I’ve heard that things like housework, meal preparation, and even showers can sometimes go out the window when you have a newborn to care for and are operating on little sleep. Since many experienced moms have warned me of this, I’m trying to anticipate our needs post-baby and prepare as much as I can.
Many new moms talk about how feeding the family in those first few weeks (or months) after the baby’s arrival can be a challenge. In addition to meeting the family’s needs, a nursing mom needs even more calories than she did while she was pregnant! I decided to solve this problem by learning to prepare freezer meals. Instead of buying prepared frozen meals (full of sodium and other preservatives), or eating out frequently (thereby smashing our budget and/or health), I decided that my plan of attack would be to learn how to prepare and freeze healthy entrees, side dishes, snacks, and desserts (OK, desserts aren’t necessarily healthy, but we all need to indulge every now and then!).
I searched the Internet for tips, tricks, suggestions, and recipes, and collected my findings on a Pinterest board I created (adding new recipes as I find them). This board contains recipes that others have specifically said work well in the freezer. I have more boards where I am other collecting recipes I’d like to try (among other things), some of which I hope to experiment with in the freezer.
To make meal planning and grocery shopping easier on myself, I have been using a fabulous website called Pepperclip.com. This website comes with a database of recipes submitted by others. I haven’t used that, yet. I like it because it allows me to enter my own recipes! When I am ready to do a freezer cooking marathon, plan for a party, or even just create a weekly menu plan, all I have to do is go to my favorites, tell it how many of each recipe I want to prepare (it will even let you 1/2 recipes), and it will generate a shopping list for me. What a time-saver! Yes, it’s tedious entering recipes in the beginning, but once they’re in, I can create as many different meal plans for as many different purpose as I like right when I want to, and it will help me out by telling me exactly what I need from the store.
I knew that I wanted to start putting together freezer meals soon after returning from Japan. We bought an extra freezer for this purpose before we left. First, I needed to figure out what to take to a new mom and her family the first Friday I was home. I volunteered to do this on the first Friday I was back from Japan. Since I’m not used to cooking for families, I searched Allrecipes.com for ideas. I decided on Curried Honey Mustard Chicken, Tomato and Pepper Salad, and Basmati Rice from that website. My friend, Holly Grenz, started a food blog where she posted a delicious-looking recipe for Rosemary and Red Pepper Hummus, so I made that and served it with fresh veggies for dipping. I also made a recipe I found on Pinterest for Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars.
Since I was cooking anyway, I doubled the things that wouldn’t freeze well and tripled the rest. I enjoyed the salad and hummus right away, and double batches of the chicken, rice, and cookie bars went straight into the freezer to start my stockpile! Before shopping for the ingredients I needed for those recipes, I selected a few more chicken-based recipes (since I would be buying chicken anyway) and added the necessary items to my shopping list.
Between March 22 and now, I have bought 60 pounds of chicken breast and prepared a double recipe of nine different types of chicken-based dishes. Each of these dishes makes about four servings, so 2 x 9 x 4 = 72 servings! That’s enough dinners to feed Jason and me for about two months! Of course, we will eat leftovers for lunch instead of dinner, feed guests, or use a meal to bless someone who could use it, so it’s not all for us.
In fact, one of my freezer meals is coming in handy today! I was supposed to bring a freezer meal to another new mom and her family next Friday. However, the woman was supposed to be induced earlier this week, but was sent home. Now the doctor is going to induce her on Monday if nothing happens naturally before then. Anyway, the MOPS coordinator offered to collect freezer meals today from those who wished to provide one and deliver them tomorrow. Even though it’s a week early, I didn’t panic. I just went to the freezer, and selected what to bring and added a couple sides to it. Easy!
Even before I started preparing freezer meals on a larger scale, I’ve tried to keep Freezer-Friendly Breakfast Burritos on-hand for Jason to take for breakfast. They’re put into the freezer cooked and ready to go, and just require reheating. We were out, so I added a double batch to my cooking marathon. With the amount of tortillas I bought for the breakfast burritos, Crispy Southwest Chicken Wraps (a great grab-and-go lunch option–just needs reheating), Southwest Roll-ups, and Baked Creamy Chicken Taquitos, Jason told me I had more tortillas than a Mexican restaurant.
Beef and pasta dishes are next on my list. Yesterday, I made another Costco run and came home with 10 pounds of lean ground beef (to go with the eight pounds I already had at home) and other necessities. I haven’t found as many beef-based dishes to prepare, but I’ll keep my eye on sales for good deals on other kinds of beef so I have it on-hand when I find a recipe for it. After I use what I have on hand, I’ll work on some breakfasts, smoothie packets, snacks, and desserts. So much to do, and so little time!
Preparing freezer meals on my own is fine, but I think it would be a lot more efficient and fun(!) to do this with others. I decided to start a freezer meal exchange group. The members of this group will prepare one meal for everyone in the group (including themselves). Then, at the monthly meal swaps, we’ll exchange meals with each other. That means that, even though we prepared several of the same type of meal, we each get to walk away with a variety!
I started researching this idea on the Internet. I wanted to get insight into what has been successful for existing meal exchange groups, and what hasn’t worked out so well. I learned that my cousin, Ashley Clark, is involved in a freezer meal exchange group, so I emailed her to ask about it. Ashley was so helpful! She told me that her group exchanges only crock pot meals, gave me the minutes from their meeting (outlining the group’s focus, guidelines, and procedures), and invited me to be a part of their Facebook page so I could get a feel for how they do things. The group Ashley is a part of calls themselves Crockstar Mamas, and recently started a blog. Their blog talks about how their group operates, provides tips and tricks for successful freezer slow cooking, and is in the process of collecting recipes that have worked out well for them. This is the most organized group I’ve come across!
Even though there are many different types of food that work well for freezer meals, I, too, have decided to form my local group around crock pot meals. Not only are crock pot meals easy, they can all be stored in a gallon-size freezer Ziploc bag. This means that people who don’t have anything more than their refrigerator freezer can participate! Ziploc bags frozen flat don’t take up much room at all!
Since I don’t know many people in the Port Orchard area, I proposed the idea of asking the MOPS members to join my freezer meal group to the MOPS coordinator. She told me that the topic for the May 1 meeting is going to be freezer meals (how timely!), and thought the idea would be well-received. I get to advertise it in the newsletter and make an announcement about the group at the May 1 meeting. Even if we just have 3-4 people to start, it will be fun to get to know a few more people better while sharing the work load. Since my baby is due in June, I don’t want to obligate myself to anything that month, so I decided to hold our first meeting on July 10, and do our first meal exchange in August. I can’t wait!
To prepare for the launch of my freezer/slow cooker exchange group, I created a Facebook group and Pinterest account. People who are interested in and/or are a member of the group will be able to communicate with each other, receive notifications/reminders about upcoming meetings and meal swaps, pass along kudos when someone provides a meal that went over particularly well, share recipes, etc.. Recipes on the Pinterest boards will be limited to those that have been tried (prepared, frozen, cooked, and eaten) and approved by the group members. After a while, we should have a good collection of recipes from which to draw if we need inspiration.
So, that’s the latest in my Adventures with Freezer Meals. I’m very happy with the progress I’ve made so far. We have a good jump-start on the meals we’ll appreciate and enjoy after the baby arrives, so I think it’s time to start sampling my handiwork as I continue to add to it. :) We’ve already tried the curried honey mustard chicken and basmati rice, since I was curious about how the meal that I took to the new mom turned out. It was delicious! Let’s hope the rest turn out just as well.