Almost a year ago I finally started putting my Sam’s Club membership to good use by stocking our chest freezer with meat every two months. At the time I said something along the lines of ‘I havenâ€™t graduated to full-on freezer meal prep yet’ and here we are now at the yet.
I was going to wait until our February trip to Sam’s to try out Freezer Meals (mostly because we still had quite the stash from our December trip and it’s generally not good to defrost and refreeze meat without cooking it in between), but two things changed my mind:
- The impending bathroom renovation (which will require weeknight attention as well as weekends, and weeknight hours are scarce what with the cooking and all).
- My innate impatience.
Once I get something into my head it’s tough for me to let go of it. (q.v. my current puppy obsession) So the challenge, at least for this round, was to pick meals that would work as “kits” (separate components grouped together for ease of planning and preparation) as well as others that wouldn’t require me to defrost everything this weekend. But first I had to know what I was working with.
So Saturday afternoon I grabbed my clipboard, pen, and kitchen scale, propped open the chest freezer lid, and got to work listing everything. As I suspected, we still had the lion’s share of December’s stock-up trip plus a little left from the October run in some cases. Since I figured we’d be using 3-4 freezer meals a week, I didn’t want to put all our stock into meals, so I did more or less 50% into freezer meals and left the other 50% for general use (the other 3-4 meals a week).
Then it was time to figure out what to make and make my grocery list. But just to add another facet to the challenge, let’s add a super-strict grocery budget to the mix?
IÂ may have let my budget slide a bit last year. And IÂ may have a bad habit of spending whatever I feel like at the grocery store and, hey, if it’s “over budget” letting it come out of the savings buffer I keep in my checking account. And IÂ may have done that so often that said savings buffer has all the integrity of a cheap air mattress–it ain’t gonna cushion much!
Saturday was also the day I sat down with my January budget worksheet and determined exactly how much said grocery budget would be for the month and it was a number I was not happy with. (In my defense, having a restricted dietÂ means cheap food–even some staples like dried beans–and a lot of the coupon-able items out there just don’t work for me, and we all know about the cost of eating healthy vs not; but still, I need to be better about the grocery budget.) So not only was I planning my own menu for the week, I was also prepping 20+ freezer meals, and needed to do it at a price that was 2/3 of what I spent on my average grocery runs.
But I did it! I picked simpler menu items and focused on freezer meals that would require a minimum of expensive ingredients to put together while still offering us a pretty good variety to choose from. It helped that we usually have a certain amount of things already in the pantry that we just don’t run out of, or had stocked up on before the holidays, and that I didn’t have to buy freezer bags, etc. as part of this (since we’d picked up cases of them this summer; we’re still good and set). The other thing that helped was I kept the calculator app on my phone open and I added each item there as I put it into the cart, subtotaling periodically to see where I was.
This did two things: it made me very aware of what each item cost and it kept me sticking to my list, not just tossing things in if it sounded good or was on sale. Yes, it took some of the enjoyment out of the shopping trip (I really do enjoy grocery shopping), but it’s a necessary thing.
When people ask what feels like success (money-wise, at least),
I always say not having to worry about what I’m spending
at the grocery store or on dinners out.Â
Anyway! Back to the freezer meals.
Once I got home and unloaded the groceries, I sat down with my freezer bags and a sharpie to do all the labeling ahead of time. Nothing too mysterious,here, just the name of the meal and the date I bagged it and then basic cooking instructions. I made sure to list if it needed anything added (most often water for the slow cooker meals where I added bullion or soup base in lieu of prepared stock–less bulk for the bags) and if there were serving suggestions. I also have these things noted on the very bare-bones spreadsheet I compiled with the freezer meal recipes. The spreadsheet allows me to sort by ingredient (in case something goes on sale and I want to take advantage of it), but it also allows me to share it with Todd through Google Drive. I added a second sheet to the document that is the inventory of the freezer meals as well as the other frozen meats and vegetables in there. If we each update it after we make our weekly menus, this’ll help us keep on top of things!
I spent about four hours putting together our freezer meal stash. Starting with the simplest bits to put together and leaving sauces that needed blending or the making of meatloaves until last. At the end I had made:
- 3Â Sweet-Potato Kale Turkey Patties (4 patties per bag)
- 2 Lime and Coconut Chicken
- 2 Coconut Curry Chicken
- 2 Pineapple Salsa Chicken
- 2 Lemon Dump Chicken
- 2 Garlic-Parmesan Pork Chops
- 1Â Maple Mustard Pork Chops
- 1 Bacon Potato Soup
- 1 Chipotle Shrimp
- 2 Cheese-Stuffed BBQ Meatloaves
- 2 Taco Soups
- 1 Pan of Fabulous Meatballs
- 2 Beef Stews
(I was a bad blogger an copied the recipes down from various sources–in a notebook, by hand!–making adjustments as I added them to the spreadsheet, so I don’t have the links handy. I’ll try to track them all down and come back and edit this list )
I know Todd is looking forward to the convenience of having meals prepped ahead of time and I’m looking forward to getting our bathroom remodeled. Win-win! Depending on how these go over will tell us whether we’ll shop with freezer meals in mind on our next Sam’s trip or if we go back to our old ways.