One Girl… 18 Double Batch Recipes… One Weekend.
Update: 4/5/16 Woah! This was a blast from the past! I'm cracking up reading this right now. I have to admit, I got lazy and switched to Freezeasy packs. Now I can make 10 freezer meals in an hour and I'm done. I do one every weekend night (usually in the morning or after the kids go to bed if it gets desperate). You can check out Freezeasy here.
A little over two years ago, when we were expecting our first child, I started experimenting in batch freezer cooking. I loved the idea, but ran into several road blocks. Variety, and lack of kitchen equipment to handle large batches were the most debilitating. We kept it up for a few months, and abandoned it in favor of $5 Dinner Mom style cooking (Click here to read more about her style). When my friend Caroline introduced me to Not Your Mother's Freezer Cookbook (Amazon, $20.00), and I flipped through it, I started getting excited about it again. It had about 100 recipes that I couldn't wait to try, gave very clear packaging and thawing instructions, and taught you how to plan for big batch cooking.
I usually reserve cookbooks from the library and suggest you do the same, unless you know you love it. This gives you a chance to try it out before buying it. If you don't have the money budgeted, you can also just keep renewing it from the library.
Big batch cooking, is cooking enough meals for several days (or even a month). I was intrigued. Giving up one Saturday to not have to worry about dinner for a month? Yes please! I diligently made my lists and figured out my prep/cooking order. I made equipment lists and figured out what I needed to make this possible (like enough disposable or real casserole pans) and make this easier (like a food processor). I did a basic menu plan for 30 days of breakfast, lunch and dinner. This plan had a lot of repeat items (since I'm making several batches of a few dishes), but I knew from the past that I could do two sessions the first month and then mix the meals up to offer a greater variety. I added the total ingredients for the entire list (combining items since everything is being made in one day). This was much harder than planned, since I can tell you the price without thinking of 28 oz diced tomatoes at Aldi's, but have no idea the price of 130 oz diced tomatoes at costco. Next time, I plan to just calculate the costs as if I were buying in smaller versions and then just transfer savings to my savings account (bonus- that would also make it easy to tell when buying smaller at Aldi's would save you more money). Once I had my monthly food costs figured out (around $350), I used the remaining $400 from our weekly grocery budget (I budget $150/week, but usually use $100 of that and this month has 5 weeks) to purchase about $200 worth of equipment (extra large mixing bowls, a giant slow cooker, a giant stock pot, extra measuring cups/spoons, a food processor, and an extra large baking sheet). I now have the remaining $200 to plan a smaller batch cooking session next week (just because its the first month- to add variety) using Hatch Chile's that come to Wegmans this weekend. In the end, I'll have enough food for about 2.5 months for what I normally spend in a month.
Benefits that I noticed from Once a Month Batch Cooking:
- Baby Free Cooking! Rather than juggling the kids and cooking for 30 nights a month. I got my husband to take our son for one entire Saturday 8 am until Bedtime. I got to concentrate on just the tasks at hand, and our little man got some much appreciated boys only time. This is a great time to send them out of the house too! Explore a park, run errands etc.
- You get sweet kitchen equipment for free!(When you factor it into your grocery budget). Without this, it's unlikely I would have budgeted to buy a food processor any time soon.
- Less Cleaning!It turns out that the clean up from 30 dinners in a day, isn't that much worse than 1 dinner. You're just getting it all out of the way at once. Then for the rest of the month, you have almost no kitchen clean up since you're just reheating food.
- Better Food. This is true for us, but depends on what you're cooking now. I used to stick to really simple, quick menus. For instance, when I would cook pancakes, I would make the quickest recipe I could find. The pancakes I made for the freezer are thick Oatmeal chocolate chip pancakes that were well worth the extra effort. Theres something about knowing you'll be cooking all day anyway that lets you go the extra mile.
- More Veggies. We usually go out of our way to make sure at least one veggie is included with every meal and snack. With this system we're up to three of four. Everything seems to have hidden veggies and with the food processor, adding the veggies was quick and easy.
- More Free Time. What would you do with the extra hour and a half a night this will save you? You wont need to cook, you'll have a much shorter clean up. So what will you do? Read trashy magazines? Spend more time with your littles? Watch the Bachelor Pad (No judging!) and eat Cheetos?
- Easy Gifts for Friends! One of the nicest things you can do for someone is to give them the gift of an easy dinner. This is a great idea if they have suffered a loss, have a spouse/child suffering from a medical condition or have just brought home a new baby. If you have a freezer stocked with easy casseroles, this becomes an easy blessing.
- Save Money!We were already pretty awesome in the grocery department. We spent about $100/week (but could go up to $150 if needed) to feed 2 adults and 1 child all the time, and an additional 3 children during weekdays. With this, we could make our monthly grocery budget $350 (goal) to $400 (limit) and still eat well.
Tips and Tricks:
- Plan ahead to have all of your meals that day from take out. I took our son out to breakfast early that am and brought back breakfast for Daddy. We had Dad pick up Chipotle orders to bring back and then have a Pizza and salad from Wegmans for Dinner. Include this in the monthly food budget. (Ours was $46 total).
- Plan ahead to have money available for Dad to spend the day out of the house. We budgeted $25.00, he could get admission to a water park, bounce house, a project from Lowes to do in the back yard, whatever. It just helps to convince Dad how awesome it will be to be a single parent for a day.
- Turn on the TV (if you have an iPad, this is perfect for that!) or music. It's going to be a long day. Do what you can to make it a little less horrid. Have a good book for downtime.
- Use post it notes to cover measurements in the cook book. When you're making three meals at the same time, it's easy to forget to multiply the ingredients for a particular recipe. I cover the measurements in the book completely with a post it note and write in the multiplied amount so I can't be confused.
- Slow down. The faster you try to go, the more mistakes you'll make and the longer this will take. You'll be cooking for 10-12 hours anyway. Chill out, pretend your a host on the food network and concentrate on what your doing.
- Have multiple timers available. You have sauce in the slow cooker for 4 hours, a casserole baking for 45 minutes, sloppy joes on the stove top for 11 minutes and broccoli cheddar soup simmering for 25 minutes. Having multiple timers will really help you keep things straight.
- Don't skip making the plan! Take it seriously and be thorough. It will make this so much easier and will help you complete everything in the 10-12 hours.
- Consider Costco. If you have a membership, or are eligible for a trial membership, this would be a great time for that. If you need 15 pounds of flour, 230 oz of crushed tomatoes, etc, you can often get your prices lower through Costco.
- Don't put anything into or take anything out of the freezer without adding it to a freezer inventory (the one that I use is free and can be printed off here). Your going to have a jam packed freezer, so this makes it easy to remember whats in there for menu planning.
- If you don't have a deep freezer, consider getting one. We bought ours 3 years ago after searching craigslist for months. They were all $200-$300 for used models. We gave up on that and bought this 7 cu ft one from Lowes (Currently for sale for $189 but wait for the 20% off coupons in the mail). We love it. We have the warranties from a new model, it gives us plenty of space when used in conjunction with our regular freezer and we spent less than we could have found used. If you can find a better deal on craigslist, go for it!
- Don't plan to do anything else that day. Not even a load of laundry. Add that to your awesome husband's list for the day and make it up to him in sausage, egg and cheese biscuits for breakfast the next day.
That one day will really, really, really suck. And in the beginning, may turn into two days. This is a skill, like anything else. Determining the order that things need to be made in and efficiently using your time is something you need to work at to master. Every time you do a session, you'll get better. If I had written this post the night after my first session, I would have said “Don't do this!”, but after having reaped the benefits for a while I can see the big picture. You'll be exhausted, sore from standing and mixing all day, and really, really want to quit.
Trying to juggle multiple trips to multiple stores is a little tough (at least in the summer, when you can't leave cold products in a hot car long enough to make another quick store stop). Consider getting a really large cooler and ice packs.
All in all, I think this was a great way to start off batch cooking and the benefits outweighed the drawbacks. However, theres a million ways to batch cook, including smaller 4 hour sessions every weekend, making two dinners each night for two weeks and then not cooking for the next two weeks, and cooking one double batch meal each night in a quiet peaceful kitchen after the kids have gone to bed.
At the end of the weekend, Here's what we had:
*Note: You'll notice a lack of chicken recipes. I'm in my second trimester of pregnancy and have an extremely strong aversion to chicken. I'm hoping I can eat it again after the baby gets here, but right now it isn't a possibility.
4 loaves of garlic bread
5 pounds of bacon
18 zesty Italian melted sandwiches
4 ham and swiss potato gratin casseroles
8 batches of pizza dough
10 batches of pizza sauce
58 oatmeal chocolate chip pancakes
96 cinnamon French toast dippers
4 loaves chocolate chip banana bread with oats
70 chocolate toffee cookies
30 hamburger buns
19 English muffins
10 packs of mozzarella cheese (in 1 cup portions)
10 packs of cheddar cheese (in 1 cup portions)
Jamie's spice mix (great for frozen veggies!)
28 sausage egg and cheese muffins
10 Packs of chili (in 2 cup portions)
20 packs of red pasta sauce (in 2 cup portions)
12 packs of sweet and spicy sloppy joe's (in 2 cup portions)
16 cups of Bolognese Sauce
I could just eat these and not cook for a while, but I like a lot of variety and hatch chile's come out this weekend at Wegmans. Hatch Chile's are an event at our house! We reserved a giant box and will freeze anything we don't use. I'll do a really small session each day this weekend, about 2-4 hours. I chose easy, low maintenance recipes that won't take a lot of active cooking time.
This Weekend I'll add:
4 pans of red and green beef enchiladas
4 pans of shepards pie with hatch chile mashed potatoes
24 beef, bean and cheese burritos with homemade slow cooked pinto beans
16 hatch chile burgers, cooked and frozen
24 whole wheat cinnamon buns (icing needs to be made when serving, but takes less than 2 minutes)
Cost for this weekends cooking totaled $165, including unplanned purchases of 4 packs of green mountain K-cups on sale for $3.99 (great price!), 20 bananas (.39/pound!), 2 bags of siracha chex mix, and fancy coffee creamer to surprise Jon. That puts me under my monthly grocery budget by $35. Instead of 30 dinners, 30 lunches and 30 breakfasts though, I have:
Breakfasts: 52 meals
Lunches: 43 meals
Dinners: 66 meals
$350- Groceries, first weekend
$200- Equipment to start
$46- Convenience for batch cooking day (eating out)
$165- Groceries, second weekends
Total Spent: $761
for 7.5 weeks of meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner)
Which is $101.46/week (under budget!)
Since the equipment was a one time only purchase, next month I cook, I can expect to have a weekly budget of $74.80 or $336/month!
Which is pretty awesome savings for eating amazing food!
Update: I found out about “Once a Month Meals” where you can pay $10/month and they do all the planning and prep work for you. That's been huge! It eliminated 2 about 12 hours of planning and took my cooking day down to 6/7 hours which felt amazing! You can check them out here.
This post is a part of the Thrifty Thursday Link Up at Living Well, Spending Less. You can find other awesome thrifty ideas at livingwellspendingless.com
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