As you know I’m pregnant with number two and this hasn’t been an easy pregnancy. I don’t have a day without significant pain and as a result I feel exhausted, grumpy, and guilty. One of the first things to slip when I’m feeling this way is good home-cooked meals. The time and energy it takes to plan, prep, and cook something frugal and healthy just seems too much. The temptation to send my husband out for take-away, order home delivery, or just eat cheese on toast has won out more than I like to admit. Then of course I feel horribly remorseful.
Something had to change so I started this very simple trick. I would visit the local markets and purchase about a kilo each of onions, carrots, and celery- the basic starter ingredients for so many soups, stews, and casseroles. Then I would come home, prepare these ingredients, and freeze in recipe sized portions. This is really time efficient (I use the food processor as it’s a large enough amount to make the washing up worthwhile) and frugal (no wasted veggies rotting in the crisper). I freeze the packs flat to take up less space and make them easy to organise in the freezer. Once frozen you can even store them upright in the freezer if that makes them easier to access for you.
On those evenings when I feel like I can’t face cooking I can pull one of these little ziplock bags out of the freezer and the tedious prep work is done for me. It’s so easy to dump the frozen diced ingredients into a saucepan with a little oil and by adding some stock you have a simple soup which can be bulked up with pasta, noodles, lentils, and whatever meat and veggies you have lying around. If I really can’t raise my expanding bottom from the lounge I can even instruct my patient husband on the dumping, sautéing etc. process knowing that half the work is already done for him. I’ve also used these starter packs in the slowcooker/crockpot- makes getting the meal started in the morning before heading off to work even easier!
It turns out I’m not the only person who has discovered the benefits of preparing and freezing the beginnings of a meal. I like my little starter packs because they are so versatile (who knows what this pregnant belly will crave from one day to the next!) but another way to go is preparing and freezing all the ingredients for a meal. This works well when you want to do all your dinner preparation on say Sunday and simply dump the lot in the slow cooker each morning (you can defrost in the fridge the night before to make it easier to remove from the ziplock bag if necessary). If you don’t mind a bit of repetition in your weekly meals you can buy ingredients in bulk and make multiples of the same meal. If you and your family tend to have curry/bolognese/daal every Tuesday night this is perfect. You can make a month of Tuesday night dinners in one afternoon. If you have close friends and family who enjoy similar food to you there’s even the possibility of exchanging meals. You could each prepare multiple lots of a meal and swap amongst yourselves so you end up with one of each- dinner for the week sorted with variety intact! Simply write the recipe name and instructions (e.g. 7 hours on low, add cream before serving etc) on the ziplock bag and you’re good to go. Would be great if you all had something like exam week coming up.
If you’re stuck for idea Pinterest is a good place to start. Try http://www.pinterest.com/faithbringsjoy/recipes-meal-planning-freezer-food-prep/ and http://www.pinterest.com/ahavey1/freezer-prep-meals/ or simply search for ‘freezer meals’ etc. I actually haven’t found many recipes online that work for me as most require processed ingredients such as sauces that we don’t use in our house (what is this obsession with adding packets of french onion soup to everything?!), but I’m slowly adapting our own well-loved recipes to make them suitable to freeze in advance and slow cook. Do you make use of your freezer to help with meal preparation? Have you ever frozen recipe ingredients in advance before putting in the slow cooker? Care to share a recipe?