Cooking for a small army has required the refining of my meal prep skills. I wanted to pass along some of these tips.
COOK IT FIRST!
My “A #1” quick meal prep tip is to buy meat in bulk and cook it, dice/shred and then freeze it. That way, when it’s time to throw a meal together, you simply have to defrost your meat rather than thaw and cook and chop. For example: when there’s a good sale, I would buy 10+ pounds of ground beef or pork. I brown it all together (usually with onions!). Once I drain and cool it a bit, I measure out 2 ½ c. cooked meat into containers. I have found that to be about the right portion of 1 pound of meat.
For chicken I buy either whole chickens or breasts and cook in the crock pot until it’s falling apart. I shred it or chop it up and place 2 c. of cooked chicken in containers to freeze. Almost every chicken recipe I have calls for 2 c. cooked, diced chicken.
The other easiest tip I have is to simply double anything you make. When I “mega cook,” I will sometimes even quadruple a recipe and store it in the freezer to take to a friend with a new baby or to save for a rainy day. If you don’t have a ton of freezer space, Ziploc baggies work great. Simply place your meal in a Ziploc bag, place it on a large cookie sheet and freeze it flat. Once frozen, I stack them up!
You’ve heard of Taco Tuesday, right? Why not make it Fish Fridays, Veggie Saturday, Pasta Wednesday? Your kids won’t care and there’s enough of a variety factor in those options that you will appreciate having somewhat of a direction for most nights.
MENU PLAN AND ROTATE!
I used to make 2 weeks of menus at a time. Then I would burn myself out with trying to come up with more and more different recipes. Here’s what I learned. Make a few different 2 week menu options and rotate them.
Don’t forget to include your most favorite meals, not all meals need to be fancy, PBJs, breakfast for dinner and quesadillas are some of our classics! If you have a night where you eat out or join friends for dinner, you simply push back the meals on your menu.
A couple years ago, I invited friends over to a mega prep day where we EACH made 31 crockpot freezer meals. Boy were we naïve about how long it would take. I was thinking a few hours, throw some stuff in baggies, voila ~ dinner for a month.
OH MY! My poor friends were roped in for almost 12 hours, but we did have over 150 baggies of meals by 10 p.m! We had limited fridge space, so with 5 ladies x 30 days’ worth of groceries, meats, etc. it’s a miracle we didn’t experience food poisoning from lack of proper food refrigeration.
Each of these recipes was brand new to all of us and we shopped as it said on the list from the website and then trudged our way through. I know I personally cut chicken for hours and hours. We chose to do these meals because chicken was on sale at Fareway (honored by Hy-Vee), but that didn’t mean the other meats were on sale or the fresh vegetables. The grocery bill was BIG.
One way to simplify and save a ton of money (and time!) was to have everyone buy everything on the list except the meats. Then, what you put in your freezer is a bag of veggies and sauces and seasonings with a note to buy a 3 pound chuck roast on the outside of the bag. That way, when meat is on sale, you can pull out that bag and make a much more cost effective dinner.
Another tip, we used gallon ice cream buckets to hold our gallon baggies open for ease of adding ingredients. We saved the recipes from our 31 freezer meals and rated them on a scale of 1-10 to see if we’d eat it again. I would say out of 30, we only adored 10. So…next time I would put together a list of my favorite recipes instead.
I have longed to do this, so stay tuned! Gather a group of friends and every person bring their favorite recipe x5. Once you’re in the groove of making chicken tortilla soup, throwing together 5 batches is no problem! You come with 5 of one recipe and leave with 5 different recipes! This can take a bit of coordinating with some special dietary needs these days, but the best part is people bring their favorites, “guaranteed” recipes as opposed to the mega meals you have never tried before.
STOCK UP ON SALE ITEMS!
I have my go-to list of favorites that I always, always, always have on hand. We buy beef from a local farmer, so we have ground beef available all the time. I buy chicken in bulk as I said, so I usually have that, too. Memorize the recipe or put the ingredients needed in your phone so that when you are at the store and you see something on sale, you can buy extra.
And finally…for my bridal shower, my aunties had everyone bring recipes for us. It was a wonderful way to start our married adventure. But my most favorite recipe card was from my little cousin, Bailey. In her early elementary scrawl, she wrote, “If your dinner flops call Godfathers.” The best meal prep advice ever. Good luck!