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Mini Cooking Sessions & March Freezer Cooking Days

Recently I was emailing back and forth with my friend Tami. She was my best teacher buddy back when I taught high school in Santa Barbara many years ago. We reminisced over all kinds of memories, one of which I had evidently forgotten.

From Tami’s email,

I was remembering the other day how [our department chair] introduced you to the department as “she likes to READ cookbooks like romance novels.” I thought, Oh, I like her already!

Ha! Yes, I am, indeed, a nut. And have been for quite some time.

Tami and I have always shared a love of cooking. During my second year teaching, we took turns packing lunches. One week she handled lunches, the next week I did. Since we both loved to cook and eat, we had a great time exploring new food combinations. I had never had a tuna melt sandwich before she made me eat one from the school cafe. And I actually liked it!

One week Tami made this killer sandwich with roasted vegetables, a spread made from split peas and feta cheese. It was amazing!

But, if memory serves me right, I was the one to share freezer cooking with her. And apparently, it’s had a huge impact on both our lives.


Power Cooking

Tami has been cooking every  few months with the same cooking buddy for almost 13 years! They have it down to a science. Their husbands watch the kids while they get together to cook enough meals to last them three months. They prepare 25 meals for each family that they stretch over the quarter with leftovers, meals out, grill nights, and dinners at friends’ houses.

One cool trick Tami shared with me last week was that they call the meat department at their grocery store and order their meat in advance. In fact, they submit a request to have all their chicken or beef presliced or cubed, according to the recipes that they are making! Brilliant, is it not? Tami says that it saves them 2 hours of work each cooking session.

Freezer cooking can take so many forms. And it would seem, there’s always something more to learn.

The Power of Mini Sessions

The idea of cooking for two months may seem a little intimidating, especially if you’re just starting out. But the beauty of “power cooking” is that you can tweak it to fit your season of life.

You don’t have to do two months of cooking at one time. In fact, recently, I’m taking a slower approach to things. Since I am absorbed in the creating and testing and perfecting of many new recipes, I’m finding that my freezer cooking works best in mini sessions.

Here’s how to plan a mini session:

Choose a few recipes that share common ingredients.

A good rule of thumb is to choose a main ingredient that you already have in your kitchen or one that is on sale. This is how to maximize your bulk cooking savings.

Foods that can be cooked at one time that share common ingredients:

Spend an hour or two and whip up several dinners at one time.

Find pockets of time where you can cook in a focused, undistracted manner. Naptime or after the kids go to bed is often ideal. Or start dinner a couple hours early and just cook, cook, cook until it’s time to call the folks to the table.

Spread this out over a few weeks and you’ve got a freezer full. This works especially well for those who don’t have a lot of time to cook in one session or those who have lots of little people (and interruptions) in tow.

I’m finding this to work extremely well for me as I plug away at The Cookbook. I’m doing double duty, feeding my family and working — all at the same time. And I’m using pockets of time which give me a breather in between to rest, think, be creative, and fold some laundry.

Currently, I’m cooking something for the freezer almost every other day in this mini session style and it’s working really well.

So that’s my plan. What’s yours?

Tell us how about your freezer cooking plan for the month of March. Tell us in the comments about how you’re approaching bulk cooking, what works for you. Feel free to share a helpful recipe links or a link to your cooking plan on your blog.

Curious about freezer cooking? Consider purchasing my cookbook, Not Your Mother’s Make-Ahead and Freeze Cookbook from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or your local bookstore. It’s chock full with over 200 freezer-friendly recipes, planning pages, shopping lists, cooking plans, and basic and advanced how-to’s to making freezer cooking work for any home, family, and lifestyle.

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Comments

  1. I love that you highlight flexibility when doing once a month cooking. It really is about making your life easier; how that manifests is different for everyone. Here is my plan:
    http://www.momsplans.com/2011/02/a-rough-plan-for-my-freezer-cooking-day-tomorrow/

  2. I am a ‘mini session’ freezer cooker. With three kids under 5, I never have more than 2 hours uninterrupted. Today (right now in fact!) I need to marinate the 10 pounds of chicken in my fridge. Next week will be muffins, banana bread, and cinnamon rolls.

  3. This is how I have always done my freezer cooking. I like to have a large variety in the freezer, so this works really well for me. Two weeks ago, the local grocery store had a great sale on boneless, skinless chicken breasts, chicken legs, and whole chickens. Over the the next two weeks, I made chicken noodle soup (no noodles), broth, shredded chicken, sweet asian chicken, honey glazed chicken, oven fried chicken legs, and maple thyme chicken legs. We ate some of it along the way and I froze tons! Then last week there was a good sale on lean ground beef so I restocked our taco meat and meatloaf.

  4. I really enjoy getting freezer cooking done in a 24 hour period but I’ve had to be flexible and spread it out before. That’s the beauty of it, you can make it work around your own schedule. Here’s my plan for this month:
    http://www.frugalandfocused.com/2011/03/march-11-freezer-cooking-plan.html

  5. I must have that stir fry recipe in the pic.. I am dying here! Ohhh man!

  6. i need to do some sweet stuff! we are falling back on package stuff too much because no wants to go through the entire process of making something. Im thinking muffins and cookie dough will be a good start

  7. http://faithfamilyfrugalityandme.blogspot.com/2011/02/freezer-cooking-for-march.html
    I tend toward mini sessions too, but this month I did get a chance to get a lot knocked out one afternoon with a buddy.

  8. I love to “spurt” cook as I call it. Some days I have time and can knock out 4 or 5 meals; other days it’s just browning 4 lbs of ground beef.

    Knowing the next few weeks would be completely crazy, I spent a half hour preparing cheese quesadillas and then freezing individually. Kids can toss into the toaster oven and 3 minutes later have one with some beans and salad.

    It seems to work at this stage in life, and really that’s all that matters!

  9. I’ve been doing a lot of “kits”. Pre-cooking chicken breasts, ground beef, rice, beans…and then pull them out when we’re ready to eat. Reheat in the microwave and add fresh veggies makes for easy and fast suppers for us. Here’s our monthly meal plan for March: http://familystampingfood.blogspot.com/2011/02/monthly-meal-plan-march-2011.html

  10. I also cook for my freezer in mini-sessions aka nightly cooking. For example, when I make taco meat, I double or triple the recipe and add the left-overs to the freezer. The trick is only putting a small amount on the table or it all ends up in our bellys!! :-)

  11. I like to spend about 2 hours after supper once a month with my husband and daughter making a stockpile of freezer meals. I try and time it when chicken breast goes on sale and make up chicken pot pies, chicken spaghetti, and burritos just to have on hand when I don’t feel like cooking. The whole process takes no more than two hours from start to finish and we have 8-10 meals for our freezer. We laugh and have a good time, and my daughter has really gotten in on the action and loves to help out. I would not have thought that something so simple could make such a difference in our day to day routine. Thanks!

  12. Susan T says:

    Jessica,

    What store does your friend Tami shop at? I live in southern california and wonder what stores I could ask to chop up the meat ahead of time for me? Ralphs does much of their butcher work at another store but Albertsons has more butchers that work there but I don’t know if they would chop it up for me.

  13. As always I am blown away by you ladies who do such large quantity freezer cooking. Go you! I do it in spurts, mostly components, and and mostly when there are sales on meat. Although last month I was going a little bonkers after I used my stock and actually bought ground Turkey at full price. The horror.

    Freezer cooking saved my butt this week. I’ve been incapacitate with a back injury all week and had it not been for my freezer stash we would have been eating takeout every night. Instead meals were a snap. One less thing to worry about.

  14. The main thing I do for freezer cooking is to pre-cook meat. Basically, whatever meat I just got on sale, I cook it all at once. Some gets used for supper that night and the rest goes in the freezer after it cools. Saves TONS of time on future meals.

    And the best part is that it’s just one big mess to clean up instead of a big mess every night.

  15. http://wonderwomanimnot.blogspot.com/2011/03/freezer-cooking-plan-march.html

    Above is my link. Like many of you I tend to do mini sessions or ‘spurts’. I’ll make a plan and get as much done as I can before I have to stop. I struggle with not beating myself up for not doing more (it’s the wonder woman complex!) but I figure anything you can get in the freezer is better than what you had before!

  16. We get together at our church and I lead a freezer cooking class making no cook items that go directly in the freezer. The ladies love going home with doubled recipes to stow away. We also do this with our MOPS group as well. We have child care while we cook. You can search freezer cooking class on my site, http://www.momonamission.me to see the “no-cook items” we make. Alternately, you can do a cook and play date with a mom and powercook and exchange a casserole, done this too, and it’s a lot of fun.

  17. This is exactly what I have been doing the past couple weeks. I have less than 2 months to go before baby #3 gets here (making 3 girls under 3!), so my energy has been super low. But I really feel the need to get as much cooked and baked and in the freezer, so the first couple months of the baby stage I won’t feel so overwhelmed. When I have a good day and the girls are in a good mood, I spend extra time in the kitchen in the afternoon whipping up meals using ingredients from my stockpile. Or making a double batch of dinner, freezing the extras, while also dicing & freezing the 5lbs. of onions I got a great deal on. :)

  18. Nancy L. says:

    I love this. I’ve been wanting to try freezer cooking but have been intimidated at the thought of blocking off a whole day for cooking and the expense of buying all the ingredients. I’m definitely trying it now!

  19. Lynette says:

    I don’t know exactly what’s classified as freezer cooking or not – the only thing that I consistently know that I do is pre-browning all of my hamburger meat. I cook up to 6 lbs of meat on my stovetop at at time (adding in the onions while I cook). Last week though I was able to cook 12 lbs in two crock-pots on top of the other 6 on the stove. I package it all up into 1 lb sections and lay it flat to freeze it. For someone (ME!) who is horrible at remembering to pull out the hamburger in the morning for dinner that night, this saves me so much time and money – because if I have forgotten to plan a dinner, or don’t know what I want to cook – I can always make an olde standby of spaghetti, or nachos, chilli etc without much fuss. I also freeze hamburger into presectioned patties mixed with everything I want in them, and make my meatballs ahead of time. The other day when I made a lasagna for a friend, I made a double batch and froze one for us! I’ve also crock-potted my whole chickens, peeled all the meat for later casseroles, and then made stock – using the same crock-pot from the chicken bones! It’s about all I feel like I can do right now, but it seems to be enough to get me through!

    • Jessica Fisher says:

      @Lynette, that definitely counts. :)

    • Sarah Jean says:

      @Lynette, It seems everyone browns their gr. beef and then freezes it, but I find mine gets dry, crumbly and generally yucky. Maybe it’s b/c I always use lean? What do you use?

      • Lynette says:

        @Sarah Jean, I use 80/20. I never thaw it before using it. I just tap it on the counter to break it apart and dump it in a frying pan. I always add something to it in that state too – taco seasoning, spaghetti sauce, put it in a crock-pot for soup, beans, tomatoes etc!

  20. I love the idea of freezer meals, but I do NOT have the storage space to handle it. However, I have found that spending some time doing the prep work (browning meats, chopping veggies) makes preparing a meal easier and a lot less time consuming!

    That is about as mini-cooking as I get right now.

  21. We’re going to have a super uber busy April, so I’m working on freezer kits of pre-cooked rice, beans and taco meat. I’m also experimenting with baked oven fries for the freezer.

  22. Dauphine says:

    You realistic approach to freezer cooking in mini sessions is fantastic. Personally, I set aside 3 Sundays a month to prepare breakfasts, lunches and dinners. Keep up the great work!

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