My friend Missy and I were pouring over freezer cooking plans in an effort to give us some short cuts in feeding our nine picky kids and hubbies. We found that NOTHING fit our families. Between the two of us, we have so many dietary restrictions and husband diets and *sensory* kids…well it was a failure.
See, I’ve done freezer cooking before. LOTS of freezer meals, but I found that they languished in the freezer because they weren’t really how we eat. If it wasn’t something we were EXCITED about, we just ate our usual thing and all of that work went to waste.
As I’ve said before, I really believe organizing is it’s own habit. Organize for the person you already are, not the person you wish you were. Missy and I didn’t want to put in a bunch of effort on food that we would dread using. So, we generated an I WOULD USE THE MESS OUT OF _____ list. We didn’t plan a bunch of untried, healthier, gourmet, or organic upgraded food.
The fastest way to generate your own list is to ask yourself, “If I were my butler, what would I keep on hand for me?” My imaginary butler has lived with me for years, and he knows that regardless of what new kick I get on, there are some fallback foods that will never leave the repertoire. He knows that PMS, holidays, and periodic case of the I DON’T WANNAS will derail all my good intentions. It always does.
So, my Jeeves would have ground beef already cooked for me in bags. He knows thawing stops me from cooking. He’ll have mountains of oatmeal and grits already frozen in muffin tins shapes for the kids to reheat in the morning. God bless him! Also, he would have a few weeks worth of grown-up lunch batches of stew-ish things. Those work best in big bags that we eat on all week. Individual serving don’t work. Jeeves knows that. Conversely, the child foods work best in individual serving sizes. A bag of nuggets with the whole grain bun included, ready to heat and eat.
But in case your imaginary Jeeves isn’t as forthcoming with your lifelong habits as mine is, you can follow the left-brained method below:
1. Think about the things you make all the time. Your too-lazy-to-drive-to-Little Caesars recipes. Tacos? Burgers? Chicken nugget sandwiches? Write them down.
2. What meals do you find yourself relying on convenience foods for? Missy and I don’t want to cook breakfast. We want to drink coffee and stare at pinterest until we’re ready to be human. That means lots of boxed items full of chemical non-ingredients. Think about your own life and write that stuff down. Do you rely on prepackaged snacks? Pre-packaged dinners on a certain night of the week? Write that down.
3. Now, ask yourself which of those things have steps or versions you could REALISTICALLY shortcut with homemade stuff from your freezer. I say realistically, because I *could* precook burgers, but we really like burgers off the grill. That means, if I cook a bunch of burgers, I will unconsciously avoid them for months, choosing to grill out of Saturdays as usual. We like freshly cooked dinners. We don’t care about reheated lunches and breakfast, but dinner doesn’t work for us from the freezer. But precooked ground beef in baggies? I would use THE MESS out of that! That’s the reaction you are looking for.
Either way I go, in the end, my list ends up like this:
I would use the mess out of….
- cooked ground beef with onions already in it for use in many recipes
- cooked crumbled breakfast sausage for use in several recipes
- cooked oatmeal with raisins (not the instant packets, my kids only like the factory version of those)
- cooked grits
- individual soft tacos or burritos for kid lunches (I don’t know the diff, truly)
- bags of chopped onions and pressed garlic
- bags of pre-chopped nuts and frozen fruit with unsweetened coconut
- bags of pre-made PB playdoh balls
- my favorite meatloaf, cooked in muffin wrappers
- crockpot stuffed cabbage for grown-up lunches
- a few bags of pre-assembled ingredients for crockpot meals (see this link for a bunch of ideas)
- bean soup for Mama lunches
- chicken stock cubes
Things that we eat that are homemade that cannot be precooked because we don’t like the reheated version…all things poultry and eggs. We all hate the flavor of reheated ground turkey or cooked chicken. We hate the texture of post-freezer eggs. Blech. My only defense in chicken meals is to buy the big bags of tenderloins from Costco. They cost less than the breasts from Aldi.
Things that we love that cannot be faked well by me….the *natural* potstickers and spring rolls from costco, whole grain chicken nuggets, and their heat and eat madras lentils.