Thursday, July 31, 2008

Organizing the Big Day: Meals for a Month

Part of the "Meals for a Month" series. Sorry about all the weird font sizes!

I'll continue enumerating the many benefits of cooking a big batch of entrees for your freezer at one time, but if you're itching to get started, you might be interested to see these organizing tips.

Gather the recipes (sounds obvious, doesn't it?): This is two-fold. First, you want to make sure you're not going to stock the freezer with recipes that don't freeze well. Make sure the recipes are meals you yourself have frozen successfully or are advertised as such in the cookbook. Don't attempt to freeze something just because you're into the idea. Second, make sure you're cooking recipes your family likes and will eat!

Strategize: How much freezer space do you have? How much time will you have to cook? What is your budget? How much food will your family need per meal? Write all of this down if you need to!

3. Decide: Which recipes will you make given your space allotment, your time allotment, your budget allotment, and the needs of your family? Perhaps you'll need to start small due to freezer space. Pick meals that are space-friendly (marinated chicken or something that can be packed in a ziploc bag). Or, if you're limited by budget, you may want to pick more bone-in chicken recipes than those that call for boneless, skinless chicken breasts.

4. Lists, lists, more lists! Write down ALL the ingredients you will need, going meticulously over each and every recipe. Are you going to double or triple recipes? You should write down ingredients that might seem small for a single recipe (1/4 cup honey), but become much more significant in a triple quantity (3/4 cup honey). Check your pantry and freezer for what you already need to get rid of--can you make any substitutions? (especially helpful with tomato products) Make an organized shopping list--I made one for Sam's and one for the regular grocery store. Double check the list!!! Include on the list what types of freezer wrapping/containers you might need to purchase. Getting low on foil? Need more freezer quality ziploc bags? How's your Pam holding out? Planning to cook a recipe requiring parchment paper?

5. Commit: Go shopping for your ingredients. If you purchase 15 pounds of chicken, you're committing to using it!

6. Schedule the big day (or afternoon or weekend). I had the privilege of having one of my children spend the weekend with her grandparents. I've had neighbors offer to keep my kids for an afternoon in return for a meal. You never know how you can barter! Your husband will probably get into the idea after he sees the benefit and will be more eager to give up a Saturday to future cooking extravaganzas. The first one will be tricky. You may need to schedule your day before you go shopping if you'll be buying many perishable products.

7. Preparation for the big day: This is especially important if you're limited to one afternoon or similar small chunk of time. Whatever you can prepare ahead of time will help when the big day comes. This can include something as simple as grouping canned/non-perishable ingredients together for each recipe so they will be easy to locate. Or, you might pull out your food processor the night before and chop a gazillion onions and garlic cloves. Another idea is to go ahead and bag up the little extras that are sometimes frozen alongside the entree and will be used a garnish/added at the last minute (shredded cheese for pasta dishes, chopped nuts, etc.).

8. Gear up! Wear comfortable shoes, old clothes, turn on the music, and get cooking!

Happy Cooking!

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