Saturday, May 12, 2012

4 Week Meal Plan- Freezer Meal Prep

You've come home with your 2 carts full of groceries all bagged and you look at everything and think:

"Holy cow! I totally can't do this!"

But YES, you can!

Your mantra as you work is, "Just think about all the time I'll save this month by NOT having to chop veggies and mix ingredients. I just may have time to__(insert your reward here)___."

I read several articles on how to streamline meal prep. After picking and choosing the tips that seemed to make the most sense to me, I came up with a system and I am going to share it now.  Just be aware that YES it is going to take time- it took me 3 1/2 hours- my husband took little diva duty while I did some of the prep, and then we realized that it was definitely naptime, and she slept the rest of the time.

I know what you're asking? What can I do to make the meal prep time the most efficient and as quick as it can be?

Well, it takes preparation...yes, that's right, it takes some planning- but the planning is well worth it.

Go through all your freezer meals, make a list as you go of commonly used vegetables like onions, and peppers (whatever) and make a little hash mark for every time you need to chop some for a recipe, or make two columns for chop and slice...

Ex: Onions
Chop:  (hash marks) slice: (hash mark)

Do the same for your meats, like if you need to cube or slice a steak or a piece of chicken (its easier to do it now than after its been frozen)

If you already have your containers or freezer bags that you're going to put your meals in, take time to write the Menu item (i.e. label what is in the bag) and label how its supposed to be cooked and any special instructions.  If your bags are all labeled and prepped, it will take a large portion of time out of your prep.

On prep day make sure you have all your recipes categorized, and at your disposal for you as you're putting things together. Also, make sure you have a shelf cleaned out on your freezer for all the bags/tupperwares that you will be freezing after prep. Remember, the bags can always be readjusted later, so don't worry too much if one shelf seems overflowing. It will only be for one night. :)

Chop your veggies first! You can either keep them in piles on your counter or put them in bowls (worst case scenario you rinse them and throw them in the dishwasher- it shouldn't be too hard.) If your veggies are already chopped you can just grab a handful, or your desired amount, and throw it into the bag as you put things together. Also, have a "garbage bowl", just pick out a big bowl that you can toss tops and peels into. It will make things much faster and easier to clean up because you'll only have to take one trip to the garbage, as opposed to having to stop every time you chop something to make room and clean up to take care of something else.

Prepare your meals in categories- I recommend starting with your chicken. Put whole breasts (thighs...whatever) into bags first then dice up a big pile (if your recipes call for it) and divide it among the bags that call for diced. Then move to your beef and do the same. Then make the sauces that are supposed to cover the meats and veggies- END with your ground beef recipes- many of the freezer ground  beef recipes I've found require mixing the raw meat with various elements (like crock pot meat loaf or sloppy joes.) If you're smart, you'll only need one bowl for all the sauces and mixing the meat at the end. You'll just have to rinse it out between uses. This will make clean up easier, and keep you focused on one menu item at a time so you don't forget anything.

Make sure the seals on bags are solidly closed and lay your bags FLAT for the first night. They will turn into little flat bricks and then you can maneuver them to make more room in your freezer for other stuff later- a frozen flat bag is easier to stack like a library book in the freezer than one that has had everything settle into the bottom like a glob.  Be sure to put bags with lots of liquid on the top to avoid leakage due to too much weight being on top of them. I would even suggest folding the top of the really liquid filled bags over so that as other bags lay on top of them there is an extra layer of "protection" to prevent leaks.

Finally- put a list of the freezer meals that you've made up on your fridge so you can mark it off as you use it.  The freezer meals should be good for 3-6 months, and it will be good to keep an inventory so you don't find a freezer burnt mess that you've forgotten later on.

So...that's how I did it.  If I remember anything else special that I did while prepping my freezer meals I will be sure to edit this post, but I covered all the important stuff.

Happy "cooking"!

Hugs and Loves until next time darlings!

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