Kim here – It’s been a while!
With the due date of my baby less than two weeks away, I’ve finished working and I’m doing what I can at home to best prepare for her arrival. This included spending the past few days creating make ahead/freezer meals so that my hubby and I can continue to eat healthy homemade meals over the next couple weeks as we transition to our new roles as mom and dad.
I knew early in my pregnancy this was something I wanted to do. Everything I’ve read and witnessed with friends and family has taught me that I’m not going to want to cook during those first couple weeks of recovery and adjustment to life with our new little bundle of joy. I also don’t want to be wasting money and making unhealthy food choices out of convenience.
It made for a long few days but I was able to make a couple weeks worth of meals!
I’ve done a big freezer meal cook once before, over the Christmas break a couple years ago when I was anticipating a stressful and busy January at work (which it was). It was nice to come home, pull a home-cooked meal out of the freezer without having to spend the time prepping (and then cleaning all the tools, bowls, etc.) and to eat something delicious after a stressful day. I’d considered doing the same again, but this is the first time I actually did.
My last “big cook” was completed in one day – three days if you factor in one day for grocery shopping and one day for meal planning. This time, it took me three days to complete all the cooking (with swollen feet and a sore back there was no way I could have done more than a few hours at a time, even with help from my hubby) and five days total if you factor in the grocery shop and the meal planning. I know it will be worth it though – even today I have my feet up and I don’t need to worry about what we’ll be having for dinner.
In addition to all the freezer meals, I also picked three slow cooker meals so that I didn’t have to cook dinner on the days I was making everything else. On day one, we had pulled pork for dinner, day two we had chili (and I froze the leftovers) and yesterday we had beef stroganoff. I knew I wouldn’t want to return to the kitchen after cooking several hours prior (and my feet certainly didn’t want to hold me up any longer after I did) so this was extremely helpful. I think I would do it again if I chose to do another big cook.
Thinking about doing your own “big cook” in anticipation of a busy time in your life or just for the convenience? Here are some tips and tricks to help you get started:
- You’re not reinventing the wheel – there are so many freezer recipes out there (in books and online) – and there are even people that have done other freezer meals that share their entire menu (and sometimes grocery list) with you. I can be a picky eater, so I pieced together my recipes from all over the Internet to create a custom menu for my hubby and I. It probably took me a few hours to find all the recipes I wanted but it was worth it.
- When creating your list, I find it helpful to also create a list of ingredients (even before you’re making a grocery list). I personally find it helpful when there are recipes with overlapping ingredients. I feel this can help save money and it ensures that ingredients won’t be wasted. It’s also helpful when it comes time to prep/cook. I like to chop up all my veggies before I get started. If I’m using the same veggies in multiple meals, it really speeds up the process.
- Don’t be afraid to customize! There were a few meals I chose to make where I used the recipe I found online for freezing instructions more than for the recipe itself. For example, I knew I wanted to make quiche (and I already have my own quiche recipe) so I was just looking for instructions on how to freeze and store it.
- Seek input! After creating my menu, I sent it to my hubby for review. I’m not the only one that will be eating everything, so I wanted to give him an opportunity to remove anything he didn’t like, make suggestions for new recipes, etc. He ended up liking everything I had on the list but I’m glad I asked him.
- Thoroughly check your grocery list! Am I the only person that seems to always forget at least one thing when I grocery shop? Going for a big grocery shop is even more dangerous. I did still forget a few things when I shopped (let’s blame it on pregnancy brain) but I consciously tried to check my list more than once in the store to make sure I had everything.
- Don’t shop and cook on the same day. This may be a personal preference but I find grocery shopping can be exhausting, as can cooking 5+ meals in one day. I find it easiest to spread this out over more than one day if you can. I considered ordering my groceries ahead of time (something I’ve yet to try) but, since I like to pick my own meats and vegetables, I opted to do the grocery shop on one day and then cook for the next three days (originally I planned to only cook for two days but my body was reaching it’s limit after the first day).
- Be strategic with the order you make your meals. Prior to cooking, I thought through things like: which recipes have overlapping ingredients, which pots/pans/etc. will I need to use, which recipes need to go in the oven and what temperature do they cook at? Etc. From there, I created a plan of attack. I found this especially helpful cooking over multiple days.
- Make sure you have room. Perhaps I should have led with this tip…. We cleaned out our freezer before I started cooking so that we’d have room to put everything. You don’t want to get halfway through your cook and realize you have no where to put everything (especially if you have a small freezer like we do).
- Try to have fun! I’m not going to lie – it feels like work and it takes time! Throw on some music, bring your laptop in the kitchen and watch a show or movie while you’re getting things ready – whatever you need to. It’ll be worth it once you’re done and eating all the yummy meals you’ve made but it doesn’t always feel like it while you’re in the process of making everything.
- I’ve said this earlier but wanted to repeat, I found it helpful to have my dinner for the day cooking in the crock pot while I was making all the other meals. Had I not done that, I probably would have been tempted to order a pizza – how ironic would that have been? Instead, we had delicious dinners all three days (and since the prep/dishes were already done from earlier in the day, it felt effortless).
As I said, there are countless freezer meals and recipes on the Internet but I wanted to take a moment to share some of the recipes that I used during my cook:
- Stuffed taco shells
- Baked broccoli mac and cheese
- Oven-baked chicken fajitas
- Health lasagna roll ups
- Shepherd’s pie
- Cheese, spinach and white bean quesadillas
- Bacon tortellini bake
- Homemade pizza pockets (I cheated and bought pre-made dough)
- Tacos in sleeping bags
Most recipes made more than one dinner (or lunch, depending on what I made it for) which will come in handy over the coming weeks. I’ve yet to decide if I’ll do another big cook once we eat all of this or if I want to try something new once the baby is here. Time will tell!
Until then, happy cooking!