Here is my #1 tip of the day: Plan ahead.
I can say honestly, we had no plan. My good friend Dana called me around lunch time and asked if I wanted to cook a bunch of meals with her. We had talked about doing this some time this summer and it sounded fun at the moment...so I said yes! We met around 2:00 and searched the internet for ideas. We found a number of recipes (no, they didn't match up as far as ingredients) and printed them. We made a master grocery list, taking into account the things we had on hand, and were off to shop!
Actually, we didn't leave until around 5:45PM (we were waiting for my husband to get home), ran a few errands and THEN went shopping.
Shopping took around 2.5hrs. We stopped by the Dollar Store (foil pans/zipper bags are cheaper here), Aldi's and Kroger (meat was on sale) for the rest. I thought that was pretty good since we had two kids with us! We each spent right around $200 for all the meals. We were very pleased with that.
Then, the cooking began! It was 10:15 by the time we had unpacked our over-stuffed van into my kitchen!!
Yes, we are crazy!
My kitchen! It pretty much was a mess of bags, boxes and food by the time we were done. We would just rummage and grab and we weren't very organized. At 10PM we didn't have time to organize the stuff to access easier.
Tip #2: Organize your groceries before starting
Tip #3: Cook your meat the day/night before.
I really think prepping the meat for these meals could take you a whole day. And it would be worth it! Boil a few whole chickens or put them in a crock pot over night. Marinade your meats to prepare them for your zipper bags. Cut chicken into cubes or strips. Shred the cooked chicken. Cook the ground beef and add seasoning. Seriously, do it all the day before and your freezer bags will come together SO quickly! And, since we needed chicken broth for a number of recipes we had to wait for it to cool. And that took forever! And another tip...
Tip #4: Have a number of canning jars ready for storing broth, sauces and other ingredients
I didn't have very many handy, so we ran out of bowls quickly. (My kids like to put bugs in the them and leave them around my yard...grrr!) But, having more handy would be great! I also have at least 3 sets of cup measures and an additional 12 1-cup glass bowls that were very handy! Between the two of us we kept misplacing the actual cup measures, so I was glad to have the extras around.
Tips #5: You need a food processor and blender.
These will save you HOURS. So, borrow one if you don't have one!
Carrots, onions, celery, cilantro and parsley in the food processor
Tip #6: If you are cooking with someone else, label your things!
We had no issues during clean up trying to figure out whose stuff was whose.
We also had our groceries on a specific side of the kitchen, too.
Tip #7: Employ help
Mr. Prince was on clean-up duty, and he wasn't super happy about that at 3AM. But, he also helped flip chickens, open cans and other 'manly' cooking things. I'm sure your kids may be helpful, but I was actually happy that mine were a state away while I took on this adventure. :)
This wasn't even the worse moment...
And if you are messy cooks like Dana and me, your stove will look like this when you are done! Poor Mr. Prince...
Tip #8: Label your zipper bags
We labeled them with the meal, date, family name (this is important if you are cooking with someone) and instructions. Not all needed instructions, but some needed the whole recipe, so we taped it on with packing tape. A few recipes we were short something (like 1C sugar), so we just added it to the zipper bag.
Tip #9: Have a large table in addition to your kitchen counters
The table was where we put together the bags, organized ingredients, set aside half-recipes and where I did most of my meat preparation. We also used the piano and another desk that were near by. So, in other words, you need LOTS of table space! And if you don't follow Tip #9, you'll need more because you'll run out of bowls, pans, pots and spatulas!
3 incomplete recipes waiting for the next step
Yes, it says 1:17AM. Our fist 6 meals completely done after 3 hours!
2:31AM, just 1hr 15m later we had 30 meals done!
If your meat is prepped, it will come together much faster than ours!
Tip #10: Pick recipes YOU will like, not just the easiest 'cook 50 meals in a day' post off Pinterest
So, the actual recipes. I have to say, I've tried many-a-crockpot-meals and more have flopped in our home than stuck. We have very few crockpot meals in our rotation. I'm not sure if I'm just picky or if I just keep finding bad ones, but I seem to have bad luck with them. So, I wasn't really up for making 20+ meals we may end up hating. So, we found meals that looked good. They weren't necessarily 'easy' either. They were meals that we likely wouldn't bother spending the time to cook on any given day. Meals that required multiple steps or ingredients. I know many do this for the quick and easy meals, but that wasn't my plan. So, another good reason to plan ahead and plan a few different days!
I found THIS site and really liked her meals. She didn't have a master list made up or anything, but that was fine since we didn't want to make all her meals. (That would be a nightmare trying to omit certain ingredients from a master list and a reason why I haven't provided that on this blog post.) All the meals were 'freezer friendly' so I was happy with that.
Here were the meals we made from this site and how much for we prepared for each individual family:
- Homemade Pot Pie (doubled made 5-6 pies or 2 meals for our family of 7)
- Fried Rice (doubled made 5 meals with 6 cups extra rice)
- Slow Cooker Broccoli Chicken Alfredo (2)
- Sweet and Sour Chicken (3)
- Chicken Parmesan Pesto Shells (2)
- Beef Barley Stew (2)
- Cilantro Lime Chicken Tacos (2 but we had extra lime pesto for other meals)
- Cafe Rio Pulled Pork (2)
Here were some other meals from other sites or my own collection:
- Soft, Simple and Chewy Granola Bars (2 batches)
- Sausage and Egg Breakfast Burritos (18-20 burritos) - my made up recipe
- Chicken Tortilla Soup (2) - I cannot find the recipe we used but they are all very similar
- Crock-Pot Cheesy Potatoes and Ham (2)
- Tomato Basil Parmesan Soup (3)
- Chicken cleaned, prepped and frozen (2)
- BONUS: Chicken Enchiladas (this was made with left overs from cooking!)
I know you are now distracted with searching these recipes to see if you like them... But let me give you little tips on some of them to help you...
Homemade Pot Pie
I did not blanch my veggies. I bought all frozen and I'm not going to sweat it! We bought the mixed veggies that include carrots, green beans, peas and corn. We did use the homemade broth from our boiled chickens. It was delicious! I haven't made the crust yet and am debating buying them verses making them...
I stored all my freezer meals flat so eventually I can stand them up in the freezer and easily flip through them like a file drawer.
We made so.much.rice. Your rice will rise as far as your water, so beware when filling a pot to the top! We doubled this recipe and it was a LOT! We stored this in zipper bags instead of a pan like the recipe suggested. You MUST have a food processor! There really is no other way to make this.
Slow Cooker Broccoli Chicken Alfredo
For many recipes we bought chicken on sale for $1.89/lb because we had to prepare it a certain way, but for recipes like this we bought frozen chicken for $1.99/lb. It made preparing these super fast!
Sweet and Sour Chicken
This was one recipe that took a long time. Cutting chicken, browning it.... If your chicken is prepped the day before, this one will come together a lot easier than it did for me.
Chicken Parmesan Pesto Shells
We bought already-made pesto for this recipe. We also purchased a can of miced garlic to use for all our recipes to make things fast and simple. We did not put our filling in the shells. Mostly because our stove was always too busy to cook the shells! This will still be simple to pull out of the fridge after cooking the shells. Should take less than an hour to cook shells, stuff and bake!
Beef Barley Stew
If your meat is prepped the day before, the next thing I suggest you do is prepare your veggies. Whether that's using the processor for something like Fried Rice or chopping veggies for Beef Barley Stew, it will make things move faster. These bags came together quickly after all our veggies were done!
We even kept a bag in the sink for compost collection!
Look at us being all earth-friendly and stuff!
And THIS is what happens when you peel and cut 15 onions!
Can you see my mascara running...LOL!
Cooking isn't always pretty....
Cilantro Lime Chicken Tacos
We did make this pesto from scratch. Don't forget to clean your cilantro - ours was DIRTY! We actually cooked up this chicken completely before freezing and stored the pesto in a different zipper bag until ready to make. Should only take a few minutes to warm up and throw in tacos!
Cafe Rio Pulled Pork
I don't know what Cafe Rio is, but this looked good. A pretty simple crockpot recipe but requires you to marinade over night, cook 3-4 hours, mix with a blended sauce and then cook 2 more hours. So, I would never have the time to do this on a school day! This is all done so it's ready to just warm for sandwiches!
Soft, Simple and Chewy Granola Bars
These are THE best granola bars and they don't take hardly any time to make! We were making them weekly this past spring. Way healthier than store bought! We omit the almonds most of the time (it really changes the flavor) and the dried fruit (none of us care for dried fruit) and add in 3T heaping with peanut butter. We've played with the recipe, but that is our favorite! What's nice is you can add in anything you like and make it work for your family!
Sausage and Egg Breakfast Burritos
I saute onions and then cook my sausage with them. Then I scramble 20 eggs in a different pan. I chopped it up pretty good and mix it all together. I put a heaping 1/3C of egg mixture and a pinch of shredded cheese into each tortilla and roll them in a napkin first and then foil. When they are pulled out of the freezer we just leave the paper towel around it and cook it for 1-1.5minutes and they are awesome! We've used ham and bacon as well. If you use more than one meat, be sure to label them! I've made that mistake before...
Chicken Tortilla Soup
This came together quickly and I used frozen chicken pieces to make it easy. This was our first meal we tried! My son used the tortillas for his lunch that I had set aside for dinner, so I only had one tortilla! I toasted it in the toaster oven to save time and they all tried it. We added shredded cheese and crushed tortilla chips as well. It wasn't a *favorite* but my kids are pretty picky and they all ate it. I think it will join the lists of meals they really like over time. :)
Crock-Pot Cheesy Potatoes and Ham
We bought a small ham chuck that was already cut in slices and that saved some chopping time. This is a quick prep crock-pot meal! I used a 2-gallon bag for this and will add the water later.
Tomato Basil Parmesan Soup
This is a quick crock pot recipe if you have a food processor. It helped that we had a number of recipes that needed carrot, celery and onions, so we only had to process them all once.
Chicken cleaned, prepped and frozen
It's so much nicer to grab thawed chicken that is already prepped! I hate rinsing, trimming and getting all slimy. Plus, it cuts 20 minutes off my meal prep time since I don't have to do all that plus scour the counters to avoid contamination!
I had some left over shredded chicken, rice and enchilada sauce that I threw into tortillas and baked up for dinner tonight! Wouldn't feed all 6 of us, but fed Mr. Prince and me since our kids are out of town!
All in all, it was crazy but fun! I will do it again, but not sure when. Maybe if I get adventurous over Christmas break? Here is my beautiful freezer! Since I'm in school and on-call for births (doula/student midwife) my husband can cook a REAL, HEALTHY meal while I'm gone! I hope my tips will help you be more efficient than we were! I'm sure there are many more helpful site/blogs, but I wanted to share some of my awesome recipes!
Enjoy your cooking!