I usually spend an hour or two a day getting our dinners together. I’m lucky in that really do enjoy cooking, but making dinner just comes at a bad time. The kids are winding down their day. They are hungry and tired and Sofia wants snacks that I won’t let her have because she won’t eat her dinner – no matter how hard she promises. (Ask me how I know, and how many times it took me til I learned). Then she’s grumpy and misbehaving, which makes me grump too. Lilu is whining and pulling on my legs and not letting me move around the kitchen, or she’s riding in the mei tai pulling at my hair and throwing herself backwards in protest. Frustration inevitably mounts, and by the time dinner is ready and on the table and Daddy is home, we are all yelling at each other.
Poor dude. That’s no way to cap off a day at the office.
He’s been nagging me to relax a little and make easier suppers for us all. The problem is me. 1) I don’t like simple meals, 2) if I don’t cook something different each time I get bored, and 3) if I use processed foods I feel like I didn’t do my job (and like I’m not caring for my family). But a “good family sit-down dinner” isn’t very good if everyone’s mad and exhausted, right?
So I’ve resolved to use my slow-cooker more. I can throw everything in there in the morning while everyone is still happy and energetic. Then I cover it and magically dinner is ready in the evening – all I have to do is a side dish. I’m relaxed, I can give more time to my kids and more smiles to everyone - win-win.
Another technique that’s always interested me is that of making lots of meals at once, freezing them and taking them out one by one. I know people who are organized to make a whole month’s worth of meals that way! (NOT ME.) But the idea sounds so attractive. A day of chopping and you don’t have to work for weeks.
Well, I stumbled across a hybrid of those two ideas: freezer-crockpot cooking at the super-fun Kojo Designs blog. Kirstin, the author, put together ten crockpot meals in freezer bags, to be able to throw into the crockpot literally on the way out the door in the morning. Brilliant. If she could do it, I could do it. Ten bags, I could handle. Plus, the recipes were all chicken-based and mostly paleoish – perfect!
I just put my faith in Kirstin and started my assembly line. I even threw a different meal – chile verde – into the crock pot for tomorrow’s dinner while I was at it, so all we have to do in the morning is take it out of the fridge and press “start”.
The biggest expense was the two giant ten-pound-plus packs of chicken – one breasts, one thighs – from Costco. I also splurged and got pre-chopped butternuts; they weren’t much more expensive than whole squash, and it saved me a tremendous amount of time. Even so, all 11 meals & sides fit neatly inside our weekly grocery budget.
I even got lazy about chopping my meat. Kirstin chopped hers; but my thighs were skin-on-bone-in and I just left them whole. Once they’re cooked they’ll fall off the bone anyway. I chopped the breasts in a couple of the dishes, but in the more tex-mex style ones I left them whole, to be shredded later, which I actually prefer.
I don’t know why I haven’t done this kind of thing before. I started working at 5:30 and had everything bagged, put away, and the kitchen cleaned & sanitized by 8pm. (I was supposed to have done it this afternoon during Lilu’s nap but… I fell asleep).
Two and a half hours, for that many meals? I count that an evening well spent. I am ridiculously delighted with the thought of all those nights off!
Kristin has a second freezer-crockpot post at her site, this time for 14 meals. I didn’t try it first only because it didn’t have a consolidated grocery list attached (yes, I am THAT lazy), but you can be sure that I will be trying it out as soon as these meals are all used up. Thanks, Kristin!