Step by Step Guide to Making Freezer Meals (The Planning)

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Making freezer meals, sometimes referred to as “once a month cooking” is a great way to not only save time and stress, but also money.

I have been making freezer meals for our family for over three years now.  It has saved me thousands of dollars, not to mention the amount of brain space it has freed up not to have to worry about what I am going to make for supper every day.  By spending one or two days cooking, I am able to have enough meals to feed our family for between one and three months!  That is what I call a good use of my time!

As far as cost goes, by doing once a month (or in my case, once every three months!) cooking, I am able to significantly lower our grocery budget.  I am able to feed 9 people for an average of $10 a meal!  That works out to $1.11 per person per supper.  In months when I am really careful with planning this, I am able to cut that to between $8-$9 per meal, working out to less than $1 per person.

***Note: I haven’t done a freezer meal day since I started couponing, so I expect that the cost will now be much lower than that from now on!

You can cut the cost by getting together in a group to make the freezer meals, which I do about half the time.

These first four steps should be done a week or so before you plan to make the freezer meals.

Step 1:

Choosing the recipes.  I use a combination of sources for my recipes.  Some are family favourite recipes that I have adapted into a freezer meal or that I know freeze well. I like to be sure that I choose some recipes that I can whip up really quickly and others that will provide my family with the best nutrition possible. I have now come up with such an arsenal of recipes that I offer freezer meals menu plans.

I do choose a variety of meal types when planning, but also choose recipes that involve some similar preparation steps to cut down the time involved.  As an example, in a month that I am choosing Chilli, I will also choose Sloppy Joes, as they both require browning the meat and chopping onions.  If I am going to be cooking rice to make Spanish Rice, I will make several meals of Chicken Fried Rice as well.

I also will choose recipes that call for the same ingredients so that I can shop in bulk and save more money.  As an example, if I have a recipe that calls for adding cans of corn, such as a Tex Mex Casserole, I will also make Corn Chowder to freeze.  That way, I can buy a caselot of corn and save money.

Step 2:

Photocopy your recipes.  These will later be used at your stations.  Stations will be explained later.

Step 3:

Make grocery lists.  If you have access to a warehouse store, you will want to make a list for that store as well as a list for your local grocery store to buy the items not stocked at the warehouse store.  Make your grocery lists as you are writing out your recipe list.  As you are going through, make tally marks next to the ingredients as each recipe calls for them.  As an example, once you have onions on your list, every time a recipe calls for a certain amount of onions, make tally marks to indicate how many you will need.  Doing these first two steps at the same time will allow you to plan more clearly.

Step 4:

Call ahead with your meat order.  Especially if you are doing this with a group of friends, you will need a large quantity of meat and your local grocer may not have it in stock when you need it.  I call the meat department ahead and put in my meat order.  This saves time as well as when you are in the store, the order is ready for you.  It can also save you money as most meat departments are willing to give you a discount because you are ordering in bulk.  This step is very important.

My second article in this series will detail what needs to happen the day before the big day and then the last article will go through instructions for assembling your freezer meals.  By following this plan, you too can save time, stress, and money when it comes to meal planning for your family.

After the Grocery Challenge

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the Grocery Challenge

In March, by meal planning and using mostly what was in our pantry and freezer, I was able to feed all 9 of us (plus some extra people here and there) on a wee bit less than $200! That works out to less than 72 cents per person a day! To read a list of the dinners we ate and some of the lunches, visit The Grocery Challenge. To read some of the things I learned that month, read The Grocery Challenge Results.

Now obviously, it is not possible to continue to feed our family on so little because the freezer and pantry were pretty empty after March, but the experiment completely changed my perspective on our grocery budget and how much of it is in my control. When you have set aside only $200 in cash for 31 days, you take notice of the price of every little thing and start to see patterns in your family’s eating habits and past spending habits.

Before The Grocery Challenge, I was able to get our monthly bill to $1200 including cleaning supplies, toilet paper, Goodnights for Dancing Queen, and all food and beverages. Even only spending $1200 for a family our size was no easy task. In order to stay within that budget, I had to meal plan, make freezer meals, cut down on our meat, buy in bulk, and shop on 15% off day. I thought that $1200 was as low as I could get it until The Grocery Challenge of course!

After The Grocery Challenge, I realize that I can probably spend half of that on a consistent basis, not including the months when we cut it down even further by using up what is in the pantry and freezer. I estimate that we will be able to have a month like that once every six months and again only spend $200. That means that I will spend $600 a month ten months of the year and $200 a month two months a year, for a grand total of $6400 annually spent on groceries. That $6400 compares to the over $14,400 we had been spending annually. Just by making this one change, I will be able to save our family $8000 a year!  I think that Dave Ramsey would be proud!

One of the things that I am doing now is couponing. In Canada, it is more difficult to coupon as stores don’t double or triple coupons like some do in the States, but it doesn’t mean that the savings don’t still add up. I didn’t used to bother with coupons, as I didn’t think that 50 cents here and there mattered, but only having $200 to spend in March showed me that it all matters and that the little things really do add up. If you want to learn how to coupon in Canada or just want to hear some of the incredible savings I’ve experienced through coupons so far, read Couponing in Canada.

Here are the ways that I have cut our grocery bills in HALF:

-signing up for all the free store loyalty cards

-meal planning while taking into consideration the sales

-buying in bulk with a group and make freezer meals

-planting a garden, raspberry bush, and strawberry patch

-reading the weekly fliers, finding the best deals (especially when I can also match those sales with a coupon), and writing my grocery lists accordingly

-buying items on sale with a coupon on 15% off day!

-taking advantage of 2 for 1 sales and Dollar Days to stock up

-being purposeful when it comes to snacks and breakfasts

-planning ahead for snacks

-only serving oatmeal or Puffed Wheat for breakfast during the week and homemade pancakes, waffles, frittata, quiche, or omelette on the weekend

What ways does your family use to save on groceries?

Expectations in Marriage

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Nothing hurts marriage quite like unmet expectations or really, just expectations period. As a scattered, unorganized, untidy wife married to a husband whose mom vacuumed the walls and had a pristinely spotless house ALL THE TIME (and yes, she had seven kids too!), I struggle with feelings of failure because of not being able to meet my husband’s expectations. But worse than those feelings of failure, shame, and embarrassment, I am guilty of putting my own expectations on him.

Last week, we were offered a rare opportunity. Our friend, M. offered to have the five younger kids sleep over at her house for a night and we shipped the other two over to my mom’s. We were going to have the house ALL TO OURSELVES for a whole night!

I was so looking forward to it and built it up in my mind. I had visions of candles and quiet conversation, perhaps a romantic stroll around our beautiful yard, you get the idea! I had made us reservations at a romantic French restaurant that we had a Groupon for.

The day finally arrived and I rushed around all morning.  My cousin was visiting from out of town with her two kids which added to the usual chaos and I had to make sure that all the kids were packed and organized for their sleepover.  I was running late to drive Fred to his friend’s house and didn’t really have time to shower, but I showered anyway and got myself all prettied up for The Husband.  It made me late and stressed out, but I reasoned that it would surely be worth it.  We were going to a fancy restaurant and a ponytail and jeans just wouldn’t cut it.  That led to Disappointment #1 when I arrived at The Husband’s office and saw that he was in a running shirt and jeans and had given no forethought to dressing for our special dinner out.

I also took time that morning to run around and attempt to tidy our bedroom and the hallway leading to our bedroom just for him.  It doesn’t really bother me to have the kids toys and papers on our bedroom floor, but I know that it irks The Husband to no end, so I took an hour of my super busy day and devoted it to things like making our bed, tidying the room, and putting away the laundry.

I had to stop at the Pharmacy to pick up some of Miss Optimist’s medication that she would need that night as well as packing up her “portable pharmacy” from home.  I had to make sure that everyone had their stuffies and their underwear and pyjamas and pillows and had eaten lunch and then I dropped Fred off at his friends and Miss Optimism, Einstein, Snuggle Puppy, Granola Girl, and Dancing Queen at M’s and there was silence.  Ahhh, silence.

As I had dropped the kids off earlier than I had anticipated, I assumed (again with the expectations!) that The Husband and I could start our date early.  I called him at the office.  He was distracted and didn’t respond for a long time.  A good wife would have appreciated that he was probably distracted by big work problems and been appreciative of him working hard to provide for our family.  But I was in no mood to be a good wife.  I had expectations, darn it!

I killed time for a few hours, all the while allowing resentments to build.  I reminded myself of how he always has time during the week to meet his brothers for coffee or lunch, so he must have time to leave early for our date.  I know that when I walked into his office at the time we had agreed on, he could probably see the judgement and disappointment on my face.

I thought that now that I had waited so long, he would be happy to see me and we would have this romantic evening, because those are the expectations I had set up.  He was distracted by work, having a hard time focusing, and even had to do a work related errand on our way to the restaurant.  My expectations were being squashed and I was angry.

The restaurant was everything I was hoping it would be.  It was quaint and should have provided a romantic setting, but I was in no mood for romance at this point.  I started an internal dialogue of all the things The Husband COULD have done to make the evening special…get me a card, buy me a small gift, compliment me since I had taken extra time in getting ready, set out candles in our room, dress nicely for our fancy dinner, be more present and not distracted, have planned a surprise, picked me up at home instead of having me meet him, bought wine for us to have at home…and the disappointments were building by the minute!

We ended up having an argument at the restaurant over how to handle a consequence for The Ferrari for a rule he had broken a few days before.  After the restaurant, we drove our separate vehicles home and on the way, I contemplated maybe going by myself to a movie.  There were no kids at home, an opportunity that last happened 10 years ago when my mom took all the kids overnight for our Anniversary, and I didn’t want to waste the break time.  I was also well aware that more disappointments and unmet expectations awaited me at home.  But I did the “right thing” and drove home.

The Husband apparently had also contemplated going to a movie – it would have been funny if we had shown up at the same one! but he also had gone home.

We tried to joke around and get things back on track and it was all going okay until The Husband casually mentioned that it was too bad he wouldn’t get to sleep in the next morning because of having a 7 a.m. meeting.  I completely freaked out!!!  I had the expectation that we would be eating breakfast together in the morning.  Since I had to go into town to pick the kids up, I assumed that we would either grab a quick breakfast out or would eat here before we left.  I had even made a plan for the breakfast I would cook for us if we decided to stay here.  I had not communicated to The Husband that I expected him to eat breakfast with me, but I had assumed it.  In my mind, it was like we were at a hotel since the kids were gone and never would we have spent the night in a hotel and not had breakfast the next morning.  He did not see it the same way and another BIG argument ensued.

Later, both still angry, we decided to try to go for a walk.  This time, it wasn’t The Husband that ruined my expectations, it was the blasted mosquitos!  What started out as a nice little walk soon turned into a frenzied run to escape being eaten alive!

Overall, the whole night was a complete bust.  It was actually worse than if we had never tried and the biggest reason why was EXPECTATIONS.  You would think I would know by now that they are evil, life-sucking, marriage-murdering things, but I let them in nonetheless and destroyed what should have been at least a somewhat pleasant night.

On the bright side, I had the best sleep I have had in months, maybe even years.  I slept soundly, not having to sleep with one ear open listening for Miss Optimism’s breathing.  That part was pure bliss and probably made it worth it.


5 Easy Crafts Made from Household Items

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I am always looking for ways to entertain the kids and allow them to use their imagination and creativity while also keeping the cost to a minimum.  Here are some easy craft ideas we like using items most people have around the house.  This is also a good exercise in reusing!

A Memory Box

Have the kids create and fill their own memory box.  All they need is a box with a lid, old magazines or catalogues, tissue paper, or wrapping paper, and glue.  Have them tear out pictures or strips from the magazines, tissue paper, and wrapping paper and glue them onto the box and box lid.  Once it’s dry, they can fill it with their treasures such as photos, souvenirs, report cards, cards, and letters.

A Centrepiece

Fill an empty, clean 2 Litre plastic bottle (such as a soda bottle) with water about 3/4 of the way full.  Have the kids add strips of foil, ribbon, sparkles, pieces of drinking straws, pipe cleaner, and beads.  For extra colour, you can add food colouring if you wish.  Glue the lid on and you have a very unique centrepiece for the table for that night’s dinner.

A Textured Collage

Have the kids create a collage of different textures using glue, yarn, dry pasta, dried beans, styrofoam, sandpaper, tin foil, pipe cleaners, cotton balls, corks, feathers, ribbon, glittered greeting cards, and anything else you can find around.

A Mobile

This craft dates back a long way, but it is still a classic that each child should make at least once in their lifetime!  Using ribbon or string, hang things on a coat hanger to make a mobile.  Your child can cut shapes out of coloured paper and hole punch them or hang toys or cookie cutters.  The only limit to this is the limits of the imagination!

Marble Maze

In a box lid that has raised edges, such as a shoe box lid, have the kids haphazardly glue popsicle sticks on their sides.  When the glue dries, this box can now be used as a marble maze for them to play with.  This is a great craft for boys, who may not like some of the more sparkly crafts!

Here are some other craft ideas you might like:

African masks

Creative Mail

Snow Day Activities