Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Freezer cooking helps me save $$$

If you know much about me you know I’m a big fan of freezer cooking. But how can it save me money? Well actually there are lots of big and little ways to save a few Abes (you know Lincoln=pennies)

First and foremost, is the ability to eat at home and not flake out and run through the drive through. If I have meals I can thaw and put together in minutes and with little effort, then why go out for a burger?

A slightly more subtle side effect of that is less Dr. bills, by not eating all that unhealthy junk food and in mom’s case less $$ on insulin.

Second, I can buy meat and veggies on sale. Stock up while they are on sale and not have to worry about buying meat weekly. Ex. This past week our local Tom Thumb (Safeway/Randall’s in other parts of the country) had boneless chuck roasts on sale for $1.96. That’s boneless baby. So I picked out 2 of the prettiest roasts you ever saw, I already had 2 in the freezer, so I didn’t need more and had 20 lbs. ground.

Yes that’s a big cost this week, but I won’t have to buy ground meat for months.

Being a freezer cooker I now I have 5 lbs. browned off with onions and garlic ready to pull out to make pizzas, lettuce wraps, poor man’s stroganoff, or anything else I want.

I also used 5 lbs for taco meat, which come summer I can thaw, warm and have taco salad, skillet dinners, Mexican casserole or stir-fry on the table in no time.

I still want to make up a few bags of spaghetti sauce, pepper stuffing and some meatballs. I already have a couple of meat loaves in the freezer and well, frankly it will be too hot to cook them before too long. I do need to work up a pound or two into burgers (we like ours with bacon, onion and cheese mixed in) and then I’ll just freeze the rest for whatever I might want it for.

Since I pre-cook and freeze most Sale finds like this, it not only saves me money, I have quick meals ready to assemble all the time. Which is especially helpful during the long hot summers we have here.

If I forget to take anything out to thaw for dinner, we’ve all done than a few times. Then instead of picking up burgers or heading to some restaurant, I can pull out a bag of chicken or ground meat, throw it in a sink full of warm water or in the microwave and it’s thawed out in a few minutes… now you know one of the reasons I flatten all my bags before freezing…giggle. They stack better and take up less space too.

Which leads me to yet another subtle $$$ saver. Not only will those bags of pre-cooked meat and poultry save me time, take out $$$, but I save on my electric bill. A full freezer is cheaper to run. It doesn’t pull nearly as much energy because it stays colder.

I won’t have to turn the A/C up during the hot summer trying to cool off a house after it heated up after the stove or oven has been on for an hour or more. I can grab a bag of cooked chicken or ground meat toss it in a skillet to heat with a few veggies and have dinner on the table and the stove turned off in 15 minutes.

I roast my chickens in the fall and winter when I need the house heated anyway…giggle. Then simply pick the meat off the bones, measure out into dinner portion size, freeze in zippy bags. I take all the bones and add appropriate vegetation and make stock, why buy when homemade is better?

I also cook pork roast, brisket, ham and any other meats that likes to hang out in the oven for a nice long time, while the weather is cooler. My goal is to never turn the oven on between June and October.

Freezer sides are not as easy, when trying to stay as low carb and healthy as possible, but there are some that work well, such as stuffed squash. I can buy them in the summer when they are plentiful, gorgeous and cheaper. Do all the prep and assembly and then thaw and bake during the cooler months when nice produce is harder to find.

By cooking meat in advance and freezing in meal sized portions I don’t waste food. Left overs don’t get pushed to the back and thrown out next time you clean out your fridge.

Unlike your freezer your fridge is more efficient when there is plenty of room for air to circulate so keeping it cleaned out is important. Though mine is usually full to the brim with veggies and the food well be having that week.

All it takes is a little planning, a little effort and of course a little organization. But the results are more than worth the effort. Talk about convenience food. How much easier can it be, if I want stuffed peppers I pull out a bag of meat and pop it in the fridge to thaw. Dinner time rolls around, I cut the peppers and blanch for 5 minutes, heat the meat in the microwave. Stuff peppers top with cheese and pop under the broiler to melt the cheese ( I use the toaster over or make in the crockpot during the summer) A bag of steamed broccoli cooked in the microwave and wha-la dinners on the table in less than 20! I can’t pick up junk food that fast.

There are several ways to do freezer cooking depending on your personal preferences. Some folks do OAMC (once a month cooking). They plan a day or two to prep, assemble and/or cook meals for a whole month. I'm not that organized nor do I have that kind of energy, but it works great for some folks. I have done it for a week at a time however, that’s not only worthwhile but lots of fun too.

Some people just double or triple recipes their families really like. I do this sometimes. It’s just as easy to prep and clean up after 2 or three meatloaves as it is one. Then simply wrap and freeze two and bake off the third. You can do the same with casseroles, meatballs or soups too.

Or like me some folks do bulk cooking when they find good sales. We prep and/or cook one type of meat at one time.

How you choose to fill your freezer is really a personal preference, the important thing is to plan, organize and only cook and prep foods you know you will use.

Take advantage of sales, seasonal foods and cooler weather to get your freezer stocked before summer gets here. Believe me, you will be so so happy you did.

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