Loaded up with the day’s backpacks on my shoulder, my daughter on my hip, and the dog at my heels, I walk into the kitchen, exhausted and hungry. “What’s for dinner tonight, Mom?” my son yells from the playroom. That is one question I can answer. In fact, I can tell you what we are having for dinner three weeks from now.
I began meal planning and freezer cooking when I returned to work after having my second child. I wanted to spend time with the kids, so I was always frantically trying to whip up something or picking up prepared foods to save time. We were eating poorly, spending a fortune, and wasting so much food my heart ached. In order for us to reconnect after a day apart, and also eat healthfully, frugally, and responsibly, I had to change our ways.
While some moms go about planning and preparing all meals in advance, I stick with dinners. I suggest building a “bank” of about 50 or 60 meal ideas by thinking up your favorites, going through cookbooks, and scouring the internet for ideas. (Once a Month Mom is a genius!) Next, generate a calendar (digital or paper) and post the dinners for the entire month. I like to leave one night mid-week and one weekend night free and clear. Let’s face it, sometimes we have plans, or sometimes I am overcome by a craving for satay, so I go with it. This endeavor is intended to make life more streamlined and enjoyable, not to put anyone in a culinary cage! To be honest, you will be amazed how infrequently you don’t want what you have planned. I usually find myself excited to see what’s in store for the week.
Once you have your meals planned, you might want to invest in a set of freezer-safe baking dishes, aluminum trays with lids, (three for $1 at the dollar store) or a vacuum sealer (Ziploc has an awesome one that is reasonably priced and will fit in the foil and sandwich bag drawer.) Decide on one or two key ingredients per cooking session and reserve an hour for cooking many different freezer-ready meals.
For example, last week I picked up two pounds of organic chicken breasts and a pound of lentils as my main dishes and I will use what comes in the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) to supplement. I cut the chicken into one-inch cubes, and sautéed them in a little bit of olive oil, cracker pepper, a dash of salt and a shake or two of herbes de provence. While the chicken was browning, I took a look at what I needed to use up in the fridge and pantry, as well as what produce I had available. I suggest you “go shopping” in your own kitchen and pantry prior to beginning each month’s meals. I must have hit a sale on Bob’s Red Mill and forgot about the bags of corn meal, almond flour, and coconut flour I bought, so those will be key ingredients next month. With the two pounds of breasts I made 2 chicken pot pies, 1 chicken stir fry, 1 garlic-lime chicken, and 1 alfredo buffalo pasta. With the pound of lentils I made 1 lentil taco casserole, 1 dal makhani, and 2 mason jars of lentil vegetable soup. I put all 9 meals in the deep freezer and now I can just grab one, throw it in the oven or on the stove top, and connect with the kids while dinner cooks!