Motherhood has taught me many things but one of the most essential skills it has taught me is the art of batch cooking. Prior to having children, I enjoyed taking the time to make fresh meals from scratch every day and savored the luxury of a varied menu throughout the weeks. Of course now there is just not enough time or energy in a day to play gourmet. Thankfully I have learned a few helpful tricks along the way to keep our family fed, healthy, and happy.
For us, leftovers are a saving grace. We don’t mind eating the same thing two days in a row because well, we are just happy to have a quick meal ready. Batch cooking has been my best friend lately. It saves us money as we are not ordering takeout on those rushed days where hanger and lack of time are winning. It has graced us with more family time and less cooking and cleaning up. And lastly, double or triple batching has been a great way to prepare some post-partum freezer meals.
The way I approached my freezer meal prep this pregnancy compared to my last was way more efficient and relaxed. This led to a much more successful outcome that I would love to share with any other expecting parents (or anyone in general interested in stocking up that freezer).
Avoid that all day cooking marathon.
During my first pregnancy, I dedicated a few whole days to cooking freezer meals. The issue with this is that this food prep is best done during the third trimester. This is to ensure our freezer staples do not expire before we actually use them all up. And a woman in her third trimester is often suffering with aches, pains, and strains due to carrying the extra weight that is by now, overly exhausting. A full day cook-a-thon is lot for the average person to push through, never mind a swollen, tired, and achy mama. It is definitely nice to have completed all that work in a day but honestly, it is not worth the pain and may even put us off from doing it all over again. My advice is to gradually build up that freezer. A gradual approach kept me from burning out like I did after those day long cooking marathons I pursued with my first pregnancy. I found that by the time I was done and ready to freeze my meals, we ended up eating half of them because I was too exhausted to then prepare more food for the present time. Needless to say, my freezer stock diminished very quickly.
Keep it simple.
There are many tutorials out there that are heavily organized and detailed. Meal plans, grocery lists, and there are even columns to mark down duties to be done in advance. They are admirable and can be extremely helpful but also overwhelming. Let me assure you, this way is not the only way. Simply pick one or two snacks or meals that you already plan to make for the week and double up. The mess is already being made. The ingredients are already being prepared so why not put the extra time in now .Save one batch to be enjoyed immediately and freeze the extra batch. This approach was less stressful, less physically demanding, and much easier to accomplish.
Storing and labeling your food.
It is important to know that anything cooked or baked in advance needs to come to a complete cool before freezing them. Storing something hot or warm will result in a build-up of moisture and will lead to freezer burn. Let the food sit and cool all day, even overnight if need be and then proceed to freezing. If storing liquids such as soups or marinara sauces in glass, leave some head room. Once the food freezes it can expand and if there is not enough room for that expansion, we may end up with a busted jar /container. However we go about storing our freezer meals, we must always be sure to mark them with the important details. Mark down the date the food was prepared, the date it should be used by (most things are good for 3 months), and any cooking or thawing instructions. I made quite a few crockpot recipes so I was always sure to mark down how many hours the meal should be cooked for and on low or high. I also marked down easy ways I could enjoy the recipes (like in a sandwich, served with rice, etc.).
Don’t forget about snacks.
Meals are essential and definitely harder to prepare than snacks are. However, having some prepared snacks will also be a saving grace. Most new moms tend to graze all throughout the day since they find it is all they have time for. Those with other children at home will also greatly benefit from this. Preparing hearty and nourishing snacks like energy balls, for example, will give the whole family the fuel they will need to survive the day.
Keep a list.
In order to keep track of everything we have to use up, keep a list. We can organize it by marking down how many batches we have of each recipe. This will make it easy to decide what to thaw and prepare for the following day. Crossing off used items is also a great way to keep this list updated and accurate. We put so much work into this stock; we do not want to forget about it!
I hope you find these tips helpful. I decided to focus on advice rather than freezer friendly recipes as there are endless amount of recipe posts but not enough addressing the actual preparation process. As I mentioned above, I did make a lot of slow cooker meals this time and most of those recipes were found on Pinterest as I am far from a crockpot guru. I rarely use mine but really wanted some dump and go meals to have on hand. For the slow cooker I made various shredded chicken recipes and a lentil stew. I also made some meatballs, some lentil marinara sauce, and a butternut squash soup. I baked two different kinds of muffins, some pancakes, energy balls, and no sugar added cookies. Casseroles are also great options as well as lasagnas, chilies, and stir fry dishes. I ended up with a great freezer stock for after baby comes and it was much more manageable and successful this time around.