I have found it very helpful to have a kitchen or cooking day once or twice a month. I try to shop at Costco once a month and buy my meats in bulk there, as well as bulk veggies, canned tomato products and things like oats and cheese. Instead of coming home and freezing everything, I take a day to cook chickens and brown meat and form meatballs, cook beans, chop some veggies and make homemade granola. This helps stock up the pantry and also makes it easier to put together meals the rest of the month. I make at least 14 meals or meal-starts to place in the freezer to help out on busy days. This also comes in handy now that we are expecting another baby. The older kids have the ability to put together simple meals with the ingredients I have available both in the freezer and the pantry.
I know there are families, even large families, that cook complete meals and freeze them so that they have a freezer stocked for a month worth of meals. My hat is off to them! Although I have a few meals ready to go, I have found it more doable to have a few things pre-cooked and build meals from there. I also don't have the freezer space to keep that many meals for my size family.
This is a typical "cooking day" for our family... different kids help with different aspects of the day, from cutting and stirring to doing dishes and cleaning up the mess!
Starting the night before, I load up the crockpots (I have 3 large ones) with dried beans and let them soak overnight. We do different varieties; our favorites and most eaten beans include pintos, black beans and red kidney beans. The next morning I drain the beans and cover them with fresh water. Cover and cook on low in the crockpot for the majority of the day. You will smell when they are done! Unplug and allow to cool; then drain and place in smaller freezer containers for future meals. Don't forget to label!
Next I begin to cook whole chickens. I like to cook about 4, but currently only have the room to do 2 at a time, so I save 2 for the following day. Start early in the morning (1 per pot), add water to cover as well as baby carrots, a large chopped onion, some celery and fresh garlic. Simmer until late morning; take chicken out with large tongs and allow to cool. After lunch, debone chickens and add bones back to the pot; continue to simmer until mid to late afternoon. I shred the cooked chicken and place in freezer containers (1 chicken per container) and label.
When broth is cooled, strain and place this in containers as well to freeze. Homemade chicken stock is so much healthier than store bought, and tastes better too. Use this for soups and when broth or stock is called for in recipes.
While the chickens are cooking, I make a batch of granola in the oven. See recipe below. When this cools, I also place this in a large plastic container or glass jar to display.
I usually buy about 12-14 pounds of ground beef. I take about half of the beef and roll into meatballs. I add a little salt, pepper, minced onion and a generous dash of curry powder and shape into one-inch meatballs. I freeze these between wax paper in freezer containers. These can be cooked from frozen in a single layer on a cookie sheet for 20 minutes in the oven set for 375. The rest of the beef I brown and freeze in 1 to 2 pound increments to be used in recipes. Again, don't forget to label!
I also buy about 6-7 pounds of ground turkey. I mix this to either the beef or brown on its own, and label.
I also try to make 2 large batches of soup to freeze, especially in the winter. I made my mom's tomato beef soup this time around. See recipe below.
I also chop up some stirfry vegetables (zucchini, onions and colored bell peppers) and place them in freezer bags, ready for an Island Chicken dish we make. (See recipe below)
If time allows, or I have extra helpers, I often make homemade spaghetti sauce and freeze. One or two of the kids also make 2 batches of bean and cheese burritos to put in the freezer (that's 32 burritos for our family). I have tried to make my own refried beans, but we really like Trader Joe's salsa style refried beans, and since they aren't that expensive, they save a lot of extra work! The kids shred cheese and add refried beans to different flavored tortillas, that we also buy at TJ's. We freeze these in ziploc
bags and warm up in oven and eat with salsa and sour cream- a family favorite!
2/3 cup raw honey
1/2 cup grapeseed oil
4 tsp. vanilla extract
10 cups old-fashioned oats
2 cups sliced almonds
2 cups unsweetened flaked coconut
1 cup pumpkin seeds or pepitas
4 cups organic raisins
In small saucepan, combine honey and oil and heat over medium heat until blended. Remove from heat and add vanilla. In large bowl mix oats, almonds, coconut and pumpkin seeds. Add honey mixture and stir until evenly coated. Place on 2 large cookie sheets and bake at 300 for 20 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in raisins and bake for an additional 10 minutes. Cool on wire racks, stirring occasionally until cooled. Store in airtight container. We love this with homemade yogurt and fresh fruit! (Makes about 20 cups)
Tomato Beef Soup:
12 cups water
lean beef cubes (large tray from Costco)
2 pounds of ground beef, add salt and roll into mini meatballs
large can (105 oz) of crushed tomatoes
8 stalks of celery
6 large leeks, sliced and washed carefully
2 bay leaves
1 small can tomato paste
fresh parsley, chopped
1 pound orzo, cooked, if desired
Cut beef cubes into small bite sized pieces and simmer in water for 1 1/2 hours. Add mini meatballs and bouillon to taste. Also add crushed tomatoes, celery, leeks and bay leaf. Simmer for about 20-25 minutes until veggies are tender. Add tomato paste and cooked orzo. Sprinkle with chopped parsley. Add salt and pepper to taste. If not eating immediately, allow to cool and place in freezer containers. (This makes enough for 2 meals for our size family)
Island Chicken Dish:
This is a homemade version of a dish that I like at an asian bistro restaurant nearby. The recipe is really a mango-chicken dish made with fresh mango. I sometimes make it with fresh sliced mango, but it also tastes good with fresh pineapple chunks. This version is easier because it uses canned pineapple, which is easy to stock in the pantry. With the veggies pre-cut in the freezer and the chicken cooked ahead, this becomes a meal that is ready to put together with pineapple, sauce and rice from the pantry...
2-3 zucchini, sliced
3 colored bell peppers, sliced
1 large sweet onion, sliced
(the above can be chopped and frozen ahead)
1 cooked chicken, chopped and thawed, if frozen (can also use cooked chicken breast)
1 20-oz can pineapple chunks
1 20-oz bottle Trader Joe's Island Soyaki or your favorite teriyaki sauce
Stirfry vegetables in a little olive oil in large frying pan until tender. Add cooked chicken, pineapple and stirfry sauce and stir until heated through. Serve over cooked rice.