I often tell people that the two most transformative disciplines that I can encourage people to do beyond prayer and scripture are maintaining a sabbath and tithing. Why? Simply put, those two disciplines cut to the heart of two core life elements that we are addictively attached to–Time and Money. As I move into 2010 I have struggled with a clear resolution for the year, but I feel an emerging intention to experience more contentment with less. Less what? Less things. Less hurry. Less scurry. Less stress. I would like to experience the mundane blessings of life as profound. Mundane blessings like enjoying a meal with my family, hanging a load of laundry on the line, taking a hike in the woods, playing a board game with my children, having some people over to the house to kick back around the fire pit while playing songs, telling stories, and laughing until our bellies hurt. To realize that I need a radical reordering of my relationships to time and money. I need to radically reorder my management of time and money.
This past Monday I took a step toward experiencing more with less. I shared my step on Facebook and had my longest status thread of comments ever. What I did was called “freezer cooking.” If you haven’t heard of freezer cooking, its taking a day or part of a day to cook in bulk and stock your freezer. Given the strains of the economy and my desire for more of life with less strain I decide to try this. Let me preface my story of Monday by telling you first that I bought a chest freezer for my wife for Christmas. She loved it. It cost may be $200 brand spankin’ new and if I periodically keep up with this freezer cooking strategy it will probably pay for itself very rapidly. If you are reading this and thinking, “but I don’t have a chest freezer sitting in my garage”, continuing reading anyways. Why? Tomorrow I am going to have a post just for you that will tell you adjustments you can make for limited freezer space. The tips below though will still help you. Let’s move on to Monday.
When I woke up on Monday, I had in our new chest freezer 2 pounds of ground beef and a pizza. When I went to bed Monday night I had the following:
- 3 9×9 chicken and broccoli casserole dishes
- 2 9×13 chicken and stuffing dishes
- 2 chicken spaghetti dishes
- 1 sour cream enchilada dish
- 1 massive beef and spaghetti casserole
- 1 pizza
- 2 individual packaged pounds of ground beef frozen raw
- 3 individual packaged pounds of ground beef frozen browned and drained
- 2 1 gallon bags of beef stew
- 1 gallon bag of chili
Now I have to confess I didn’t cook it all. I used a $75 gift certificate someone gave me at Christmas to buy the chicken spaghetti, beef spaghetti and sour cream enchiladas. Everything else though, I prepped and/or cooked that day. I probably had a little over 4 hours total time in the kitchen. My 16 year old daughter spent some of the time in the kitchen with me and a friend of hers even popped in for few minutes and helped with the chili.
If you are at all interested in doing this (and I highly recommend that you do) then here are some tips for how to do it, how it saves time and money and some hidden benefits.
10 HOW-TO TIPS
- You don’t have to cook everything to freeze it. Many casseroles can just be prepared and frozen. I cooked the chicken for the chicken and broccoli casseroles and then just assembled everything. I used the stove top but never turned my actual oven on during this whole experience.
- Think in batches and think big. The prep time and clean-up for fixing 3 gallons of chili is nominally different than fixing 1 gallon. I had two massive stew pots I had borrowed for stew and chili and could have easily cooked 5 or 6 times my recipe rather than the triple batch I did. I will be doing that next time for sure. Incidentally, 3 9×9 inch pans are roughly the equivalent of 2 9X13 inch pans. I made a double batch of one casserole and then spread it between 3 smaller pans. This way we don’t have to eat on it forever when we have it and risk throwing some out because we get sick of eating it.
- Plan for multi-tasking. I put my stew and chili together first so it could cook while I assembled the casseroles. I browned 3 pounds of ground beef in an electric skillet and then threw another three in to brown while I did other things. I didn’t need the ground beef then but now I have it later for other recipes. Next time I do chili, tacos or whatever calls for ground beef, I just pull it out, throw it in and keep moving. Best of all–I cleaned the pan once instead of six times!
- You need lots of counter space and bowls. I have it fortunately. I don’t have very big cutting boards so I used a couple of big bowls to deposit things like onions in while I chopped them in mass quantities to big for my board. If you don’t have lots of space, consider doing this with a friend with a bigger kitchen.
- Label what you store clearly with the contents, date, and cooking/reheating instructions. I just wrote on the lids with a sharpie.
- Put thought into your storage containers. I bought a few aluminum foil pans with clear plastic lids. I am not sure I really like them. The lids are as tall as the pans so they take up the space of almost two casserole dishes. I guess ideally I would have reusable storage containers but I wasn’t ready to bite off that expense until I knew I liked doing this. I think next time I may get no-lid foil pans from the dollar store, cover them with foil and insert corrugated card board between layers when I stack them so they don’t smash each other. A friend of mine and the source of most of these tips, Angie, puts her casserole dishes inside 2 gallon freezer bags. I don’t know why. May be she will comment and enlighten us.
- Freeze soups, stews, chili, etc. in plastic bags. I froze mine laying flat and then stood them up on end. This make for really easy efficient storage.
- Over plan your time or under plan your dishes. Everything took me longer than I thought. I actually had ingredients for another casserole dish that I never got to. Part of this was because I got off to a much later start than I had planned. I think next time I will do fewer dish but bigger batches.
- Make an inventory. I wrote a list of everything I have. I am going to put it in a plastic sleeve and attach it to the freezer. I really don’t won’t to stand on my head in a freezer, digging to the bottom for something that I forgot we ate three weeks earlier.
- Get your children involved. This was a memory maker and I taught my daughter some very valuable stewardship lessons. Not only are there stewardship lessons but there are some great lessons for little ones in measuring, counting, planning, and reading. I also got some fun time in with my daughter doing it.
5 WAYS YOU SAVE TIME AND MONEY
- Greatly reduced trips to the store. I can’t tell you how many times I have ran to the store just to get things I want for a dish. I know–poor planning on my part. However, this time I bought 10 pounds of ground chuck and 6 pounds of chicken one time. I bought a case of cream of mushroom soup. These things would have been bought over the course of multiple trips to the grocery store. Not that I would have gone just to get them, but I would have spent my time repeatedly looking for and purchasing these items. Not only do I save that time, but I am saving gas every time I cut out a shopping trip.
- 1/8 the clean-up and prep time. I spent one time cleaning up and prepping and from my list I can see at least 8 cooking sessions I would have had instead of one.
- Bulk buying results in some great deals. My ground chuck was less than two dollars a pound since I bought a ten pound tube of it. Can goods by the case, veggies and other ingredients bought in mass quantity were much cheaper.
- Less money spent on eating out. I have to confess that sometimes, particularly when we are tired, we just default to eating out. Which is far more expensive, often times not as healthy, and can take as much or more time as staying at home and eating.
- Less time spent figuring out what we will do for dinner. Its not uncommon for us to have a conversation that goes like this. “Hey, what would you like for dinner tonight?” “Soft tacos sounds really good” “That does, but…oh wait…we don’t have any tortillas left.” “What about spaghetti…” And the conversation goes back and forth until we hit on something that sounds good and we have the ingredients. Now don’t misunderstand. We don’t live our lives this way every day, but having twelve prepared homemade meals ready and waiting is going to greatly cut into those conversations that crop up from time to time.
3 HIDDEN BENEFITS
- Simplicity is so stress reducing. God doesn’t want us stress. We are told to be anxious about nothing. Biblically speaking we shouldn’t be anxious because we are trusting God. Practically speaking shouldn’t be self-inflict ourselves with stress because we are poor stewards of time and money. That stress becomes an obstacle and deficit in our relationship to God.
- Good stewardship of time and money is beneficial for the planet. We have responsibilities for creation given to us by God. Living simply so others can simply live is a vital part of being a disciple.
- Health of family and body. Working together as a family and eating together as a family has been shown in study after study to be incredibly beneficial for the healthy development of your kids. Living on the fly is not. Enjoying a home cooked meal around the table is an investment in your children. Freezer cooking is a small insurance policy to make that happen more often. It’s also far healthier than living out of fast food bags.
Blessings to you and I welcome your comments and suggestions.
P.S I am going to go eat some chicken spaghetti left over from the casserole my kids placed in the oven last night while we were finishing a meeting. Then I am going to go for leisurely hike in the woods. I might even stand in the beautiful sun and hang a load of laundry on my clothes line.