Save Your Sanity: One Hour/Wk Meal Prep from Lasso Your Life Series- Blog & Podcast Episode 161
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CLICK HERE to Listen to Episode 160 "Save $ on Groceries, Meals, and Natural Cleaners"
When you’re feeding a family of nine (plus friends and relatives), you could easily find yourself in the kitchen every waking moment. While I do like cooking, I don’t like that idea.
Another kitchen dilemma that I wanted to solve was that while I wanted kids to be able to cook a meal, having a child handle raw meat made me uncomfortable.
Thus, was born my Main Meat Freezer Mixes – to save cooking time and to aid child cooks. It makes it MUCH more realistic to put a child in charge of the meal when the meat has already been prepped.
Teaching kids self-sufficiency and responsibility is essential to their experiencing an abundant life, so I am always looking for ways to grow their abilities in various life skills, including the necessary art of cooking.
I admit, now that our family is the small size of five, I don’t have as big of a need to stock-up on these make-ahead mixes, but when I do make them, it always saves so much TIME and MONEY. It saves money because I can buy in bulk, go to the store less, and don’t make desperate purchases such as prepackaged meals or takeout.
When I evaluated the list of meals that our family had most frequently, I figured out that most of these dishes (21 out of 30 to be exact) were really different variations of six main meat mixes. So I decided to start making these mixes in bulk, divide into a meal-size amount, and freeze it in a labeled freezer bag. Such a simple way to solve two of my problems!
Below you’ll find the details for this simple plan.
Six Main Meat Mixes
Raw Ground mix of Beef or Turkey, frozen onion and pepper blend, eggs, *almond flour, tomato paste *I use almond flour because it is a low net carb food item, but you could use breadcrumbs
Browned Ground Beef or Ground Turkey with frozen onion and pepper blend
Browned Ground Beef or Ground Turkey, frozen onion and pepper blend. Once browned add in cooked beans (pinto, black, or refried beans)
Raw Chicken Diced
Cooked Chicken Diced
Browned Sausage with frozen onion and pepper blend
(If you want to know proportions, I can’t say I’m big on measuring. My general rule is 1/2 cup of onion and pepper blend for every one pound of meat (1/2 cup may seem like a lot but it seems to make the meat go further and taste better; one egg per one pound ground meat; 1/8 cup of almond flour or oat flour or coconut flour or breadcrumbs per one pound of ground meat). You will also need gallon size freezer bags and quart size freezer bags.
TIME: If you have about one hour per week that you can spend on Main Meat Mixes, that’s enough to do this plan. You will work on one type of Meat Mix each week. Or I have also done this as a once-a-month project. It all depends on how you want to shop for meat and store the meat until you’re able to prep the mixes.
WHAT TO DO: Make a list of all the main dishes that your family likes to eat using one of the above meat mixtures.
Such as, my family likes the following meals with the Raw Ground Beef or Turkey Mix:
Meatloaf *Tator Tot Casserole Meatballs
That’s a total of three dishes. So, we want to have each of these dishes once per month. I want to buy enough meat and other ingredients for making these three meals two times in two months. Let’s say that I need about two pounds per meal, times three meals, times two months. I’d need twelve pounds of ground meat.
I’d purchase the meat.
Make the mixture.
Divide it into six freezer bags and label the bags.
It’s really that simple. Now I’ve got the main meat prepped to make meals happen quicker for me or so that one of the kids can make a meal without having to do all those steps with raw meat. Another thing I noticed, when I’d freeze the meat mixes ahead of time, I actually had time to make some good sides because the hardest and longest part of the work was already done!
It’s especially handy to go to your freezer once a week and get out all of the main dishes from the freezer at once and move them to the fridge. This way we still have quite a bit of flexibility as to what meal we’ll do each night that week and it gives plenty of time for the food to thaw. Its’s really that simple!
Here’s the list of dishes that my family likes from each of these Main Meat Mixes
Raw Ground Mix: Meatloaf, Meatballs, *Tator Tot Casserole
Browned Ground Mix: Spaghetti Sauce, Cheeseburger Pie, Sloppy Joes
Browned Ground Plus Beans Mix: Tacos, Chili, Enchiladas
Raw Diced Chicken: Fajitas, Chicken Nuggets, Stir-fry Chicken and Veggies, BBQ Chicken
**Diced Cooked Chicken: Chicken Pot Pie, Chicken Tortilla Casserole, Chicken Enchiladas, Chicken and Rice Soup, Chicken Salad, Chicken Tetrazzini, Sundried Tomato Chicken Alfredo
Sausage Mix: Breakfast Casserole, Breakfast Burritos, Stir-fry Sausage (I prefer Trim Healthy Mama’s Egg Roll in a Bowl recipe for our stir-fry sausage meal).
*We love tator tots but it no longer fits with our family’s meal plan. Typically, Tator Tot Casserole is raw hamburger mixture pressed in the bottom of a casserole dish, then a layer of cream of mushroom soup, then the top layer is tator tots. Our modified version of this is the meat mixture on the bottom, then a thin layer of cheddar cheese, then a mix of almond flour, garlic salt, egg, and more cheddar mixed together and dropped on the casserole, baked at 375 degrees for 45 minutes).
**My favorite way to make cooked diced chicken (but it takes longer than one hour total) is to buy two to four organic whole chickens from Costco, bake the chicken, debone the chicken, and use the bones and skin to make bone broth. I freeze the bone broth in labeled jars to use in lots of recipes. Bone broth is so nourishing! I don’t always have time to make the chicken mix this way, so sometimes I just buy raw chicken breasts to make the mixes. When using boneless, skinless breasts, I bake on a cookie sheet (always using parchment paper on my cookie sheets because I don’t want the metals baking into my food and it saves so much time in cleanup). Whether using bone-in or boneless, I usually cook the chicken one day, and cut it the next day. I’ve found that working with cold meat seems to go much quicker.
That’s a total of twenty one dinner dishes plus two breakfast options. We do eat lots of other meals besides these but having all of these in the freezer is a time saver! Here’s a list of other meals that round out our menu:
Baked Salmon , Salmon Patties, Tuna Casserole, Flatbread Pizza, Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup, Roast Beef, Drumsticks and Rice Casserole, Beef Stew, Beef Stroganoff
Kid Cooks: It’s very important to me to raise my kids to be prepared for a successful adult life of self-sufficiency as well as serving others. Learning to cook is one of the necessary skills they’ll need. Here’s what worked well for us for several years.
Each child is assigned a “Kitchen Day” – being in charge of the evening meal and clean up.
I’m there to oversee and to help out. The age and proficiency of each child would determine how much I would help. A four-year-old, for example, is really just tearing lettuce, washing carrots, etc. and I’m doing the rest. Or an eight-year-old is fine using a crock pot but not a frying pan. You get the idea. Then by the time they’re twelve or thirteen they are pretty capable of an entire meal alone. Since it’s “his kitchen day,” mentally the child takes better ownership of how it all happens than if I were to say they are “my kitchen helper” for the day. Not only does the child own his work better this way, but he also seemed to appreciate that I was in the kitchen helping out “on their day.”
I had the main dishes written on 3×5 card with instructions. I’d have them pick out their meal the week before, so I was prepared with ingredients, and I’d get the meat mixer freezer bag out of the freezer ahead of time as well.
Everyone helped with the cleanup, but the main kid chef is in charge of making sure it’s all totally done before he leaves the kitchen.
I must admit that a couple of my seven kids managed to slide under my radar when it came to being a proficient cook. I think I knew that they didn’t like cooking and there were other things that seemed more important for me to be focusing with them, so while they did still have a “kitchen day,” they didn’t really master cooking.
*MISFITS MARKET - CLICK TO SAVE $10 at MISFITS MARKET& it also allows me to save $10 when you use this link. Misfits Market is a subscription service for ORGANIC GROCERIES. It automatically creates a grocery order for you each week of about $35 and then you can click on your cart and change it or cancel it or postpone it. It's organic fruits, veggies, and lots of other healthy foods. I have been using them for about nine months. It's called "misfits" because it's the imperfect looking produce that wouldn't get chosen at the store but is still good. And the good news is, if I'm ever not pleased with the quality of an item, I just jump online in my account and click on that item and ask for the cost of it to be refunded. I have never had any trouble getting it refunded right away.
Here’s another post that I’ve made on meal organization: Save Your Sanity – Meals/Groceries Notebook
Click this pic to listen to last week's episode on ways to save money on groceries, save time on meals, and very inexpensive natural cleaners
Coming NEXT WEEK On the Podcast: More in the Uniquely United Series.