There is one topic that most people I met recently have been bragging about: the price increases in almost everything. Regardless of your income, there is no doubt that prices have become ridiculous and the high price tags created a financial restrain on most families. There are different ways to cut costs. One of them is bulk cooking. It is very cost-effective because it reduces waste significantly, makes the most of your ingredients and saves your precious time. If you will cook in bulk, you will also buy in bulk, which typically reduces unit costs on most ingredients. Basically, your freezer can be your new best friend. That’s why I interviewed 5 Super-Mommies who revealed their tips and different approaches to bulk cooking.
Super Mom 1:
How do you prepare for bulk cooking?
Planning ahead is essential so you only buy the necessary items. Start by making a meal plan that consists of 7 meals that you will repeat weekly throughout the month. I usually take the first week and prepare dinner each night but prepare enough for 4 meals, and freeze the 3 portions that are left over. It’s a hectic week, but the rest of the month is smooth sailing.
I have dinner themes that I rotate through, here they are:
Italian (spaghetti bolognese, pizza, balsamic chicken)/ American/ Asian/ Loaded Baked Potato/
Middle Eastern/ Mediterranean/ Curry (Indian/Thai)/ Mexican. My meals usually include a mix of proteins, carbohydrates or grains . I freeze each item separately to have the freedom to mix and match items if I want to.
Take “Asian” for example. I will make a big batch of the sauce and freeze it in portions. If I have meat, I will cook it with the meat. But if I only have beans and vegetables, I will mix it with the vegetables that will be different every time depending on what I have in my fridge.
Let’s take curry for example. The elements of a curry are the curry base (tomatoes, onions, garlic, ginger, spices), liquid (milk/broth/water), protein (chicken/beef/beans), and vegetables (your choice: spinach, carrots, potatoes, peppers, zucchini). I make a big batch of the curry base and freeze it in portions that are enough for 1 dinner for my family. I also cook dry beans from scratch and freeze them in portions. These two things (curry base and beans) take a long time to cook, so having them in the freezer ready to eat makes preparing dinner very quick. So, when it’s time to make curry, I have the freedom to choose what I want to add to the base: If I have chicken, I can add chicken. If I want beans, I can choose to add chickpeas, lentils, etc. Add to the base whatever liquid and vegetables I want (fresh or frozen), let it all simmer until meat/bean/vegetables are done, cook the rice/potatoes while the curry cooks, and dinner is done. Of course you can go ahead and make one big batch with everything included (curry base, liquid, meat, beans, vegetables) so that when it is time for dinner, all you have to do it heat it up and cook some rice. The first method is less work in the beginning, the second method is less work in the end…it just depends on your lifestyle and your preference.
What are the items that make bulk cooking and freezing easier for you?
Storage bags: refrigerator bags are cheaper but “ziploc” bags are better because they lay flat and you can stack them easily in the freezer and they save space.
Foil pans for casserole-type dishes or baked dishes.
Labels: Make sure you label everything: what the item is, the portion size, the date is prepared, the date it was frozen (if you are like me and don’t get around to freezing it the same day you make it, that way if you have leftovers, you will know if you can or can’t keep it too long in the fridge).
How to prepare the biggest amount of meals in the shortest period of time possible?
Choose “one-pot” meals – meals where you can cook most components of the meal in one pot – it is simpler. That way all you have to do is heat up one pot of food and prepare the starch (rice, bread, pasta, etc.) and dinner is ready. Cook as much food as you can at one time, especially vegetables since I find they take the most hands-on time. It really only take a little extra time to chop extra vegetables but no extra time to cook them all together, so the more food you cook at one time, the more time you are saving. Roasted vegetables: I love to roast a large batch of vegetables (zucchini, eggplant, green beans, carrots, cabbage) since I can fit a lot of food on one tray and cook them all at one time. Also with roasting, unlike sautéing, you don’t have to constantly stir the food.
Preparing Food From Scratch
Super Mom 2:
When you buy vegetables in bulk, how do you prepare them before freezing them?
Blanching is the cooking process in which the vegetables are scalded in boiling water, removed after a brief time and plunged into cold or iced water to halt the cooking process. Let’s take the Okra as an example: I clean it and blanch it and I add a squeeze of a lemon to the boiling water. I drain it when its color is still bright green and transfer it immediately to a bowl of cool water with ice cubes to stop the cooking process. Afterwards, I divide the amount I cooked into portions enough for us to eat for one meal and place each portion in a plastic bag. I cook the green beans through the same process after cleaning them and cutting them. I also prepare the Colocasia in advance. I buy the whole vegetable, cut it into cubes and wash it thoroughly. Then I soak it in hot water with lemon juice for 10 minutes, then rewash it with cold water and place it in freezer bags. When I prepare the spinach, I just wash it along with some fresh dill and coriander, then chop them and place them in freezer bags. I don’t put them in hot water like the rest of the vegetables. I mince the Molokheya in the chopper and I divide it into small daily portions. I pour over it two tablespoons of broth and freeze it. I always keep chopped onions in the freezer. Grains like chickpeas and lentils thaw well. I never freeze zucchini because it becomes mushy.
What about proteins, how do you prepare them in advance?
I love fish. I get fresh fish from the fish market and I ask the seller to clean it thoroughly . If I want it ‘Singari’ I ask him to cut it open to facilitate its cooking. I wash the fish very well, drain it and marinade it with garlic, green peppers, a little salt and fish seasoning and then freeze it. For the ‘Singari’, I just put a mix of vegetables and herbs in the chopper and stuff them into the fish and place them in the oven. Otherwise, fish can be breaded and fried.
When it comes to meat, once it is thawed it cannot be refrozen. I marinade fresh meat with the juice of onions, salt and pepper. Meat and chicken can be breaded and frozen. For breaded chicken, I marinate it overnight in a mixture of yogurt, salt, pepper, thyme, rosemary, curry, turmeric, onions, green peppers, chili powder and olive oil. I blend this mixture in the chopper and leave the chicken to soak in it overnight in the fridge. On the following day, I dip them in eggs then breadcrumbs with flour. I place them in plates, and wrap them in plastic film and freeze them. I use the same marinade for Shish Tawook, I just I add tomatoes and paprika.
Cooking Baby Food in Bulk
Super Mom 3:
How did bulk cooking help you in preparing baby food?
I first tried cooking fresh meals daily, then I gave up. I started to cook in bulk and freeze. I figured out some tricks that helped me to survive until my twins turned 1 year old. The ice cube trick was the best of all, as it allowed me to create so many combinations with healthy vegetables and fruits. I bought a couple of silicone ice cube trays with lids, I tried to get the ones with the biggest cubes and also got smaller ones to be able to have different quantity of each kind.
For example, I would make a tray of mashed carrot, another one of mashed courgette, and a third tray of mashed broccoli and freeze them. Every day I would choose two cubes of any combination. I did the same with fruits. You can mash any kind of fruits and put each kind separately, except for bananas. They should be fresh. I made combinations like: a cube of mashed apples, with a cube of mashed carrots and a hint of cinnamon. You can do the same with mashed rice and mix it with any frozen fruit or vegetable. The water used to cook the fruits or vegetables should be used because it has many nutrients. You can also use it to boil some pasta or cook some rice.
If you dont have space for many trays in your freezer. You can simply buy a couple of them, and freeze the mashed food for 30 min to 1 hr, then put the cubes in a zip bags, and label the zip bag with the type of food and date.
What are your favorite tools?
Large premium quality non_stickpots. A hand masher. Ice cube silicone trays with lids. A steam pot will help to steam different kind of fruits in the same time or different kind of vegetables in the same time
How about when the babies grew a bit older?
I also used this mix of baby food to make rolls. I would get a toast, remove its edges and flatten it with a roller. Then I put the mixture of apple/carrot/peach inside the flattened toast, roll it and put it in the oven for a short period to make it a little crispy. It’s perfect to be held by their tiny hands and works well to ease teething pain.
Anything that worked well for both adults and toddlers?
I was using a lot of minced meat that I cooked in bulk with onions salt paper and froze it in small portions.
Baby food is simply a thick soup! The mixture of vegetables can be a soup as well if u increase the amount of chicken broth or milk depending on the kind of soup and add some salt.
Preparing Cooking Elements In Advance.
Super Mom 4:
How do you prepare the ingredients that will later facilitate cooking the cooking process? I stock two kinds of foods in the freezer: Ready to heat meals and ingredients that facilitate meal preparations.
Examples of freezable meals:
– Sauces: pesto, marinara, bolognese, coconut curry, butter chicken sauce
– Vegetables: molokheya, peas in sauce, steamed broccoli, sautéed mushrooms, steamed carrots, corn.
– Soups: chicken, tomato.
– Casseroles: Lasagne, pasta with bechamel, negresco, lessan asfour with meat sauce.
– Stuffed vine leaves, Cooked meatballs, Cooked chicken, Cooked roast beef and turkey slices.
Examples of freezable ingredients:
– Fresh herbs: parsley, dill, basil leaves etc, mahshy mix (to be used in cooking not as fresh because they become watery) / Celery / Garlic cloves / Nuts (so they don’t go randid) / Cooked ground beef / Mozzarella that I buy whole and shred using the food processor.
I usually freeze stuff like soups and sauces flat in ziploc style bags, after they cool down in one or two person portions. Roast beef and turkey thaw well and can be make into sandwiches
How do you save money when you are shopping for groceries? Saving money on groceries has become tricky. Make a list before you go to the supermarket. Check expiration dates before you buy things on offer. Cheaper isn’t always better. It’s ok to pay more for things like premium toilet paper because the economy version is of horrible quality and actually ends up finishing quickly. Introduce meatless mondays to your family. We’ve been raised that meat is an integral part of our daily meals but it’s time to change that notion, both for health and financial reasons.
Give us an example of one week’s freezer meals.
Sunday: Heat marinara sauce and once hot add frozen meatballs. Boil pasta and voila a whole meal without cooking.
Monday: Defrost molokheya without boiling it, add shredded cooked chicken and just make rice.
Tuesday: Bake frozen lasagna and make a salad.
Wednesday: Heat frozen bolognese on the stove (add a little bit of boiling water to it) and just boil spaghetti.
Thursday: Heat through curry sauce and once hot add frozen sliced cooked chicken. Just make fresh basmati rice to go with it.
Friday: Grill thawed frozen homemade burgers and just buy fresh bread and fry some potatoes.
Saturday: Thaw frozen pizza dough and marinara to make homemade pizza.
Buying in Season
Super Mom 5 :
What do you buy in season and how do you freeze them?
I try my best to buy the food in season and save the produce. I buy the a large quantity of Egyptian garlic when its season arrives, peel it and mince in the the chopper. I divide the quantity in zip-lock bags, lay it flat and make sure to get all the air out to keep it fresh. I keep it the freezer for a long time. Whenever I need garlic, I take from it and squeeze the air out again. I also get peas in season and freeze them. I would buy loads of tomatoes, to make tomato sauce. I would put a large quantity in the blender, and put in slow cooker for 24 hours. This way I have home-made tomato sauce, just like the ones you buy in jars but home made. I keep them in the freezer for whenever I need. Molokheya is also one of the things I like to store in large quantities. I buy it fresh and chop it and freeze in smaller portions with few spoons of broth.
I also get fresh spinach in season and store it for smoothies. To prepare a smoothie, I put 1 cup of spinach, one cup of fruits, that can include frozen berries and bananas, and 1 cup of liquid which can be almond milk, coconut water or just liquid. I prepare a large number of zip-lock bags of the ingredients without the liquid and store them flat in the freezer. So in the morning I would just get out one bag that has the greens and the fruits just add the liquid and blend them into a fresh smoothie. I can add some chia seeds and honey to make it healthier.
What are your favorite freezable recipes?
A lot! You can basically freeze most foods. I freeze crepe, French toast , cup cakes and carrot cakes for the children. Casseroles like broccoli or zucchini with bechamel. So I just take them out of the freezer in the morning and place them in the oven before we eat. You can freeze ‘ma7shi’. Do the rice mix, stuff the vegetables and freeze them. Then when you want to cook them, just grab them out of the freezer along with a bag of broth and another one of home-make tomato sauce, thaw them and cook them together. I always have broth in the freezer, after we boil chicken, I keep the bones on the side, and toss them in the slow-cooker with water to make bone-broth.
Armed with the experience of these super moms, these interviews were conducted to help teach us about planning, preparing, cooking, and freezing meals ahead.