Thursday, August 27, 2015

Getting Organized and Budget-friendly with Freezer Meals!

Some time ago, I was introduced to the idea of weekly and monthly meal planning by preparing freezer meals. I'd wanted to try it for a while, but knew it would be a lot of planning and preparation. So, when a colleague of mine asked if I wanted to host a Wildtree Freezer Meal Workshop, and have the opportunity to prepare TEN or TWENTY meals for my family, I hopped on the opportunity.


We have a family of six, and with our busy schedules, and me having to be prepared to be gone at a moment's notice for a birth doula client, it is incredibly helpful to have meals prepared and ready to go. The meal plan I'm sharing with you today is not completely a Wildtree plan, although I did use several of my Wildtree products since I had them and got inspiration from some of the recipes on their website. 

I will tell you that their freezer meal workshops are awesome. When you purchase a bundle, you're given a detailed grocery list, instructions to prepare your freezer bags, and pre-printed labels with cooking instructions for your meals. Plus it's fun to get all the food ready with friends! If you're interested in hosting a workshop and getting free stuff, contact my friend Joanna Lawson and she'll get you hooked up, and be sure to INVITE ME to your party! Click here to see Joanna's Wildtree Website. Of course you do not need to use this brand of seasonings to utilize a freezer meal plan; this just happens to be the seasonings I had on hand!

Benefits of Freezer Meal Planning

For me, the benefits of freezer meal planning are:
  • Planning ahead means I end up spending less money in the long run because I'm not running out at the last minute for convenience foods (which cost more) for dinner.
  • Many fresh foods like meats and produce freeze really well, so my family is eating real food, rather than processed foods with preservatives. 
  • All the prep work is done. All you need to do when you want to eat is thaw, do about 20 minutes of cooking or reheating, and sometimes prepare a side dish. When you prepare crock pot meals, it's literally as simple as pulling it out of the freezer and throwing it in the crockpot!
  • I have some to share! I love bringing meals to friends who are sick or new mothers, and these are delicious meals I can choose from to bring to a family who could use a little help with meals.
Freezer Meal Tips
  • Stock up on good quality gallon freezer bags, measuring cups and spoons, large mixing bowls, permanent markers, or labels you can print off of your computer.
  • If you will be preparing lasagna, baked pastas or other casseroles, consider purchasing several inexpensive disposable casserole/lasagna pans of the same size so they can stack. You might also save pieces of cardboard you can place in between them to protect food from getting smooshed by the food on top!
  • Avoid ingredients that don't freeze well: potatoes, rice, dairy, fried foods, fruits or veggies with high water content.
Getting Started

Whether you use your own recipes or look up freezer meal lists online, write out your entire meal plan, including sides and condiments. I started by looking in my pantry and seeing what ingredients I had on hand and building my meals around that. Sometimes, I start with foods that are on sale and coupons I have and build meals around those items. Here's my first list that shows the meals and what I needed to remember (these aren't full recipes since a lot of stuff was in my head. I'll include full recipes later). You can see where I jotted down the pantry items I already had: frozen broccoli, peas and corn, and egg noodles, macaroni pasta, bowtie pasta and rice. I also took stock of the Wildtree seasonings I had thought about what kind of meals I could make with them.


Then I made my list. Above you can see where I put stars next to things I needed to purchase. The items that have no star next to them are ones I already had on hand. I did all my shopping at Wal-Mart, so you can work it out if you choose to shop elsewhere. Here's the full list, including sides and condiments you might need:

Meats:
  • 1 large package of chicken breasts (about 8-10 breasts)
  • 1 large package of chicken thighs (about 12 thighs)
  • 5 pounds of ground beef (I actually chose 3 pounds of beef and two of turkey. Ground turkey is HALF the price of beef, but when you mix them together you still get the beefy flavor and cut some of the fat and calories and cost.)
  • 1 package of 2 pork tenderloins
  • 1 large package of 3 pounds smoked sausage (you'll have 1 pound leftover but it's more cost effective)
Produce:
  • 3 yellow onions
  • 1 red onion
  • 2 green bell peppers
  • 2 red bell peppers
  • 1 bag of sweet peppers
  • bunch of fresh garlic or minced garlic
  • cherry tomatoes
  • fresh baby spinach
  • 2 carrots
Dried Goods:
  • 1 lb. macaroni noodles
  • 2 bls. ziti pasta
  • 1 lb. bowtie pasta
  • 1 large bag egg noodles
  • Beef and Chicken bouillon cubes or stock base
  • 5 lb bag of long grain enriched white rice (you can use brown if you like)
  • tortillas or taco shells
  • corn bread mix or items to make corn bread from scratch
Canned Goods:
  • 1 lg can of crushed tomatoes (I use this with spaghetti sauce seasoning blend. You could buy pasta sauce if you want.)
  • 1 jar of Alfredo sauce unless you have Wildtree Alfredo mix (which is what I used)
  • Cheese Whiz or Velveeta unless you have Wildtree Kids Cheez (which is what I used)
  • Tomato paste
  • 1 can canellini beans
  • 1 can great northern beans
  • 1 can navy beans
  • 2 cans kidney beans
  • 1 can black beans
  • 3 cans diced tomatoes (These are in place of pre-made salsa. I mix with Wildtree salsa mix. Substitute with equivalent amount of salsa or Rotel)
Frozen Items:
  • lg bag of frozen corn
  • lg bag of frozen peas
  • lg bag of frozen broccoli
Dairy:
  • 1 package of crumbled feta cheese
  • 2 (2 cup) package of italian style shredded cheese
  • 2 (2 cup) packages of shredded cheddar cheese
  • butter
  • milk
  • 1 8 oz package of cream cheese
Seasonings and Miscellanious:
  • salt, pepper
  • Lime or lime juice
  • Wildtree Kids Cheez 
  • Wildtree Alfredo mix
  • Wildtree Hearty Spaghetti blend
  • Wildtree Adobo Seasoning
  • Wildtree Italian Dressing
  • Wildtree Grapeseed Oil or Olive Oil
  • Wildtree Taco Seasoning
  • Wildtree Chipotle Ranch Seasoning
  • Wildtree Chipotle Lime Seasoning
  • Wildtree Cajun Seasoning
  • Wildtree Tzaziki Seasoning
  • Wildtree Rancher's Steak Rub
  • Cavender's All purpose greek seasoning
  • Bay leaves
It took me about an hour at the grocery store, then the prep work took me about four hours. So this was a full day of preparing. Get yourself a box of wine, put on some good music and get to it. If you have a friend to work with, even better! 

I started by labeling all of my freezer bags so I knew what to put in each bag. 


Then, just start going down your list and chopping and preparing. It gets a little messy!



Below is what goes in each bag for each meal:

1. Tacos
  • 1 lb. of ground beef
  • 1/2 yellow onion diced
  • diced red and green pepper
  • 1.5 tablespoons taco seasoning
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 1/4 cup grapeseed oil or olive oil
  • salt/pepper
  • (If you want to make this into a taco soup, add a cup of corn, a can of rinsed black beans, 3 beef bouillon cubes - before cooking, add 3 cups water and you can make it in the crock pot and serve over tortilla chips.) 
2. Red Beans and Rice
  • half bag of sweet peppers, diced
  • 1 lb. of smoked sausage sliced small
  • 2 cans kidney beans
  • 1/2 yellow onion diced
  • minced garlic to taste
  • 1/4 cup grapeseed oil or olive oil
  • salt/pepper
  • Not in bag: you will serve this with 2 cups rice, prepared to package directions with 4 cups chicken stock. I also add a little dried thyme and lemon oil.
3. Taco Pork with Egg Noodles
  • 2 pork tenderloins
  • 1/2 yellow onion diced
  • 2 carrots diced
  • 1 cup frozen corn
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 bay leaf
  • minced garlic
  • 1.5 tablespoons taco seasoning
  • 1/4 cup grapeseed or olive oil
  • salt/pepper
  • This is a slow cooker recipe. To cook, you'll thaw, then put in slowcooker on low for 6-8 hours with a half cup water). Serve over egg noodles prepared according to package directions.
4. Greek Pasta Salad
  • 1/2 package chicken thighs (approx. 6)
  • 1/4 cup grapeseed oil or olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon Wildtree Tzaziki seasoning
  • salt/pepper
  • This gets grilled and served with 1 lb bowtie pasta prepared. Toss with halved cherry tomatoes, several hand fulls of fresh spinach, one package of feta cheese, a tablespoon of Cavendar's seasoning, 1/4 cup olive oil and 1/2 red onion diced and 2 cloves garlic diced, and salt and pepper to taste. You can add sliced olives if you wish. Slice chicken and mix in salad or serve on side.
5. Chipotle Ranch Chicken Rice Bowls (cross between Chicken Azteca and Wildtree's Chipotle Ranch Chicken
  • Approx  chicken thighs (other half of the package)
  • 1 can black beans
  • green bell pepper diced
  • 1/2 yellow onion diced
  • 1 cup corn
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 1.5 tablespoons Wildtree Chipotle Ranch seasoning
  • 1 can diced tomatoes with green chilis
  • 1/4 cup Wildtree Salsa mix (or substitute premade salsa)
  • salt/pepper to taste
  • This is a crock pot meal. Thaw and cook on low for 4 hours. 30 min before end of cooking time, open, shred chicken and add 8 oz of cream cheese and replace lid.  Prepare 2 cups rice with 4 cups chicken broth. Stir all ingredients together and serve over rice. Can top with shredded cheddar or sour cream if you wish. Can also serve leftovers in tortillas.
6. Chipotle Lime Grilled Chicken
  • Half of package of chicken breasts (about 4)
  • Split chicken breasts so they're thin
  • 1/4 cup grapeseed oil
  • 1/5 tablespoon Wildtree Chipotle lime seasoning
  • salt/pepper to taste
Grill chicken, serve with Spanish Rice: 4 cups chicken stock in stock pot with other half bag sweet peppers diced, 1/2 cup frozen corn, 1 can diced tomatoes, 1/4 cup salsa mix seasoning, salt pepper to taste and bring to boil. Add 2 and a quarter cups white rice, bring heat down to low and put on lid and simmer for 20 min. 

7. Chili
  • 1 lb ground beef 
  • 1 lb. ground turkey
  • 3 cans white beans
  • 3 beef bouillon cubes
  • 1 can diced tomatoes + 1/4 cup salsa mix or equivalent premade salsa
  • 1 package of chili seasoning or 1 tablespoon Adobo seasoning (I can't completely remember what I subtituted here. I mixed a few seasonings together that seemed like they would substitute for chili seasoning)
  • 1 lb. of sliced smoked sausage
  • Add 2-3 cups water after thawing and put in crock pot over high 4-6 hours. Serve with cornbread, however you choose to prepare it. Top with shredded cheddar, sour cream or whatever you like to put on top. Can serve leftovers over baked potatoes or hot dogs.
8. Baked Ziti (fully cooked pasta bake to freeze)

Mix together the following in a large bowl:
  • 1 lb. cooked ziti noodles according to package (undercook about 2 minutes!)
  • 1 cup shredded italian cheese blend
  • 1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes +  Wildtree hearty italian sauce blend or equivalent pasta sauce
  • 1/2 onion diced
  • Pour into lasagna pan and sprinkle with remaining cup of italian cheese blend, cover with plastic wrap and freeze. When you're ready to cook, pull out several hours in advance to thaw, or night before and put into fridge. Bake at 350 until cheese is bubbly on top. Serve with frozen broccoli and garlic bread (bread not in grocery list above).
9. Cheeseburger Macaroni (fully cooked pasta bake to freeze)
Mix together the following in a large bowl:
  • 1 lb cooked macaroni noodles according to package directions (undercook about 2 minutes)
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • Cheese sauce - 2/3 cup Wildtree Kids Cheeze blend and 2/3 cup milk, prepared according to package. Basically whisked together in sauce pan
  • 1.5 tablespoons Wildtree Rancher's Steak Rub (this stuff is the KEY to making this dish really super yummy!)
  • 1 lb. cooked ground beef
  • Mix together and pour in lasagna or casserole pan, and cover with 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese. Serve with prepared frozen peas on the side (or mix together, which is what we do!)
10. Chicken Alfredo Pasta Bake (fully cooked pasta bake to freeze)

Dice approximately 4 breasts of chicken (other half of package), marinate in 1/3 cup grapeseed oil and 2 tablespoons Wildtree Italian Dressing blend, and salt and pepper to taste. Sautee in a skillet over med-high heat until browned.

Mix together the following in a large bowl:
  • 1 lb cooked ziti noodles according to package directions (undercook about 2 minutes)
  • 1 5 tablespoons butter, 1 cup milk, 1 cup Wildtree alfredo sauce (or equivalent Alfredo sauce)
  • 1 cup italian cheese blend
  • cooked chicken from above
  • 1/2 yellow onion diced
  • can add sliced mushrooms if you like them (not in grocery list above)
  • pour into lasagna pan or casserole dish and cover with 1 cup of italian cheese blend
  • cover with plastic wrap and freeze. When you are ready to eat, pull out several hours before to thaw, or night before in refrigerator. Bake at 350 until cheese on top is bubbly. Serve with prepared frozen broccoli or fresh salad and bread (bread and salad not in grocery list above).
When you are finished you will have a freezer that looks like this (this was about halfway through the process), and you'll have 10 meals ready to go for your family!



It's an amazing feeling knowing that food is purchased and prepared and you have dinners taken care of for two whole weeks or as long as these meals last you. We do leftovers or pizza night on the weekends!

If you use this list and make these meals and any measurements seem off or you're missing something on the grocery list, please let me know so I can make corrections!

2 comments:

bethany23 said...

Super excited to see the post on freezer meals. For me, the meal planning part was too overwhelming so I never got started. Wildtree changed all of that for me as it put the tools in my hands with the planning already done for me. It's helping us tremendously in cutting down the day to day stress of meal prep and cooking. We're also eating much healthier since we have these meals all prepped and they are as easy to cook as a box of hamburger helper. I've been able to share meals with my doula clients as well and many of them are big fans of the Wildtree freezer meal workshop. What new mom doesn't want her freezer stocked full of good, healthy meals at her fingertips?!
I'd be happy to share more info if you want to find a workshop in your area or are interested in offering the workshops. Connect with me at www.mywildtree.com/bethanyf www.facebook.com/wildtreewithbethany

Missy Rose said...

Thank you for commenting, Bethany! You're the one who got me hooked on Freezer meal planning in the first place!! We LOVE the kids cheez blend and rancher's steak rub, and lemon rosemary...and like everything!

 

Find me at Tulsa Family Doulas

Join me at the 2015 SMTULSA Conference!

Site design by: The Blog Decorator