Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Make Ahead Meals -or- Cooking Once A Month

I have ten meals sitting in my freezer right now, four more in a crock pot cooling in the fridge waiting to be packaged and frozen, and the meat for three more just needing to be prepared. It’s a pretty wonderful feeling.
Once I found out I was pregnant I knew I needed to get on making some freezer meals. Morning sickness hit me hard with Jace, and the yuckies didn’t go away until well into my second trimester. I honestly would rather go through labor than morning sickness. And I had a long, hard, 34 hour labor experience (19 of those hours being without an epidural). I figured I’d have until eight weeks along before this baby started making its presence known in the worst way possible (which I am very thankful for… after all, it means this little one inside of me is alive and growing). But this time around it hit at 6 weeks. And it hit hard. But purchased groceries sitting in my fridge not wanting to be spoiled were a great motivation to get off the couch.
All that to say, if I could pull off fourteen meals in one afternoon (with plenty of breaks throughout the cooking), I’d say this is a pretty manageable project to take on!
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I did a lot of reading up prior to making my menu and shopping list. I found The Test Kitchen of Mellisa Fallis’ post about freezer crock pot meals to be the most helpful. Each meal I make is intended to feed three people for dinner (and we’re big eaters in the Nelson household) with leftovers for my husband’s lunch the next day. My plan was to make 2 each of: Healthy BBQ Chicken and Teriyaki Chicken. 1 of Honey Sauced Chicken. Each of these will be later thawed and then cooked in the crock pot. Also in the plan was soups in the crock pot that will just need to be thawed and reheated later on—three meals each of: Taco Soup and Chicken Vegetable Soup (recipes below). My last two meals were chicken enchiladas (although I actually made three, one was for dinner tonight).
I started by boiling chicken breasts in broth and seasonings to be shredded later for the enchiladas. Once I got that going on a back burner, I browned hamburger for the taco soup. While it was browning I started chopping all the fresh produce. (In the picture above you’ll see my final preparations of: red peppers, green peppers, zucchini, garlic, red onion, yellow onions, red potatoes, and chicken.) Once the hamburger was browned, I put the taco soup in one crock pot.
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I then got all my zip lock bags labeled for what would go in them, the date and cooking instructions.
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Then it was simply assembling the ingredients in each bag. I saved the chicken to be added last. Once these bags were in the freezer, I cut up the chicken for the vegetable soup and got it cooking in another crock pot.
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And finally came the best part—the enchiladas! I love the sight and smell of simmering onions.
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One pan of enchiladas went in the oven while the other two were put together in aluminum pans (I look forward to the lack of dishes the day we eat these!).
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They were topped off with foil and the instructions written on them. The taco soup was done before the chicken and vegetable, so it was cooled by the time I headed to bed and I just spooned it into three zip locks and stuck them in the freezer. The chicken and vegetable went into the fridge and I’ll take care of it in the morning. I plan on making Cheez-it chicken strips to also freeze tomorrow.
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And ah, the carnage. My sweet husband did the dishes for me, which was wonderful!
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Jace was quite the audience in his jammies (yes, it’s 5 pm and he’s still in his jammies with crazy bed head and munching on crackers). Poor kid, he kept thinking the onions were apples and didn’t understand why I wouldn’t give him a slice.
Jeanette’s Taco Soup (I doubled this recipe to make as much as I did)
-1 lb Hamburger
-2 cans crushed tomatoes
-1 can tomato sauce
-1 can black beans (including sauce/juice stuff)
-1 can red kidney beans (including liquid)
-1 packet ranch dressing mix
-1 packet taco seasoning mix
-Corn (I love it with corn, but didn’t have room in the crock pot this time)
-1 TBS onion powder
Brown hamburger, combine all ingredients in crock pot. Cook on low for 4-5 hours.
Aunt Cola’s Enchiladas (which I tripled to make as much as I did)
-2 cups cooked chicken, shredded
-1 onion
-1 can Cream of Chicken Soup
-1 cup sour cream
-1 cup cheddar cheese
-1 cup mozzarella cheese
-1 can crushed tomatoes with green chilies
Sautee onions (I used a little butter for this part) until tender. Turn off heat and stir in cream of chicken soup, sour cream and 3/4 cup cheddar and 3/4 cup mozzarella (I actually just used a pre-shredded pack of chedder/jack) and can of tomatoes (I was out of this and sometimes find the chilies too hot, so I just added a can of tomato sauce, which a whole can would probably only work with the tripling size, and a few splashes of hot sauce). Smear some of the sauce on the bottom of your pan, then put 3 TBSP of the sauce and 1/3 cup chicken in each tortilla, roll, and place in pan seam side down. Top with remaining sauce and sprinkle with remaining cheese. Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes or until cheese is starting to brown.
Chicken and Vegetable Soup (which I doubled)
-1 can tomato soup
-1 can tomato sauce
-Chicken broth
-2 zucchinis, diced
-small bag of frozen mixed veggies
-1 clove garlic
-2 chicken breasts, raw, cubed
-Onion powder
Mix all ingredients in crock pot and add chicken broth until you get to the consistency of broth you like for your soup. I use about a TBSP onion powder and a lot of basil, but really, just add whichever spices you think sound good. Cook on high for 4 hours or low for 6-8 hours. If you don’t like your zucchini as well done, just add it for the last hour or so.
Cheez-It Chicken (My all time favorite dinner growing up.)
-4 chicken breasts
-1-2 cups Cheez-Its, crushed
-1 tsp Garlic Powder
-1 tsp Onion Powder
-Butter, melted
In a zip lock bag combine crackers and seasonings. Dip chicken in butter and then shake in cracker mixture until well coated. When cooking right away, top chicken in pan with remaining cracker mixture and bake at 350 for 30-45 minutes or until cooked through. If planning on freezing, slice chicken into 1 inch thick strips prior to coating. Flash freeze on parchment paper on cookie sheet and then combine in zip lock bag. Bake without thawing at 350 for 3o minutes or until cooked through.
*And, in case you’re wondering, I spent a little less than $140 between Walmart and Costco for all of the food to make 17 meals for 4 people and have lots of cheese, tortillas and sour cream left over.*
Thanks so much for stopping by and good luck with your freezer cooking!
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  1. Recipes sound great - I'm going to try this idea for cooking meals & freezing them for later. Thanks!

  2. I'm going through some terrible 'morning' sickness (and food prep aversion) right now, too, and boy, am I ever glad for the freezer meals I happened to stash before I got pregnant! Will have to re-stock soon, though. If you can get your hands on a copy, my favourite make-ahead cookbook is called Fix, Freeze, Feast. The recipes are scaled to accommodate the large trays of meat and other goods you can get for less at warehouse type stores, and almost everything I've tried has been a hit.

  3. I'm a non-believer in baby showers after the first baby, but my sister insisted on throwing me one for my second baby... after a lot of arguing and wrestling (ok, not really) we settled on a frozen food shower. It was so much fun! All my amazing friends and family put together tons of frozen meals for us and it was so nice to have them once my little girl made her big debut!

  4. How long do they last in the freezer?


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