Freezer Cooking February: Planning and Prep Work

In case you are new to this series, so far I’ve covered a few Freezer Cooking Methods, Resources/Books to consider, Supplies to Have on Hand and Tips on Recipe Choices.

In this segment, I’m going to go over a little bit more on planning, shopping and prep work. I’d done a few freezer cooking sessions where I just jumped right into them and they turned into complete disasters. So now, I spend about an hour prior to my sessions putting together a plan for my cooking day. It may seem a little “Type A” but when you’ve had a few chaotic messes, you’ll be thankful for the times you planned in advance.

At this point, I’ve chosen some recipes that I think I’ll use for my big cooking day. But this doesn’t mean these will be the ones I will definitely proceed with. I write down my recipes and then put them in order of heating element. Crockpot #1, Crockpot #2, Griddle, etc. I do this now because in my frantic rush to put together a session, I’ve actually “double-booked” my crockpots and oven! And this just put extra cooking time into my day (or even caused me to skip a recipe entirely before.)

After it looks like everything is going to work out smooth, I then take it one step further and write down my “End Results – Meals” plugging in Breakfasts, Lunches, Entrees and Snacks/Desserts. One time, I did an entire cooking session and had almost all soups and desserts when I was done! So this is why I do this now. I also make sure and jot down my plans for my meals on cooking day. Several times I’ve forgotten to allow for a lunch/supper on cooking day and had to quickly put together something or wait for one of my meals to finish. (which took away from what I could freeze to help me on a later busy day.) This is what my first list looked like when I was done:

Now that I’m sure of my recipes, I create a shopping list. There are several great spreadsheets that you can use. 30 Day Gourmet has some in their book but I just use an “old school” method. I jot down my recipes in order (making a note in the sidebar as the next recipe begins) and then add any duplicate ingredients on the original line. Then I can tally then when I’m done. (Don’t forget to add your freezer containers to your list of things that you’ll need!) I can then cross off any ingredients that I have on-hand. If for some reason I didn’t notice that I picked too many recipes without enough ingredients on hand, I can quickly find a recipe that requires me to not need as many items and switch it out.  This helps me do my best to stay within my budget. This is what that end list looked like (prior to the tally):

Now before setting off on your shopping trip, I highly recommend that you consider doing the following:

*Cleaning out your fridge & freezer. You’ll need room for all of those groceries! Plus you might be surprised and find that a missing ingredient truly was hiding in there.

*If you find you have a lot of veggies on your list to chop, you might want to consider grabbing some frozen ones to speed up the process. One I love to get is chopped onions. Keeps my from crying on freezer cooking day! :)

On the last list that I make, I create my “Cooking Agenda.” I divide this into two areas: Prep Work and Cooking Day. There are several things that I can get done the day before my big cooking session. Prep Work items might include:

*Prior to starting, cleaning all counter tops, emptying the dishwasher and washing any lingering dirty dishes.
*Chopping Veggies that won’t wilt or turn brown
*Browning meats, such as turkey or hamburger
*Cooking Poultry and chopping them into correct sizes, such as strips or cubes, etc.
*Soaking Beans
*Preparing Marinades
*Cooking Pastas (I haven’t tried this yet.)
(These items, except for the beans, would go in the fridge until you need them the next day.)

It’s very important that if you are planning on cooking things such as whole chickens or turkeys that you plan on that extra day or so for them to thaw. You don’t want your day to be ruined by having a turkey that’s still frozen solid!

Now for my “Cooking Day” part of the list, I write up all of my tasks that I won’t complete during my Prep Work. I try to put them in order of how I want to complete them. This task is a good one to complete because sometimes, it’s just not obvious on how much you are about to undertake until it’s all listed. You might be surprised to realize you really planned on taking on too much for a one/two day cooking session. This is what my completed list for that one looked like:

I usually try to complete all of these before I do my shopping trip. That way, I can rearrange my game plan without causing an extra grocery trip or digging any deeper into my grocery budget if I find my original plan wasn’t going to work.

Yes, it all might seem a little extreme but when your cooking day goes a little smoother and you find that you are getting so many meals completed in one day, you’ll be patting yourself on the back for taking a little time to plan ahead – especially weeks later when you get to have those quick meals instead of spending hours in the kitchen!

At this point, I’ve shared with you all the information that you need up until the big cooking day. On cooking day, it all comes down to a little juggling act and hopefully you’ve planned it all out well so it will go smooth. Don’t forget to get plenty of sleep the night before, wear comfortable shoes the day of and drink plenty of water to keep yourself hydrated! It really is like a work-out in your own kitchen!

Also, I found another resource that I think might help those of you that have never tried a cooking session before. It’s called Frozen Assets: Lite and Easy. They have little “mini-sessions” completely laid out for you. They have detailed shopping lists, prep work and recipes for you. They are lumped by similar things, such as Chicken Mini-Session, Turkey Mini-Session, etc. They also have the nutritional values at the bottom of the recipes, which tend to lean more toward the healthier-side.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I’ll be able to get in a successful freezer cooking session this weekend that I can share with you. I also have some more guest posts to share with you, as well. So stay tuned!