Eating out sounds so easy. You get to let someone else cook for you, while you relax (as much as you can with kids in a restaurant, anyway!)
The temptation of dining out is one we all fall prey to. You got home later than expected, or forgot to take the meat out to thaw, or just haven’t gotten around to meal planning yet. One way or another, you simply have no clue what to make for dinner. And let’s face it, by 5 pm you’re exhausted anyway!
But paying someone else to cook for you is expensive! Even if you only go out to eat once a week, you could be out $150 or more, depending on your restaurant choices. That’s at least $1,800 a year!
Due to some food intolerances that our boys have, there are only 5 restaurant options that my family can safely eat at. Even still, we too fall prey to the temptation to dine out! Our limited options just mean we get bored with it faster.
Fortunately, I’ve developed a system that keeps us from blowing our budget on an unexpected restaurant trip simply because I don’t know what to make for dinner.
Feeding the Freezer
I’ve found a simple and easy way to cook for the freezer. You’ll barely even notice the time you spend on it, and I guarantee that if you follow this method, your food budget will decrease dramatically!
You may be thinking, I’ve already tried freezer cooking–it didn’t work!
That’s because traditional freezer cooking doesn’t work. The kind where you pick a whole day, chop and cook a TON of food, and dirty every single dish in your kitchen–that’s traditional freezer cooking. And the idea is that you do this month after month after month.
It may work for a one-time event, like stocking your freezer for the addition of a child, but for an everyday meal planning solution it just doesn’t work.
Why? Well, there could be multiple reasons. Maybe you don’t like chopping 5 onions in a row until your eyeballs feel like they are about to fall out of your head. Maybe all of your Saturdays that month are too busy, so you can’t clear a day to do it. Or maybe you just don’t have enough freezer space for 5-10 casseroles to live there permanently.
You may also be thinking, Freezer cooking can’t work for me because I don’t have an extra freezer.
But freezer cooking absolutely can work for you! With some good organization and some cookie sheets, you can make this system work even if you only have a tiny fridge freezer. I have made it work for years, you can too!
There Had to Be a Better Way
Either way, I thought there had to be a better solution. Convenience food is essential to avoiding take-out menus and the effect they can have on your budget.
But even if you buy convenience food options at the store, you’re often not saving much over what you would have spent on eating out! If you want to have healthy options ready to go, or need to make some drastic budget cuts, then making your own “convenience food” is the way to go.
Let me just note that I’m not against eating out entirely. If you have planned for it and have it in your budget to do so, then enjoy that! What I am against, and what I hope to prevent, are those un-planned, non-budgeted fast food runs you make because you forgot to grab that one ingredient, or didn’t even think about dinner until 7 pm.
Honestly, this method is so simple! I honestly can’t believe I didn’t find it sooner. I am able to stock my freezer with a wide variety of healthy meal options, without giving it a second thought.
Step 1: Make Your Meal Plan
If you already have a meal planning routine in place, sit down and do that, just as you would normally. Don’t have a consistent meal plan yet? Grab my free Meal Planning Kit below to get started!
Step 2: Get Your Groceries
After you’ve chosen the meals you want to make for the month, you’ll need to write your grocery list. Then, when you’re writing out your grocery list, plan for extra ingredients.
Aim to double at least two or three of the recipes on your meal plan. Although if you’re feeling really busy and overwhelmed, you can try this method with just one meal if you’d prefer.
When choosing which meals to double, be sure you take into account the size of your pots and pans. If you don’t have a large stockpot or dutch oven, then you may not want to double Tuesday night’s beef stew. Likewise, you’ll need a large (at least 12 inch) skillet with high walls to effectively double the chicken fried rice you planned for Friday night.
Also keep in mind that freezing will work best for soups, burritos, and fillings (for example, freezing the filling for stuffed peppers), and pasta dishes. Casseroles, of course, also freeze well, but I wouldn’t recommend them unless you have extra freezer space.
Buying extra ingredients will cost you more at the grocery store, yes. But that will still be so much cheaper than eating out! Just be sure you plan for the extra expense and write it into your budget.
Step 3: Cook
I absolutely LOVE having lots of leftovers. So when I cook, I often cook like I have a family of 6–or 12–depending on my mood that day.
Tonight, I cooked like I had a family of 12. Burritos freeze great, so I find myself making them often.
Breakfast burritos. Chicken and rice burritos. Butternut and black bean burritos. There are so many options–take your pick! And if you don’t like burritos, don’t sweat! I’ll also show you how to freeze other meals.
Tonight, I made chicken and rice burritos. This is basically shredded chicken, rice, and a ton of picante sauce all mixed up and deposited into the tortillas.
Even with my Kitchen-Aid mixer, it took me about 20 minutes to shred the chicken and stir in all the rice and picante sauce. At almost 8 quarts, this is my largest bowl–that’s a lot of burrito filling!
It took me another 40 minutes to roll the burritos and fit them in the pans. While one hour is more time than I would usually spend on dinner for one night, it is worth it when you’re batch cooking!
These burritos–22 in all–are at least 5 nights worth of dinner for us. If I had cooked 30-minute meals for 5 nights in a row, I would have spent two and a half hours just on feeding my family. (Realistically, most dinners take me more than 30 minutes.) Instead, I spent one hour and saved myself at least an hour and a half.
Now, chicken and rice burritos are my husband’s favorite meal, so we may just end up eating these for an entire week. But with any other burritos, we put them in the freezer just like I’ll show you below.
Step 4: Freeze the Leftovers
Freezing burritos is easy. I just stretch out some plastic wrap, and place the burrito in the center. I then fold the plastic wrap tightly over the ends of the burrito, and wrap the excess plastic wrap around the burrito. And with that, they go in the freezer!
You can use this method with any meal, but I love burritos because they are so easy–you don’t even need to remember to thaw them! Just unwrap the plastic wrap, put your frozen burritos on a plate, and microwave for 3-4 minutes.
If you want to freeze soup, stir-fry, or pasta, just add your leftovers to a gallon size bag. Then, squeeze out all the air, and lay flat to freeze!
Laying your bags flat to freeze is crucial. Flat bags take up less space, stack better, or lean against each other in a frozen “file system.” It is truly the best way to maximize your freezer space.
Large cookie sheets really come in handy for maximizing your freezers space if you are freezing many bags at once, but they aren’t necessary. You can also just lay your bag flat on your freezer shelf. If you have multiple bags to freeze, fridge the other bags until your first bag is frozen enough to move, then rotate a new bag in to freeze flat.
If you use this method for several meals a month, you will soon have a variety of frozen meals ready to go!
Then, on those nights where you get home really late, or just have no clue what to make, you have a healthy, eat-at-home meal! For burritos, you can take out, unwrap, and microwave frozen.
For fast thawing of anything else, let it sit in a sink full of hot water for 10 minutes or so. When it is thawed enough to empty the bag into a container, you can finish thawing it in the microwave.
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