Meal Planning and Freezer Meals

It started when I was pregnant, I scoured the internet looking for easy crock-pot meals that could be frozen in advance for those frantic early days of parenthood. I took the month prior to my due date off from work (big thanks to my company being a leader in benefits for new parents), and kept myself busy preparing what I thought was a sizable stockpile of meals. We have a chest freezer in our garage, making plenty of room for everything I’d prepared. After I returned to work, it seemed like our own dinner took a back seat to feedings, bath time, bed time, our dogs needs, and anything else you can imagine that popped up. It took meeting with a new parent career coach to realize setting aside time each week to meal plan really would help our schedule. I’d known it before, but let’s be honest, baby brain is no joke. Lately, it’s been out of necessity, we’ve been without our gas cooktop for over two weeks! You don’t realize how much you use an appliance until it’s suddenly cut off. Ours had to be disconnected to make repairs on the vent fan, which turned into a much bigger undertaking to completely replace the vent. We should be on schedule to have it up and running by the weekend, but oh how I’ve missed it in the meantime. Through each of those periods, being able to prepare meals in advance has truly kept our family eating healthy and feeling good about what we’re eating.

Whatever your reasoning for doing meal prep, there are things I’ve learned along the way that I hope can help each of you. I’ve put together the lists below to pass on those recommendations. Happy meal planning!

Meal planning suggestions:

  • Set aside time each week to write out your plan for dinner each night, then put together your grocery list based off this plan. This will help keep you on track to buy only what you need, and as a bonus, will keep you organized if you use a grocery pick-up or delivery service.
  • Keep that meal plan somewhere visible, like your fridge or a whiteboard. This way, whoever is preparing the day’s meal can quickly see what you had in mind. This is especially helpful in the days and weeks after a new baby’s arrival, anyone stopping in can help you stay on track!
  • Don’t forget about breakfast! It’s easy to focus on dinner only, and leftovers can easily be reheated for lunch, but what about breakfast? If you’re a hot breakfast family like we are, you might love whipping up a batch of muffin tin eggs. We make ours by the dozen (recipe here).
  • If you’re building up a stockpile of freezer meals, for say new baby or back to school, try to make one or two a week. It won’t feel overwhelming, and your budget for groceries won’t take a major hit either. Remember that meals can safely be kept in the freezer for about 4 months (check to be sure, based on each protein), giving you plenty of time to build up your stash.

A few key suggestions for crock-pot freezer meals:

  • Put your veggies in the bottom, sauce ingredients next, and meat in last. This will keep the meat on the bottom of the crock-pot when you dump everything in, and the veggies will soak up the sauce/seasonings so nothing gets stuck in the bag.
  • Mark all bags with the preparation date, low and high recommended cook times. You might be ahead of the game and able to set your meal to low, but in my experience sometimes it was a scramble just to dump it all in with enough time to thoroughly cook the meal on high.
  • Use crock-pot liners!!! This sounds sort of lazy, but when you have an infant at home, really anything that saves on cleanup time is a life saver.
  • Know what freezer meals you have in stock, keep a list somewhere within easy access so you aren’t digging around looking for ideas at the last minute.
  • Keep an assortment of frozen vegetables on hand that can be mixed in the day of with any meat-only recipes.

Last, but most certainly not least, a few of my favorite freezer meal recipes:

When being gluten free means missing out

I like to think there aren’t many things that I’m missing out on since going gluten free. For the most part, shopping has gotten easier in recent years and I feel like I can cook most things that I miss (and can’t easily be found from trustworthy restaurants). There are some times though when there is just no substitute, and frankly, it stinks.

This will be our third New England fall. The foliage is absolutely breathtaking, the weather is comfortable and calming – yes, I actually enjoy when we have overcast and rainy days. Here’s the thing though, there are certain delicacies that New England is known for, especially in the fall, that I just can’t enjoy. One of them is the whoopie pie, which up until last winter I had never had the opportunity to try. I heard all about them as we visited the area, and once we were officially moved up, but I couldn’t find gluten free whoopie pies anywhere. I FINALLY had the chance when planning for our baby shower. We were going to be hosting over 20 family members and friends from out of town at our home, which meant everything on the menu had to be gluten free. I was lucky enough to find Andi’s Gluten Free Kitchen, and she was absolutely amazing getting us a variety of delicious desserts. Naturally, I requested whoopie pies in both the original and pumpkin pie flavors. They were to die for!

That leaves me with probably the most famous item of all….the cider donut. Each year I feel like I go through the same frustration. I search every corner of the internet looking for someone/somewhere that will make these gluten free! I’ve called bakeries, farms, apple orchards, literally anything I can think of with no luck. I went through a phase growing up where I couldn’t even stand the smell of donuts, apparently the universe is getting back at me for that. I would LOVE to try one this year, especially as the weather is chilling and it sounds wonderful to sit down with a cider donut and hot cider…maybe even after apple picking (could I get any more New Englander than that?!).

I know I’m not the only one that gets frustrated when it feels like you’re missing out. What have you not been able to find or substitute? It would be wonderful if we could crowd source helping each other out 🙂 For now, I’d settle for anyone within driving distance of Seacoast New Hampshire that’s willing to make me a gluten free donut…please, send me your recommendations!!