Up until this point in my parenting path, I think I’ve had a fairly reasonable approach to the unattainable notion of perfection. Recently, though, as E barrels toward a milestone at which he’ll likely only consume actual food for his nutrients, I’ve experienced mounting pressure to make sure I’m introducing him to a wide variety of nutritious solid foods.
As a working mom with husband who commutes a long distance to work, I don’t have all of the resources I need to be able to successfully pull off nutritious and varied dinners every single week night. I am lucky in that E can often play fairly independently for decent stretches of time, but while I’m trying to throw something together for dinner, E inevitably needs my attention. The time I have between getting home from daycare pickup and getting E to bed feels so short, and we try to squeeze in a bath for E every other night, too. All of these factors have recently combined in a shitstorm of guilt and feelings of failure.
Last weekend, we didn’t have anything on our calendar, so I made the decision to spend the bulk of the time in the kitchen preparing and freezing meals. We have a chest freezer in the basement, which we purchased before E was born with the intention of having easy meals at our fingertips, and I wanted to fill it with yummy things that I could easily assemble throughout the week.
I prepared by accumulating recipes for the meals I wanted to make. I then listed out the amount of each ingredient I needed for each recipe, most of which was doubled or tripled. Finally, I created a shopping list of the ingredients needed for all recipes so that I would purchase the necessary quantities of the items.
I tried to organize my workload in a logical and efficient way, chopping all veggies for the recipes first, and always looking one or two steps ahead so that I could allow time for items to cool, bake, etc.
Here’s what I made/froze:
- A gluten free version of Chicken Parmesan Meatloaf (double batch made into smaller sized loaves)
- Black bean taco soup – K’s favorite so far. I made a double batch and froze into half-size batches)
- A triple batch of my favorite Quinoa Cakes. I make them with gluten free breadcrumbs and, while I’ve had them with the recommended poached egg, our favorite way of serving them is with goat cheese and sautéed red peppers on top.
- A quadruple batch of homemade taco seasoning.
- A double batch of this homemade ranch dressing/seasoning mix.
- A double batch of muffin-sized broccoli cheddar rice bakes, which uses the ranch seasoning.
- A double batch of twice-baked potatoes, which loosely uses this recipe. I used 8 large baked Russet potatoes, 1 stick melted salted butter, about 1 c plain Greek yogurt (could use sour cream), 2 c. shredded sharp cheddar cheese, 1/2 c milk, 1 c. chopped green onions, 1 tsp of sea salt, and 3 tsp of the homemade ranch seasoning. I froze them and can bake from freezing at 350 F for about 55 minutes or thaw and bake for about 15 minutes.
- A gluten free powdered mix alternative to “cream of” canned soups.
- A double batch of my friend Dan’s Mexican shredded chicken. 4 lbs of boneless, skinless chicken breasts, two 16-oz jars of salsa, and 4 Tbsp of the homemade taco seasoning listed above, cooked on low in my crock pot for about 8 hours. I shredded the chicken in my KitchenAid mixer by using the paddle attachment for about twenty seconds, then mixed the shredded chicken breast back in with the sauce in which it cooked. I froze this in sandwich sized freezer bags to use as taco filling, to top nachos, or in a Mexican-inspired rice bowl.
- A double batch of my mom’s top-secret white chicken chili, frozen into quart size freezer bags.
Since I had purchased two very large packages of chicken breasts, I had some leftover from the above recipes. I bagged and froze 1.5 lb quantities into freezer bags with marinade so they would marinate as they thawed in the refrigerator.
I completed the bulk of this work on Saturday, then wrapped up by around noon on Sunday, taking breaks to rest and spend time with K and E. It felt like a monumental task, but truly made for much easier meal prep throughout the week. As the week concludes, I am proud to say that we had a delicious, nutrient-dense, homemade meal every single night with very little weeknight effort. I have enough in our freezer to likely last about six weeks, too!
I have a feeling that this periodic meal preparation strategy will become part of our family’s organized way to stay sane, save money and feel successful and nourished.