In today’s fast moving world it can be hectic at dinner time. Trying to coordinate everyone’s schedules and sitting down for dinner together can be a real challenge. My name is Christy and I am the mother to four great kids ages 10-24 and I work part-time as a prop designer at a local theater. Before I started once a month meal planning dinner was always something thrown together or get fast food or take-out. I have tried so many versions of meal planning over the years. Once a week, commercial once a month, cooking once and eating twice, you name it I tried it out. All had some benefit but were not good enough to keep doing long term. They were either too expensive or took too much effort. So, here is my version of meal planning, it has taken me years to develop it, but I think it is amazing. It has seriously changed my life, it saves me hundreds of dollars every month, I have more time to spend with the kids and we are all healthier by not eating out as much. I have developed three monthly meal plans, each with 8 recipes that freeze well and they are all tried, true and delicious. Each recipe is already doubled to make two family sized meals (bags). It is a simple meal assembly plan(no pre-cooking required), using Gallon/Quart sized Ziploc bags and crock pot liners(for casseroles). They all freeze well and take up very little space in the freezer. In fact I can get 20 meals into my small top of the fridge freezer with no problem at all. They all cook in the crockpot. Every late morning I put one in the slow cooker and then dinner is ready when I get home. Last year I was paying big bucks to do a commercial meal prep service, and I loved it. But I would only end up with about 8-10 meals for over 200.00, and most of the meals still took a great deal of effort to cook. I have found that 16 of these crock pot meals costs about 150.00-200.00 if you have the staples on hand. When I go shopping for my once a month meal prep I am usually just buying, Ziploc bags(gallon and a few quart sized), meats, vegetables, canned goods and maybe the occasional staple that I have run out of. It is healthier too, as my family has only eaten out a handful of times in the last couple Months, I actually lost 5 lbs. in the last month as a bonus. I wish I had learned this meal plan years ago. I absolutely love my crock pot now and have learned how to adapt most recipes to be able to be made in the slow cooker. And, instead of heating up my oven and my whole kitchen I can just heat up my slow cooker using less energy. I will continue to develop new menus to share and if you have any good ones to share I would love to try them. I feel like I have a personal chef in the form of my slow cooker working in the kitchen for me all day. I am so excited to share this plan with you, I hope it helps your family to have wonderful mealtimes together.
So Let’s get started, first you need to download my book, “Once Upon a Dinner Time” on amazon or iBooks for .99 or free if you have prime. I promise you won’t regret it, it is such a great resource. Or, I can send you a Printed book binder for 9.99 that has the pages in protected plastic. If you want the book send me an e-mail message. After downloading the book, please read the post on freezer to crockpot food safety first. Next look at the shopping list and check off the items you already have on hand. Some good canned goods/staples to always have on hand are: Chicken and Beef Broth and chicken and Beef bouillon, Diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, green chiles, Black Beans, Chili Beans, Kidney beans, Onions, Minced Garlic, and it helps to have a well stocked spice cabinet too. I buy the above items at case lot sales when the prices are low and purchase spices I use a lot at Costco in the large containers. When buying this much Meat at one time it helps to shop the ads or price match at Wal-mart the best price. Winco is my favorite store to shop for meal prep day, they have great prices on meat and a great selection, the only thing that I have found that they don’t carry is the rosarita red enchilada sauce, which I stock up on at walmart. I absolutely love the new online grocery shopping options that are available where you can shop online and pick up your order at the store when it is ready. Costco and Sam’s Club are good too as most meats come in large packages and the quality is great. You can also price match vegetables at Wal-mart or if you plant a garden it can save you even more money. After shopping put all the vegetables and meats in the refrigerator. Place all the canned good and dry goods on the table or counter and all the spices you will need so they will be ready to use. On the day of meal assemble leave the meat in the fridge until you are ready for it in each recipe, so it stays cold. I have found it is not worth the savings to buy meats that I have to cut up or remove skin or bones, it’s just too much work and not worth the savings. Make sure you buy fresh meat and not previously frozen as you should not re-freeze meat, if you do use frozen meat, keep it frozen and put it in a separate bag so that the liquid doesn’t thaw it out. Fresh is best, and I like chicken thighs better than breasts for the crock pot (as chicken breast change texture when cooked too long). Dry spices do lose some of their flavor the longer they cook, and some fresh spices can turn bitter when cooked for a long time. I took that into consideration in developing my recipes. But, you may want to do a taste test after cooking is done and add more spices if needed. Do your assembly on a day when you have at least 3-4 hours free to cut vegetables and assemble your kits (and get the older kids or a friend or spouse to help you). I usually fill up our whole table with cut vegetables, and dirty quite a few dishes, but I think one mess is worth sixteen meals and a month worth of sanity at dinner time, well worth it.
Step 1 Start by washing( I like to put all the vegetables in a clean sink with cold and water and 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar to soak for about 10 minutes to remove any pesticides and residue) and cutting all the vegetables, onions, carrots, red and green peppers, broccoli, red potatoes, celery, etc. You can substitute sweet potatoes if you like instead of red potatoes in most of the recipes, it’s yummy. I have found that it is so much easier to do the diced onions and peppers with a food processor or a nifty vegetable chopper(like the slap chop), I slice the celery and carrots with my salad shooter, and I cut the potatoes and other vegetables that need to be bigger slices by hand. Something else that has saved me time is buying frozen chopped onions instead of fresh, my family thanks me when I do this because the kitchen doesn’t smell like onions for hours.
Step 2 Next, open all the cans and make sure all your ingredients are readily accessible (It helps to have an automatic can opener). Have measuring spoons and cups available as well as 50 Gallon sized freezer bags, 10 quart sized freezer bags, some crock pot liners and 2 2-quart pitchers(available for 1.00 at Wal-Mart or the dollar store), as well as paper towels.
Step 3 Place a gallon freezer bag in each of the 2 water pitchers and fold the top of the bag over the water pitcher( or the top part of the blender works too)
Step 4 Separate your recipes into chicken, beef and pork. Try to do one type of meat at a time. Most recipes can be adapted to your choice of meat and you can reduce the amount of meat in most recipes and add more vegetables instead if you wish, so if you prefer pork instead of chicken feel free to substitute.
Step 5 Add the meat to the bag first, then spices and seasonings then vegetables and lastly any wet ingredients. This way when you pour it into the slow cooker the liquid will go at the bottom of the crock pot, then the vegetables and seasonings and the meat on top. Remember that each recipe makes two bags full, so you are measuring once but making two dinners.
Step 6 Remove the bags from the water pitchers and carefully squeeze out extra air, you can hold them firmly and hang them over the side of the table or counter and then seal and it gets almost all the air out.
Step 7 If the recipe calls for additional separate ingredients fill the other bags and then place all bags into another gallon freezer bag and squeeze out as much air as you can, seal well. I always double bag everything(this is very important) as it really helps to keep out freezer burn and keeps it fresher longer.
Step 8 Label the outside bag with a black sharpie and write any special instructions on the bag, like how much water to add or additional ingredients that are added at the end of cooking time.
Step 9 Place in freezer standing up, not lying flat. You want the finished frozen product to fit in the crock pot easily and the shape of the freezer bag standing up is perfect for the oval shaped slow cooker.
Step 10 That’s it, you just made two meals, now repeat for the remaining 7 recipes and enjoy seeing a freezer full of healthy delicious meals for your family. When you are ready to cook one of your meals, take out of freezer the night before and place in the refrigerator to thaw a little(preferred method) or you can do what I do and take it out of the freezer and put a little warm water in the outside bag to loosen from the sides and let sit for about 5 minutes then pour into crock pot frozen and turn crock pot up to high for 60 minutes to thaw and then to low the rest of cooking time(This is a cinch if you have a programmable slow cooker) .
Special Tip: Play music in the background and take breaks so you don’t go crazy on meal prep day. It is a lot of work, but it will be worth it. 16 dinners will be done, so with going out a couple of times a month and the occasional go out to eat nights or I feel like spaghetti, pizza, or Taco nights, or left overs you have a month of meals.