Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Freezer Meals: Dinnertime "Lifesavers"

For our Relief Society Activity a couple of weeks ago, I was asked to give a short presentation on how I do freezer meals. Everything I have learned has been through searching Pinterest and the Internet, so I am in no way an expert, but I will share what I have learned.

{a snapshot of some of our freezer meals and my squashed bread}

How I Got Started:
After my fourth baby was born, my in-laws came to stay with us for a week and my mother-in-law made a bunch of freezer meals for us. After they left, I was really trying to ration out the meals so that they would last us for a long time. One particularly busy and tiresome week, I ended up using many of the meals several days in a row. They really made life so much easier and I wanted to be able to use them every night. I had read on Pinterest about people making 30 or 40 meals in one day, freezing them, and using them over a long period of time. I thought if they could do it, so could I!

What I Did:
The first thing I did was search for recipes that I thought would work well for our family and that I thought would be easy to prepare. Basically what I looked for was "dump" slow cooker meals that would hold up well in the freezer. I wanted to be able to just dump all the ingredients into a bag, freeze it, and then dump the bag into the slow cooker when the time came. I didn't want to do any additional prep if I didn't have to. I found several recipes on Pinterest and by Googling them. I have done this two times and both times I came up with 14-15 recipes I wanted to double so that I would have 28-30 meals ready for a month or more. 

Next, I took all my recipes and made a grocery list. I wrote down the ingredients and then just added a tally each time an ingredient was called for.

Next, was shopping. It ends up being a pretty large list so I like to go to the store on days/times it won't be busy so that people don't get in my way. :)

Next, I put all the recipes into a Word document, shrunk them down, and printed them out. I taped a recipe on each bag by completely covering it with clear packing tape so it didn't get wet. Many people just have a list of recipes that they refer to, but I thought it was easier to have a recipe taped directly to the bag so I didn't get confused or forget anything. Also, the recipe is handy so on the day you cook the meal the instructions are right there.

Next, I started filling the bags. I started by chopping all the veggies. After they were chopped, I added things to the bags in this order: veggies, canned foods, seasonings, meat. Then I zipped them up and froze them.

The chopping and filling process usually takes me 4-5 hours for 28-30 meals, but I am kind of a slow poke and often get distracted by my kids, etc. so I think if you are really focused it would probably take less time. 

Why I Do It:
So the number one reason I have done this and will continue to do freezer meals is that it makes dinner so, so easy. I love it! I just did a batch of meals on Saturday and I can't even tell you how nice it was not to have to worry about dinner for Monday night. I didn't even realize the amount of stress I would usually put into trying to come up with something for dinner, not to mention then having to prepare it- ugh. It felt so good to know what we were having and then to take literally one minute to dump it in the slow cooker and dinner was done!

Another reason is that it saves money. When I am checking out at the grocery store it seems like a lot of money, but when you break it down it is very affordable AND you don't have to go to the grocery store for  a while! Planning ahead saves so much money because you aren't making impulse purchases and you aren't getting take out because you have nothing in the house to make dinner.

Finally, it is healthier. I really try to find recipes with lots of veggies and lean meats and of course anything would probably be healthier than take out and fast food. 

So there you have it! I love, love, love freezer meals! I can't even describe how happy it makes me not to have to worry about what's for dinner and how really, really happy it makes me to only spend a minute on it each day. I would strongly encourage anyone who is busy with children, a job, school, etc. to take some time one Saturday to make a bunch of freezer meals that will last you for a long time.

Here are several recipes that we have tried and really liked:

Green Chile Pork Stew (we ate it as tacos)
Layered Enchilada Casserole (this isn't a "dump" recipe, but it was still really easy and tasty!)

And you know I love handouts! Here is what I gave the Relief Society sisters after my presentation- a little baggie (to represent a freezer meal bag) with a tag that said, "Freezer Meals: Dinnertime 'Lifesavers' - Dinner's in the {Freezer} Bag!" Of course I included some real LifeSavers and a couple of our favorite freezer meal recipes.

Freezer meals really are "lifesavers"!

FYI the cute recipe card templates can be found here. You just choose a template, type in your recipe, and print them off!

Update: If you like freezer meals, check out my new post on pantry meals here!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Personal Progress: Pebbles into Gems

I was asked to give a talk on Personal Progress for New Beginnings. Our theme for New Beginnings this year was A Diamond in the Rough: Come Unto Christ and Be Perfected in Him. I wanted to incorporate this theme into my talk so I browsed the web for some inspiration. I found this talk by Shayne M. Bowen of the Seventy that I thought fit perfectly with the theme. It tells the story of a group of horsemen that were instructed to collect pebbles. The next morning they found that the pebbles had turned into precious gems. There are many "pebbles" we find as we journey through life and the world would have us believe that they are nothing more than that. In fact, these pebbles are precious gems that Heavenly Father has put in our path to help us learn and grow and will eventually be what we need to lead us back to Him. 

Everything is better with a handout, so I made this for the girls. I used a quote from the talk and attached some "pebbles" (milk duds) and "gems" (nerds) to remind the girls that the Personal Progress Values are pebbles put in our path which will one day become precious gems!