11 November 2010

true life story: mealtime rescue mission

this is used to be the typical scene in our house when benji helps with dinner. yikes. (i love that innocent little face, as if he were just a spectator of this kitchen disaster area. do you see that he's standing on top of the griddle?!) he empties his 'unbreakables cupboard' with gusto while i hurry and fix something for supper. this particular day he wildly emptied out our collection of cookie cutters too. most days i roll with it because i'm attempting to frost sugar cookies, shape sticky bread dough, deal with raw meats or chop vegetables. we sing some tunes and make our messes simultneously. he's happily entertained and i'm providing a meal for the family. it's a survival technique.

i was chatting with another young mom the other day and we both agreed that our husbands are either greeted with a clean house or a hot meal at the end of the day; never both.

then i got to thinking, there must be a better way. (a better way that doesn't involve sitting benji in front of the tv.) i browsed some blogs and found this article by the sister's cafe. that's when i decided to take a whole new lease on my meal making, to take most of the work out of my five o'clock hour. there are so many wonderful foodie websites, i don't know why i haven't been doing this all along!

i made a list of completely new and fun recipes to try (most of them freezer friendly) and marched to the grocery store for the ingredients. a lot of freezer meals are heavy on cheese, sour cream and pasta, so i loaded up on fresh produce for salads, soups and smoothies to help balance out our months's entrees (and calorie intake)! i purchased a handful of extra square pans for freezing meals too. the next two days while my little boy had his nap, i devoted my time to prepping meals. it took some effort, but was well worth it. i got a whole slew of delicious dinners made for the weeks ahead!

a few freezer friendly recipes 
chicken enchiladas
spinach stuffed pasta shells
buttermilk whole wheat bread
creamy chicken noodle soup
pioneer woman's baked mac & cheese
pancakes / baked french toast
breadsticks and lasagna
spinach quiche

here are a few tips i learned while preparing freezer meals
start with a clean kitchen; plenty of space, an empty sink and dishwasher.
pull your hair up, put on an apron and some music and make it fun!
unload your freezer and make sure you have plenty of space.
stock your fridge beforehand with all the ingredients you'll need.
choose meals with similar ingredients, so you can get the most out of your mozarella.
start boiling your water for lasagna noodles while you unload the groceries.
(if you're making lasagna for square pans, break noodles in half before boiling!)
make sure your spice rack is stocked and ready for use. benji recently helped me re-organize mine!
have a wooden spoon, cutting boards, knives, a can opener and garbage can readily available.
have two towels handy; one for wiping hands and one for wiping up spills.
make sure you have a sharpie pen, tinfoil, ziplock freezer bags, labels and pans on hand.
chop all the vegetables for your recipes at once to save time.

these days i simply let the meal thaw and toss it in the oven. when five o'clock hits, benji and i put our aprons on and toss a salad or slice some fruit. i know this is not a revolutionary idea by any means, but it has helped me feed my family and keep a cheerful attitude and a somewhat tidy house. nowadays i can read him stories before dad comes home and we usually have leftovers for lunches too. hip hooray for planning ahead and ending disaster-cleanup-kitchen efforts at mealtime! i hope i can keep this up.

what are your favorite prep-ahead meals? crockpot favorites?


Julie said...

ooo...I was going to mention the crockpot, but then saw the last line of your post! I live by the crockpot as I work all day. It helps my husband and I eat healthily without a lot of work to be done nightly. And of course, the leftovers! Here's my favorite crockpot blog: crockpot365.blogspot.com. You can find all sorts of healthy meals here, as well as fun beverages, desserts (and a few craft projects)! You can even cook your whole Thanksgiving in a crockpot. Check it out!

Whatever Dee-Dee wants said...

I love that picture...I see that sort of scene at my house quite often.

I need to stock up on freezer meals, thanks for the reminder.

ashley sullivan said...

like julie, i prefer the crockpot for healthier, simple meals. i recently borrowed the book (from the blog), "make it fast, cook it slow" from the library and it's been fun. the recipes can be much lighter than freezer meals, which is a plus for me!

Hil said...

That picture is classic!

This is so smart Marta, and I thank you for the motivation. With baby #2 expecting to arrive any day (yeah right...) I have been thinking about how I can make sure my boys still have food once this baby comes! This is a wonderful idea.. can't wait to get started.

Marie said...

I regularly make a big pot of chili and freeze it in small containers. It is delicious and hearty.

Anonymous said...

I like to make Chicken Pot Pie and freeze it. It usually messes up the whole kitchen. It is great for a meal when I don't feel like cooking or
when a neighbor is in need. I also make pulled pork for sandwiches and freeze that also. All of these are good ideas. Thanks for reminding me. This is always a great idea.

Heidi said...

Benji is so stinkin' big! Oh my cutest little mix of Min & Dan. Love it. You are always the ultimate example of prepping ahead. If only you could be my life organizer. I mean Christmas binders, Min... really. I can't even find a piece of paper around here. This is smart, though. Especially right now. Because in the cold, your stuck inside totally living in your house with nowhere to go. To have a fresh meal cooking, without cleaning up the prep work... it's definitely something I should do.

Josie said...

I usually head to costco and stock up on turkey meat and chicken. I spend time cooking them up and flavoring them. I put them in containers so all I have to do is thaw them out. Like you said its a little messy but saves so much time on busy days. I usually keep on hand:
taco meat
chicken fajitas
sloppy joes
bbq shredded pork or chicken

One of the best tips I read was to take a muffin tin, place baggies in each slot and fill with individual portions of sloppy joes or bbq chicken. Place in freezer. Once frozen remove tin.
Now you have little portions available just for your or dan's lunch. It works great mornings I'm running late. Pull out a baggie & add a bun. A lot healthier than running out for fast food.

Abby said...

All are such great ideas. I just froze up some manicotti....I'm so impressed you did so many meals all at once! You inspire me. I've totally got to get on board with this as it will help me and my family eat a little better - even with all the cheese! I can't wait to see what all your followers write about their ideas and crock pot recipes. I'm all about the crock pot!

Pink Little Cake said...

This is a great idea Martha, I have a full time job and also bake cakes. On Sundays, when my husband is home and can help me with the baby I prepare our week day meals.

Eileen said...

Glad to hear this is working well for you! I've been wanting to do the freeze-ahead method of cooking for awhile. With a full time job, long commute, and a husband who travels every week, I find myself getting really lazy about cooking when I get home from work. It would be much healthier to cook up a batch of healthy meals and freeze them ahead, instead of resorting to popcorn for dinner!

I think what's holding me back is making decisions for what I actually want to make... I just need to make up my mind already!

jessica said...

i have used our crock pot for almost every meal i've cooked since becoming pregnant & we love it. today i'm making a classic coke roast in it. yesterday it was italian crockpot chicken. we also love pulled pork sandwiches, salsa shredded chicken (for enchiladas) and now i want to try jessica seinfeld's crock pot lasagna!

i think it's awesome that you just let your boy go at it while you cook. i know your new method is working wonders, but just in case you head back into the kitchen for 5pm prep again soon, my mom always had one drawer in her kitchen designated for us. it was always a large, pull out drawer at the bottom & she filled it with old tupperware she no longer wanted, old wooden spoons & measuring cups and of course, toys. we knew we were allowed to play with anything in that drawer while she cooked & we stayed away from the others. i think it was easy for her because when she was done she just asked us to throw everything back in- no organizing, cleaning or fretting involved. :)

Liz said...

I love that picture of Benji, he looks so big!
My favorite 'prepare ahead' meal is making something in a dutch oven. You can't put in in the freezer but you can make it in the morning and leave it to simmer till dinnertime. It tastes very hearty and makes me all warm inside.

J, K, L, and D said...

Ooh - exactly what I need lately as I prep for our little one's arrival...

KJ said...

my kitchen looks like that on a regular basis! I've started parking the wee ones in their chairs with crayons, markers and paper while I cook dinner. Keeps em busy till daddy gets home. 20 minutes or so, but for a mommy of 2 boys, that's enough time to get LOTS done.

Donna said...

Such a great idea...I started reading about "batch" cooking a while back and a set of glass, lidded containers is on my Christmas list! Thanks for sharing!!!

--r said...

would be a lovely idea if i had enough room in my freezer to put frozen meals. of course, i have no problem with my husband getting one or the other. to be honest, if he actually noticed a mess and did anything about it, i'd be surprised!

{kate} said...

Great job, Marta!
Do you have links to any of those recipes you've tried?
I love reading the comments from your readers too - they've got some good ideas!
And your little boy is sooo adorable!

[eeny] said...

Homemade freezer meals are genius - always great to have a quick dinner after a long working day.
I also love to freeze batches of cupcakes, cinnamon rolls, mini pies, etc. - if I am in the mood for a cupcake I just take out two (or more =) and bake them - so there is no temptation to eat the whole batch all by myself :)

Jessica said...

Would love some of the recipes you mentioned if you are willing to share!

shirley elizabeth said...

My friend does something called OAMC, or Once a Month Cooking (her own version anyway). It has saved her so much time AND MONEY. I haven't done a whole month yet, but packing meals a week at a time has worked for my husband and I.

At her blog, she has a lot of examples and tips, and even has quite a few tasty recipes linked. Check out her "In the Kitchen" portion to see how to plan out your meals and etc.


summer said...

oh my goodness. how i LOVE this, marta! i can just feel the good homemake feelings welling up inside me. such brilliant ideas! i always feel ready to get up and actually DO the thing once i read it in your words. such a neat, tidy package of put-togetherness in this post. you are a master! enjoy your stocked freezer, my friend.

ps. totally making your spinach quiche for dinner tonight. thanks for sending your brainwaves. love them.

Ginnie said...

Ha! Marta, I love that picture. Just perfect.

barrentree said...

This is something I'm very bad at (and I *don't* have a little one underfoot). Thanks for the tips! I have a tiny freezer in a tiny fridge, but I know it can hold at least a couple of meals! :-)

hoopty doopty said...

If he isn't the cutest little boy ever! And yes he does look ever so innocent. Great post.

Emily said...

Thanks Marta! I've been doing this too and on the lookout for new recipes. I'll definitely be trying the enchiladas. I love making lentil stew and freezing that - any stew/soup really. It balances out the overwhelming stock of pasta that inevitably ends up in there. Pulled chicken or pork is a great idea too - glad people are putting ideas in the comments!

lindsalita said...

thank you, it seems you have a way to read my mind and post something i need to hear. keep em' comin' girl!

brooke said...

This is brilliant. Where have you been all my life.

I guess the best time to start thinking about dinner isn't 4:30 in the afternoon right?

Travelin'Oma said...

You could open a fast food place called "One Little Guy." I'd come!

Melanie Anne said...

What a darling picture!! I remember those day. My youngest is 3 and barely out of the empy the cupboards stage:) I am impressed with all your cooking! Thanks for mentioning SistersCafe. I just taught a class on the importance of family dinner and how to make homecooked dinners stress free. It is such an important time to gather your family and nourish them body and soul. The key really is planning ahead--and my favortie way is definetly freezer meals! I hope all your freezer meals are scrumptions and here is to happy family dinners...with a warm and tidy house:)

apple slice said...

There's a really good slow-cooker book called Make it Fast, Cook it Slow by Stephanie O'Dea. The black bean soup is yum. A lot of the recipes begin with a base of chopped veggies. Super terrif.

Anonymous said...

It's always a challenge to get dinner on the table with little ones running around under foot. Having a weekly menu has been a huge help to me, and one of my favorite time savers is to barbeque lots of marinated chicken breasts at one time, then freeze in small portion baggies for quesadillas, enchiladas, sandwiches and soups.

Kari said...

Somehow I missed this one, and finding it this morning was like a little gift.
I want to live inside your happy and contented head for a few days, just to get the lay of the land. You have such inspiration and admirable attitude.
Thank you, again and again.

Anonymous said...

I have 2 under 4 so I know that feeling. I saw another reader referenced OAMC (once a month cooking). Look into those websites at how to freeze without occupying your containers. It is very easy to freeze in a casserole dish and remove the frozen entree to store in a freezer bag instead of the dish! I also do a ton of freezing cooked meats (for things like pasta and tacos).

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