Dinner's Ready

by Kate Wicker

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Freezer Meals

Preparing Your Own Frozen Food

My Story: Using Your Freezer

Katie Conner, a busy mom of six that lives in Augusta, GA, used to dread dinnertime until she started practicing once-a-month cooking (OAMC), a cooking method also known as bulk or freezer cooking that involves setting aside a day or two to cook a month's worth of meals and then storing them in the freezer. "It never fails. My kids all get crabby starting at 5 o'clock. For awhile, I just thought I didn't like to cook, but I realized I just didn't like the circumstances under which I usually had to cook," she says. "Now I concentrate on cooking one weekend every two to three months instead of worrying about it every night. I love the peace that it brings to the dinner hour."

Not only does cooking once a month mean less time in the kitchen and more time with your family, but also buying in bulk can help stretch your food dollar. "You can buy restaurant supply-size cans of things and it saves money because you're not paying for all those little bitty cans of things," Conner says. If you're really frugal, you can shape your meals by planning around what specials are going on at grocery stores. Chicken on sale? Then stock up on it and plan to throw together some casseroles, enchiladas and other dishes where chicken plays the starring role.

And believe it or not, whipping up a lot of meals ahead of time doesn't demand the culinary skills of Rachael Ray. Nor do you have to be a highly organized domestic diva to pull it off. "I'm not a naturally organized person," Conner says. "Anyone can do this."

Ready to simplify evening chowtime and save some cash? Here's how to get started with freezer cooking:

  • Start slowly. You don't need to practice full-blown OAMC to enjoy the bliss of occasionally pulling out a ready-made meal out of the freezer at suppertime. An easy way to get started is to make a double batch of a favorite family recipe such as lasagna and freeze the extra one. If you do this a few times a week, you'll have a stockpile of prepared meals in your freezer. Once you're ready to take it to the next level, Conner recommends choosing a handful of recipes that share some of the same ingredients. For instance, pick out two chicken entrees and two dishes that have beans in them. Then make several batches of these four dishes and viola! You have a stash of meals ready to pull out on busy nights. You can even apply the principles of freezer cooking to special circumstances or seasons. Why not make several batches of your favorite cookie dough for the holidays? Divvy it up into perfect party portions, wrap in plastic wrap and freeze until you need it for that neighborhood potluck.
  • Stick to tried-and-true recipes. As an OAMC veteran, Conner is a little more creative with her menu, but she's learned to not get too exotic. "I've made mass quantities of something everybody hates," she says. Of course, this doesn't mean you have to limit yourself to bland casseroles. Conner has found that you can freeze just about anything.
  • Get out the sharpie. Labeling meals keeps you from having to dig through stacks of mystery freezer bags. It also helps to maintain an inventory of what's in your freezer. Cross off meals as your family eats them. Be sure to freeze items into meal-sized portions.
  • Get help. Conner first learned about OAMC from other moms talking about how to tame dinnertime chaos at a homeschooling conference. She liked the sound of it and did her homework to learn more about the style of cooking. Her favorite resource was the Freezer Cooking Manual from 30 Day Gourmet: A Month of Meals Made Easy by Nanci Slagle. The book includes worksheets and shopping lists to work from when designing your menu. Visit its website at www.30daygourmet.com. Another book you may find helpful by Mary-Beth Lagerborg and Mimi Wilson is Once-a-Month Cooking, Revised Edition: A Proven System for Spending Less Time in the Kitchen and Enjoying Delicious, Homemade Meals Every Day
  • Learn by trial and error. "Take notes of what did and didn't work," Conner recommends. "And don't give it up. You'll figure a system out that works best for your family."

Take the Next Step

  • Get cash back on the groceries you buy. Checkout 51 can show you how!
  • Continue to trim food costs by visiting our food & groceries section to get tips and tools for keeping more of your hard-earned dollars in your pocket.

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