Stephanie Cornais found a cooking method that saved time and money, but it left her exhausted.
Stephanie, who blogs about parenthood and healthy living at Mama and Baby Love, would cook a month's worth of meals in one day, then store them in the freezer.
It's an idea that's been around for awhile. In fact, J.D. wrote about it back in 2007. By batch cooking, not only do you have healthy, home-cooked meals when dinner time rolls around, but you also can save money by buying in bulk and not relying on convenience foods.
“I buy my beef and chicken straight from a local farmer, and buying beef in bulk saves me a good amount money,” says Stephanie. “And I save money by always having my freezer full of food and never having to rely on take out, fast food, or processed frozen foods from the grocery store.”
Once-a-month cooking is a lot of work!
Stephanie was saving money and had a freezer-full of home-cooked meals, but once-a-month cooking was problematic.
For one thing, Stephanie experienced a lot of anxiety leading up to the big cooking day. “I was still learning how to cook, I was afraid of messing up, and I was afraid of feeling the emotions that came up in the kitchen,” she says. “My mother suffers from mental illness and being in the kitchen brought up a lot of painful memories of not having a mother who really took care of me and nourished me.”
Also, the cooking marathons were physically exhausting. A once-a-month cooking session requires a lot of planning. “Between the juggling of cooking and childcare, the prep work, organization, and scheduling, it can be overwhelming,” she says.
And don't forget, you're doing a month's worth of cooking in one day. “I would be making a bunch of all kinds of different meals (fajitas, meatloaf, casseroles, etc.) that all required chopping, assembling, cooking on the stovetop or oven, and then freezing,” she says. “So I would be in the kitchen all day long and have a huge variety of dinners to freeze.” Then there's the cleanup and scrubbing of pans. No wonder it took more than 12 hours, even with a friend helping out. “My feet would kill me!” says Stephanie.
Make once-a-month cooking a snap with a slow cooker
About six years ago, Stephanie bought a slow cooker.
“No one taught me how to cook growing up, so I had to teach myself,” she says. “The slow cooker was the perfect beginning point. I never messed up anything in the slow cooker, it gave me confidence to try other things. I could just chop and dump and run the hell out of the kitchen.”
So after experiencing the drawbacks to once-a-month cooking, Stephanie tried a new method using her slow cooker. “Basically, all I was did was chop vegetables and assemble ingredients,” says Stephanie. “I just dumped the veggies into the gallon-sized Ziploc bags, then added the meat, then added the spices.”
She still enjoyed the money-saving benefits of once-a-month cooking, and because she was using her foolproof slow cooker, she had a lot less anxiety leading up to cooking day.
The new method also saved her a lot of time. “Now it takes about two hours,” she says. “Before there was lots of time spent coordinating grocery shopping and tasks, but now I probably spend about 15 minutes getting my grocery list ready. I simply chop and assemble, then immediately freeze. This way cuts the cooking down by 75%, but it's only slow cooker meals.”
In fact, Stephanie got so efficient with this process that she wrote an ecookbook to show others how to do the same. “I group my recipes by three and include grocery lists in the beginning of the book,” she says.
“If you are making a fresh, made from scratch meal every night, this will blow your mind,” says Stephanie. “It will save so much time.”
How to make a freezer-to-crockpot meal
To see how freezer-to-crockpot meals work, check out Stephanie's recipe for orange-beef stew.
Each bag makes about 6-8 servings.
- 3 to 4 pounds of chuck roast (or any other kind of roast)
- 2 cups of beef broth
- 2 cups of orange juice
- 1 tablespoon of rapadura sugar
- 2 tablespoons of soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons of arrowroot powder/flour
- 2 tablespoons of minced garlic
- 1 bunch of scallions
- 2 sweet potatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes ( I scrub them good, but leave the skins on)
- salt and pepper to taste
1. Label 1 one-gallon freezer bag.
2. Chop sweet potatoes and scallions, then add to freezer bag.
3. Add sugar, arrowroot flour, soy sauce, garlic and orange juice.
4. Mix well, then lay bag flat and place in freezer.
5. Day of cooking, add contents of freezer bag, roast, 2 cups of beef broth, salt, and pepper to slow cooker. Cook on low for 8 hours or high for 4 hours.
6. Serve with fresh salad and sourdough bread, if you have it.
Of course, this once-a-month method isn't for everyone. “Some people don't like to have slow cooker meals for most of the week,” she says. “So the other [once-a-month cooking method] is perfect for a wider variety of meals. But for me, this was a way to make a month's worth of meals that were actually healthy in just two hours. I don't use canned condensed soup or processed ingredients, so even though I am just chopping, assembling, and dumping into my slow cooker, I can say I made dinner from scratch!”
And even Stephanie doesn't eat crockpot meals every day. “I usually make one dinner a week fresh, based on what's in season and inspires me,” she says. “Then we usually go out to eat once a week, too.”
Personally, I could see myself having a few of these frozen meals in the freezer, just for those days when I don't feel like cooking. But what do you think? Is this something you would try?