Taking time to plan is the best way to set yourself up for a successful cooking day! It is so important that you take the time to organize your grocery list and step by step plan. This will help the day go smoothly, have less headaches and it will save you time! Last week we talked about how to pick recipes. This week we will expand on this topic and show you how to prepare for your cooking day. First I’ll tell you about two tricks you can use to make the most of your day: Flash Freezing and Crock Pots.
What is “Flash Freeze”?
A great way to freeze meals is to flash freeze them. Meals like meatballs, jumbo stuffed shells, manicotti, and stuffed chicken breasts are all great options for flash freezing. You will make each recipe and then place the item on a cookie sheet lined with parchment or wax paper. Then stick the cookie sheet into the freezer and freeze until the food is frozen and no longer sticky. Once frozen you will place the food in gallon freezer bags. This helps the food keep its shape and not get smashed or stick to the other items in the bag. When you are ready to cook it, you can then just pull out however many you want instead of being forced to cook the whole recipe. I typically choose two meals each time that I have to flash freeze. (note: meals like meatballs and jumbo shells typically make multiple meals for my family, which is a simple way to increase the number of meals you are making for the month 🙂 )
Why use a crockpot?
I love using my crock pot to make homemade sauces like spaghetti and pizza. I also use it to make meats that you can put on sandwiches like French dip or pulled pork. I typically cook the food in the crockpot the night before. In the morning I turn it off to let the meat or sauce cool. Then after I am done cooking my other recipes on cooking day, the crockpot meal/sauce has cooled enough to place it in freezer bags. I typically choose 1-2 meals that I cook in a crockpot each time I freeze meals. (note: these meals typically make enough meat that I can split them into two separate meals for my family. I also have 2 crockpots so it is easier to do two recipes at once.)
Make your step by step cooking plan
Putting together your list of what meals you are going to make and in what order is so important and necessary! It will help your day run smoothly and help you keep track of what you have done and what needs to be done next.
Make sure meals that will need to simmer on the stovetop or will cook awhile, get started earlier in the day so you are not waiting around for them to finish. Put items that need to be flash frozen towards the top of the list so that they are frozen by the end of the cooking day and are ready to put in freezer bags. Assemble the casserole dishes in the middle when you are waiting for something to finish cooking on the stovetop. Leave the marinades for last since they are quick, easy and no prep is needed.
For those of you who like it in bullet form. This is the order you will cook the meals….
- Turn off crock pot
- Start meals that need to be on the stove top for a long time (for example: soups that need to simmer)
- Assemble Flash Freeze meals so they can start to freeze while you cook the other meals
- Work on meals that need to be on the stove top a short amount of time (for example: saute onions for a casserole)
- Assemble casseroles, burritos, enchiladas, lasagna etc
- Put together marinades
- Bag everything up 🙂
Why do I need to do prep work the day before I cook?
The thing that takes the most amount of time is cooking the meat. It also takes up valuable space on the stove top. Cooking the meat ahead of time (the day before) for the casseroles and soups will make the assembly of these meals quick and easy on cooking day. It also allows you to cook in bulk and get meats for several meals cooked at the same time. My new favorite trick is cooking the frozen chicken in the crock pot. Just dump 1- 1 1/2 bags of chicken into a crock pot. You do not need to add any liquid. Cook on low 5-6 hours. This makes the chicken very tender and you do not have to babysit it! If you also bulk chop, dice and shred your veggies and cheese for all the meals the day before, you will cut down on the busy work that will slow down the assembly line on cooking day. This is also when I put my meal in the crockpot.
Important tips on making your grocery list
Check your pantry, freezer and refrigerator to see what you have already. This can help you pick your recipes. Check the sale ads for meat, cheese, veggies etc. For example when frozen chicken breast goes on sale at Hy-Vee for $4.99 a bag, stock up! Buying in bulk can also save you money. You can buy a 10 pound roll of 90% lean hamburger at Sam’s for 3.19 a pound. If you don’t need a full 10 pounds you can brown up the extra for spaghetti sauce or taco meat. This will provide extra meals beyond what you are cooking that day. Bonus! Cheese is another item that you can save money buying in bulk. Add up all the amounts of cheese you need for all your recipes and buy in bulk. If you have extra cheese, you can freeze them in 2 cup portions to save for future meals like tacos.
One important thing to consider when you are buying your meat: Meat cannot change states more than once without cooking it first. For example you can not buy frozen chicken, thaw it and freeze it again without cooking it first. If your meal requires the meat to be thawed to work with it, like chicken stuffed with pesto or hamburger patties stuffed with veggies then you have to buy the meat fresh not frozen. If you will cook the meat before you freeze the meal, like in soups and casseroles, then you can buy whichever is cheaper. If you are using the meat in a marinade, buy it frozen if possible to save money. Just put it in a freezer bag, pour the marinade over it and freeze it before the meat thaws.
Here are some pictures to explain how my little helper does marinade recipes 🙂
I highly recommend that you go grocery shopping a day or two before your cooking day. If you do it all in one day you will wear yourself out and make the day too long. Buying ahead of time will also allow you time to do the prep work before the cooking day and get everything ready to set the day up for success.
Other Time Savers:
Get out all your non-perishable items (such as your canned foods, broths, oils, wines, and cooking spices) and arrange them on your table according to recipe. This will cut down on the time you waste running around looking for the ingredient. You can also get out your measuring cups, measuring spoons, mixing bowls, can openers, knives and appliances etc that you will need. This makes them readily accessible and easy to use allowing your day to go more smoothly.
Assignment: Step Two
Finalize the meals you are going to make. Make your Prep Work for the day before Cooking Day, Cooking Day Order of Steps and Grocery list. Use these free blank printable to aid in your list making.
Click here to download printables to help you plan for your cooking day. (Please only use copies for your own personal use. If you want to share these with a friend, please direct them to this blog post. Thanks!)
Next week we will talk about how to do the actual cooking day. Remember a bonus email will be sent out in November to everyone who has subscribed to the blog. (put your email address into the purple box on the right side of the website) Please pass this post on to anyone who you think might benefit from this way of cooking!