Wednesday, January 8, 2014

My Semester of Freezer Meals!

So I have pretty much not ever had any time to post on my blog in the last couple of years.  Between nursing prereq's, starting nursing school, teaching piano, having a baby, and now a new job, I don't see it happening anytime soon.  Sigh.

I have had many people ask me for advice on freezer cooking.  I made it known via Facebook that I was planning to make an entire 4 months worth of freezer meals last August.  I had this plan that if I had easy dinners that were 80-100% done already, I would be able to feed my family healthy meals and go to school and save money.  It actually turned out really well!

First of all, I planned.  I planned and I planned and I planned.  I used Pinterest and food blogs that I know (thank you Pioneer Woman/Kevin & Amanda!) to find recipes and ideas.  I made an Excel sheet of the recipes, ingredients, and how many of each I was going to make.  I have used Microsoft Excel exclusively for the last 5+ years for my job, so it is what I always use when I am organizing my thoughts.  I made a prep plan that consisted of approximately 6 separate days of prep work (about 3-4 hours each day).  And I made a grocery list that was 3 typed pages long.  At that point, I was seriously doubting my abilities to do this.  I actually really hate cooking, so why would I be putting myself through this!?  But I was determined that this would be the best thing for me to do for my family.  So I muscled through.

Next, I shopped.  I shopped and I shopped and I shopped.  I spent about $800 in 3 separate shopping trips.  Walmart/Super Target employees wanted to take my life.  I felt the same way, because Walmart gives me road rage.  I hate grocery shopping.  (Why am I doing this again?!)  Muscling.

Ok, so now (wish I would have photo documented this - maybe next time) my entire kitchen and dining room were completely filled with cans, pasta boxes, spice bottles, disposable dishes, etc.  Four months worth of meals, remember?  But as I prepped and cooked, the pile was slowly whittled down, so no huge biggie (unless you like to be able to actually EAT at your dining room table).

Now for the prepping.  Every night I started after my children went to bed.  I had a 12-month-old baby at the time, and there was no way for me to do that kind of cooking with her crawling around my feet.  So from around 8 pm to 12 or sometimes 1 am for about a week, I cooked.  I cooked and I cooked and I cooked.  Every night I started out excited to put my little pile of meals in the freezer.  Every night I ended up throwing a tantrum and getting a hug from my poor, poor, supportive husband.  Remember, I hate cooking.

In the end, I had approximately 96 meals in my big garage freezer.  It was stuffed to the brim.  It was beautiful.  And I spent the next 4 months pulling something out of the freezer one or two days before I wanted to make it, then popping it in the oven for 45 minutes or so, depending.  Easy breezy.  It really was worth it!

Here are some links to recipes that I LOVED and some advice/hints:

Don't make multiples of a meal you have never tried or never heard of anyone else trying.  My family loves this one recipe of chicken enchiladas, but it does NOT freeze well.  The tortillas end up with a snot-like texture and I literally choked this down with a "It's fine, EAT IT" directed at my children four times.  I threw out two more because it was seriously gross.  Fresh made, yum.  Frozen/thawed, snot.

That being said, you can freeze ALMOST any meal that you currently make.  You don't necessarily need to find "freezer meals".  You can also prep and freeze parts of a meal and then prepare the rest on the night of.  For example, I made a bunch of spaghetti sauce, taco meat, and cooked plain ground beef.  Then I would just thaw it out and heat it up, along with fresh ingredients to make my meal.  For the spaghetti sauce, you just need to cook spaghetti noodles and have some bread and a salad.  I could handle that after a long day at school.  Also, I found that thawing the meals out completely before heating them up helped them heat evenly and not have burned edges, etc.

Please, please, please use disposable dishes.  I know.  The Earth weeps for my sin.  But I don't have 80-something casserole dishes.  Nor do I plan to anytime soon.  You will conserve water by not having dishes, so the added garbage is evened out.  That is my position.  You can buy 3 packs of 8-inch square cake pans from Walmart for $1.  Casseroles that size were perfect and sometimes too big for my family of four and baby.  I put the spaghetti sauce, taco meat, and plain ground beef in quart-sized freezer bags.  Again, that amount was perfect for my family.

If you are going to bag something that is very liquid-y, double bag.  Don't think you don't have to.  You have to.  The tantrums mentioned earlier were caused by the following.  I spent all night cooking, putting things like chili or smothered burrito mix into gallon freezer bags.  Then when I took my work out to the freezer, inevitably bags would magically open AS I LIFTED THEM TO THE FREEZER SHELF.  Two nights in a row I had food literally down my entire front, all over the garage floor, and all over the freezer.  At 1 am.  Hence tantrum, hence poor supportive husband.  Please, for the love of all things holy, double bag!

K, now for the recipes!  If you actually read this far, bless you.

Chicken spaghetti (my family's favorite) - Seriously, so good.  Freezes really, really well.

Lasagna - I had never made homemade lasagna before.  I almost just bought a bunch of frozen ones at the store, but decided to save a little money and go outside my comfort zone.  I'm so glad I did.  Homemade lasagna is awesome, and not as hard as you think.

Homemade Hot Pockets - these were a big hit with my kids, and SO easy for those nights I didn't even want to deal with the oven because I was so school-wasted.  I also used Rhode's roll dough instead of making from scratch, which made it even easier!

Tater Tot Casserole - I made several of these dinner-style, with ground beef and veggies.  I also made some breakfast-style, with eggs and bacon pieces.  Both are really yum.

Shepherd's Pie - This is one I had never made before.  But it ended up being awesome and freezing really well.

Fiesta - I would call this chili, but my husband wouldn't let me because I put corn in it.  Whatever.  This was one that ended up all over me when I didn't double bag.

Smothered Burritos - this was so easy!  I chopped up the raw steaks, dumped them along with 2 cans of enchilada sauce and 2 beef bouillon cubes in a freezer bag, and then thawed and cooked it in a crock pot as the recipe says.  Another one that was all over me.  This was a favorite, and I will be doing it again.  I think this time, I will completely cook it and then freeze it, so all I have to do is thaw it and heat it up before putting it in tortillas.

Spaghetti Sauce - I have been making spaghetti sauce like this since my mom did it when I was a kid.  1 lb ground beef, 1 spaghetti sauce seasoning packet, 1 can tomato sauce, about 1/2 tomato sauce can of water.  The end.

Taco Meat - Even easier than spaghetti sauce.  1 lb ground beef, 1 packet taco seasoning, water as directed on seasoning packet.

Plain Ground Beef - I just browned some ground beef and split it into freezer bags to be used for Hamburger Helper or other things like that.

I had some others that my family ended up not liking or they didn't freeze well.  So they were kicked off the list for next time.

I hope this crazy giant, non-picture blog post helps you get motivated to do freezer cooking.  It really did save my family money, saved me time in the long run, and it kept us from eating out.  Even with the frustrations and some failed meals, I am definitely going to do this again for next semester.

Thursday, September 22, 2011


My nephew, Mackay, was born this summer.  He is so cuddly and adorable!  I felt a special bond with him right away, and I am definitely his favorite aunt.  Well, that's what I'm telling myself (don't rain on my parade!).  Anyway, I wanted to spoil him rotten, and I found a bunch of cute projects I wanted to try, so he was my guinea pig!  Here we go:

First, I found a great crochet pattern for this toy.  I love crocheting small things (if you didn't notice) because you get that sense of accomplishment so quickly!  Because it uses just a small amount of yarn, I got to use leftover Cotton-Ease, so it's sooo soft!  Love it!

I am in love with tie onesies.  We had one for Dylan when he was a baby that we got from Deseret Book and paid like $15 for it!  It was so worth it, but being able to homemake them is way better!  I found this pattern for the tie, and ended up making it one inch shorter than the 2T size for my 3-9 months onesie.  $2 for the onesie and like $2.50 for the 1/4 yard of fabric that I used a tiny chunk of.  Awesome.  I also had some cute dino fabric, so I cut out the coolest dinosaur on it, and made another onesie!

So I found these tutorials from Lil Blue Boo on making customized name plaques.  I wanted to make one sooo bad, but realized after I started that I pretty much suck at art.  So, plan B was to grab some little wood letters and animals and just paint and glue them on (the elephant and tree were already painted/decorated=even better!).  I also did copy LBB's idea of mod podging some scrapbook paper "grass" onto the plaque to give it a little more texture.  Very fun!  This was my kids' favorite of the Mackay gifts.

Okay, now for my favorite.  I found this tutorial for T-shirts from MADE (probably my favorite crafty blog EVER).  Dana makes it look so easy, which it kind of is.  I think it would be way easier with a larger size (like she does a 2T), but the baby size was tough to work with on my sewing machine, especially the tiny little sleeves.  Mackay's nickname while in the womb was Beaker, so I Googled the word beaker and found this image.  My brother-in-law was so kind to inform me that there isn't actually a beaker on the image, but rather a test tube and a graduated cylinder (thanks SO much, Tony). I didn't care, because I thought it was cool looking.  So I stuck the picture on PowerPoint, and typed out the word "BEAKER".  Then I printed it, traced it onto freezer paper, used an exacto knife to cut the image out, ironed it onto the finished T-shirt, and painted it with orange fabric paint.  There are a bunch of freezer paper screen printing tutorials out there, so I will spare you, but while you're looking at MADE for the T-shirt tutorial, she has one for this, too!  Check out those cute little goldfish pants!  Love her. 

Anyway, I absolutely adore my sweet little Mackay!  And I get to see him and my newest nephew Charlie, born at the end of July, this weekend!  Yay for getting my baby fix!  Charlie spoiling post to follow soon!

P.S. Thanks to Maegen for taking pictures of Mackay's stuff for me!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Big changes!

Wow! I can't believe the summer is gone and I haven't done a blog post in almost 2 months. It's been a very busy summer with two new nephews born and a niece coming in October. I've been working hard on spoiling my nephews and can't wait to meet the newest born just a couple of weeks ago.
Aside from having a crazy busy summer, we have a lot of exciting things happening this fall in our family. Sweet Miss Sydney is starting KINDERGARTEN. What?! I still thought she was a wee babe. I am going to absolutely LOSE IT on her first day. She got into the new French Dual Immersion program at our elementary school, and I am way proud and excited for that. She is also starting ballet in September. Dylan is going to go back to swimming lessons to continue to work towards participating in swim team at our local rec center. And my husband is starting EMT training next week. Holy holy holy.
With Sydney starting school, I have decided to (re)start school, too! I went for one year before I got married 8 years ago. My goal was to earn a Music Ed. degree and become a high school choir director. I totally wish I could do that. But, having a family and being a Music major don't really mesh. There are tons of required things outside of class - participation in an ensemble (sometimes two), private instrument lessons, and attending all school concerts. I know there are a lot of wives/moms that can pull that stuff off, but I'd rather see my kids after school. So I'm going to work on my second choice, which I've actually gone back and forth on with music for a long time - Nursing! I am SO excited to be going back to school! I got one of my books in the mail on Saturday, and I've already read two chapters - and it's a TEXTBOOK. I'm a nerd. And so happy!
As you can tell, another thing that has changed is my blog. I am way inspired by awesome blogs like delia creates, MADE, and no big dill. Their simple, streamlined looks make me happy, so I'm a little bit of a copycat. But I'm cool with that.
Anyway, I'm excited for our new adventures, and I promise that I will have a completed project to share soon. Thanks for reading!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Craft Hope Bracelets

I found this AMAZING website called Craft Hope. They coordinate different charity projects, and I was really excited to participate in their latest. Here's a link to the project I did. I'm anxious to see what the next one is. I got Dylan and Sydney involved, and I know it was a great way for them to start learning about helping others.
I made a couple of friendship bracelets with embroidery floss using Sydney's Christmas present from her grandma (an awesome friendship bracelet kit)! Dylan and Sydney made a bunch of bracelets with pony beads and nylon floss. Sydney picked out the bag of pony beads - she chose the glow-in-the-dark beads so - get this - "the orphans won't be scared of the dark". Oh. My. I totally choked up right in the middle of Walmart when she said that. Love her. I know they had fun, and like I said, I am SO looking forward to the next Craft Hope project! Yay!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Last Day of School!

Today is Dylan's last day of first grade! I can't believe how old I feel. We have been (in my opinion) a high maintenance family this year for Dylan's teacher. Absences for a pretty serious ER visit and a week-long funeral trip. Coming in late/leaving early for dental work several times. Hiding daily work in his desk til the last month of school, when the teacher finally noticed. Oldest child syndrome for husband and I - constantly questioning whether he is doing okay. Ah, good times. So we felt like she deserved a little treat:
I used a big can of pineapple that had a pop tab lid, opened the BOTTOM of the can with a can opener, emptied the fruit, washed and dried the can, filled with candy (I did my faves - Reeses PB cups and fun size 3 Musketeers, Twix, Milky Way, and Snickers), hot glued the bottom back on, wrapped in pretty paper, made a pun-ny little note, and made the pull tab ribbon. I did everything in about 20 minutes. Nice!
Dylan was super excited to take his gift to Mrs. B. Congrats, little man!
P.S. His hair will be cut this weekend.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Blankie for a Gift...Not!

I found this pattern from Lion Brand, and I was way excited to try it out. I used Lion Brand Cotton-Ease yarn (which, as I've mentioned before, is awesome!). I loved the way the blanket turned out. The only issue I had was with the little zigzag stitching to connect the different colored strips. If I did this blanket again, I would just switch colors and continue that way, instead of making each strip separately, and connecting them together.
Now, when I first started making this blanket, I was doing so for one of my new nephews that will be born this summer. But I kind of fell in love with it, and so I decided to keep it for my own soon-to-be (hopefully) new baby! Sorry nephews! You are getting cool stuff from me anyway, so no worries!
This is a great, lightweight blanket. Because of the different colored stripes, it would be awesome for a boy or a girl, and you can of course change the colors to match your own scheme. I love that!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Never enough time! (Warning: LONG-WINDEDNESS AHEAD)

So I often (often meaning like one or two times total) get asked how I am able to do everything I do. I mean, I don't feel like I do any more than any other mother (probably a lot less in reality), but I honestly do have a lot on my plate. Maybe next week I'll say I have a super easy, cushy life with not too much to do, but after pulling an all-nighter for work last night, I am definitely not saying that today. 1. I work from home, which is a GIGANTIC blessing that I will never deny was divine intervention. Never. For the most part, it's not too bad. But I do have deadlines, and when I choose another part of my life over work (which, in all honesty, is more often than not), I have to make up for it in the form of lack of sleep. 2. Until a couple weeks ago, I taught preschool once a week. I don't have to worry about that anymore, but I do have a first-grader who needs help every day with his homework. I also know that as my kids get bigger, I will have more and more responsibilities in regards to their schoolwork and after-school activities, etc. 3. Being at home while the husband is at work 40 hours per week puts the majority of the housework on me. This most definitely is the absolute bottom of my priority list. Always. Laundry RARELY gets folded. And by rarely, I mean never. Really. I suck. I have gotten better at everything else - like, I wash the dishes every day now! Anyway, I didn't mean to ramble on and on and on (and ON), but I don't want people to think I have all this time to do everything I want. I just pick and choose different things each day, and the next day, I have to make up for what I chose not to do the day before.
With ALL that said, here're a couple of new flower-ish things I've done:
I used a doily pattern for the brown one, and just stopped when I felt like it looked how I liked. I might sew this on a onesie or little T-shirt. I found another tute on YouTube for the reddish one, but for some reason, my blog doesn't want to let me link stuff. So see the bottom of this post for the links to the doily pattern, a cute doily onesie, and the flower tutorial.
Husband's bro is coming to stay with us for a week this Saturday (excited!), and I will be sending the red one home with him for his beautiful wife! She asked me to make a flower for her a couple of months ago, and I finally made it. Sorry, Melissa! I love you. I sewed a safety pin on to the back, so it can be used on a hat, jacket, dress, whatever!
Thanks for sticking with me for the long-windedness (I get it from my mother). :D