My husband and I are committed to eating good whole foods for our health and well-being. But as a person with chronic pain and limited mobility, there are many days that I just don’t have the energy needed to cook. So, I had to come up with a solution that limits cooking to once or twice a week and allows us to always have a variety of nutritious meals on hand in our freezer. It takes a bit of time to build up the meals, but once you get going, you won’t have to struggle with the “what- should-we-have-for-dinner-tonight” dilemma, you won’t have to resort to pre-packaged foods that are expensive and may have allergens or health triggers.
The solution I came up with was to cook in quantity so that there would always plenty of food left over (we won’t call them “leftovers”) to package and freeze for future meals. I usually cook once a week and aim for about 14 portions. Most often, I do this on Sundays when husband is home to help if I need it. We eat that meal that night, then, I freeze the rest in individual microwaveable containers (ours are Pyrex with vented plastic lids). That way we can eat different things each night, and I don’t have to do much food preparation other cutting up some fresh vegetables to cook or put in a salad.
Currently, the meals in our freezer include: trout with quinoa; white beans with buckwheat; ancient grains corn and quinoa pasta with homemade poultry sausage sauce; crabcakes; herbed chicken tenders with roasted potatoes; lentil loaf; and, pea and lentil soups.
Perhaps you’re wondering: how can I get going on this food project? Here’s a description of what I did and some suggestions for you.
The first thing I did was to take stock of what we already had in the freezer. Then, I needed to figure out how much freezer space I had (and my freezer is relatively small) that could be devoted to the project. I did this by stacking the containers I would use in the freezer and figuring out how many main meal portions and other needed items would fit. Then, I had to think about the foods that we wanted to include in our food plan.
My freezer currently looks like this: One quarter of it is devoted to ice packs (for pain relief) and frozen fruits and vegetables (specifically, we have one bag each of blueberries, peas, broccoli, and green beans.) Another quarter has frozen proteins (chicken breasts, turkey burgers, sausages), some burger buns, a loaf of bread, and a half gallon of my hubby’s favorite ice cream. The rest contains approximately 30 portions of meals. Note: If they are all in plastic freezer bags you can fit more, but you have to be willing to run the bags under cold water and peel the bag off to get the meal into a lidded microwave dish for heating and serving.
Get the Cooking Started:
For me, at the start of the process (before I built up the 30 portions of main meals) the freezer space contained a package of tacquitos, a few frozen quiches, frozen pasta dishes, frozen dinners etc. So here’s how to get going:
Week 1: Make a recipe you like and that is simple enough to prepare. A pot roast (I substitute turkey breast for beef) is a great starting point. Aim to prepare 10 portions. Enjoy the first night and freeze the rest. During the next seven days, you will be consuming commercially prepackaged meals from the freezer and your pot roast (or whatever meal you’ve made in large quantities). You also might have a pasta night (easy enough to boil water and heat up a jar of sauce, right?), and it also frees up at spots in the freezer for more portions.
Week 2: Prepare beans and rice or some other grain dish. Shoot for 10 portions. Again, enjoy it that night and freeze the rest in the protein section of the freezer. You might also purchase a few meals, but not as many as you used to, and again, a pasta night or a salad night will fill in the gaps to ensure variety.
Week 3: Prepare another meal in quantity. This time, you may want to think about preparing your favorite soup.
At this point, you will have 8 new portions stored in the freezer (for a total of 24). But, remember, you have also been taking them out each week. The first week you put in 8 and took out 2 for a net of 6 meals in the freezer. On Week 2, you put in 8, which increased the supply to 14, and you took out 4—leaving you with a net of 10. Week three you added 8 more portions and took out 6 for a net of 12. On Week 4, you’ll add 8; your supply will be 20; you’ll consume 8; and be left with is 12. Get it?
Continuing on this way you would add 8 more each week and also removing some meals. The space devoted for storage will begin to level off, and you will be able to make bigger batches.
Please let me know if you have any questions about getting this project going or need meal suggestions. Also, let us know how you manage meals. I look forward to reading your cooking tips and tricks in the Wellness section of the discussion forums.