food doesn’t cook, it gets heated. You just throw the bag away, and if you eat off paper plates you have no mess. You can vacuum seal grilled meats, pastas, vegetables, and a myriad of other foods with fantastic results. The food tastes like it was just cooked. By doubling recipes, you do meal planning, cooking, and dishes once, for two meals. I also do this with baked goods like pumpkin bread. One for breakfast that week, and one for the freezer. Make a double batch of cookie dough and freeze half.
You can also freeze raw meat in marinades. Here is a trick I used recently when boneless chicken breasts went on sale for $1.69 a pound – – before I went to the store, I put three gallon bags in a bowl, with the bag tops turned down so the sealing part of the bag stayed clean. I made three different quick marinades and put them in the bags. I went to the store, and when I came home I opened the package and put the chicken right in the bags, and sealed them up for the freezer. Three main protein choices for dinner done in minutes. I freeze my soups, meat in marinades, and many other items flat on a cookie sheet. After they are frozen, I remove the cookie sheet and have a space efficient, flat bag of food.
To make things even easier, you can also opt to bag up all the elements of a meal and freeze. Label the bag so you don’t have to go ripping it open trying to see what’s inside. This is a taco kit I froze, which includes tortillas, cooked taco meat, cooked beans, cheese, and avocado puree.
You can also think of simple things to bag up like kielbasa, frozen fries, and rolls. Bag it up, and on dinner night just throw the kielbasa on the grill, fries in the oven and open a bag of salad. Not the healthiest thing, but put some meals like that in your freezer simply for ease, because if you aren’t prepared you might end up eating fast food anyway. Mix it up.
Eating out these days is expensive, and for us is a planned outing used for entertainment, not a meal solution. Stock your freezer full of meals to save yourself time and money.