First of all, you may want to get a cup of coffee and snack before you start reading. This ended up being a lot longer than I planned. So, here it goes…
Recently I cooked enough food to provide about 55 meals and each meal averaged out to being about $2 each and that’s without using coupons. The meals are all frozen and will make cooking dinner much easier. All of the food is made from scratch and does not use any processed ingredients. Not only does this save money, but it also cuts down on salt, extra preservatives, and artificial ingredients.
Some people have asked me for the recipes that I used. I decided to provide the link to the recipes along with some suggestions and other ideas. The day before I cooked all my food, I cooked 3 whole chickens and about 6 pounds of turkey meat. I cooked the chickens in the oven – it only takes about 3 hours each. I then made chicken broth with the bones and scraps. To save time, I cooked the turkey in the crock pot. It is easy to clean up and much more efficient than cooking all of it in the skillet. Keep in mind that I doubled all of these recipes so that I could have 2 of each frozen. I figured if I’m making one, I may as well make 2. We have tried all of the frozen meals, and they all turned out great.
1. Shepard’s Pie – We don’t eat beef, so I cook with ground turkey. I ended up probably tripling the meat so that there would be plenty of meat in this carb-heavy dish. I changed the mashed potato part of the recipe though. I just boiled the potatoes, mashed, and then added cream cheese, a little milk, and salt and pepper until I got the consistency and taste that I wanted. It was much cheaper and used fewer ingredients. It turned out great and was very easy to make.
2. Chicken Pot-pie – I’ve kinda gotten on a chicken pot-pie kick lately. They are easy to assemble and taste great. The recipe that I use has all the ingredients made from scratch. Sometimes I make the crust by scratch, but I have also bought pre-made crust. The ones from scratch taste much better, but I recently found some on sale and used them. The pre-made ones also have all the same ingredients as the homemade ones, so I was able to justify buying them.
3. Chicken Enchiladas – these were rather time-consuming since I made the tortilla shells from scratch. I spent some time looking at the ingredients in the store-bought shells and just couldn’t breakdown and buy them. The shells are easy to make, it is just time-consuming to roll out 20 shells and then fry them. However, in the end, they are much cheaper than store-bought and taste a whole lot better, so the extra work is worth it. Here’s the link for the shells: http://www.the-girl-who-ate-everything.com/2008/10/post-trick-or-treating-soup.html. I use ½ whole white wheat flour and ½ white flour. Makes them a little healthier but still has a great taste. I am out of homemade salsa, so I had to buy some from Sam’s. They have one that has fresh ingredients and no preservatives.
4. Lasagna – This was a simple basic lasagna. The recipe came off of the box for the whole wheat lasagna noodles. I was able to use one box to make both lasagnas. I also tripled the meat in this dish b/c it is so carb heavy. I used some organic tomato sauce. I don’t buy the grated Parmesan cheese to cook with. Take a look at the ingredients and you’ll figure out why. Instead, I buy some shredded Parmesan from Sam’s that doesn’t have the preservatives.
5. Doris’ Meatloaf – This is the recipe for my grandmother’s meatloaf. I made two of them using homemade ketchup and breadcrumbs from my home
6. Taco Soup – I ended up making 5 gallons of this. The recipe uses canned beans, but I used dry ones that soaked the night before. It took all day for this to cook and I think I added some different beans than what was called for. Also, I increased the meat and used my own taco seasoning.
I also pre-made a few side dishes:
1. I had some black-eyed peas left over from New Year’s Day. I went ahead and soaked them and split them up into bags. I added some chopped onions, ham scraps, garlic, and seasonings. We had some of these with the meatloaf last week. All it took was dumping the entire bag into a pot, adding some water, and then letting them simmer until soft. Very easy!
2. I also went ahead and got a few bags ready to make re-fried beans. I used the following recipe, but split it up into small bags. I used the ingredients that they listed, but I could’ve just used some of my homemade taco seasoning.
3. I fixed some green beans also. I bought fresh beans at Kroger, snapped and rinsed them. Then froze them along with some onions and seasoning. I let them boil until soft, then cooked them in the skillet with a little bit of oil and garlic.
All in all, it took me 2 days to fix all of this food. Three days if you include the day I cooked the meat, although that took very little effort. The first day took the longest b/c I made the tortilla shells that day. Here are a few other cooking suggestions that helped save time:
1. Buy a food processor if you don’t have one already. Mine has a blade to shred cheese which saves a lot of time and effort. I use the regular blade to shred the chicken. I use it for almost all of my recipes. Here’ a link to the one that I have: http://www.walmart.com/ip/Black-Decker-PowerPro-Wide-Mouth-Food-Processor/16944966
2. I got an apple peeler/corer for Christmas from Andrea, my sister-in-law. I used it for the potatoes in the Shepard’s Pie. It saved a lot of time when it came to peeling the potatoes and they cooked faster since they were sliced. Here’s the link to the apple peeler she gave me: http://www.amazon.com/Andersons-Baking-Peeling-Coring-Machine/dp/B000EI7ZC
3. Have a plan in mind. I knew what needed to be done first and what could wait. I made the soup to begin with b/c I knew it would need to cook all day. I soaked the beans overnight so that I could make the soup. I also cooked the meat the day before so that I would have the chicken cooked and the chicken broth.
4. I stored the chicken broth in pitchers. Sounds gross I know, and make sure your kids don’t get it confused with apple juice. The pitcher made it easier to measure and pour.
5. I froze the meals in disposable aluminum pans that came from Sam’s. You can buy these at any grocery store though. Here’s the link for these: http://www.samsclub.com/sams/bakers-chefs-aluminum-foil-steam-table-pans-half-size-30-ct/200080.ip?sprodId=200080
6. When it’s time to cook one of the meals, take it out the night before and let it sit on the counter top. In the morning, put it in the fridge. It took most of them about 1 hour to cook.
All the work was definitely worth it in the end. However, don’t feel like you have to cook all of the meals. Try out a few and see how it goes. We also have a deep freezer which we store the meals in. I suggest buying one if possible. You can usually find them on Craigslist if you don’t want to buy one at full retail price.
So, this ended up being a lot longer blog than I planned, but I wanted to include as much information as possible. Let me know if you have any questions or suggestions of meals for my next big cook, which hopefully won’t be for a few months. And keep in mind, a small step is better than no step at all!