We have put out a few posts referring to bulk cooking and stocking up your freezer. Kayte & Mary even had their own freezer session. I have been doing some form of this type of cooking for the better part of 4 years. Sometimes I feel it's the only reason I get a hot meal on the table for dinner. Having a stocked freezer is also helpful when you're meal planning. By planning ahead, you don't have to make so many trips to the grocery store (save time, $$$, and gas) and you can take the time to buy items when they are on sale, and take advantage of opportunities to save money by buying bulk.
Currently I'm working on getting together all my food for this month, a bit for next month and stocking up for when the baby comes. On top of this, I don't want to stray too far off budget. We use freezer meals two to four times a week. Other meals are left over, new recipes, something we are craving, or occasionally eating out or fast food.
My freezer from bottom to top (Left to Right): (1) egg crate of slow cooker meals, (2) two baskets, one with raw meat,
and salmon, the other with meatballs and soup, (3) Popsicle, biscuits, veggies, chicken stock, and
(4) baskets of frozen veggies!
While working on my current shopping list, it struck me that there's plenty of ways out there to get this done. Generally speaking, all of these methods fall under the title OAMC (once-a-month-cooking) or freezer meals, but there are certainly different ways to go about making this happen. Honestly, first and foremost you have to choose the way that works best for you and your family. For us, it's a little bit of everything.
The first method is really a way of easing yourself into it. Planning on making spaghetti for dinner with your own homemade/meat sauce? Make two. For most recipes, the actual time it takes to double a recipe is only marginally more than a single recipe. Sauce freezes great, particularly flat in a Ziploc bag. My favorite sauce takes a good 30 to 45 minutes to make from prep to finish. I can pull a bag out of the freezer, defrost over night, or in water for a few minutes (just long enough to un-stick from the bag), then put into a pot on the stove, and by the time the spaghetti is done, it's ready to go. This process works great for sauces, pasta dishes, and marinades. I recently used this method for chicken enchilada pasta, and Rio chicken.
Enchiladas made with Rio Chicken. Pre-"Flash-Freeze", and bagged for freezer
For marinades, I just make a double batch and freeze the meat with the marinade (it marinates while it defrosts) and then cook like normal - grill, bake, slow cooker, or pressure cooker. This brings me to one of my favorite methods: dump meals. A friend of mine and I did a giant cooking session, all dump meals. No cooking required. Throw ingredients and spices in the bag and freeze. Dump the defrosted ingredients in your crock-pot, and go. You can adopt most slow cooker meals to this method. If you have a favorite, buy the ingredients, or buy double, bag and label for the future.
Crazy Meal Prep: 20 "Dump" Meals for Each person. Look at all that meat!
Finally, there is full-blown once a month cooking (OAMC). This involves extensive shopping and a full blown game plan. Ideally, you make enough meals for the entire month, this type may or may not involve repeats, and the meals may or may not be fully cooked. It all depends on what you want in your fridge. This method is great, if you've got time, enough kitchen space, and perhaps a toddler-free environment. It does require pretty extensive planning, as far as ingredients, and order of prep and such to make it work. I've always thought it'd be a really great choice, if you had a few friends who you wanted to work with and split up meals. You can also do "mini sessions", cooking a few meals at once, or perhaps all your meals that involve ground beef. Mini sessions are especially ideal, if you are watching sales, and a particular ingredient goes on sale (like meat).
Don't forget to keep track of whats in your freezer
My current game plan involves a bit of all these methods. Last weekend, I found chicken breast on sale for less than $2/lb (stock up price!). I purchased two packs, for 8 lbs total. I turned 4 lbs of chicken into Rio Chicken. I split the chicken into 2 bags of cooked chicken (1 lb each), and a tray of enchiladas, and then ate some for dinner. It was the bomb! I cooked the remaining chicken, saving a pound to have in the fridge for my son's meals this week, and the remainder went to a double batch of Chicken Enchilada Pasta.This fed us for dinner, with enough left overs for another meal, and two trays of pasta for the freezer. The grocery store also had frozen veggies on sale, so I picked up a crazy amount (20+ bags/boxes). Keep an eye out for a post on how awesome frozen veggies are!
Buying on sale in bulk, allowed me to save a lot of money, and time!