Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Don't Panic Dinner is in the Freezer!

***This is the presentation that I did at our church on Freezer/Bulk cooking in November***

I think in our busy lives we know that it is important to eat and eat well, but we want to find ways to make it easier and quicker and cheaper, without a lot of stress…is that right? 
Let me start by asking you a question…Are you a type A person? I am!  A Type A individual is ambitious, rigidly organized, highly status conscious, can be sensitive (I can’t believe they would write that about me), care for other people, are truthful, impatient, always try to help others, take on more than they can handle, want other people to get to the point, proactive, and obsessed with time management. People with Type A personalities are often high-achieving "workaholics" who multi-task, push themselves with deadlines, and hate delays. So now…how many type A’s do we have??  

There is something you need to know about this process -  YOU will need to let go of some of your perfectionism…I’ll let you know when I get to those parts…I am a type A too…and learning to get over some things has really helped me out in the world of cooking.  I think a lot of us don’t want to cook because we are impatient, took on more than we can handle, we are sensitive – don’t want people to not like our cooking. We don’t want to mess it up…we don’t want to deal with the mess.  I promise I will get to the point -  I know you type A people are already reading ahead. 

If you are anything like a normal person, you may look like this  after a day of trying to cook.

The bad news is that you will still look like this after you cook even after you learn these tips, but the good news is – it will be less often.  Even if you are a type A person you will look like this after a day of cooking – if you truly let go - and I know that in your perfectionism you are not happy about this, but that’s the way it is so be more like a type B and get over it!.   No matter how much of a type A organized you are…your kitchen will look like this…

 And this...

 …when are done.  But do not fear…it won’t last long and then you will get some much needed down time if you can let go!

I am going to show you how if you take a little extra time up front, that you will have a lot free time in the end by cooking things in advance and freezing them.  We are going to look at:

  • how we can be more efficient in the kitchen
  • how to make our meal times less stressful
  • how to save money
  • how to eat better

But first we are going to look at what the bible says about food. 

The bible says a lot about food…down to which types of animals and plants we can eat.  Food is a common theme in the bible…one of the first verses of the bible revolve around the woman and food.  You can’t even count the number of times there are feasts, breaking bread together, and fellowshipping together with food.  If you think about it, when you have someone over, what do you with them usually?  You eat…whether that be a whole meal or just dessert or coffee, our time spent with others usually revolves around food.  

For most women, the thought of food or cooking, can be very overwhelming.    What do we make?  How do we make it?  And when am I going to have time to cook a meal?  This is one duty in the household that usually falls on the woman’s shoulders.  And it’s an important one…if we don’t eat, we can’t function.  If we eat poorly, it can effect our attitudes and our waist lines.  So for most of us a lot of thought is given into what we make and put into our mouths and into the mouths of others.  If you think about it…meal preparing is one of our biggest responsibilities usually.  We have to worry about what our family will eat – 3 times a day!
God says in his word “that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” Duet 8:3.  

I don’t know about you but I can’t remember the words from the mouth of the Lord if I haven’t put the bread in first.  If we haven’t eaten, we aren’t at our best.  In fact, I say not very nice things when I haven’t eaten!  We need the food to survive…we need food to function.  When I thought about meal time, I knew that we all needed this in order to be our best.  That’s why people bring you meals when you have a new baby in the house – because they know we can’t be our best to that baby, if we haven’t eaten.  If we have food, at least in my family, we can do just about anything…and if we have God we CAN do anything.   

Proverbs 31:15  "She rises while it is yet night and provides food for her household and portions for her maidens."

I know this sounds horrible (waking up before it is light out)…it might not mean this for everyone but if we are feeling led in that direction and we obey, we will see blessing from that.  This might not be a command from God but it’s in his word for a purpose.  He knows that if we do get up early and prepare in this way, the rest of our day will go a lot smoother.

Here is some "food" for thought…my devotion on this subject, actually has little to do with food…but has a lot to do with what God has called us to do.  When I started cooking and doing bulk cooking, I would not have called that my “spiritual gift”.  But sometimes its not about what is our gift, but what is our command from God.  I have heard a lot of excuses about why we don’t cook and a lot of women just say “it’s not how I am wired”…or basically that “I am just not a good cook”.  I’d say like with anything, cooking is something that comes easier and better the more you do it – it takes practice.  For some people it’s a natural thing but for others they have to work at it.  But the bible does say we should serve…and just because we might not be good at something, doesn’t mean we get to get out of it.  When you look at cooking as something God called us to do for our families, you will look at it with a new perspective…maybe even an urgency to share and serve in ways you never knew before. 

When you bulk cook like I am going to show you…it’s going to be messy…it may cost more up front – time and money…but the outcome you get in the end is peace.  Peace that there are completed meals in your freezer.  You will treasure them like little bags of gold.  It’s easier to open your home and invite people over when you know you have things in the freezer.  Or better yet, you’ll be more likely to not complain about preparing meals when you haven’t had to do it in awhile. 

Kelly Minter, author of several bible studies, discusses her experiences in canning tomatos in her bible study of the book of Nehemiah.  If you have ever canned you know how time consuming and risky this process is.  Although she discovers that it cost her more to can the tomatos than to buy them at the store, she realizes that canning was more important to her.  She says “It took some analyzing to discover, but the real reason I started canning is because I’m deeply relational.  In the end, Canning was about dinner and dinner was about conversation and community and togetherness.”  That’s really what dinner is all about right?  She compares this to Nehemiah in the rebuilding of the temple.  She talks about all the people who join Nehemiah in the rebuilding of the temple – young, rich, city folk, farmers, old, rulers, servants, merchants, priests, and women.  She says “Because the trip he is about to take to Jerusalem was never really about stones or gates but about the community those fortification would protect.  Be it canning tomatos or building walls, its all about the people”.  So let’s do this…it’s all about the people – the people in our family, the people who need meals (new moms, an ill friend, etc), and the people we will want to invite into our homes and feed.

My story

I started bulking when my oldest child was born…so about 5 years ago.  I took about 5 months off of work when she was born but I knew when I went back to work, it would be hard to juggle and I asked myself the question “What is the one thing I could do now that will make it easier to go back to work in a few months?”  The only thing I could come up with was meals.  I couldn’t clean in advance because it would just get dirty again…I couldn’t work out in advance, because I would still need to work out then…I couldn’t catch up on sleep.  But I could make meals and freeze them.  I started with just basic recipes that we ate and liked on a regular basis…lasagna…soups…casseroles…but this evolved into breakfast, lunch and dinner – even though now I stay home!  Back then I cooked on the weekend when my husband could help me with the baby and I still do that today even though my kids are 5 and 4.  Currently I cook about 10 hours a month and try to do that all in one weekend…preparing all our meals – breakfasts, lunch and dinners at one time. Then the rest of the month, I can plan out what we will eat each week by looking at the freezer and the calendar and thawing things out on Sunday nights.  Ours probably lasts longer than a month because we mix our frozen meals in with things we put on the grill and easily prepared meals like meatloaf and spaghetti.

Benefits of bulk cooking:
Meaty benefits:
Saves time;.Cooking all at one time, having meals in your freezer for the week/month
        Who thinks dinner time is the most chaotic time of the day? (if you aren’t prepared).  I do most of my cooking on the weekend when my spouse is able to watch the kids or during nap time so that it doesn’t stress me out with the kids in the room or taking time away from them
Less stress; Relaxing/quality time with family on the nights you don’t have to cook
I have less stress on the nights that I don’t have to cook. 
Variation; A variety of meals in your freezer that you can choose – made by a friend (if you do a dinner co-op)
Clean kitchen; Enjoy a clean kitchen most of the time
Saves money; buying meat when it goes on sale, stocking up on side items with coupons. Going out to eat less often.
Not thinking about what to have for dinner; Go to your freezer and lay it out the night before.
Organizes your schedule ; putting meals on your calendar or saving for hectic days. Or save them for hectic days. Still have to kind of plan because you have to thaw most of them.  Be flexible…if you don‘t go by what’s on the calendar, no big deal…just something  to go by.
Eating healthier – not eating out as much, eating healthier foods

Okay, so what’s a dinner co-op? (this info was in a prior post but I used it in my presentation)
Also known as “cooking co-ops,” “supper clubs,” and “supper swaps,” a dinner co-op can take any number of shapes and forms, but the basic idea is that a group of people cook for each other -- allowing everyone to eat more home-cooked food but saving time (and often saving money) in the process.  For more info on dinner co-ops please see THIS post.  I did this with a group of girls for a year and a half and loved it!!

Now that we have talked about reasons…now we will look at sources.

There are many different sources for freezer cooking.  Really there is not much you can’t freeze.  Almost anything is freezer quality if you have the right method of freezing.  You don't need a freezer cookbook but if you are just starting out, you may want to try one of those first.

We will look at several different sources of freezer cooking – including the East White Oak cookbook.  Then I will walk you through a few meals using some quick cooking tips and tools.  

One of the first actual freezer cookbooks I used was Fix Freeze Feast.  This is a great starter book.  It tells you most what you need to know and separates things by categories…chicken, beef, pork, desserts, appetizers.  In the back has appendix with labels for all your meals!  Almost every meal in this book was good.  What I liked about this book is that its not full of casseroles – the meals that usually add on pounds.  A lot of it is home made marinades that you put on different cuts of meat.  This book helped me get out of my “meat” box and try different things.  I am going to show you how to do a recipe out of this book a little later.  This is a great book to start with if you are new to freezer cooking.  You can borrow mine or you can buy it…Amazon did have it for around 13.99 and you can see it here.

The next book I tried was Once a Month cooking.  This one is neat as it prepares a whole 2 weeks or months worth of meals for you and even gives you the grocery list. You can view it and buy it on Amazon here.

Next I tried “Don’t Panic! Dinners in your Freezer.”  This one I thought the meals were more “gourmet” – very delicious – but a little bit harder to make.  It does give you a symbol for easy vs hard, etc so that is helpful.  It shows you how to adjust if you want to make 3 or 9 or 12 meals of the same kind!  You can review it/buy it here.

Most recently I have tried a new website called “Once a Month Mom” ( It has all your recipes for the month for breakfast, lunch, and dinner!  You put in the number in your family and it adjusts the ingredients and the shopping list.  You print the shopping list out and go to the store!  It also lays out all the steps to completing the meals...such as chop this, cut this, shred this, cook this, etc.  Each month there are several different menu options to go with (traditional, vegetarian, diet, etc) and they change each month based on what is in season and on sale during this time - another plus and way to save money!!

These are my meals for the month of November. (pictured above on table)

I used the October Traditional meal plan from the Once a Month Mom site and worked on these for a couple of days.  I got most of my ingredients at Aldi and spent around $150…that’s great for a months worth a meals.  Now I only have to go back for milk, fruit and things like that.  As you can see, there are a variety of things in here and several ways to freeze them.  I freeze most of my meals in a zip lock bag if I can...I freeze them flat on a cookie sheet and then put them upright in the deep freeze so I can flip through them like a file cabinet drawer.  
My deep freeze "file cabinet" system.  Bags are all upright because I froze them flat first.

A Walk Through the Process 
Now I will walk you through a few recipes.  

First, I am going to walk you through a quick meal to make out of the Fix Freeze Feast cook book.  It's the teriyaki chicken.  It's one of our family favorites and it is so easy to make!   First, it’s important to have a cleared off work space with all the ingredients you need.  I have an island in my kitchen so that is what I use.  If you don't have a lot of counter space, you can clear off a table.  

A lot of the recipes on the once a month site are just like this one – I call them dump recipes…but some entail a little more to make.  All you do is dump the ingredients in a bowl, whisk it, and pour it out evenly among the 3 bags of chicken.  This recipe is for 3 entrees of teriyaki chicken.  

Example of what the recipes look like in Fix Freeze Feast
 Example of labels which are found in the back of the book. (scan them into your computer so you can reuse them)

I’ll show you the steps on how to make lasagna out of the Fix, Freeze, Feast cookbook.  What I like about this recipe is that you don't have to boil the noodles first.  And you can cook it straight from the freezer. This is my somewhat cleared off counter with all the ingredients needed.

Tip - Do ground beef in crock pot..saves your arm and time.   Takes about an hour to do this.  Put it in the crock pot with water (about 1 cup per lb).  I think this was about 5lbs.  

Of course you can do them on a frying pan, but I would suggest getting the mix and chop from Pampered chef.  

Now if you are a type A person, you won’t be able to let these crumbs go.  I made grilled cheese on this pan before hand.  But will you really be able to taste that in the lasagna?  These are the kind of questions you need to ask yourself – does it really matter?  Seriously...a little crumb won't hurt you...leave the crumbs alone!!

Lay out all your pans and start with the first an assembly line

I used the same measuring cup from the cottage cheese as I did with the parm cheese...remember, it's all going in the same recipe!

 Here are the ingredients laid out...cottage cheese mixture and all the meat is in the strainer sitting inside a pan to catch drippings.  No sense dirtying another bowl!

This is one of the only recipes I can't freeze in a zip lock bag because its a layered entree.  So wrap with saran wrap first...

 Then cover with aluminum foil.  This recipe can be split out into 2 8X8s.  If you flash freeze it (freeze it so it's hard enough but not totally frozen), you can cut it into individual slices and wrap them up individually!  Be sure to label these with the pre-made labels in the back of the book.  Or simple write it on the package with the marker "Lasagna.  Bake 1 hour covered 350, uncover 15 minutes.  10/12"

Here is what I do with breakfast casserole.  This recipe is from the East White Oak cookbook, but you could use any recipe book.  What I did was make it the night before, bake it the next morning.  

After I let it coo,l I did what they call a flash freeze.  I froze it for around an hour – til it was stiff enough that I could wrap each individual squares in saran wrap and freeze.  

I put all the individuals in a big gallon zip lock bag, label and stick in the freezer.  Then it is easy to cook for one minute in the morning when we want a warm breakfast.  This is great even for single people or empty nesters…you can do this with soup and other things to even take in your lunch for work.  The possibilities are endless!  

Here are a few final tips:

Use a chopper to chop all your veggies.  I always do this all at once and always have some left in the freezer (bag of carrots, bag of onions, etc).  These flexible cutting boards are also nice.  Easy to store and clean and come in a 3 pack with 3 colors...this way you can cut all veggies on one color, all fruits on one color, and all meats on another color.  

Use a pitcher or bowl with a spout to pour all liquids.  Put zip lock bags in a tall bucket or tupperware bowl for less mess and more stability.  This is how I prepare soups...
There are plenty of storage options.  There are at least 3 size bags you can store things in - gallon, quart, and sandwhich (there are also snack size but haven't used them for freezing yet).  You pick a size depending on the serving size you need (lunch, dinner and number of people you are feeding).  You can also use things like these stackable rubbermaid containers.  Just be sure to label everything.  

Examples of some freezer things:

Mini muffins on the top, taco bites in the middle (these you flash freeze and then put in zip lock bags and freeze flat - we eat these for lunch a lot!  So much easier than tacos - use wonton wrappers).  Random mix of warm breakfast items - quiche, breakfast casserole, sausage bread, and mini breakfast casseroles in a muffin wrapper).  

 A few more examples...cranberry scones on top...home made crescent rolls on left, soup in the middle, chicken and rice on right.

If you ever have any questions as usual, you can sure ask me!!
I say if you want to go for it, pick one of the options to start with and work with one for awhile before you move on to something else.  Seriously...YOU CAN DO THIS!  If you need help, I would love to!

In Closing
As women, we hear a lot about being Hospitable.1 Peter 4:9 says  “Be hospitable without complaint.”  My new living translation says “Cheerfully share your home with those who need a meal…”  I think this applies not only to the people that come over to our homes, but the people that live in our homes.  Wouldn’t it be a lot easier to not grumble or complain…to be cheerful…about having people over, if a lot of what we needed was already done?  Next time you go into one of these bulk sessions, remind yourself why you are doing it. 

I haven't had to cook since the beginning of October so I am definitely ready to do another bulk session!!!

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