A new week

We had a wonderful time at our annual Church Family Retreat this past weekend. It was a nice opportunity to get to know others in our Church family a bit better, to meet new people and to serve. Amie, Andrew and I were on the music team and there were many willing hands to hold Cadence.

Over the past few weeks we’ve been feeling pretty wiped out most days. With two babies and a sick dog we’re just not getting enough quality sleep. Poor Andrew has had a demanding few weeks with work and has had assignments due as well (he is in 2nd year of his distance-study Bachelor of Theology degree).

It’s easy to feel out-of-control and frazzled. So even though I am well and truly exhausted I am taking some time out today to formulate a plan for the week, to set some goals (like Crystal at MoneySavingMom does every week). Without some direction and a plan, another week will disappear in a blur, and time is too precious to waste.

I know that not having to cook again this week will help so a bulk cooking session will be my first priority. After a weekend away and wet weather over the past week, I have a mountain of laundry to get through. The girls both have music exams coming up so good daily practices are important and Amie leaves on Friday for a week long camping trip in the mountains, so we need to make sure she is prepared for that. Knowing the meals are taken care of for the week will be a blessing.

Starting this morning, while Jess and Amie do their music practice (flute, violin and piano), I’m going to bake a batch of Buttermilk Rusks and a few loaves of bread. I have also taken out two packs of frozen chicken thighs and legs and some stewing meat and am going to cook a triple recipe of Chutney Chicken (a family favourite although very simple) and a big beef and veggie stew.

Counting the cost

As I’ve mentioned before, I am working to reduce our grocery spending. Both of these are budget meals using ingredients that are routinely low cost (or free, like veggies from the garden). I use a pressure cooker for the stew so I can use cheaper cuts of meat. I also add beans and LOTS of vegetables which lowers the cost while upping the nutrition. Two individual servings of each will be packed and frozen for Andrew’s mom (for lunches at school), a family sized portion of chicken and two of the stew will go into the freezer and we’ll eat the rest this week. We’ll also eat a cottage pie from the freezer this week.

The temperatures have dropped and hauling out the heaters and electric blankets isn’t far off, which means a rise in the electricity bill isn’t far off either. I like to remember the cost saving measures bulk cooking offers, like

– heating the oven once but making three things (bread, rusks and casserole);

– cooking the stew in my pressure cooker takes only 20 minutes so saves electricity;

– cooking triple of each recipe uses the same amount of power as cooking just one, effectively cutting the electrical cost of the meals by 2 thirds.

I’m a firm believer in the saying that “every bit counts”, so even though these savings might seem insignificant to some, they matter to me. Added to all the other little things we do to save money, it makes a difference.

What else?

I also hope to finish the jersey (sweater) I’m knitting for Cael this week and will find time to meet with each of the older girls individually to talk through a few things that we think need attention. Parenting can be tiring and often repetitive, but without consistent and intentional effort we have little hope of raising our children up to be the kind of people we desire them to be.

Finishing strong

Finally, I will try to remember to trust in the Lord and look to Him for strength when I feel like I have none. He knows how tired I am, and knows exactly what I need, even better than I. I know He will supply those needs as He has promised  in His word to do so.

 

 

Meal Preparation for Busy Moms: Building a supply of freezer meals the easy way

After Cadence arrived in December, I knew my hands were going to be doubly full from then on. A new baby, a busy toddler, a tween and a teen (home-schooled), a home and a garden to manage and deep desire for community service and involvement at Church. I know some (super) moms manage even more then this, but I felt exhausted just thinking about it and I knew I needed to establish routines and coping mechanisms to keep my family and home running smoothly.

I’d felt tired and nauseated through most of my 4th pregnancy and had not kept up with what had become an efficient freezer cooking system. So, I did some thinking and more research, determined to get my meal planning and preparation “mojo” back.

Rethinking

I came across a Facebook group called Fearless Freezer Cooking. I was excited to find them, knowing some fresh inspiration and motivation always helps. They posted this one day:

Remember the #1 easy way to fill your freezer in 2013 that I mentioned in my podcast? PUT SOMETHING IN YOUR FREEZER EVERY WEEK. Just one thing. SO, what are you putting in your freezer this week?

What a simple way to think about it! Not long after that post, they posted this question: ‘What one dinner recipe can you double this week in order to put one in the freezer?’

I took it a step further as I thought this: imagine how well I could build a stash of freezer meals if I doubled or tripled a recipe every time I cooked? This is very similar to what I did in 2011 but was much less rigid.

I came up with a master list of meals that would all freeze well and predominantly use this list when menu planning. These meals also use ingredients that are either routinely inexpensive or regularly come up on sale.

I still don’t use any hard, set plan. Some weeks I’ll have a quiet afternoon and will use it to cook 2 or 3 different recipes, doubling, tripling or even quadrupling each. Other weeks I’ll plan to cook every night but will cook double every night and thus get a weeks worth of meals into the freezer. Sometimes I cook once or twice, eating twice from each meal (planned ‘leftovers’ of sorts) and some weeks I don’t cook at all, but simply thaw a lasagne or casserole and reheat it at dinner time.

So the plan is loose but the method is sure: when I am going to cook I choose meals from the master list, double, triple or quadruple each and carefully package and freeze the extra portions.

It’s simple. It works.

For more of my Meal Preparation for Busy Moms series, see the links below

Meal Preparation for Busy Moms

Meal Preparation for Busy Moms: How?

Meal Preparation for Busy Moms: How I do it

Meal Preparation for Busy Moms: Building a supply of freezer meals the easy way

Meal Preparation for Busy Moms: How I did it

While Once a Month Cooking and frequent mini freezer cooking sessions work well for some, neither were practical for me. I couldn’t set aside whole days or large chunks of time to devote to preparing meals for my family, but I also struggled to cook dinner every day.

Not a moment to spare….

In 2011 we were forced to make many changes. Adjusting to a new baby in the house was more challenging than I anticipated and as the girls were getting older, more and more things were happening in their lives which needed to be accommodated.

In order to simplify my schedule and time outside of the home, I arranged to have all of the girls extra-murals on a single day of the week: every Wednesday. This helped me know that the other 4 week days were devoted to school work and time at home. It also helped us as a single car family – Andrew knew that I was out for the whole day and so he did not arrange appointments or meetings for Wednesdays unless they were within walking distance.

Amie had her flute lesson from 9-10 (during which time I shopped for our weekly fruit, vegetables, meat and eggs from a market near to the flute teachers house), both girls had horse riding lessons from 10:30 – 11:30 and then we were home by noon for lunch. At 1pm we were back on the road for Jess’s violin lesson from 1:45-2:45, Amie’s music theory lesson from 2:45 – 3:30 and Jess’s group violin lesson from 3:30 – 4pm (all with the same teacher). I was required to sit in on the violin lessons, which was challenging with a small baby, and during the theory lesson I fetched the teachers daughter from her gymnastics class.

After the group violin lesson ended, it was back in the car to drive (or sit) through rush hour traffic, usually with Cael very tired of his car seat by this point and wailing loudly to let us know, to get to another corner of the city where Amie had Afrikaans lessons from 5-6 with Andrew’s mom at her home. I’d bath Cael and feed him dinner during this hour and then sit through traffic again to get home and serve dinner before Andrew needed to leave for Church music practice at 6:50pm.

It was exhausting but it worked nonetheless.

In addition to knowing I would not have the time to even go past a drive thru on the way home never mind prepare a meal, we also had an arrangement with Andrew’s mom to give meals in exchange for her teaching time. She is a busy working woman who doesn’t especially enjoy time in the kitchen, while I enjoy cooking and find the time time to do it, so it was an arrangement that made sense.

A workable solution

For that year, I’d cook every Monday and Tuesday and would double or triple the recipe on each night, thus making enough for two or three family servings. The extra portions were either stored in the fridge to eat later that week or frozen to be used another time.

So on Wednesday and Thursday nights we ate reheated meals from the fridge or freezer. Andrew’s parents would get a meal every Wednesday too, and for those weeks when finding time to cook was just too difficult, we’d eat meals from the freezer or prepare easy meals like grilled cheese sandwiches (often Amie would prepare these).

On the weekends we would enjoy shopping for and preparing meals together as a family, often doing more work-intensive recipes like homemade pasta or pizza (we have a pizza-oven attachement for our Weber) and on Sundays we often enjoy a roast.

Not perfect, but it worked

This solution wasn’t the most interesting way to eat and I know there are families this simply wouldn’t work for. My father refused to eat left-overs (and anything reheated was considered left-overs) and he would not graciously have accepted repetition in his weekly menu.

But, it worked for us. It has changed slightly since then, which I’ll write about next time, with a bit more details.

 

See more in my Meal Preparation for Busy Moms series:

Meal Preparation for Busy Moms

Meal Preparation for Busy Moms: How?

Meal Preparation for Busy Moms: How I do it

Meal Preparation for Busy Moms: Building a supply of freezer meals the easy way

Meal Preparation for Busy Moms: How?

Every family needs to eat. My family actually really enjoys eating, and the act of sitting down to meals together is part of the rhythm of our family that we all value.

Most mothers provide meals of some kind for their family most days. Some moms make regular use of fast food and drive-thru meals, others rely on ready-meals purchased from a supermarket while others cook a meal of some kind every night.

For me, preparing daily meals for my family isn’t drudgery or a chore and I used to cook every night. I never indulged in fancy recipes or ingredients but for several years heartily enjoyed preparing a meal every single night for Andrew and our two girls. But, as Amie and Jess have grown older and we’ve added two babies to our family, the limits on my time have been stretched far beyond what I ever anticipated. It may be hard to believe, but, with the demands of a large busy home and homeschooling family, preparing a cooked meal every day has become almost impossible.

Life changes……

In the last two weeks of my pregnancy before Cael was born I prepared a few meals and froze them. There are no words to describe how grateful I was for those meals while adjusting to having a new (and somewhat demanding) little baby in our home! I was also grateful to have taken the time to teach Amie how to make a few basic meals. Between her, the meals I prepared in advance and the kindness of a few friends who brought us meals, we didn’t starve during Cael’s first few months and we didn’t subsist on take-away either.

That was when I realized that having a few meals stashed in the freezer helps on so many levels.

It helps prevent dinners of toast or fast food on days when, for whatever reason, preparing an evening meal just isn’t going to happen. It helps make the most of ingredients that are selling inexpensively. It also saves energy, both electricity and mom-power, because the same or only slightly more energy is needed to prepare double or triple the amount of food  in the same amount of time.

So how is it done?

Some ladies take the Once-A-Month-Cooking (OAMC) approach when, over 1 or 2 days, they’ll shop for and prepare a full months worth of meals to be stashed in the freezer and reheated as needed each day. Some use their crock pots to make this even easier, such as Katie at Who needs a Cape? and Kirstin at kojoDesigns. I’ve never tried this but can see the appeal.

Some, like FishMama, have freezer cooking days where, every so often, they prepare several meals or meal components for the freezer, but not necessarily a full months worth. Her new book, Not Your Mothers Make Ahead and Freeze Cookbook, is selling well and is a good resource for anyone wanting to get started or learn more about freezer cooking.

Crystal over at Money Saving Mom used to approach freezer cooking days like FishMama but, with the busyness of 3 children and homeschooling, found that it was simply no longer practical to take 1-2 full days out of her schedule to shop, prepare for and cook/bake several freezer meals. She now schedules frequent mini freezer cooking sessions, where she aims to cook 2, 3 or perhaps 4 different things that will take around an hour of her time.

That is a nice idea but……

For this season, setting aside even a full, uninterrupted  hour to cook a few meals can be asking too much of me some weeks! I needed to find yet another way to feed my family tasty, healthy, inexpensive meals every day without cooking every day or for 2 whole days every month!

Join me again and I’ll share more about how I do it!

 

See more posts in my Meal Preparation for Busy Moms series:

Meal Preparation for Busy Moms

Meal Preparation for Busy Moms: How?

Meal Preparation for Busy Moms: How I do it

Meal Preparation for Busy Moms: Building a supply of freezer meals the easy way