Jordan and I have been talking constantly about time management lately. There are several big areas of our life that need better stewardship, and that’s going to a big focus for us in the coming year. For my personal home management, I have been feeling in such a rut, mostly just from being tired! I feel like my imagination has gotten too small, and I’ve just been stuck in last minute day-to-day ‘crisis mode’, getting 3 meals a day on the table and just barely getting the minimum done around the house. I don’t like that. At the turning of the new year, I knew I wanted some things to change. The first area I decided to tackle was meal planning. On a snowy, housebound day I got out a notebook, and huddled up by the stove and made a written plan. That was step one. I felt good about my plan, but I was still feeling overwhelmed at the thought of actually beginning – through past experience trying to execute big projects with unpredictable little children under foot I know all about getting in over my head!
I wanted to share one tool I’ve been using lately that has been very helpful – Trello. I heard about it on the Allie Casazza/ Purposeful Home podcast, and decided to give it a try. Trello is basically just a way to make, keep and organize lists. You can see from the screenshot above how I used it to organize my meal planning. I transferred everything from my paper brainstorming, and kept it organized so I didn’t forget what I was doing! You can see on the far left list that I had checklists of specific tasks for each category of bulk cooking prep. Very helpful! I’ve resisted for along time using a digital app to replace my paper lists, but at this point in my life I just can’t seem to keep up with all my paper, so this has really been a blessing. The version I use is free, too!
Anyway, back to the meal plan. I planned for 4 weeks of meals, and broke breakfast, lunch, and supper into groups of 4 batch meals.
4 meals Pies (1 breakfast each, healthy sweet potato or pumpkin pie)
4 meals Quiche
4 meals “Grapenuts” cold cereal (homemade)
4 meals scones + eggs
4 meals breakfast burritos
4 meals english muffin sandwiches
4 meals applesauce/raisin/pumpkin seed muffins + eggs
(The breakfasts with eggs added on I will just fry or scramble the morning we are eating them.)
4 meals chicken quesadillas
4 meals chicken curry & rice + cabbage
4 meals sandwiches (tuna, grilled cheese, ham, with salad or veggies if available)
4 meals BBQ deer roast + veggies
4 meals beans and rice (taco salad, or taco soup + cheese & sour cream)
4 meals loaded baked potatoes (bacon & cheese & sour cream) + veggies
(the added veggies would be cooked the night of – either frozen veggies or something easy like fried cabbage or raw chopped carrots and celery)
4 meals pizza
4 meals potato soup
4 meals lasagna
4 meals stir fry
4 meals stroganoff + rice & veggies
4 meals Italian wedding soup
4 lemony chicken soup
4 homemade pasta
(Also, do keep in mind that this list isn’t my ideal nutritionally, I know its quite heavy on carbs. However, this month’s plan had a great deal to do with what we already had in our pantry, and what is available to us in January/February. During other seasons I would include more fresh foods)
Many of the ‘4 meals’ on the above list can be accomplished for our size of family with one large recipe of breakfast muffins, or one large batch of soup. I realize this would look very different for a larger family with older kids!
After a local shopping trip to pick up a few key ingredients and staples I was missing (dry beans and rice, cabbage, carrots, lard, cream cheese, sour cream…) I was ready to start my cooking!
I divided up the cooking I had to do into categories that were all similar, and of course tried to do anything in batches that I could.
The first thing I did was to grate up 10 lbs of cheese – once a month I order some staples from Azure Standard, and I nearly always get a 5 lb block of cheddar and a 5 lb block of mozzarella.
Making a big batch of piecrust – enough for six pie pans. (breakfast pies and quiche)
One evening after the kids were in bed I prepped all my baking and soaking. I tried to use as many recipes as possible that would have the flour/grains be soaked in kefir overnight. I always prefer this method, but doing things last minute I had to skip this step often. It was definitely wonderful doing a big batch of soaked and baked items.
I also soaked 8 cups each of kidney beans and brown rice to be cooked, frozen, and used for various meals.
4 loaves of ‘Dutch Oven Bread’
2 Batches of ‘Grapenuts’ cereal. First the dough is soaked, then baked in pans, then crumbled with a blender, then toasted. It’s absolutely delicious! We added chia seeds and raisins this time too, and stored it in half-gallon jars. This time of year it’s just fine on the pantry shelf.
The kids think it’s a real treat, since store bought cereal isn’t something we typically buy.
To cook the butternut squash and sweet potatoes for my pies, I like to chop them into large pieces, and cook them quickly in a pressure cooker or the InstantPot.)
I do two pie fillings at a time in the Blentec – no recipe, just the cooked potato or squash with cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, vanilla, a dash of milk, at least 2 eggs per pie, honey and molasses.
4 pies cooking at once!
Putting together English muffin breakfast sandwiches (fried egg + ham + cheese). Still perfecting the muffin recipe.
I batch cooked the sausage meat for pizzas, lasagnas, and Italian wedding soup. This is my lasagna prepping station. Tip – if you forget to buy cottage cheese (I did) you can make a simple white sauce to replace it! These lasagnas were also made with frozen kale from our last years garden – it worked great instead of spinach. Not pictured, but I also spent what felt like an entire morning chopping a mountain of onions and garlic! Seems like nearly every recipe except the breakfast ones needed those ingredients. (I cried and cried! But it definitely saved time)
I had three whole frozen chickens that I cooked in the instant pot separately, but one after the other so only had to wash the pot once. I also de-boned them all at once, so only one mess there!
Lasagnas and loaves of bread are easy to freeze, but it took a little more thinking to figure out how I wanted to store some of the other meals. Here are a few examples of my solutions:
The soup meals I froze in small bags with the basic main ingredients already cooked:
Italian wedding soup – I froze together portioned amounts of cooked sausage, onions and garlic. I already have frozen kale ready to crumble, and lots of frozen chicken bone broth. The day I want to make that meal I will pull those three things out in the morning to make sure they are thawed, then nearing supper time put them all together in a pot, bring to a boil, add pasta, and done!
Stir Fry – I froze portioned bags of filling, and portioned bags of cooked brown rice. The filling consists of shredded deer roast, carrots, onions, and garlic cooked in a sauce flavored with soy sauce and ginger. When freezing I also added a few handfuls of frozen broccoli. The day I want to cook this I will thaw the filling and rice, and warm it all up in a skillet, and also throw in some fresh chopped cabbage at the last minute.
Pizza – I baked the crusts alone on sheet pans covered in foil. When they were cool I lifted the foil and crust off the pan and transferred it to a square of cardboard. On top of the crust I laid portioned bags of sausage & shredded mozarella. I wrapped the whole bundle in foil and froze the 4 pizzas stacked. When it’s time for pizza I will pull it out a few hours ahead of time and let everything thaw. Then I will grab some sauce and olives out of the pantry, quickly top the crusts and bake just long enough to melt the cheese. :)
Not sure which is the best feeling – putting away finished meals in the freezer, or waking up to have a lovely breakfast nearly ready?
So, closing thoughts. Wish I had taken more pictures! This was just a tiny sampling of the steps. I spent nearly 5 days solid cooking, getting up early and staying up late. It was a fun and challenging project. (I will tell you I still didn’t get quite everything made – at some point I need to do a batch of tortillas for instance), but I got really close, and have a much better idea of how I want to do things next time. And I have a TON of meals in the freezer! That has been amazing.
Next month I want to try cooking for two weeks at a time. I think that would be much more doable for me at this season, and accomplish the same purpose, as long as I can keep rolling with it!
Also, I am realizing I will need a larger stock of freezer-friendly storage or baking dishes with lids. Ziploc bags and foil work great, but that is an additional expense, plus very wasteful! I would much rather have reusable dishes in future.
What about you? What are your thoughts on bulk cooking? Have you done it? If so, what sort of system do you implement? I’m all ears!