Tag Archives: mega cooking

Mega meal prep for the mega family

2014-09-dsc_4783

 

(Read the first two parts of this series here and here.)

The real work starts when I get home from grocery shopping. I’ve hauled home between 200 and 300 pounds of meat, tons of fresh produce, and dairy products. It won’t all fit in my refrigerators; yet, if I freeze it as-is, I’ll have to be thawing it in 40-pound increments, which is WAY more than even a mega family will need to use for a meal. So, we get to work prepping. It’s mega cooking day!

 

I start with ground beef. I take out my biggest pots. I refer to my menu plan (see previous post) for all my scheduled meals that use ground beef. 2014-09-dsc_4788In each pot I will cook all the beef for each different ground beef based meal. In order to keep it all straight in the chaos that will ensue, I make a little chart for myself that contains the following information: How much ground beef goes into each pot, which dish it is for, what else needs to be added to the pot, and how many meals I will divide it into when I’m done cooking the beef.

mega-beef

Using the above chart as my example, I see that I will weigh out 8 pounds of ground beef in one pot for spaghetti, 9 pounds of beef for sloppy joes, 6 pounds for taco meat, 5 pounds for goulash, and 8 pounds for chili. I usually get started portioning out the meat and assign some of the kids the job of peeling onions, washing peppers, and peeling the cloves of garlic. We put the veggies through the food processor and then add to the pots of beef on the stove.

2014-09-dsc_4800Once those are all cooking away, we take the 12 pounds of beef destined for meatloaf and mix it up in a huge bowl with bread crumbs, eggs, ketchup, onion soup mix and water. Clean hands are the best mixing tool. When it is well mixed, we shape into four loaves and place in half-size foil steam table trays, which we then cover and mark with contents, weight and date. That is usually the first thing done and into the freezer.

2014-09-dsc_4806 2014-09-dsc_4807

By this time, the pots of ground beef are usually finished cooking. I use a huge commercial potato masher to make sure the ground beef is in small uniform-sized pieces. We drain off the fat and then portion each meal into freezer bags. I use a two-cup glass measure, and just put equal amounts of the beefy mixtures into each labeled bag. Before I seal and put them in the freezer, I add all seasonings and tomato products IF I have purchased #10 cans that will be divided across multiple meals. If I will be opening individual smaller-sized tomato products on serving day, I don’t bother with adding them to the bag. I take the time to add any cooking instructions to the bags, which saves me lots of time on cooking day. It’s usually just abbreviations, but it’s enough so that I don’t have to find the recipe again.

While I or one of the older kids is bagging up the ground beef meals, someone else gets started on the boneless chicken meals. Again, I make a chart.

mega-chicken

Using the above chart as my example, I see that I have five different menu selections that will use boneless, skinless chicken breasts. We trim any fat off the chicken breasts and cut them into portion sized pieces. (A single breast is often close to ½ pound.) I try to make sure they are all a relatively even thickness for ease of grilling. Or if I’m making fajitas, I’ll cut all the chicken into strips. If a stir fry, it gets cut into chunks. I weigh out all the chicken into Ziploc freezer bags. The easiest way I’ve found to do this is to put a Ziploc bag into a large mixing bowl on my scale and zero it. Then add the trimmed pieces to the bag until my desired weight is reached. I label all my bags before I fill them, which is much easier than trying to write on the bags after they’re filled.

While one (or more) person is trimming chicken, another will get started on mixing the marinades. In they go into the Ziploc bags with the chicken pieces. I make most of the marinades up assembly line style. Adding the ingredients called for directly into the bag and “mixing” by just smooshing it around in the bag with the chicken.

When the chicken is all cut up and bagged (or when that job is winding down and someone is free and needs a new job), it’s time to cut up the large pieces of beef. I buy it in 12-15 pound pieces. I then cut it into cubes for stew, strips for teriayki steak and some nice roasts. Everything goes into well labeled Ziploc bags.

When I buy whole chickens, I take the neck and guts out and save it separately in a bag, for making stock, and freeze the chicken in a Ziploc bag. This makes my life so much simpler when I’m trying to put a whole (still somewhat or completely frozen) chicken into the crock pot.

If I buy chicken legs that are not already cut into drums/thighs, I do that, and bag the chicken in meal-sized portions either by piece or by weight. We generally eat either drums or thighs at a meal, not whole legs. It’s just a preference.

At this point, I’m pretty much done for the day. All the perishables are safely in the freezer. On shopping/cooking days, I always plan a simple meal that doesn’t take any significant effort — maybe a couple of rotisserie chickens from Costco, bagged salad and chips. Something like that. I have no energy to cook after all that work. My kitchen is a wreck, but I don’t always clean it up right away. Sometimes I don’t have the energy until the next day. The beauty of this system is that you get one day of a horribly messy disaster of a kitchen, but then almost every other day, the cleanup is minimal.

 

Tips for packaging:

Always, always, always use good quality bags. Ziploc is my brand of choice. There’s not much worse than going to all this effort, only to have your bag fail you, and your food ruined.

Fold down the tops of the Ziploc bags before filling, to avoid getting food stuck in the zipper top.2014-09-dsc_4808

Freeze flat. It’s easier to thaw the food.

After the bags are frozen, stand them up like file folders, in a dishpan or cardboard box. Makes it easy to flip through and find what you want.

 

Now for how I use all that food. Each week, using my meal plan and my calendar, I schedule meals for the week. I take into account a variety of factors when planning my meals. Will I be super busy or gone all day? Then I’ll plan something fast to throw together or something that can be thrown in the crock pot. Will I have guests? What sort of dietary needs do they have? What meals are crowd-pleasers? Which meals do not require a lot of last-minute fuss, so that I’m actually free to visit with our guests? Are we expecting a warm day? Let’s grill! Or cool weather? Let’s have soup and homemade bread. Do we have to go out? What travels well?

I schedule my meals on a simple blank form that my husband created for me (click to download a PDF). This goes on my refrigerator where all those responsible for cooking can see what meals are scheduled. If I remember, we take out anything frozen the night before, so it has time to thaw. When this (often) doesn’t happen, I just pop the bag of food in a sink of water to speed the process along. As I use the meals, I make a tally mark on my meal plan so that I know it has been used. This enables me to know exactly what is in my freezer at any time without having to go on an Arctic expedition. 🙂

I label my menu plans and calendars with the dates used. I store them in a binder for future reference. In theory, you could just repeat the exact same menu plan. We don’t. But I do refer to the previous meal plans for ideas and to get my ingredients list without having to haul out all my cookbooks and recipes again when I do the next cycle.

7 Comments

Filed under Food, Home

Mega meal planning for the mega family

Meal planning

 

(Note: This is the first post of a three-part series. Read parts two and three here and here.)

Cooking is a job I’m OK with. Yeah, sometimes it’s challenging with the various allergies we juggle and all the other demands on my time. Sometimes I just want a break. But, for the most part, food prep for my family is not a job I hate.

Planning what to cook, on the other hand, is a chore I detest. Especially when I’m trying to think of it as my crazy day spins out of control. Knowing that, with every hour that passes, my options become more limited as I no longer have time to thaw that roast or make that slow cooker stew. I tick through the items in the freezer and/or refrigerator. What can I make with these raw ingredients? Do I have all the necessary pantry items to complete the meal? Sometimes, more often that I like to remember, the answer was no.

Ugh. All this food and I can’t think of a single meal to throw together. So we might end up eating pancakes. Or hot dogs. Again.

I’d look at the meal planning systems that other moms used. I checked out apps, computer programs, books, printable forms. None of them were intuitive for me. Every system I’ve seen tries too hard to be clever; inevitably, they don’t mesh well with the way my mind works.

I had to blaze my own trail, creating a system that made sense to me. I needed something to help me overcome my hatred of the planning aspect and the unprepared aspect of always lacking ONE thing from every recipe I wanted to create. I had to get all the planning out of the way and plan everything down to the last can of tomatoes I might need before I shopped again.

This is my system.

First, I decide how many weeks I want to shop for. I aim for a minimum of four weeks, but I prefer eight. Remember I hate the planning and it feels so freeing to just do it all at once and have it DONE!

When planning how many meals to make, I consider things like, How many times do we expect to eat out during this time? How often are we likely to have guests over for a meal? How many “extra” meals do I want to have available to bring to a family in need?

We eat nearly every meal at home. We frequently have guests, and I like to be prepared to minister to others, so I always figure extra into my food plan to accommodate this reality.

Next, I select recipes. I choose by season, mostly. Asparagus in the spring, pumpkin in the fall. Grilling in the hot months, soups, stews and baked meals in the cooler months, etc. I decide how many times we will have each meal. There are certain meals our family loves, and eats often. I plan to have these meals multiple times within my menu plan time frame.

I plan accompaniments for the recipes I choose. Spaghetti? I plan a salad and bread along with it. Marinated grilled chicken, I might serve with roasted potatoes and broccoli, or maybe red rice and a salad. Each combination is written down as a separate meal option even if the main dish is the same.

For breakfast, I list all the things that we might make.

Oatmeal, crockpot risotto, multi-grain hot cereal, German pancake, Baked oatmeal, eggs/muffins, eggs/toast.

Lunch, same thing:

Baked potatoes with toppings, hot dogs, sandwiches (egg salad, tuna, lunch meat, peanut butter & jelly, grilled cheese), leftovers.

I multiply recipes until they are enough to serve all the people consistently eating at our home on a day-to-day basis. Then I multiply that recipe by the number of times I expect to serve that meal in the time period for which I am shopping. I write the corresponding grocery list next to my menu selections.

__ pounds chicken, __ cups of rice, __ onions, __ pounds of potatoes, __ pounds of cheese, etc.

I do this for every recipe I will include in the lineup. Then I go through all the grocery list sections and compile a master shopping list. I write the items on the list in categories (meat, dairy, produce, breads, canned/boxed/dry) and then tally the number of pounds or cups of items (depending on how I will encounter if for sale at the store — i.e., I buy cheese by the pound, so I make any conversions necessary to translate recipes that call for cups of shredded cheese to pounds). Beans, rice and other dry items are generally sold by the pound, so I translate cups to pounds. Some recipes call for a certain number of cans of tomatoes, since I’m making mega amounts, I generally multiply the pounds and ounces and see whether I can buy the ingredient in a larger size to save money. (Hello, #10 can!!!) I work my way down my list of planned meals until everything is accounted for on my master list.

For breakfasts and lunches I do the same thing; but since the meals are simpler, I do the multiplication in my head and include it in the master list.

Then I consider my baking. I do a lot of baking. Including a lot of gluten-free baking. I don’t want to plan out exactly what I will bake when. The “fun” of baking for me is the ability to make what sounds good at the moment. Enter the pantry list.

I went through my pantry and listed everything that I purchase on a consistent basis. Things I would replace when I run out. My list is more extensive than some, because I maintain a whole arsenal of gluten free flours in addition to regular wheat flour. I also use a lot of different beans and a variety of grains.

I evaluated each item and figured out the approximate rate at which I use it. How long does it take me to go through a gallon of olive oil? a 25-pound bag of flour? a pint of vanilla? ten pounds of chocolate chips? The rate will vary, so I’m going for an average. Some things I didn’t know; I started dating packages when I opened them, so when I ran out, I would get a better feel for our rate of consumption. Once I had this information written down, I was able to determine how much I needed to buy to last through my shopping period. I add all these pantry items to my master shopping list.

The last categories to add to my shopping list: personal care, cleaning supplies and pet items. Again, I pay attention to how quickly we go through a tube of toothpaste, a bar of soap, a package of toilet paper, cleanser, dishwasher detergent, laundry soap, etc. I add to my list the amounts needed to get us through the shopping period.

Now I’m almost ready to go shopping. The final step is to go through the stock on hand and revise my shopping list to reflect the difference between that and what is on the shopping list already. I take my messy, handwritten, marked up notebook papers to the computer and collate all the information into a neat list that’s ready to take to the store!

(Click here for part 2: Mega shopping for the mega family.)

7 Comments

Filed under Food, Home