freezer cooking

     We have yet to sell our house in NC, so we are living in the midst of mortgage + rent.  Y'all, it is not exciting.  I'm trying to convince myself that we have a "second home" in the vacation sense of the word, but the reality is a lot less thrilling.  So, keeping a strict food budget is one way I am attempting responsibility in the middle of our growing financial strain.   
     The easiest thing to do would be to announce to my family that we're eating "cheap and easy" things like spaghetti or beans and rice.  But if y'all have met my husband Josh then you know that kind of talk wouldn't be well received!  In addition to the financial stress, we have a wild ministry schedule.  Several nights a week Josh will only be home for an hour or two before he has an evening meeting at the high school or college.  I'd prefer to spend that time with him and our kids and not simply toss my kids at him while I cook dinner.
     The current circumstances (frugality + picky eaters + limited time) has led us to freezer cooking.  Freezer cooking?  (How the heck do you cook with a freezer??)  Basically, I plan out our dinners, divide them into family portions and then spend one day prepping/cooking/freezing our dinners for the month.  We pull the meals out and thaw/cook/bake as directed.  It takes a lot of organization and brain power beforehand, but then very little effort afterward.  The challenge is to:     
a) be cheap
b) find meals that freeze/reheat well
c) find recipes that have little 'day of' prep required
d) stick to the plan
     The first thing that I do is print out a calendar for the month.  I fill in all our nighttime obligations so that I know how much actual cook time I have each evening.  
     The next step is to write out what you will eat each evening.  Y'all, this is the tortuous part.  You need to know how many portions you need for your family for each night.  We have four people in our family, but its more like three adult portions for the meal and then seven for the bread (am i right?!)  For example, I know that baked ziti will feed our family for two meals, but that my family doesn't want to eat it back-to-back.  So, I'll make one baked ziti recipe, but divide it up into two separate dishes and then freeze---and then cook each one fresh on the day we've put it on the calendar.  Some recipes, like enchiladas, will make more that our family will eat in one month.  We use these recipes for having friends over for dinner or to help us out with menu planning for the next month.
     I check out pantry and spice cabinet, then compile a giant grocery list of all the ingredients that we need.  Then it's time for a Duggar-style trip to Aldi, Walmart and the natural food store.
     Then I will spend the next hours chopping, dicing, cooking, portioning, freezing and finally cleaning up.  I store soup in individual portions in freezer zipper bags, casseroles go in aluminum or glass trays and mason jars.

tips for first time freezer chefs:

1) take a deep breath!  this isn't nearly as hard as it seems
2) make a list of all your family favorite recipes.   And don't forget about seasonal favorites!  Who says Grandma's sweet potato soufflé can't be enjoyed all fall long?? 
3) use a free printable calendar from somewhere like this, I've just found it so much easier to make adjustments on paper than my iPhone
4) make notes about which meals are a hit and which ones are a miss, it'll help you when you plan your next month
5) some items, like roasted vegetable burritos, that are great for dinner also make great "homemade lean cuisine" type lunches.  i'll portion a few out and wrap individually to have for a quick, filling lunch.

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