Monday, February 20, 2012
I was talking recently to someone about how I've arranged meals after my babies, and I thought it deserved a blog post of its own. This is the tactic I took after babies 2 and 3, and it worked well for us. With number 1, I was a hungry, crying mess. I knew something had to change the next time, and so it did. The next two times, we were all well fed, and while there might have been tears, at least we weren't hungry!
First, I figured out my main goals for feeding my family. Mine is that I want to serve healthy foods, on a budget, that taste good. The budget thing is number one, unfortunately. But, staying on a budget in this area is what makes everything else run smoothly, so ultimately, it's worth it. If I'm being honest, I'll say that I'd love to throw caution to the wind, get take out for every meal, and spend $2000 on food that first month. Ahem.
When I'm newly postpartum, healthy is relative. There is not time to hand grind wheat. Nor do I cook every single thing from scratch every single meal. But I don't want to eat or serve poptarts every day, either, so there is a balance.
Also, I love stuff that tastes good and has a nice variety. I'm willing to sacrifice some of this for easy when I have a new baby, but it's still nice to have.
I use my freezer a lot to prepare for a new baby. I have complete meals, parts of meals, and meal-starters in there. Now, here's the deal. I don't love, love, love frozen food. I don't think to myself, "oh, boy! It's been in the freezer a month--let me at it!" I don't do once a month cooking (but do keep one casserole/soup in the freezer most of the time). But when it comes to cooking fresh with a 2 week old baby or eating freezer food, well, the freezer food wins out. Almost every time.
So, all that said, I started out with a list of things we already ate that I thought would freeze well. Suppers mostly, but also breakfasts and lunches for that first and second week home. I started looking at sales, and when a major part of the meals I wanted went on sale, then I bought it and stockpiled it. Around 35ish weeks, I took stock of what I had, then I'd make 3-5 meals at a time and freeze them. I did this a couple of times a week, as the urge and energy hit. When I was close to 40 weeks, I had about 30 meals in the freezer.
With baby 3, we were blessed with several meals from friends. What a treat and blessing!! So, between those meals and the stuff in the freezer, I didn't really have to cook for about 6 weeks. It was wonderful. Really, really wonderful. I highly recommend doing some cooking ahead while pregnant so that you can spare yourself from the 5:00 rush those first few weeks.
A couple of my friends used to get together to do massive bulk once a month freezer sessions with 4 of them. They got a variety of food, plus they didn't cook it all. Win/win. They shared some of their freezing tips. Freeze any food possible in ziplocs. Then, lay on a cookie sheet in the freezer until hard. It'll make a flat package that can be stacked, stood upright, and takes up much less space.
Also, for things that are in individual pieces (chicken nuggets, etc), place them on a cookie sheet in the freezer, freeze until solid, then store in a ziploc. It means you can take out however many you need without having to thaw the whole shebang.
Things that we liked frozen:
gumbo (I add a can of tomatoes)
Italian wedding soup
chicken noodle soup (add the noodles when reheating)
chicken and dumplings (add the dumplings when reheating)
ground beef vegetable soup
vegetable soup with ham and okra
sloppy joe sauce
turkey tettrazini (no peas!)
mashed potatoes (made on the stiff side; frozen in ice cream scoop blobs)
cheese sauce for macaroni and cheese (make the noodles fresh)
white chicken chili
chicken wings (my husband loves this!)--just reheat in the oven, and they are as good as fresh
meatloaf (frozen raw)
pinto beans (for tacos or for eating with rice)
red beans (just make the rice fresh)
black beans (seeing a pattern?)
The one thing I really hate frozen is rice. The texture is off. And it's easy enough to make a pot of rice that I don't worry about that one.
For breakfasts: muffins (these freeze really well and just thaw on the counter in about 15 minutes), pancakes, waffles, french toast
For lunches: this is a time I splurge on lunch meat. Also, the muffins, some sort of fruit (even in a can), and I freeze ahead some quesadillas. I know, I know. Quesadillas are dead easy. But, they are even easier if they are already made! I even did some individual pizzas on english muffins. Same deal--easy enough, but even easier premade. I also did some individual servings of soup. Perfect for those days when you need something heartier for lunch, but your kids are happy with peanut butter. Again.
Freezing food ahead is a bit of work, but it's work that really, really pays off on the back side. Definitely worth every minute!