So, as you guys know, I am a mommy of 3 BEAUTIFUL (yes, I'm biased) children under the age of 4. This means that time is very limited in the Relph household and spending a large amount of time on dinner (anything more than 15 min...) is pretty much impossible. Add in the fact that we have to pick Brian up from his bus stop at 5:50 and you get a lot of take-out meals. Well, WE get a lot of take -out meals...you get what I mean ;).
I've met some WONDERFUL women since moving to CA and one thing we all have in common: we are all insanely busy with our little ones! I had been seeing MANY blogs about 'once a month cooking', 'freezer meals', etc. but it seemed like too big of a task. For me, if I get other people roped into the same crazy idea that I have, I'm more apt to complete the task. SO! I enlisted the help of my two friends out here, Colleen and Chelyn, and we decided to give this freezer meal thing a try.
I am so glad we did! In fact, as I am typing this right now, instead of worrying about dinner, I am smelling it! I put it in the crockpot at 9am and when 5pm rolls around...DINNER TIME!!
First of all, if three women with SEVEN children under the age of 4 can pull 33 meals together in two hours...ANYONE CAN! I promise you that! We are not SuperMoms by any means!
Before I get into the 'how-to' portion, let me say that this is not an original idea, none of the recipes are mine, and I even got a lot of the planning things from other sites, which I will link to! There is no right or wrong...this is just the way that worked easiest for us!
Also, for those of you wondering, all 11 meals cost each of us $83! Each meal will easily serve all of our families (even mine, being the biggest at 2 adults, 2 toddlers!).
So here is an easy (hopefully) plan for you to follow to get your own freezer meals ready:
HOW TO PLAN A FREEZER MEALS PARTY:
1. Find some friends! - Talk to your friends and see who would want to do this with you! Any number of people can be involved; just make sure the kitchen is big enough to hold all of you! Also, if there are a lot of kids, you can designate one (or more) people to babysit while others make the food for you!
2. Find a kitchen! - You don't need anything fancy. Someone's home kitchen will do! If you have a very large group, do it at a church or rec center!
3. Decide what meals you want to prepare! - Since this was our first time doing this process and trying the recipes we decided to be a little more conservative on how many meals we were doing. We ended up doing 6 recipes, 5 of which made two dinners a piece. I had sent out some links and we all chose our top 5 recipes and went from there!
4. Make a grocery list! - I found this AMAZING resource from another blog that already had a grocery list made out with all the ingredients (in Excel) and all you had to do was enter the number of people and you knew how much of everything that you needed! Unfortunately, I didn't like any of the recipes, so I used her template and then revised it for my own.
Here is a link to her website
Feel free to use it yourself! Just change the ingredients and the number of people involved! AND DON'T FORGET THE FREEZER BAGS!!
5. Decide who will go shopping - Depending on those involved, there are a number of ways to do this.
- Have one person do all the shopping. Everyone can pay their portion the day-of-preparing.
- Divide up the ingredients so each person shops for certain items in bulk. This has it's ups and downs. All the responsibility isn't just on one person to get all the ingredients, but making it equal $ wise can be very tricky. If you decide to divvy it up, have everyone prepare the groceries ahead of time and it will go even faster! (For example, peeling and cutting the veggies).
6. Pick a date and get started! - It can be really hard finding a time when everyone can all meet to make these meals. Remember, you can always get your other half involved and have them watch the kiddos while you prepare these meals! The good news is, it really only takes a couple of hours to knock out these meals - just put a movie on for the little ones and you're good to go!
Ok, so you have the food, you have the place, you are standing in the kitchen with all these ingredients...now what?!
Yes, it can seem a little overwhelming to have 40+ pounds of chicken sitting on your table...just take a deep breath...we'll get through this together :).
There are lots of ways to do this; assembly line, by ingredient, alphabetically ;), etc. We chose to go by recipe. We each chose a recipe and prepared all the bags for that one recipe. Since there were three of us and most of the recipes were double batches, that meant making 6 meals PER RECIPE. Ok, I know this can seem confusing...but it's really not!
1. Write the date, name of meal, and preparation instructions on the bag - For example, for the teriyaki chicken we prepared this is what I wrote: 6/22 Teriyaki Chicken, add 1/4c teriyaki, cook low 8 hrs or high 4 hrs, Serve over rice. That way you know how old it is, WHAT it is, and what you need to do the dayof cooking!
2. Put in the ingredients - Yep, we are to that step already. It's that easy. Now, depending on how you organized this, you may have to chop, dice, slice, peel, etc. Once the ingredients are prepared, just DUMP IT IN THE BAG!! So easy! We did only chicken meals this time, so we all put in the chicken first - this helped weight the bag for when we put in liquid ingredients!
3. Seal and freeze - Once you have all the ingredients, you just let the air our of the bag, seal it, and stick it in the freezer! I've seen a lot of people lie their bags flat to freeze, allowing better freezer storage. Easy, right?!
There are a lot of places I looked at to find recipes and I will post all of the links for you! I will also post a link to my template for the six meals we made so if you want to try the exact same things we did, it will be even easier!
If you guys have any questions, feel free to ask! I haven't tasted any of the recipes, so I cannot attest to any of that, but when I do, I will let you know! Also, I am wanting to go beyond the crockpot and prepare other meals such as mac and cheese and lasagna...so if this goes well and we eat it all, I'll be doing another blog about how that goes!
I hope this was clear-ish for all you guys! Don't hesitate to open a few bottles of wine while preparing this!!
The meals we made were:
Sweet and Tangy Meatballs
Healthy Mama's BBQ Chicken
Cream Cheese Crockpot Chicken
My Grocery List (for these six meals) - I did not include wine, flour, salt, or pepper in my list because I knew it would be provided at the house!
If you want more options, here are some more recipe links!