Pre-Assembling Meals

Another great guest post today, this time from Crystal of Crystal & Co. where she blogs about a wide variety of topics including life with FIVE boys.  I sure do love her fun blog header.  Welcome Crystal, thanks for sharing with us today!

As a mom of five boys my life gets a little crazy.

Okay, that is understatement.

My life gets a little overwhelming, which is why meal planning is key at my house. Otherwise, the clock strikes 6:00 pm and my hungry children are staring at me hoping that a sandwich is not what’s for dinner.

You can see some of my meal plans here. To help make meal planning as seamless as possible I’ve been known to do some pre-assembling in advance.  With some metal disposable pans, some Ziplock baggies  a marker, and a little bit of time meal time can really be simplified.

For a recipe like Sunday Chicken Dinner in the Slow Cooker, from one of my favorite recipe fetching sites, I just take all of the ingredients and place them in a Ziplock bag. Then, when I am ready to cook this meal, all I have to do is defrost (if need be) and literally plop it in the crockpot.  (Did I mention I am all about slow cooking?!)

Not all of the meals require multiple Ziplock bags. This one has a lot of veggies, so they took up a bag of their own. But you get the idea.

For a casserole I use a disposable metal pan. Sometimes I precook the meat on the stove, like I did for this Tator Tot Casserole.  Then, I layer the rest of the uncooked ingredients, cover with foil, label with a marker and then freeze until I am ready to bake it.

During a busy school week, these are the things that take the guess work out of dinner for me! It really keeps us at the table and away from the drive–thru line.

Do the same thing with your veggies-  I like to buy frozen. I toss them in a zippy bag, add salt and pepper, a pat of butter and a spoonful of minced garlic. Toss the Ziplock bag back in the freezer. Then when you are ready to use them all you have to do is put them in a saucepan with water and boil until the water evaporates. Simple solution to a great side that will go with just about any dinner!

I also keep assorted frozen breads and rolls on hand. Partner this with your pre-assembled dinner and veggie and suddenly dinner is done and life is simplified!

This idea would also make a great gift idea when someone is having a baby, getting married or even in a time of a family tragedy. Simply prepare a list of the meals with cooking instructions as well as the veggie and bread recommendations and any family is good to go.

Crystal is the author of Crystal & Co. where she share her mommy struggles, tips on raising twins and her search for simplicity while raising a basketball team.

Filed under: Guest Bloggers, Menu Plan Monday

Comments

37 Responses to Pre-Assembling Meals

    • 1.1
      Crystal & Co says

      The gift idea rocks. Anyone having a new baby would love it. Life is so crazy those first few weeks!

  1. 2
    Heidi Kuzniak says

    Ok, this might have just changed my life! I LOVE crock pot cooking but hate all the cutting up veggies etc, but the idea of doing it ALL at once and freezing it never occured to me. Thank you SO much for the idea!!

    • 2.1
      Crystal & Co says

      Frozen veggies are perfect and then you do not have to chop them. In the Tator Tot Cass there is a layer of frozen mixed veggies in between the layer of hambuger meat and the layer of tots.

    • 3.1
      Crystal & Co says

      Oh my goodness!! What an amazing site and an amazing cookbook! Thank you so much for sharing this.

      And the ladies who developed that cookbook are correct- it really is a cooking concept. Just change your way of thinking and before you know it dinner time is no longer a struggle!

      Awesome, LaDonna!

  2. 4
    Kaz Fogo says

    Love this idea – I’ve just last night packed up the boys’ lunches into ziplock bags for the week and put their sandwiches in the freezer for the first time. Means I’m actually organised for school lunches for the first time .
    I have my meat order to bag up today so will be doing some cooking and freezing first.

    • 4.1
      Crystal & Co says

      I’ve wondered about freezing lunches…. but never have done it. Does the bread get soggy when it thaws?

      • Sue says

        We’ve been doing this for years. My boys tell me that the bread is fine and the frozen part helps keep their lunch cold for the day – no need for a freeze pack. We freeze everything – if it needs heated then we pop it in the microwave when we get around in the morning. Try it – it’s a life saver!

        • Karen says

          We freeze bread all the time. It helps makes sure we always have some in the house as I buy a few loaves at a time. I always make their sandwiches with frozen bread of a morning anyway. I tend to only put vegemite , cheese spread or Nutella on them, and occasionally devon. Ham doesn’t freeze too well. In the height of summer here I do still send a feezer brick in the lunch box, though no need at the moment ( we’ve just hit Spring).

  3. 5
    Tiffany says

    Thanks for linking to my Sunday Chicken Dinner post. Crystal, someone popped over and asked how you keep the potatoes from turning brown. Do they hold their color if you freeze them quickly?

    • 5.1
      Crystal & Co says

      Hey Tiffany. You’re so welcome. I love your site and get so many of my recipes for my weekly meal plans from you! Love it!

      The potatoes… they did brown when I used the fresh potatoes. And after being frozen they did get mushy and so did the carrotts. But, there is a super simple fix. Buy them already frozen. I have no idea what they do at the plant when they freeze them or prepare them for freezing, but they hold up in a crockpot!

  4. 6
    Nyky says

    What a GREAT idea! I really need a “mental kitchen makeover” if you will to get myself better prepared to pre-assemble my meals. Great idea! Are there any helpful books about types of food you can freeze and can’t freeze?

    • 6.1
      Crystal & Co says

      Nyke- just about any food can be pre assembled and frozen. Just use your judgement and play around with it.

      Most casseroles you will want to precook the meat before freezing it and assembling it.

      If you want to make BBQ Sandwiches then place a roast and the BBQ sauce in the ziplock and freeze. Then, all of that can be placed in the crockpot once thawed. When it is done cooking shred the roast with a fork and mix well with the sauce still in the crockpot. Put on hamburger buns and you’ve got BBQ sandwiches.

      Chicken is easy and versatile too! Wanna make Italian Chicken? Freeze chicken breasts smothered in your favorite spaghetti sauce. When you’re ready to cook, defrost and toss it in the crock. Boil your noodles of choice on the stove. Plate it up with a chicken breast and sauce over the noodles and sprinkle with mozz or parm cheese.

      Freeze in a bag the contents of one bottle of Italian dressing and 4-6 chicken breasts. When ready to cookdefrost and then you can grill, crockpot or cook in the oven.

      You’ll get the idea once you start playing with it. It is a lot of fun!

      Having all of this in the freezer makes figuring out what is for dinner so simple.

      Good luck!

  5. 8
    Kari says

    I love reading about how other people prepare freezer meals. I am part of a meal group at my church that I founded and we try to prepare meals about every other month or so. I have recipes listed too!
    http://salemmealswappers.wordpress.com/

    • 8.1
      Crystal & Co says

      Kari-

      What a great idea… a meal group at church.

      The Taco Pie looks awesome. That might be on my meal plan real soon!

      • Kari says

        We just made it last month. The topping seemed a little thin, so the gal that was making it added more baking mix. It turned out great and the family loved it. Luckily I don’t have a picky family, so they are willing to try out freezing and heating meals for my experimentation.
        We get together and make 4 recipes and we pair up and make the number of ordered meals. Last month we had 45 meals made by 6 people.

  6. 9
    Kim says

    Pre-assembling crockpot dinners? I never thought of that! Weekends are our crockpot days…especially Sundays. When the hubby is home I like to spend as little time in the kitchen as possible. That’s why I crockpot. If I pre-assemble my weekend meals on Monday’s shopping day, I will be ahead of the game.
    Going to get the recipe for Sunday Chicken Dinner in the Slow Cooker now! That will be my first pre-assembled meal. :)

    • 9.1
      Crystal & Co says

      Awesome Kim!

      Make sure you use already frozen potatoes and carrots from the freezer section at the grocery store. They cook best in the crock.

  7. 10
    Jaci says

    LOVE it!! I’m conforming, truly I am :) I pre assembled last Sunday and my weekly stress was taken down a couple of notches! Crystal & Co is my starting point for recipes and tips of all kinds. Who knows, maybe I’ll get Organized too!

  8. 11
    Erin says

    Wow, I think you just changed my life!!! I think the idea of seasoning your frozen vegetables and throwing them back in the freezer is brilliant!!!

    • 11.1
      Crystal & Co says

      Erin- these things all together- preassembled meals, veggies and having bread on hand (frozen or fresh) is really such a key element in getting my kids fed a hot dinner every night.

      Let me know how it works for you!

  9. 12
    Daffodil Lane says

    Great post, and great timing for getting back into the fall groove. I saw your bread, and thought I’d mention another option… Costco has 5 pack par-baked sourdough loaves right in the usual bread section (not frozen). I can’t remember the price, but they are pretty inexpensive. I always keep a package in the freezer. To bake – just thaw for about 2-3 minutes, then cook just as the package says, (8-10 mins. or so?). Delicious fresh made sourdough tasting. :) The brand is Seattle International Baking Company Sourdough Sticks.
    Happy Fall!

    • 12.1
      Crystal & Co says

      Thanks Daffodil!

      I am not in Sams very often, but I will have to look for that. I love sandwiches on sliced sourdough bread! :-)

  10. 13
    Sara M. says

    I love the idea, but I’d really like to see posts that exhibit environmental consciousness, it is very easy to replace the ziplocs and throw away foil pans with reusable containers. We need to start somewhere and demonstrate good practices to our children. There seems to be a big disconnect between ease and responsibility; oil = plastic.

    • 13.1
      Jess @ Mouse Nibbles says

      I have to agree with you. I think this is a fantastic idea but I would prefer to see reusable containers used. I will try it out in my own kitchen! I would also suggest that you use a steamer insert for the veggies instead of boiling them. You can boil the nutrients right out of the veggies but steaming them keeps the nutrients intact. Great post!

    • 13.2
      Crystal & Co says

      Great input Sara. Reusable products will certainly get the job done! Best of luck!

      • Kari says

        For my meal group at church we use Glad Bakeware, available by the baggies. You can wash and reuse for several times before discarding. They hold up better than the aluminum ones. I just don’t have enough glass ones on hand!

    • 13.3
      Blair says

      I was thinking the same thing! I do get a fair amount of use out of a small number of ziplock bags since I use them truly sparingly now. I think that Pyrex would work find instead of the disposable aluminum ones, and if you have enough space to store several then you can get them for practically pennies at GoodWill and they last forever.

  11. 14
    More Than A Mom says

    Fabulous idea. And I agree … I’m all about the crock pot, too!

    • 14.1
      Crystal & Co says

      More Than a Mom- the crockpot and I… we get along so very well! :-)

  12. 15
    savingfortravel says

    I’ve never thought of pre-assembling meals before, I usually do a bulk cooking day on a saturday and sunday and freeze everything.

    It sounds like a good idea though!

    • 15.1
      Crystal & Co says

      Bulk cooking rocks, too! Thanks for reading.

  13. 16
    Elizabeth says

    I love this idea! I have heard of people doing this before and have half heartedly tried it once. I don’t know why I didn’t stick to it. I loved just being able to grab the one or two bags out if the freezer and be done with it. We are a large family so keeping up with a good meal plan is very important for my sanity, so why not bulk cook? Seems like a no-brainer. Thank you for re-inspiring me!

    • 16.1
      Crystal & Co says

      Awesome Elizabeth! I’m excited you want to give it another shot.

      And I agree…. meal planning is a must when you’ve got a big family and you do not want to pull all of your hair out.

      :-)

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