I’ve been a meal planner for some time now and also a religious bi-weekly shopper. Every-other Friday was payday and also shopping day. Wednesday and Thursday nights are spent making a two week menu and shopping list. I’ve experimented with meal planning services in the past but found that I often ended up subbing in meals that we liked to replace meals that weren’t to our tastes. This month I decided to apply my menu planning skills on a much larger scale and experiment with monthly menu planning AND meal prep.
I follow another blog that has all kinds of tips on “real food” and clean eating, as well as a host of fabulous recipe’s. It’s become my go to site for recipe’s these days when I feel our old faithful’s are getting boring. Recently they had a guest post by mamaandbabylove.com featuring freezer to slow cooker meals and also talking a little about once-a-month planning and meal prep. The recipe’s looked great, so I wandered over to the mamaandbabylove blog and ended up buying the e-cookbook “Slow Cooker Freezer Recipe’s”
So here is how I did it,
Step One: Wed/Thurs, plan ALL MEALS FOR 1 MONTH (by meals I mean dinner only, breakfast and lunch are fend for yourself around here and largely consist of eggs for breakfast and left overs for lunch). Daunting, yup, BUT the cookbook made a lot of it pretty easy as each recipe is actually two meals so it wasn’t as bad as I thought. Add in a few of the old faithful’s that we eat on a regular basis and voila, menu made.
Step Two: Friday SHOP – this took a while as I had to hit up Superstore, AND Costco. Not only was I shopping for a month of dinners but we’re in that cycle when you run out of all the basics at once. Yup, flour, oil, toilet paper, laundry soap, we pretty much needed it all. The bill however wasn’t as bad as I anticipated I came out of Superstore having spent $289, and Costco $136. Considering that I should only have to buy milk, dairy (yogurt, eggs, cheese, etc.) and produce for the rest of the month I don’t think that’s too bad.
Step Three: It’s the weekend, RELAX – but really I decided to make my own chicken stock for the meals that required it so Sunday night we had slow cooker chicken, and I made the stock overnight in the slow cooker using a recipe I found on-line. It was so ridiculously easy that I doubt I’ll ever buy stock again. AND it made more than I needed so I was also able to freeze a few cups of stock in 1 cup packages.
Step Four: Monday, CLEAN THE KITCHEN! I don’t know about you but I HATE working in a messy kitchen so I cleaned, and I mean really cleaned. Our kitchen is tiny and has very little counter space so I got rid of ALL the clutter that collects in the corners. I returned items borrowed/accumulated from friends, and freed the counter of all but the essentials to maximize the space for what I thought would be major mess making.
Step Five: Make dinner for that night. Yup, the first thing I did was make that nights dinner and drop it in the slow cooker. I knew that I would NOT want to cook at the end of the day so I started with it first thing.
Step Six: Chop and dice! Time to start chopping and organizing! The recipe’s are intended to be put into 1 gallon ziploc freezer bags so I got out the right number of bags and labeled them. Then with all my recipe cards lined up along the counter I started chopping and dividing the veggies into the appropriate bags. I had chosen 5 recipe’s so 10 meals, and bought veggies according to the cards. To free up space as I worked I divvied up the veggies as I finished with each one into the appropriate bags – ie chop all sweet potatoes, find appropriate bags, place all sweet potatoes into proper bags, chop next veggie. I also only got the items out as needed again to keep my space free. Amazingly enough the veggies didn’t make that much of a mess. I also found it easiest to use the recipe with the most veggies in it as a guide, and chop the veggies for all recipe’s at once but by going down the list on the card with the most veggies then coming around and “tidying up” the rest of them – ie doing any of the veggies that only went into one or two of the recipe’s last. All in all I chopped veggies for about 2 1/2 hours.
Step Seven: Spices – I added all the appropriate spices to the recipe’s in one shot
Step Eight: Meat and liquids. To save money on the meat I bought it all in bulk ie, bone in skin on chicken breasts, to be deboned and skin removed by moi. I’ve never done this before and am not overly excited about working with raw meat but that’s just part of eating it and it saved quite a bit of money. It was also surprisingly easy. I did this with the beef too. Two of the recipe’s called for stewing beef or beef cubes so I bought a roast of the appropriate weight and cubed it myself. I threw the meat into the bags and added the liquid as part of this step. I spent roughly 1 1/2 hours deboning and chopping meat. If you bought the meat ready to go then you would save a lot of this time, but as I mentioned before I chose to do it the cheap way instead of the quick way.
Step Nine: FREEZE. This is where the small freezer comes in. We only have one freezer in this house and it’s the one above the fridge. SO thank heavens everything was in bags and will lay flat. It was still a little like Jenga trying to get everything in. BUT I know that I don’t have to put ANYTHING else in there this month, just take it out so it should be manageable!
Step Ten: CLEAN UP. This was surprisingly not that bad. I managed to use one cutting board, one knife, one measuring cup and a few measuring spoons so I only had a handful of dishes to do after it was all done and most of it went into the dishwasher.
SO was it worth it? Well, we haven’t eaten any of it yet but the recipe’s are tantalizing and it’s really hard for me not to just start pulling them out. Part of my planning included cleaning up the left overs we already had around here (ie roast chicken = chicken fajitas) and we don’t have the freezer space to freeze any of that stuff so we have to use it now. It is really nice to know that other than putting together a few sides there are NO MEALS left to plan or shop for over the next month. When I consider that I spend an hour or so every night making dinner but managed to make dinner for a month in four hours one day that alone makes it worth it to me. In the future I might split chopping the veggies one day and doing the meat/spices/sauces another just to minimize the time spent standing in the kitchen all in one shot. Will I do it again YES.