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)
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
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