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freezer/batch cooking.

January 28, 2012

Here we go. One of my life-savers lately. Freezer/batch cooking!

As I’ve mentioned before, I work 40 hours a week at a large university in town. Lately, I’ve been working 40+ hours because of the nature of the semester. The spring semester IS slower than the fall, but it’s still busy. I work specifically for a large music college in the university and we’re in the midst of audition season – high school seniors who have to audition with their primary instrument to gain entrance into the college. It’s a very demanding time for all my co-workers. We actually just got done with the first one today and this upcoming week, we’ll have another one. Thankfully our last audition day is not until end of February. Whew!

Anyways, the combination of long and busy hours at work AND being in my 3rd trimester is very tiring. I have no energy or willingness to cook at night. I just want to crash on the couch and veg out. But we must eat and eat healthy/cheaply if we can. Thanks to my friend Melanie (who is due a week before me, with twins!) who gave me the brilliant idea and encouragement to cook meals ahead of time, I’ve done this. In fact, I’ve done this for about the last month and a half or so. (Preggo brain here – I can’t really remember.) Freezer/batch cooking, plus our homegroup helping us out by providing a few meals has really been amazing.

So how does one do freezer/batch cooking? Well, you will find a TON of resources out there on the internet. I just got some ideas from Melanie (like, making soup and pizza) and came up with my own ideas, too, based on what we like to eat, how much time I had and what our budget was like. Some things I kept in mind:

1. We don’t eat casseroles so those were out of the meal plan (though casseroles are great to freeze).

2. I need to cook as much vegetarian stuff as I could – cheaper and healthier. Or at least, use mainly vegetables and add a meat as a filler.

3. I have a normal size freezer. Space is limited.

4. What are dishes that we like?

5. What are dishes that are easy to freeze?

6. How often should I do this?

After doing this for a while now, it turns out that shopping once a week is better for me than shopping for the whole month. And more specifically, cooking on the weekend is better than cooking during the work week. Because of some meals I already had in the freezer, I haven’t necessarily cooked EVERY Saturday or Sunday. I think, looking back, I’ve cooked every other week, and I’ve just rotated meals that I already had in stock and ones that I just froze. I used to write down our weekly meal plan, based on our “inventory” but now I’ve started inputting everything on Google’s calendar option. It’s easier for me to move things around, if I decide we’ll eat one dish one particular night rather than another night, etc.

With audition season in full-swing, I knew I had to plan well. So, I made several meals last Saturday, knowing that I wouldn’t have the energy to cook this weekend.

Here’s what my freezer looked like seven days ago:

The 1st shelf is sort of random, with some bags of frozen vegetables (mainly chopped spinach, chopped onions and chopped green bell pepper from Kroger), 3 bags of eggroll wrappers (I can only find them at Central Market or at Asian grocery stores, so I buy a bunch at a time and keep them frozen until later use), 2 pouches of fish, some frozen fruit and a couple of lunch servings for me.

The 2nd shelf contains mostly the frozen meals I’ve made. 1 batch/bag means 1 night’s dinner for BOTH my husband and I. Last week’s “inventory” had:

  • 2 bags of fried, whole fish (from my dad) – we can eat this with rice, eggrolls and salad
  • 3 bags of Filipino eggrolls (lumpia) that I made; there are 8 eggrolls per bag, which I fry up and we eat with rice and lettuce (or with fish, like I wrote above)
  • 1 batch of taco soup (leftover from a homegroup friend’s contribution)
  • 4 cheese quesadillas (made with our sandwich maker), to go with the taco soup
  • 2 batches of vegetarian chili (post coming soon)
  • 3 batches of hoppin’ john
  • 2 batches of red bean paella
  • 2 batches of menudo (post coming soon)
  • 2 batches of shish taouk (post coming soon)
  • 2 batches of middle-eastern rice (post coming soon)

Some other stuff I’ve made and froze have been zuppa toscana and 2 pizzas (using Jiffy’s pizza dough and toppings I had in the fridge, like turkey pepperoni, mushrooms, cheese and spinach).

That’s a lot of dinners, right?! (Three days of the week, my husband and I are able to ride to work together – same work hours – and therefore, we eat lunch at a vegan cafeteria on campus. The meal plan we use there is cheap, approx. $3.50 per meal, per person. The other two days, I work different hours from my husband, so I pack my lunch and eat at my office; he eats at home.)

So as to not overwhelm my husband with just soup for like, three days in a row, I try to have a rotation of the meals. Variety is a good thing! My husband is great – he eats whatever I make (granted, as long as it’s not a casserole or meatloaf, ha!) and is not the stereotypical male who only wants meat and potatoes. He’s actually very healthy and was the person who helped me to change my eating habits (I used to eat a lot of junk). He’s all for eating healthy, cheaply and ethnically (if that makes sense) – he loves Filipino food. I am blessed!

Anyways, cooking ahead of time has been a lifesaver, like I mentioned earlier. The night before, I’ll take a bag out of the freezer and will put it in the fridge to thaw all day next day. Then, once I get home from work, I’ll take the bag out of fridge if it is still a bit frozen, and let it thaw on the countertop. I’ll either pour the contents of the bag in a bowl and microwave it, or I’ll heat it up in a pan on the stove. The only thing I’ll have to actually cook is shish taouk, as it’s just chicken pieces in a marinade – I’ll just bake it in the oven. The rice to accompany it is already cooked.

Last Saturday was my latest cooking day. My husband helped me make the shish taouk marinades while I cut up fresh chicken (bought 5 lbs of it from Sam’s) and put into bags. That same afternoon, I made menudo, middle eastern rice and orange chicken (for our dinner that night). I was able to rest on Sunday instead of worrying about meals for the coming week. I won’t have to cook for another 2 weeks, I think (especially since this upcoming weekend is another audition day – no time! no energy!).

Let me know if you have any questions or suggestions. I’m still new at this and I know that I have room for improvement in my system of cooking. I honestly don’t know how much I can keep doing this as the weeks progress and as my belly grows. But for now, freezer/batch cooking is so helpful. I can’t imagine NOT doing this!

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