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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Post-Partum Freezer Meals: The Results!

As I wrote a few weeks back, I purposed to make a big load of freezer meals to make it easier on myself (and my family) get back into a normal rhythm after our new baby arrives (any day now!) Planning TWO months of meals in advance was a big task (though Plan to Eat made it much simpler - I just dragged and dropped and it automatically created my shopping list!) - but if planning was a big task, shopping for and actually preparing those meals was a much bigger task.

By the Numbers:
Photo courtesy of elizabethatkinson.com
Grocery carts used: 4 1/2
Hours in grocery store: 3 1/2
Total meals: 36 dinners (plus 8 breakfasts and 18 loaves of bread)
Hours spent in kitchen during post-partum freezer frolic: approx. 22 (spread over 9 days)
Cans of veggies and veggies: 79
Pounds of meat: approx. 75
Pounds of fresh produce: 52
Pounds of pasta: 36
Pounds of cheese: 30
Eggs: 78

How did you shop for that much food?
At the grocery store, my eldest son (we named him Carter, and it's appropriate - he is my number one cart-pusher!) and I took two carts and traveled through the grocery store in all the dry goods aisles…they were FULL by the time we hit the refrigerated section. We then went to the check-out, paid, and loaded the van. We had a quick snack and drink and (for me!) a potty break, then headed back in with two more carts. We then started where we'd left off before, going through the refrigerated, frozen and dairy sections, meat, then finally, the bakery and produce. I always shop these two sections last so my bread and tomatoes don't get squishy.
At the end, Carter was pushing the heaviest cart for his very-pregnant-Momma, and I was pushing one light cart and pulling a heavier one. It was a LOT of food.

How did you store all that food at home?
Once we got home, my husband and sons brought the food into the house and my eldest daughter and I began to divvy it up by type - all the canned goods and dry goods were put back in their bags and transported to the basement pantry closet, and the rest was stuffed - rather unartfully - into fridges and freezers. I actually began preparing meals that very afternoon because there simply wasn't room in the fridge or freezer for all the meat. Once I began preparing freezer meals, our purchases fit much better!

How did you organize your cooking?

Here's how I did it: First, I divided all my planned freezer meals by type -- pasta meals, ground-beef meals, chicken meals and the like -- and focused on only one type each day. I cut ALL my onions and peppers on the first day - I figured I might as well get one good cry out of the way instead of dragging it out over a week. :)
I purchased gallon Ziploc freezer bags for all my crock-pot meals and soups, and aluminum pans for all my casseroles. I also bought crock-pot liners for the day I actually prepare those meals to be served. Now, I'm fairly crunchy and not usually one to buy a lot of disposable prep-ware like that, but I simply don't OWN enough Tupperware containers or 9 x 13 pans to store up more than 36 meals, plus it will add a HUGE measure of convenience to postpartum meal preparation, which will sometimes be done by persons other than myself (like my wonderful husband and helpful mother!)

Photo courtesy of southernliving.com
I froze my casseroles with cutting boards between them so the contents wouldn't be smooshed and overflow. Once they were very solidly frozen (usually overnight), I then removed the cutting boards and moved them to the chest freezer to make more room in the refrigerator freezer. Crock-pot meals were stored in air-tight gallon-sized Ziploc freezer bags. (Make sure and squeeze ALL the air out and let them cool a bit before you freeze them if they're very hot.) Also make sure that if your freezer has wire racks, that you place something solid - like a cutting board or cookie sheet - on the bottom of the stack of meals-being-frozen. Otherwise, the bag will sink between the wires, making the pile unstable and the bottom-most bag difficult to pry out of the freezer!

For casseroles AND for crock-pot meals, I made sure to write the name of the meal and how to cook it on the pan/bag so that if someone else prepares it, they won't have to search through my recipe book to figure out the details. Simplify, simplify!

Wasn't this project a lot of work?

Yes. :)

Would you do it again?
In a heartbeat. I've had lots of friends (who have many children and who are very wise) tell me that I won't need to do this amount of work in future pregnancies because my eldest children will be able to cook. Or, that they don't need to pre-prepare meals because they handle the time after the delivery very well. And I don't doubt that both statements are absolutely true. For me, this kind of post-partum prep work is not because my children aren't helpful, nor because I can't "handle" the postpartum period, but because I want the transition period for each new child to be as stable and seamless as possible. My husband and I welcome every little blessing that our Heavenly Father sends us, but we don't intend to let them throw our home into chaos and disarray for very long. We like to keep our family schedule to the best of our ability through the whole process, resuming our chores almost immediately and our homeschooling duties within a week or two, all the while teaching our children that newborn babies don't control the home, but are an added blessing to it.
For our home, having a month (or more) of meals prepared in advance means that the time I'm spending nursing and cuddling our new little lamb won't put dinner on the table an hour late. Instead of thirty minutes of prep-work in the kitchen each evening, I only have to grab a nutritious meal from the freezer in the morning, let it thaw all day in a cold oven (which I set on time-bake, so I don't even forget to turn it on in time if I'm busy changing little bottoms…or taking a power nap with baby!) Or, take a crock-pot bag out of the freezer the night before, dump in into the crock-pot in the morning, turn it on low, and enjoy at dinner time. Too easy!

By the time my freezer stash is gone, our lives are pretty much adjusted to our newest little family member, and I'm happy to be back in the kitchen again.



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2 of you thought...:

Shauna said...

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Shauna from http://www.trying2staycalm.com/

Anonymous said...

Wow. You are so organized! Thanks for sharing your ideas.