The Five-Day Freeze: Batch Cooking for the Rest of Us
When I first left corporate America to stay home and educate my kids, I was certain I would make the most efficient homemaker. I invested in several of the best batch-cooking books available, diving deep into the world of "freeze and eat" and deciding immediately that I hated it. For those of you who have one to two solid 12-hour chunks to dedicate to this cost-effective, yet back-breaking endeavor, my hat goes of to you. If you're working a full-time job, have tiny ones underfoot, or just generally hate cooking for days at a time, here are my tips for achieving the "Five Day Freeze" — or batch cooking for the rest of us. (See also: Intro to Freezer Savings)
We have some amazing batch cooking (or make-ahead) tips here on Wise Bread. I'll share those with you later in this article. What I'm aiming to discuss, however, is how to achieve the same level "cook now, eat later" zen, without the horrid hangover that occurs when you shop for an entire month's worth of food, cook for 12 hours straight, and then collapse in a pile of sweat and tears before realizing you lost two days of your life for some frozen lasagna trays. Some people have mastered the batch-cooking technique without all the drama, but let's be realistic: I'm a work-at-home, home-educating, mom of four little ones. I can rarely find time to sweep and scrub, much less create 30 days' worth of frozen meals on my days off. Here is how I've achieved basically the same results (easy meal prep on a budget) with the spare 30-minutes to an hour I have each day.
Pick Five, Any Five
This will depend completely on what your store has on sale, or what your garden has become overpopulated with. In the case of last week, I used the following five: hamburger, green peppers, zucchini, eggs, and chocolate chip cookies. No, you cannot go 30 days with just these five items, but they are great for building the foundation of a well-stocked freezer. (And if you rotate with a new five items each week, you'll have a variety of frozen goodies in no time!)
Day 1: Hamburger
Here is the least favorite day for my freezer prep routine. I bring home 30+ pounds of lean hamburger on sale (in my case, about $1.78 a pound), and set it in the fridge until the evening, when the kids are in bed. I break it up into 5-pound sections and do the following:
- Brown 5 pounds and freeze them in bags of one browned pound each.
- Brown 5 pounds, season it with homemade taco seasoning, and bag them in1-pound freezer batches.
- Use 5 pounds in my favorite meatball recipe, bagging 30 meatballs to a freezer bag (this makes about 5 batches).
- Divvy up the other 15 pounds into 1-pound chunks, which I freeze individually for whatever. (I like to wrap each pound in wax paper, then a heavy duty 100% recycled aluminum foil — or break out the Seal-a-Meal, if I have extra bags on hand.)
Day 2: Green Peppers
When the garden is just busting with green peppers or I find a few extra pounds of past-date peppers in my local grocer, I get freezing. I thoroughly rinse them, cut off the tops, and core them. Then I freeze them any of these various ways:
- Dice them finely and freeze them with a little bit of water in ice cube trays. After they are solid, I pop them out into a freezer bag for an easy addition to soups and stews.
- Blanch the peppers whole, let them cool, and then freeze them whole for stuffed pepper recipes.
- Slice them lengthwise and freeze them for fajitas.
Day 3: Zucchini
There are a few ways I like to freeze zucchini. My favorite is to bake them up in a nice zucchini bread or muffin recipe and free the baked goodies. I also like to freeze the zucchini shredded by steaming it in a steamer tray for 3 minutes before bagging it up. (Slices work nicely as well. I just place them on a freezer tray after slicing, and then batter them after they get firm. Then I pop them back into the freezer for a bit to harden them up. You can freeze bags and bags this way and fry them whenever you want!) These same methods work really well for squash, too!
Day 4: Eggs
My husband hates eggs, but with 100 laying hens, we will soon have them coming out of our ears. My favorite way to freeze them is in a lovely quiche (I prefer a bacon and cheddar or a crab meat and scallion recipe). You can also scramble them up and fry them into a little square or circle using a pancake mold. Then lay them flat on a tray to quick freeze before putting them all into a baggie in the freezer. These make excellent breakfast sandwich eggs.
Day 5: Cookies
This is my favorite batch cooking day. I pick a recipe (only one) and triple or quadruple it, freezing all but a few for later eating. CookieClubRecipes.com has a really good tutorial on freezing cookies.
Each week brings a new opportunity to cook, freeze, and save. I don't fall into the habit of thinking I absolutely have to have a meal plan and only freeze according to it. (With an ample supply of fresh and frozen veggies, a few garden treats, and the browned ground beef and some split chicken breasts, there really isn't anything I can't make on the fly.) How have you adapted batch cooking to work for you?