Like many of you, I am a busy mom. It’s hard to work, run errands, run kids around and make a healthy dinner. I have learned over the years to try to plan ahead as much as I can. One of the most successful strategies I use is to cook ahead.

If you do a google search for the term cooking ahead recipes or freezer cooking you will find a bonaza of websites and recipes to sort through. Many women out there find this method to be very cost effective and use it religiously. I have used this method for better than a decade.

The recipes online are good starters, but I have to be quite selective about the recipes. It is challenging to find these freezer recipes that are considered “clean”. I eliminate any recipes with cream of anything soups, mayonnaise, cream, butter, or prepackaged seasoning (ranch dressing, marinades, etc).

I also avoid any recipes that include pasta, rice or potatoes. I prefer to use brown rice and like to add it later so I can maintain control of portions. My children don’t like rice or potatoes cooked in any fashion. We don’t like casseroles of any kind, so I eliminate any of those recipes.

My kids also don’t like anything that is cooked in the crockpot. There are just a couple of things I can sneak into the crockpot here and there so I will use those as much as possible. They are particularly picky. So I have to be also.

So, you might ask what I do when I cook ahead? Here are some simple steps you can take to get started:

1. Dump recipes.

 I try to eliminate a lot of the time consuming steps of the planning. I do a lot of “dump recipes”. So, anything that needs marinating, or mixing I will put it all together with the meat, label and seal it in a ziploc freezer bag. Then all I have to do is pull the bag out of the freezer in the morning before I go to work, and I have dinner ready to cook when I get home.

An example of dump recipes would be soups and stews that I cook in the winter. If I plan on making chili I will put the cooked ground beef, the beans (yes, all you Texans I put beans in it and still call it chili), the tomato sauce, the diced green pepper and onions, and the seasoning all in a freezer bag.  I label it and freeze it. Then when I want to cook chili I pull the bag out of the freezer, dump it all into the crockpot, turn it on. Dinner is done when I'm home.

2. Cook ahead:

Another way I use the freezer method to help make life easier is to cook ahead some of the basic steps of many meals. I will cook a huge batch of brown rice and then portion it out into 2 cup portions (one cup for me and one for hubby) which I freeze. Then when I need rice, I just throw it in the microwave. I will purchase several pounds of ground turkey meat and then cook it all at once. Then I freeze it in 1 pound batches. These are great for when I want to throw it in pasta sauce, or tacos or chili. Sometimes I will cook several pounds of ground turkey and season it for tacos, then portion it out and freeze it. It is so helpful to know that if I don’t have my act together, I can just pull out taco meat from the freezer and voila! Taco Tuesday!

Recently I discovered that I can cook a large batch of sweet potatoes and freeze them for later. Then I just thaw it in the microwave. What a huge time saver!

3. Batch cooking:

When taking time to cook something that is time consuming to prepare, I make several batches. I mentioned earlier that I don't cook often with pasta, but my girls will eat my lasagna. Since I don't love leftovers, I cut a typical lasagna recipe into two separate meals. I prepare smaller pans and wrap them carefully with freezer foil making sure all the seams all sealed tightly. I put masking tape on the top with a label so I know what I have frozen in there. I pull it out the night before and stick it in the fridge. When I get home, pop it in the oven and then head for a run!

This will work for any casserole or pasta dish you bake. Try a pan of enchiladas.  Just look through your current recipes and see what you can prepare now to freeze and enjoy later.

Tomorrow I will share one of my new favorite recipes that was prepared in the crockpot and then portioned out, and frozen. I was able to get three meals from it. Eating healthy takes planning, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. With a few time saving steps and good freezer containers, you can make it a little easier.

 

Tomorrow: Slow Cooked Jerk Pork with Caribbean Salsa