Thursday, June 14, 2012

Freezer Meal Cooking

This was my original draft of this post from a week or so ago. I have provided an update after the first round of Freezer Meal Cooking at the bottom. 

I am absolutely HORRIBLE at meal planning. In fact, I HATE IT with a passion. I hate sitting down and trying to predict what is going to sound good for the week, and I hate going to the grocery store. In a nutshell, I would rather go out to eat 3 meals a day, 7 days a week. The kicker is that we can't afford that lifestyle, it's not healthy, and I'm actually a pretty damn good cook. So, I have decided to take a different approach.

We spend roughly $200-275 a month on groceries. We typically do two really "big trips" of about $100 each, and then the incidental trips to pick up a few things at $20 per trip add up over the month. My goal is to try and cut that monthly bill in half. If we could get away with a whole month's of groceries for $100-$150, I would be very, very happy. Not only would we be able to put that money to better use, but we also wouldn't feel like the grocery store robbed us.

Enter Freezer Meal Cooking! I have read about this phenomenon where people spend one whole day a month cooking meals that they can freeze for the entire month. This means you have one huge shopping trip to buy supplies, one day of a really messy kitchen, and then you are left with a month's worth of meals that you can reheat and eat. I have done some research on what will freeze well and for how long, and thankfully a lot of our favorite recipes from The Pioneer Woman and Pinterest are totally freezable. There are also a lot of really great ideas on the Internet for new recipes.

My goal for this month is to create 24 meals. This means that we will have 6 meals per week that are homemade and premade, which leaves one night per week that we can go out and have a date with our extra money we are saving! So, is it possible to buy supplies for 24 meals on $100...that is yet to be determined, but I would think that planning things out and thinking ahead will help in the money saving department.

Here is my tentative plan for this month's meals.

1. Pioneer Woman's Mac & Cheese (1 recipe will make 2 meals)
2. Pioneer Woman's Meatloaf (1 recipe will make 2 meals)
3. Taco Stuffed Pasta Shells (1 recipe will make 2 meals)
4. Pizza Casserole (1 recipe will make 2 meals)
5. Corn, Black Bean, and Beef Empanadas (1 recipe will make 2 meals)
6. Pancakes (for breakfast-for-dinner)
7. Pizza Stuffed Pretzels
8. Coconut Crusted Chicken Breasts (make enough for 2 meals)
Need more...??

For extra fun, I am going to make 4 Pioneer Woman Pie Crusts and a batch of PW Cinnamon Rolls.
I have my work cut out for me!


On Sunday, we sat down and created our grocery list for the day-o-cooking. We decided to go to Aldi first and see what we could find, and then we went to Meijer to finish up the rest of the groceries. All told, we ended up spending roughly $120, which would get us about 12 freezer meals and then our general day to day groceries for breakfast and lunch. I am not a couponer (I wish I was), but maybe since I am planning ahead more, I can start to look for coupons to save us even more money.

We did all the recipes as planned above except for #6-7, and I haven't had time to do the PW pie crusts and cinnamon rolls. I am reasonably sure I have all the baking ingredients for those items on hand.

Anywho-- Monday was the day for the cooking. When Noelle fell asleep, I got to work. I started boiling all the pasta and defrosting/browning meat. I did the meat loaves first since they took the most time in the oven, and then I just went from there...preparing and assembling. It was confusing to know which things needed to be baked, then frozen, and which things were just frozen and not baked. Everything looked really yummy when I was making it, but I decided to hold my breath until I actually started using the meals.

For storage, we bought the aluminum throw-away baking pans. For the casseroles and meat loaves, I wrapped plastic wrap tightly around the food (pressing it down onto the food), and then I added foil to the tops and crunched it down tightly around the rim of the pans. I wrote on the tops what the dish was, when it was made, and some brief instructions like baking temp and time and anything that needs to be done to it. I then cautiously put the items in the freezer and hoped for the best (and no freezer burn)!

Today is Thursday, and this was the first day we used a freezer meal. It worked out great because Luke was on call and I had a photo session, so it was unknown as to how much time we would have for dinner and if Luke would even be home in the first place. So, I set one of the pizza casseroles out in the fridge today to thaw. I put it in the oven to heat it up for about 15 minutes.

The result was really great! I only noticed mild crunchiness of the noodle edges on the top of the pan, and I think that's because I messed up when I baked it originally and didn't cover it so the noodles might have cooked too long in the first place. However, it was only one or two bites where I got a "crunch" and the rest was melty, cheesy, saucy goodness.

For this pizza casserole recipe, for my own notes, I am documenting that next time I will still use 1 bag of egg noodles, but I will use double the meat (I only used 1#) & double the sauce (need 2 jars). I like a lot of flavor, so I will add some italian seasoning to the meat maybe or just sprinkle it in when I am preparing the dish. This original recipe was supposed to be a layered dish, but I decided to just mix it all  together before I baked it to evenly distribute all of the sauce, meat, cheese, and noodles.

Overall, the first meal was a success! Luke really liked it and so did Noelle. The best part was that the clean up was 2 dishes, 2 forks, and an aluminum pan to throw away. It was magical. I am excited to add more recipes to the freezer and shoot for a whole month's worth of meals.

Here is the link to the original Pizza Casserole recipe:
Pizza Casserole by The Dinner Time Divas

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Oh, Baby!

I was full of nerves and jitters and anxiety as the ultrasound technician turned on the machine and put the gloop on my belly. Of course we were excited to know if we were having a baby girl or boy, but we were really just wanting to be reassured that this baby was healthy.

Thankfully, the baby is very, healthy, and she's really cute!

Yes, we are having another little girl! Luke thought that the baby was a boy but was only fooled by the umbilical cord. :-) The ultrasound technician, who was the same one we had when we had Noelle's ultrasound, said she was absolutely sure we were having a girl!

I was so excited...we both were. We wanted a girl for Noelle and were ready to pull those bins of clothes down out of the attic. We told our families that night at our house and everyone was overjoyed.

Now that it has hit me that we are having another baby girl, my mind is just swirling with thoughts of names, clothes, and the sweetness of seeing Noelle and her sister together. It will truly be a joy to watch them grow up. I hope they are close and happy and loving to each other.

As far as names-- we were about 100% sold on Charlotte...but then it felt like we overused it and now aren't too sure. We also like Isla, and I like Hadley. Luke doesn't like that name though, so it probably won't fly. He likes Isla though, so we will see. I don't want to for sure say what the name is right now...still have 20 weeks to go, and I don't want to start getting monogrammed blankets and then decide I don't like it anymore. I want something feminine, sweet, and something that makes you say, "What a pretty name!" just like people do with Noelle.

For now, though, we are relishing in the joy of knowing that in just a few months, we will be parents to the two most adorable girls on the planet, and that makes us so happy.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Summer Break, Week 1

Well, it has been a full week (and a couple days) since I walked out of my school on the last teacher work day. Of course, I have plans to return rather soon to get started on work for next school year, but for this week, I stayed away. Here's a summary of what was accomplished in my first week of summer vacation.

1. We enjoyed a cookout at Allison & Chris's house. Noelle swam without a swim diaper in their baby pool, and boy did we get to see what a diaper can actually hold! HOLY COW!

2. We spent a couple days at Seth & Liz's with the boys and shopped at Edinburgh.

3. Noelle and I drove to Greenfield on Tuesday morning to spend the day with Joyce while Abe & E were at work. It was a really great experiment with being a mother of two! There were only a couple times where I thought..."How am I going to do this!?" Noelle and Joyce both are really well-behaved, happy girls, so that made it easier. I even put both of them in the car to run an errand and get lunch, and it was great!

4. I tried, and failed, at potty training Noelle. Wednesday was one of the worst days of motherhood that I have experienced. Really, none of it was Noelle's fault, and I only have myself to blame because I sincerely feel she wasn't ready to try it yet. She wasn't successful, went through 10 pairs of underwear, and desperately wanted a fruit snack (her reward for using the potty) but never got one. I found myself crying intermittently (over POTTY TRAINING FOR CRYING OUT LOUD!), and poor Noelle was so moody and upset for most of the day. After two accidents first thing in the morning on Thursday, I waved the white flag and threw the diaper back on. She was happy and so was I, and for now, that's all I care about.

5. Noelle and I spent an entire day in our PJs, and it was awesome. It was unseasonably chilly on Friday, so we enjoyed the excuse to stay inside and I cleaned our master bedroom and bathroom for SIX hours. The bathroom was disgusting and needed a ton of cleaning. Our bedroom had mountains of laundry to be done and to be put away, so I went to work while Noelle napped and continued it throughout the day. It wasn't the most fun I've ever had, but I felt really accomplished once it was all done. Now to keep it that way...

6. We bought paint and began painting the playroom/sunroom. I say "we," but Luke has done 100% of the work. I took the switch plates off. Woohoo! It will be done soon! I can't wait to start Pinteresting the crap out of that room...

7. I have begun a teacher blog and am really excited to join the world of teacher blogging. I have been obsessed with finding new ideas for school and have been really, really motivated. Who says teachers don't work during the summers?

Well, I would say that was a pretty good start to my summer break! It's nice to look back and realize that I was a lot more productive than I thought I would be! I would like to get to Zumba this week at least once or twice, but we have a busy week coming up with our ULTRASOUND, a couple photo sessions, and some other fun activities. Score!