On September 13, 2016 by Kim
If you are a Once a Month Meals member, then you have everything you need to create your own custom freezer meal plan. You can take one of our featured menus and mix and match recipes. Or you can start with the blank menu template, My Freezer Meal Plan and fill in the recipe slots with your favorites. But there is more to freezer meal planning than just compiling a list of recipes. It requires a certain finesse to create a plan that efficiently provides delicious variety. You will discover what works best for you as you gain experience, but we can get you started by sharing our experience with menu creation!
Here are 5 Secrets to Efficient Freezer Meal Planning to create a menu that really works!
1. Overlap Ingredients
The shorter your grocery list and your chopping list, the easier freezer cooking will be.
If every recipe you choose has a completely new set of ingredients, then you are going to end up with a 25-page grocery list. No Bueno. To keep your grocery trip and prep time short and simple, pick some recipes that overlap ingredients. Obviously, you want to balance this with variety so every meal doesn’t taste the same, but there is an endless variety of combinations and flavors.
3 Tips for Overlapping Ingredients:
- Start with your own pantry and refrigerator – If you have a stash of baking supplies, choose some muffins, bread, and baked goods. If you have shelves of canned goods, use them up.
- Use seasonal items – Seasonal produce is cheaper and tastes better.
- Take advantage of sales – Check especially for big ticket items like meats, dairy, etc.
2. Limit the Number of Meats
We recommend that you choose 2-5 main types of meat and build your menu around this.
Just like other ingredients, you do not want to purchase and prep a different type and cut of meat for each recipe. You can choose these based on what your family enjoys, what is on sale, or what is easiest to cook.
Choosing fewer meats will truly maximize your time in the kitchen. For example, you can choose 3 recipes with chicken breast, 3 recipes with ground beef, and add a few breakfast recipes with no meat. This will keep your cooking days simple and inexpensive.
As you choose your meats, also consider that you will want to precook about half of your meat during your prep session the night before your cooking day. This will help you assemble recipes quickly and streamline your process.
3. Use Your Slow Cooker (and Your Instant Pot!)
We recommend that you choose one to two recipes that are cooked in a slow cooker on your big cooking day.
When we create a menu, we assume that you have (or have access to) two slow cookers. These are going to be thrown in first thing in the morning on your cooking day and will basically cook themselves! Having these “hands off” recipes will allow you to work on other things. All you have to do is cool and package them at the end of the day. Even if you are crazy like some of us and have more than two slow cookers, be careful not to overload your outlets on cooking day.
The Instant Pot can help you speed things up even more!
Use it for full recipes or to precook ingredients like meat, rice, or steamed veggies. The true beauty of the Instant Pot is that it can cook from frozen. So if you forgot to thaw some meat for a recipe – no worries!
4. Limit Baked Recipes
We recommend that you choose no more than three baked recipes per menu.
While it is tempting to think that baked recipes will save you time like slow cookers because you can work on other things while the oven cooks the food, this is not really the case. The problem with baked recipes is that you can only cook one at a time. And each one typically takes one to two hours to prep and bake, especially since you are cooking double batches for your cooking day. Assuming that each recipe takes two hours, it will take you six hours to complete these three recipes. You will definitely want to turn the oven off after that!
5. Use Easy Assembly or No Cook Recipes
DO NOT FORGET to choose three to four easy assembly recipes for your menu.
MenuBuilder organizes your recipes in a specific order on your cooking day instructions. First, you get your slow cooker going. Baked recipes are next as they take the longest. While the oven is going you can work on stovetop recipes. And since at that point you are probably losing steam, your easy assembly recipes come last. These are the no cook, dump in the bag type recipes. They will help you finish strong! If you desire a quicker, easier cooking day, feel free to choose even more.