[Warning—this is a LONG post]
Why Cook Ahead?
I’ve mentioned before how doubling up on your cooking can free you on busy nights and help you save money because you’re less likely to eat out/call for takeout. Let’s take it a step further and cook BIG. This afternoon I prepared 10 meals’ worth of meat for my family of five in just 1 ½ hours. I call this the “Summer Edition” because I’m avoiding any meals that need to be put in the oven (too hot!). Below, you’ll see how to use this meat for stovetop/crockpot meals that are perfect for summer. I’ll do this again in the winter and share new recipes with you.
Does This Really Work?
Back before I had twins, I did some experimenting with Once a Month Cooking (OAMC) and found a great book called Frozen Assets. I did use a lot of the recipes and stock my freezer before ending up on bedrest. However, I was never able to get the system to work for me. Over the years, I’ve found what does work for me—just cooking one type of meat at a time. It also helps me stay on budget; instead of buying a month’s worth of food in one weekend (no matter what the cost), I’m buying meat in bulk when it’s on sale. I’m still cooking more than a month’s worth of beef meals for my family, but it takes me only 1 ½ hours and I find it doable.
Where do I Start?
93% ground beef was on sale this week; I bought almost 7 lbs. for $13.28 (you may be able to do this less expensively if you use fattier meat). I’ve learned through trial and error that this is the right amount for me; I’ve tried cooking more at once but I would have to use multiple pans and it increases my work time. If the cooking-ahead concept is new to you, I would suggest you buy one “Big Pack” with 3 lbs. of ground beef and start with that.
My plan was to make 10 meals’ worth: 2 bags of hamburger patties, 4 bags of precooked meat mix, and 4 bags of meatballs. If you’re using less meat, just make hamburger patties and the meat mix (skip the meatballs). You’ll learn best through trying it for yourself.
What do I Need?
Besides the ground beef, you’ll also need:
Green peppers and onions (for meat mix)
Bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, eggs, basil, oregano, salt & pepper (for meatballs)
Gallon-size zipper bags, Wax paper
Large bowl, large frying pan, cookie sheet (make sure it fits in your freezer)
Paper towels and soap (LOTS of hand washing!)
- Prep your work area—send the kids out with Daddy, put on some good music, and take the ground beef out of the fridge to take the chill off (you’ll see why in step 6).
- Clean and chop your veggies. I used two large green peppers and two large onions for 7 lbs. of meat.
- Saute your veggies in a large frying pan, then remove them from the pan.
- Brown your ground beef; I used about 3 lbs. here and put 2 lbs. aside for hamburger patties. While the beef is browning (it takes a while in this large amount), form your hamburger patties and put into zipper bags to freeze.
- When the beef is done browning, drain it, then add the peppers/onions to the pan and combine them. Leave this to cool.
- In a large bowl, mix the remainder of your meat (mine was approximately 2 lbs. worth) with four eggs, about 1 cup of bread crumbs, a 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese, several shakes of basil and oregano, and some salt and pepper. Sorry I’m not more specific here; I really do eyeball it instead of measure. Basically, you want the eggs to moisten the meat, and then the breadcrumbs make it not-too-moist. Oh—and you’re mixing this with your hands, which is why you don’t want the meat straight out of the fridge (you’ll feel like you have frostbite).
- Line a cookie sheet with wax paper and place the meatballs there as you form them. This will go into the freezer for 1-2 hours and “flash freeze” the meatballs so you can throw them into zipper bags. I spread mine across 4 bags.
- Go back to your meat mix. Now that it’s a bit cooler, distribute it between your zipper bags. I did 4 bags with about 2 ½ cups of mix in each bag. Zip everything and put in the freezer.
- Clean up a bit, then go RELAX! You deserve it.
- Don’t forget to label your bags with the date and what’s in them.
- Freeze these bags flat, then you can stack them or store them upright like books and they’ll take up very little space. You can store these in a side-by-side freezer that way.
- In general, I use about a pound of meat for five hamburger patties (two are for my toddlers, remember). I usually use ¾ lb. of meat in any recipe that calls for 1 lb. of ground beef, and then I stretch it with veggies. It’s healthier and less expensive that way.
Since I do my meal planning each Monday, I know what days I need to take something out of the freezer to defrost. Make sure you defrost in the fridge for at least 24 hours (safety guidelines here).
- Hamburgers—once they’re defrosted, they can be seasoned further (Worcestershire sauce is delicious) and grilled or pan-fried.
- Meatballs—defrost these and drop into a simmering pot of spaghetti sauce. Cook for at least an hour.
- Bow Ties & Beef—here’s a crockpot recipe with pasta.
- Chili—you’ve eliminated the time needed to brown meat before adding to the crockpot. Here’s an easy chili recipe.
- Meat Tacos—reheat the meat mix in a frying pan, then add shells/tortillas and all your fixings.
- Spaghetti Sauce—reheat the meat mix and add to jarred or homemade spaghetti sauce.
- Taco Bake—here’s a crockpot recipe with Mexican spicing.
What are your Thoughts?
I’d love to get your feedback. Do you think you’ll give this a try? Does it sound overwhelming? What questions do you have?