Life is so hectic now. Running around day to day, trying to pay the bills, take care of the kids and animals, doctor’s appointments, school sports, and the list goes on. In this madness, we sometimes don’t think about our meals. “I’ll just pick something up on the way home.” The cost of this type of convenience adds up fast and isn’t very healthy most of the time.
If the food picked up is hot and ready to eat and has any nutritional value, then the cost is most likely high. Or maybe to save money it’s an inexpensive frozen meal or can of soup to throw in the microwave, both of which may have a list of ingredients that can’t easily be pronounced.
There are also mail order meals to choose from. I cannot write about any of those since I don’t like paying someone else to make my daily meals. This is always more expensive and doesn’t taste the same.
What if, instead of relying on companies to make your food, you could have a nice homemade meal on those busy nights without the fuss?
This should not be taken on as an overnight thing. The process is a new way of living and planning for many people. Starting out with baby steps and growing is better than burning out by trying to do everything at once. Starting slow will also show what works and doesn’t work for you. Everyone’s needs are different – experiment.
You may be familiar with this concept as it has become more of a fad the last several years; however, this is how I started doing it more than 20 years ago.
When my boys were growing up, between youth events, doctor’s appointments, sporting events, meetings, etc., most of the time, I felt like I was only home long enough to sleep. On the days I was home, there was so much work to be done with home schooling the boys on top of the thousand other chores I needed to complete, I never had a chance to even sit down to eat. Having children with a lot of food allergies, in a time when those allergies were not common knowledge, meant I had to make all their foods from scratch; including grinding the flours. Any time they were invited to a birthday party or a sports team pizza party, I called ahead to see what foods would be there. I then duplicated everything with what they could eat and sent it with them. This way they could eat their pizza while the other kids were eating pizza; a feeling of being a part of the team. All this work meant mom was lucky to get four hours of sleep each night.
I quickly learned, for survival reasons, I needed a better plan of attack concerning our meals and even snacks and the ingredients I had to make.
On the rare days I had time to cook a real meal, I started making larger amounts. I was already dirtying up the kitchen, taking the time to grind the flour, cut vegetables, and put everything away, why not make a double batch and freeze the rest for later?
It was slow going in the beginning. I had very active boys and “leftovers” was not a word often heard in the house. It started off with maybe one or two snack-sized portions and slowly grew over time.
Then the time came when once again where we didn’t have any leftovers; you know – the TEEN years.
How did I combat this? I made more.
By the time my boys were teenagers; the pot I had for making stews was a large 22-quart one. This was filled to the top every time I made any soups, stews or chili. What was not eaten for dinner would be kept warm overnight by either staying on the stove, in a crock pot, or in a makeshift “straw box.” The next day I canned what was left for a quick and easy meal later. Each batch would be different than the last; chicken stew, chili, beef stew, etc., building a supply of different options.
Not counting the stews, since that was fairly ongoing, I tried to set aside two or three days in a row, once per month, to focus on different types of bulk meal preps. For the first year, I received help from Mom but after getting into a routine and accumulating several pre-made meals, I was able to complete them by myself. On the prep days, the family could easily grab one of the ready made meals, leaving me the time to make more batches.
The first day consisted of: grinding all the flour I needed (several different types), shredding a ton of different cheeses, slicing the pepperoni, cooking the sausage and draining it, and gathering everything else I would need for the next day. On day two I usually finagled my mom into helping me form an assembly line. On many occasions the boys enjoyed helping to assemble the pizzas. I think they felt a little power in determining what toppings and how much would be put on each pizza. We generally completed 10 to14 pizzas, made from scratch, in one day. Once all of the pizzas cooled off, whatever was left after the vultures found them, got cut into portion sizes and froze on cookie sheets overnight.
Placing a sheet of clear wrap or wax paper between each layer prevented the pizzas from sticking to each other. The third day I vacuumed sealed and labeled all of them and placed them back into the freezer. With planning, lasagna, chicken nuggets, home-cut French fries, and many other meals were easily handled in this way.
This was not an easy thing to start and took about a year to really get the flow of things going well. Working on bulk meal preps a month or two slowly built up a verity of quick to fix healthy homemade meals and snacks. After awhile, I had enough set aside that the family could easily use some of the already prepped foods on days I worked on meal prepping, which also helped keep them rotated.
• Watch for sales at the grocery store. Plan meals based on what is mainly on sale. If things like carrots, potatoes and tomatoes are on sale, buy a bunch, get a few other items to go with them and make a large pot of stew. If spaghetti sauce and noodles are on sale, make a large batch of baked spaghetti and freeze portion sizes. Buying things on sale and in bulk saves money but only if you can use the stuff; i.e. don’t buy four bushels of strawberries unless you can process them all within a few days.
• Buying locally and in bulk not only saves money but also supports those in your community and provides a fresher tasting product for your family. We save up to buy a half or a whole cow, once a year from a local farmer. I love being able to get every part of the cow and deciding how everything is cut up. I use the bones to make bone broth. The liver gets dried, powdered, and put into capsules for nutritional supplements, and I use the other organs, like the heart, for added nutrition in pet food; nothing goes to waste. Purchasing cows, pigs, chicken, etc. from the local 4-H club each year supports the kids and the community and you know the animals are well cared for.
• Knowing the person you purchase your produce from is important when you need to know what might have been put on the crops in the fields.
• A vacuum sealer helps prevent freezer burn from long term freezer storage. Buying and cooking foods in bulk can save a lot of money if the food is eaten before getting freezer burn. Investing in a vacuum sealer to protect that food can pay for itself in a short amount of time.
• Using silicon molds wasn’t an option when I started doing all this but I have grown to love them. I have several different sizes. My newest addition is a tray that holds 1/2 cup portions for soups and other liquids. I will freeze soup in the 1/2 cup portions then individually vacuum seal the cubes – one, two or per bag. Later on, I just pull out how much I want and heat it up on the stove. I don’t have a microwave.
• When making pizzas in bulk I use to fully cook them but I have learned that is not the best way to do it. Every time we tried re-heating the pizza they got overcooked. Now, I only lightly but fully bake the crust, put on all the toppings, cut it into portion sizes, freeze, and vacuum seal. This means I am no longer “reheating” leftovers but cooking it as I would a frozen store bought pizza.
• Save on dirtying more dishes: Items such as lasagna and spaghetti, that have been vacuum sealed in individual portion sizes, can be left sealed in the vacuum bag and placed into a simmering pot of water to heat up.
• Making microwavable meals can be just as easy.
Place leftovers into divided reusable microwavable dishes and allow them to freeze overnight. If the dish has a lid, remove the lid and place into a vacuum seal bag, label, and store in freezer. If the lid is left in place, then either the vacuum process will collapse it or the gap it provides may allow ice crystals to grow, which affects the taste of the food.
With the way things are going now, I am trying to move away from anything requiring power to store food such as a freezer, and am transitioning to more of the older ways of food storage and preservation.