Cook Once a Month--prepare 30 meals for a family of 4 in just one day

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Many blogs give you a list of meals you can “assemble in a day and place in your freezer”, but none of them give you detailed instructions and the order in which to prepare and pre-cook those meals.

The following steps will give you freezer-meal success without the stress.

Foods That Don't Freeze Well

  • Rice (it gets mushy)
  • Potatoes (they get mushy also), unless they are mashed
  • Cream cheese (it breaks down into fats and solids--an ugly mess)
  • Noodles (they fall apart)
  • Eggs (...don't even ask!)

Before you begin

You must have these things before you start:

  • Space in your freezer
  • A clear and clean workspace on your countertops
  • Cooking equipment (see the list below)
  • Storage bags and containers (list provided)
  • One half day to devote to prep, cooking, and storage

Storage Containers

  • Thirteen 1-gallon Ziploc food storage bags
  • Seven 2-gallon Ziploc food storage bags
  • Two 64-ounce Glad deep-dish plastic food storage containers
  • Four 8-inch x 3 3/4-inch foil baking (bread) pans
  • Two Ziploc VersaGlass Containers, 64-ounce

Equipment you will need

  • One 12-cup muffin tin (not mandatory, but really helpful)
  • One large rimmed baking sheet
  • One 6-quart crock pot (slow cooker)
  • One 8 - 12 quart stock pot
  • One 2-quart saucepan (or similar size saucepan--the key is to have a pan with a narrow bottom and high sides)
  • One 3-quart saucepan
  • Two 12-inch sauté pans
  • collander
  • Chopping board
  • Knife for dicing/chopping vegetables
  • vegetable peeler
  • parchment paper
  • aluminum foil
  • non-stick cooking spray
  • Pen for labeling
  • large spoon for stirring
  • skimmer or tongs for removing cooked pasta from hot water

The food you will prepare

  • Beef pot roast
  • Chili
  • Lasagna Roll-Ups
  • Macaroni and Cheese
  • Meatballs
  • Meatloaf
  • Orange Chicken
  • Overstuffed Baked Potatoes
  • Sloppy Joes

Safe Thawing

With the exception of muffins, breads, and other baked goods, do not thaw foods at room temperature. Bacteria can grow in the thawed portion of prepared foods, releasing toxins that are unsafe to eat even after cooking.

To ensure that your food is safe to eat, follow one of these proper ways to thaw:

  • In the refrigerator: This is the slowest but safest thawing technique. Small frozen items might thaw in a few hours, while larger items will take significantly longer--overnight and then some.
  • In cold water: Place the frozen food in a leak-proof bag and place in a large container of cold water.
  • In a microwave on the defrost setting: Plan to cook the food immediately after it has thawed in a microwave, because some areas of the food might have begun cooking during the defrost cycle.

Safe Freezing

Before freezing hot food, it's important to let it cool down. Heat will raise the temperature of the freezer; and the food will not freeze uniformly, the outer edges of the hot dish will freeze hard quickly while the inside might not cool in time to prevent spoilage.

Cool precooked dishes as quickly as possible before they are placed in the freezer.

  • For fastest cooling, place the pan of hot food in a sink filled with ice water (or in a larger pan of ice water). If you're cooling a soup, stew, or sauce, stir occasionally to help it cool evenly.

  • Once the dish is cooled, portion it into meal-sized containers or packages. Label and date the containers. Place them in a single layer in the coldest area of your freezer until completely frozen. Rearrange as necessary. According to the USDA you must freeze food as fast as possible to maintain its quality. Rapid freezing prevents undesirable large ice crystals from forming throughout the product because the molecules don't have time to form into the characteristic six-sided snowflake. Slow freezing creates large, disruptive ice crystals. During thawing, they damage the cells and dissolve emulsions. This causes meat to "drip" and lose juiciness. Emulsions such as mayonnaise or cream will separate and appear curdled.

    Ideally, a food 2-inches thick should freeze completely in about 2 hours. If your home freezer has a "quick-freeze" shelf, use it. Never stack packages to be frozen. Instead, spread them out in one layer on various shelves, stacking them only after frozen solid.

The grocery list

Frozen foods:

  • Three 10-oz packages chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry

Canned Foods:

  • Four 14-oz cans diced tomatoes
  • Two 15-oz cans kidney beans
  • Two 8-oz cans tomato sauce
  • Two 4-oz cans green chiles
  • Three cans cream soup of your choice (celery, chicken, mushroom, etc.)

Fresh Produce:

  • 12 carrots
  • 12 stalks celery
  • 12 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 5 pounds of onions (yellow or white, not red or sweet onions)
  • One dozen russet (baking) potatoes (about 4 pounds)

From the dairy case:

  • Cheddar cheese, shredded (3 1/2 cups)
  • Sour cream (2 cups)
  • Half and half (1 cup = 8 oz.)
  • Milk (1 cup)
  • Mozzarella cheese, shredded (6 cups)
  • Parmesan cheese, grated (2 cups)
  • Ricotta cheese, 6 cups

From the butcher:

  • Three 3 to 4 pound pot roasts (see recipe for suggestions of which cuts to purchase)
  • Sixteen boneless/skinless chicken breasts (about 7 pounds)
  • Fifteen pounds ground beef or ground turkey

Miscellaneous:

  • Bottled barbeque sauce (2 cups)
  • Chili seasoning packets (2)
  • Dry onion soup mix packets (2)
  • Eggs (12)
  • Fresh bread crumbs (made from fresh bread)
  • Ketchup (2 cups)
  • Orange marmalade (2 cups)
  • Pasta (elbow macaroni - 12 oz.)
  • Pasta (no boil lasagna sheets - 3 packages)
  • Panko bread crumbs (1 cup)
  • Soy sauce (3 cups)

From your pantry

  • brown sugar
  • butter
  • chili powder
  • cumin
  • Dijon mustard
  • flour
  • garlic salt
  • garlic powder
  • granulated (white) sugar
  • ground nutmeg
  • onion salt
  • pepper (ground black)
  • thyme (ground dried)
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • yellow mustard

The Plan!

So much to do, and so little time. So let's get organized, multi-task, and multi-purpose:

Hour One:

  1. Grab your 5 pound bag of onions and chop, chop, chop. (Might as well get all of the weeping done at once.) Set your chopped onions aside. I promise you will use them all and your tears will be rewarded.
    ESTIMATED TIME = 30 minutes
  2. Scrub your russet potatoes; place each one in the cup of a 12-cup muffin pan. ESTIMATED TIME = 5 minutes
  3. Peel and chop 12 carrots.
    ESTIMATED TIME = 5 minutes
  4. Wash, pare and chop 9 stalks of celery.
    ESTIMATED TIME = 5 minutes
  5. Place 4 chicken breasts each in 2 1-gallon zip lock bags.
    ESTIMATED TIME = 5 minutes.
  6. Stir together the sauce ingredients for Orange Chicken. Place one bag of chicken standing upright in your 2-quart cooking pot (the sides of the pot will help support your zip-lock bag so that you can fill it without spills or the side collapsing). Pour one half of the sauce into the bag, zip closed, and set aside. Repeat with one more bag of chicken breasts and the other half of the sauce. Label and place the bagged chicken in the freezer, laying flat, so that when frozen solid it will take up less space.
    ESTIMATED TIME = 10 minutes.

Hour Two:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Place 4 chicken breasts each in 2 1-gallon zip lock bags.
    ESTIMATED TIME = 5 minutes.
  3. Stir together the sauce ingredients for Teriyaki Chicken. Place one bag of chicken standing upright in your 2-quart cooking pot (the sides of the pot will help support your zip-lock bag so that you can fill it without spills or the sides collapsing). Pour one half of the sauce into the bag, zip closed, and set aside. Repeat with one more bag of chicken breasts and the other half of the sauce. Label and place the bagged chicken in the freezer, laying flat, so that when frozen solid it will take up less space.
    ESTIMATED TIME = 5 minutes.
  4. Now, it's time to work with the potatoes. Place your prepared potatoes (they are sitting in muffin tins) in the preheated oven. Set the timer for 55 minutes.
  5. Next we'll start the meatballs. MIx all of the ingredients together
    ESTIMATED TIME = 5 minutes
  6. Place a sheet of parchment paper on your rimmed baking sheet. Form the meatballs according to the instructions in the recipe. Place the meatballs on the baking sheet and set aside. If your kitchen is hot it would be wise to place the meatballs in the refrigerater because it will be 30 minutes before you will be baking them.
    ESTIMATED TIME = 10 minutes
  7. Now, let's do the meatloaves. Mix together all of the ingredients for the meatloves and then divide evenly among four foil baking pans. Cover each pan with foil and then place each one in a 2-gallon zip-lock bag.
    ESTIMATED TIME = 20 minutes.
  8. The pot roast preparation is also very quick--let's do it now and maybe have a few minutes before the hour is done to take a break. Place one beef roast in each of three 2-gallon size zip-lock bags. One at a time stand the beef roast upright in the 2-quart pot (just as you did with the marinated chicken pieces. Placing the meat-filled bag in the pot helps to stabilize the bag and prevent spills). Add one-third of the the vegetables, dry onion soup mix, and cream soup concentrate as listed in the recipe. Repeat with the othert two beef roasts and vegetable/soup concentrate ingredients. Label and place the bagged pot roast in the freezer, laying flat, so that it will take up less space.
    ESTIMATED TIME = 10 minutes.

Hour Three:

  1. Increase oven temperature to 400 degrees F.
  2. The potatoes are done. Remove them from the oven and set aside to cool (for about 10 minutes).
  3. Place your rimmed baking sheet of meatballs in the preheated oven and set the timer for 20 minutes.
  4. Now it's time to start working with the large saute pan. Place the ground beef and onions for the overstuffed potatoes in the saute pan. Cook as instructed until the beef is cooked. Set aside.
    ESTIMATED TIME = 10 minutes.
  5. Following the instructions for the overstuffed potatoes, prepare the cooked, cooled potatoes. Prepare the filling.
    ESTIMATED TIME = 10 minutes.
  6. The meatballs are done. Remove them from the oven and set aside to cool.
  7. Stuff the potato shells.
    ESTIMATED TIME = 10 minutes
  8. Wrap each potato in plastic wrap and then carefully place in a 1-gallon zip-lock bag (each bag should comfortably hold 6 stuffed potatoes). Lay flat and freeze.
    ESTIMATED TIME = 10 minutes
  9. Package the meatballs in a 1-gallon zip-lock bag (24 meatballs in each bag). Place flat and freeze.
    ESTIMATED TIME = 5 minutes.
  10. There is still 15 minutes left (if all has gone as planned). I don't know about you, but it takes a LONG time for my stove to bring a large pot of water up to boiling. Let's start that now. Fill your large stockpot with water and set on high. Also use this time to wash and dry the rimmed baking sheet and reline with parchment paper.

Hour Four:

  • The water is boiling. Turn off the heat but don't remove the pot from the stovetop. Place 16 of the no-boil lasagna noodles in the hot water bath, and set the timer for 10 minutes (THIS IS IMPORTANT!).
  • Mix together the ingredients for the filling of the lasagna.
    ESTIMATED TIME = 10 minutes
  • Place several sheets of parchment paper on your worksurface. Using your skimmer or kitchen tongs remove the soaked lasagna noodles from the pot and place on the parchment. They should be soft and pliable, but not completely cooked.
  • Cover the pot of pasta water and turn the heat on again to bring the water back to boiling.
  • Divide the lasagna filling evenly among the 16 pasta sheets. Roll up each one from short side to short side and place on the clean parchment paper-lined rimmed baking sheet. Place in the freezer.
    ESTIMATED TIME = 15 minutes.
  • Now it's time to cook the macaroni. When the water is boiling rapidly, pour the macaroni into the pot and stir, stir, stir. Keep stirring for one minute so that your don't end up with a clump of pasta in the bottom of the pot.
  • Prepare the cheese sauce, following the instructions in the recipe. Remove from heat. ESTIMATED TIME = 10 minutes.
  • When macaroni is not quite done (al dente which means 'firm to the tooth') drain it in the collander and then fold it into the cheese sauce. Stir to combine. Pour into two Ziploc brand VersaGlass 64-ounce containers. Allow to cool for about 15 minutes and then cover and freeze. ESTIMATED TIME = 20 minutes.
  • Did you forget about the lasagna roll-ups? It's time to rescue them from the freezer. They should now be firm enough to place in two 1-gallon Ziploc bags--8 pieces of lasagna per bag. Label and freeze.

So tired....
So tired....

Hour Five:

  • We're almost done! Sloppy Joe mix is next on the to-do list. Saute the ground meat in your 12-inch sauté pan until no longer pink. Stir in remaining ingredients and simmer 10 minutes.
    ESTIMATED TIME = 15 minutes.
  • Allow Sloppy Joe mixture to cool 15 minutes and then pour into two resealable plastic containers. Seal, label, and freeze.
    ESTIMATED TIME = 15 minutes
  • While the Sloppy Joe mixture is cooling, grab your other sauté pan. Cook the ground meat for the Chili until no longer pink. Stir in remaining ingredients and simmer for 15 minutes. ESTIMATED TIME = 20 minutes.
  • Remove from heat; allow to cool for 20 minutes. Pour into two 1-gallon zip-lock freezer bags. Freeze for up to 3 months.
    ESTIMATED TIMES = 25 minutes.


Source

You Did It!

That's it. You're done!

You have spent 5 very busy, active hours but now have the makings for 30 meals.

For the next 30 days when you get home from work all you need to do is cook some pasta or rice and warm up a vegetable or toss a salad. Most of these meals will be simmering during the day in your crockpot. The others are either quickly heated on the stove or will need 15 minutes or so in the oven or microwave.

From front door to dinner table in 30 minutes or less!

© 2014 Carb Diva

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2 comments

Carb Diva profile image

Carb Diva 24 months ago Author

Thank you Venkatachari M. I note that you live in India--I lived in the northwest corner of the United States of America and have a very large freezer. If you do not have such an appliance I can understand why this method of cooking would sound very unusual for you. However, the primary focus of this hub is not as much to cook for 30 days but to be organized when cooking/planning a meal. Thank you for reading my hub.


Venkatachari M profile image

Venkatachari M 2 years ago from Hyderabad, India

It is a very rare idea to cook at a single time for your month long meals and stock them in freezer. I normally prepare some items which can last for 2 or 3 days. But your idea is very new. Needs trying it.

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