More meals!

If you remember last year I did a mega shopping trip and made nearly 30 meals at once to freeze (and then I shared some recipes here). Good times.

I was getting a little antsy with meals. I am ashamed to admit that we have eaten out more in the last few months than ever. I used to NEVER be tempted to eat lunch out (oh yeah because I couldn't). And anytime Josh is home for dinner is a reason to celebrate. (He typically works the afternoon shift).

So I got in a bad, lazy rut. My kids eat cheese quesadillas, pb&j, and rice/beans more than I care to admit. Josh is never home for dinner. And when I do cook dinner I sometimes end up making 3 meals to satisfy everyone. I know. I said I'd never do that. Never say never.

It was time to STOP. Take a deep breath. And meal plan.

Remember how organized I used to be? It was simply out of survival. When I worked full time I HAD to or else we would have starved.

Now I can cook whatever, whenever, and I don't.

I started like I always start by going through the fridge, freezer, and pantry. I wrote down in my "meal planning calendar" items I wanted to make from ingredients we already had. As I added each meal to the calendar I made a shopping list for the items I didn't have.

Then I began planning for the big prep/freezer meals. I never know where to start. So I started by asking Josh what he missed me cooking. When I do big hauls like this I tend to stick with old favorites, try a few new recipes, and throw in some familiar not used often recipes. In no time I had a nice list. Josh could eat pasta and red sauce at EVERY MEAL. I get so sick of spaghetti, lasagna, manicotti, etc. I still did some old favorites (lasagna- cheese and meat) but I stayed away from chili and taco soup this time. Those meals are just too heavy to have all in a row.

Also we don't have to have meat at every meal. Josh is totally content with soup and salad some nights, so I really like the space out when we eat meat. I anticipate this freeze fest to last us months, with other meals mixed in.

Here was my plan this time: lasagna, manicotti, pizza dough, veggie beef soup, teriyaki chicken, herb crusted chicken, broccoli/chicken/rice casserole. Not nearly as large as last time, but it also didn't take me as long to prep. A few goals:
1. Make smaller portions
2. Use GOOD ingredients
3. Avoid cans if at all possible

I did this over the course of 3 days and it took me about 1 hour each day to complete. Here was my kitchen in the midst of chaos.
A few tips:
-Always have 2 meals going consecutively- while I boil the water for the lasagna I am prepping the pizza dough. Once the dough is going I am browning the meat for veggie soup and lasagna. This takes practice to juggle it all, but it's SO worth it in time savings.

-I typically make either 2-4 batches of whatever I'm making. So while all my measuring cups were out and dirty with flour I went ahead and mixed the second batch of pizza dough in a separate bowl (leaving out the liquid ingredients). This is the pizza dough and one of the healthier changes I made was switching to 1/2 whole grain flour 1/2 white flour. I've attempted all whole grain and it's a really tough crust. 
-If you dirty dishes that you know you'll use again rinse them as you go. I used the same strainer first to strain the spaghetti sauce (we dislike the texture of onions), then to drain the grease from the meat (into a glass jar to go in the trash) and then to strain the spaghetti again. It makes for less "icky" dishes later and less dishes overall. 
-Cook  your meat together- by this point my first batch of pizza dough was spinning in my bread maker so I was on to cooking my lasagna meat and my veggie beef soup meat. Since I don't like super seasoned meat I just cooked the beef and threw in similar ingredients- onion powder, salt, pepper, and some garlic. The sauce from the lasagna sauce and veggie soup will do the rest of the seasoning. 1 pan for 3 meals? Check. 
-Going with the meat theme- handle all your raw meat at once. I bought that prepackaged Costco chicken that comes in the cute freezable pouches. And while I love the idea, I wanted to go ahead and separate the breasts (there are 2 per pack- we only eat 1 per meal). Before opening the bags, I designated what I was doing with each one. 
I packaged each one and then measured and added the sauce. 
-Obviously label each bag. If there are special instructions be sure to include those too. We like potatoes in our veggie beef soup but potatoes don't freeze well so I'll add those at cooking time.
{I did keep 2 bags of plain raw chicken for random meals I think of along the way. That way I have some meat left}.

This was my kitchen sink after the first day (6 meals later). NOT bad considering this is how it typically looks after ONE meal! (I didn't throw the big boiling pot in the sink since it was so hot).
All total I made 18 meals in 3 days (1 hour each day). I find you get the most bang for your buck with marinades. They are SO EASY to whip up and although it's not a full meal, we almost always have veggies and rice or potatoes on hand to make the meal.

And the new recipe I tried? Herb crusted chicken with cream sauce. I shared the link to the recipe above- it was DELICIOUS!! Definitely adding it to the favorites list.


How did I do with my goals?
1. Make smaller portions- ehhhh. I tried to limit how much I put in each container. I love those foil turkey pans to store food but it is INCREDIBLY difficult to find smaller sizes than the typical "half pan" size. I just tried to not fill them as full. Nothing worse than heating a meal and having it for lunch and dinner the next 3 days. ick.
2. Use GOOD ingredients- I feel like I did really well. My ingredients were either fresh or frozen and minimally processed.
3. Avoid cans if at all possible- I avoided anything canned (except for the lasagna spaghetti sauce- which technically came in a jar). I am REALLY trying to get away from canned veggies and condensed soups. I made this SOS sauce to use in place of condensed soups in the chicken/broccoli/rice casserole and then to have on hand for quick meals.

This really kicked my booty to jump in with meal planning. It was actually fun and I feel accomplished for making a few new meals, and just generally being on top of our eating situation!

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