I have always enjoyed cooking, However, after the birth of our twin sons, I started looking for tips to save time in the kitchen. I read several online articles about “once a month cooking” and while this idea is grand, the concept did not work for my family.
I have modified this method to fit our needs and hope that by sharing my tip, that you too will have more time to spend with loved ones.
I call my method “bulk preparation” as my concept is making foods in bulk so that things are on hand when needed. The reason this saves me time is that I prepare in quantity and then freeze the prepared foods in portions. However, unlike some methods, I do not cook five lasagnas at one time, or make bread for an entire day to put into the freezer.
Nor do I spend an entire day planning menus and shopping, as well as one full day in the kitchen using every pot that I own, only to spend one more day cleaning up.
What I do is select one meat and one vegetable per week that is on sale at the grocery store. Upon arriving home from the grocery store, I coordinate with my husband to watch the children so that I can prepare the foods from the sale.
The reason this method saves me time is that I cook once, clean up once, and then have portions on hand in the freezer. I try to do as much preparation of the food as much as possible so that a meal is only a few steps away after the food has thawed.
For example, when bone-less, skin-less chicken breast goes on sale, I buy several packages (for me, up to 25 pounds). I then prepare the chicken in several ways at one time.
- I bake several breasts in fat-free Italian dressing;
- Bake several in bar-b-q sauce;
- And grill several with mild seasoning (no salt, foods going into the freezer should always be salted after thawing, not before placing in the freezer).
I have found it very handy to slice several of the grilled chicken breasts into strips before packing, as the chicken strips make great additions to pasta dishes when thawed. It is much easier to slice or dice foods before freezing, instead of waiting until the foods are completely thawed.
The chicken strips also make very quick quesadillas and casseroles.
When ground beef goes on sale, I also buy in bulk. I then brown several pounds with sautéed onions; several pounds with taco seasoning; and cook several pounds by forming hamburger patties and cooking completely.
The browned meat can be added to spaghetti sauce or casseroles, and I use the taco seasoned meat to add a little “kick” to certain meals.
A favorite quick meal for my husband is when I use a thawed hamburger patty inside a grilled cheese sandwich; this meal is quickly achieved by slightly microwaving a thawed patty before inserting it into a normal grilled cheese sandwich.
I also buy bulk ground sausage which I shape into patties and grill for breakfast sandwiches. These patties thaw quickly and are added to a fresh omelet bagel for a great start to a busy day. When bacon goes on sale, I fry several pounds until crispy and place on paper towels to drain some of the grease.
Some bacon I freeze as strips; however, most of the bacon I make gets crumbled and frozen in small amounts to be added to breakfast casseroles or potato salad.
Fruits and vegetables are much easier for me to prepare in bulk, as they do not require any creativity or pre-planning of other ingredients for this stage of cooking. I tend to buy the same fruits and vegetables when they go on sale, as we are not very adventurous.
A large quantity of green beans or peaches can be cleaned, blanched, cooled in ice water, and packaged for the freezer in a short amount of time. When buying corn on the cob, I buy the corn from a local farmer who picks the corn in the morning; I take it home and husk it in our garage; and blanch the corn immediately.
After cooling in ice water, I cut the corn off of the cobs and package for the freezer. Again, food should not be salted at this stage, it is best to salt after the vegetables are thawed, or allow each person to season their own plate of food. Onions can be bought in bulk and simply diced and packaged for the freezer.
This means I only cry once and since I only use a small amount of onion at one time, this prevents a half onion from rotting in my crisper drawer.
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When foods are completely cooled, I then package everything into family sized portions, including making a few larger packages for when we serve guests. I label all of the packages with the type of food, date, and number of servings. I separate the meats in the freezer and have another area for vegetables.
This method allows me to have a large selection of prepared foods without committing hours and hours of work; we have dramatically cut out fast food purchases (which saves money and the home cooked meals are much healthier); my family does not have to eat the same meals over and over again which may occur with other bulk cooking methods; and because our freezer is fairly large, I am able to save money because I purchased the foods on sale.
In the morning, before my husband leaves for work, I ask him what he would like for dinner. I then pull the appropriate packages from the freezer. Food should always be thawed in the refrigerator or when time does not allow for this method, in a microwave oven.
How to Save Food?
Food should never be left on the kitchen counter to defrost. Also, once thawed food is used to cook into a dish, it should not be refrozen. So if a package of browned hamburger with sautéed onion is used in a pot of spaghetti, the leftover meal should be eaten within a day or two, not returned to the freezer.
Because we do not have a commercial sized freezer (nor do we have a large enough home to store this type of freezer), I have to decide what foods to buy in bulk and what quantity to store. My decisions are greatly influenced by the price of the sale items; when there is a very good sale, I do tend to buy a month worth of that food.
When a produce item is in season, not only is the price great, the quality of the vegetable is also best and this is my time to stock my freezer. Since most vegetables can be safely stored in a freezer for up to 12 months, this makes a valuable stockpile for my family.
Meats do not last nearly as long in the freezer; I never buy more than a 6 month supply of any type of meat in order to be safe.
Even if you do not plan to freeze foods, you can evaluate all of your fresh foods upon arriving home from the grocery store. For example, a full bag of celery or carrots can be cleaned and cut into strips to be eaten as snacks; and can even be packaged in small quantities in plastic bags or containers for brown bag lunches.
Once the work is done with cutting everything at one time, it is also easier to make a healthy selection for a snack.
I truly hope that my bulk preparation tip helps you to save time in your kitchen as well!