Step 1: Start Collecting Basic Ingredients
Two things I really hate while I’m cooking: running out of/not having an ingredient and when prepping the ingredients takes LONGER than actually cooking the meal. Freezer to the rescue. Start building a stash of prepped ingredients to make your every day cooking faster. Here are some examples:
- If you are dicing vegetables for a recipe (1/2 an onion, 1 carrot, 2 stalks celery…) dice up the remainder or a few more and freeze the leftovers. You’re already making the knife and the cutting board dirty so you might as well make use of it. You can do this by simply scooping the extras into a quart size freezer bag. We’ve all had those recipes that call for 2 Tbsp of diced onion or something. Wouldn’t it be so much nicer to just scoop it out of a baggy :)
- When a recipe calls for ½ a cup of chicken broth or 2 Tbsp of tomato paste, freeze the leftovers in small useable portions
- If there is a good sale on something like shredded cheese stock up and store the extras in the freezer. Alternatively you can buy those big huge bags of shredded cheese which are generally cheaper per ounce than the smaller bags. Scoop a few cups each into several quart sized baggies to use over time.
- If you are cooking chicken for dinner, cook a few extra pieces and dice them up for salads, sandwiches, casseroles, and stir fries down the road. You can just throw them all into a freezer baggy and chuck them into the freezer, no special method required. The chunks break apart pretty easily when you need them later.
- If you are cooking brown rice or some other grain, make a double or triple batch and freeze the extras. I spoon the leftovers into a few separate containers but then combine them all into one baggy once they’re frozen and break up the chunks. This way you have a big baggy of individually cooked grains so it’s easier to just use a measuring cup to scoop out a half cup or so to add into a soup, salad, or wrap or to have as a side dish.
- When you are cooking pasta, cook the whole box and freeze the leftovers in ½ and 1 cup portions. You may think this is silly because pasta takes barely anytime to make but it takes even less time to zap in the microwave when precooked and frozen. I don’t know about you but in my house sometimes 5 minutes makes a big difference.
|Diced Onions, Diced Peppers, and Parboiled Whole Peppers for Stuffed Peppers|
Most nights no matter what I cook we have at least one serving leftover. The old me would stick it in the fridge, forget about it, and then throw it out 2 weeks later when it was no longer good. I shudder at the thought of how much food I’ve wasted that way. Now, as soon as we are done with dinner, I automatically freeze individual portions of the leftovers (usually using the medium/large portions or flash freeze method).
Step 3: Make Planned Leftovers
My theory has always been, if you’re putting in the effort to cook something and you’re already making all the pots and utensils dirty, you might as well make extra and get more bang for your buck. I will sometimes double or triple a recipe just for extra leftovers.
Step 4: Cook Along an Extra Meal
If my freezer stash is dwindling I will sometimes cook a meal just for my freezer alongside what I’m already making for dinner. The best things for this are soups or dishes in the crockpot. While I’m making something else for dinner, such as a stir fry, I will dump the ingredients for another meal involving little to no prep work into the crockpot (like Black Bean Salsa Soup or African Peanut Soup) and have it cook throughout the day. Then I’ll portion out the whole batch into individual servings and freeze it for another day.
Step 5: Stock the Freezer Day
This is fun to do with a few friends. Pick out 3 or 4 recipes, split up the grocery shopping and prep work, and get together for a few hours of marathon cooking and hanging out. I find it works best if each thing is cooked in a different way. For example, baking lasagna in the oven, cooking chili on the stovetop, making soup in the crockpot. That way you can all be working on something at the same time without getting in each other’s way. When you’re done, split up the finished product and everyone will go home with a few servings of a few different meals. You can of course do this by yourself too.