Since your alarm went off at 6 a.m., you’ve roused and fed your kids, sent them off to school, put in an eight-hour day at the office… and now it’s time to feed the family.
You know you’ve got the makings for a hearty and healthy stir-fry in the fridge, but that requires at least 20 minutes of washing and chopping veggies.
As you drive through town, listening to your kids fussing about being hungry, a burger joint lures you in. You know the kids will soon be happy, and you’ll be able to get through the evening without further raising your stress levels.
Even the most well-intentioned Penny Hoarders and savvy shoppers have found themselves in a similar predicament.
While there’s no need to beat yourself up over an occasional deviation from the norm, it’s worthwhile to consider making some changes to keep the last-minute drive-through dinner rush from becoming a regular occurrence.
Imagine investing that money into good-for-you ingredients that can be cooked at home while you’re working.
One Day + $300 = A Month’s Worth of Healthy Dinners
One way that busy parents combat the dinner rush — and save their budgets — is to spend a day, or even just a few hours, whipping up the fixings for multiple meals.
Stored in the freezer, they last for up to six months. And they’re easy to thaw and cook in a slow cooker or oven when it’s time to eat, hence the term “freezer cooking.”
Another bonus: One big shopping trip means no more daily runs to the store — plus, it’s a great way to meet your credit card spending requirements without buying things you don’t need.
While the numbers will certainly vary depending on your location, where you shop and what meals you make, hundreds of blogs show that it is entirely possible to create 30 dinners (sometimes more) for less than $300.
Tackle the process methodically, or follow a prepared menu plan and shopping list.
Success Stories of Freezer Cooking
If you watch for sales leading up to your cooking session, you can keep many cuts of meat in the freezer until you’re ready for them, explains Natalie at A Turtle’s Life for Me. She makes over 40 meals for her family of four in just four hours — and for less than $100!
My friend Abbey Goodnite did her first freezer cooking session right before returning to work after maternity leave, which made it easier for her husband to start dinner as soon as he got home from work.
All they had to do was thaw a meal in the refrigerator the night before and either put it in the slow cooker in the morning, or her husband would put it in the oven when he arrived home.
Meals last longer for their small family, and Abbey plans to continue doing this every few months.
If you want to use your own tried-and-true recipes, check out the free printable planning sheets from Money Saving Mom.
5 Tips for a Successful Meal-Prep Session
To make the most of your time and money — and make the process a little easier! — follow these guidelines.
1. Don’t DIY on Your First Try
For her first attempt at freezer cooking, Abbey used a ready-made meal plan with recipes.
Even though she wasn’t sure that they’d like all the recipes, having a grocery list and step-by-step instructions was a lifesaver.
2. Partner With a Pal
A full day in the kitchen might sound overwhelming to even the most enthusiastic cook, so why not partner with a like-minded friend or family member?
To keep spirits up, consider playing music or taking a break at lunchtime for a short walk.
3. Shop and Prepare on Different Days
Shopping for all the ingredients you need to whip up 30 freezer-ready meals requires more than 20 minutes.
Get your groceries at least a day in advance, and try to avoid peak shopping times to save both your sanity and that of fellow shoppers.
4. Read the Directions the Night Before
You’ll likely need to do minimal prep work the night before your session, like putting meat or other items in the refrigerator to defrost.
Make sure you check your recipes and directions so you’re ready to go in the morning.
5. Evaluate the Meals as You Go Along
Make a master list of meals, cross them out as your family tries them and make notes as to whether or not they enjoyed each meal.
While you might not end up with the same results as others, your day of work in the kitchen is sure to be a money-saving endeavor that keeps your family fed and your budget on track.
Your Turn: Are you a freezer-cooking veteran? Share your tips and suggestions in the comments below!
Charlotte Edwards is a freelance personal finance and parenting writer whose work has appeared in Incomes Abroad, We the Savers, and My Kids’ Adventures. She’s the wife of a great penny-pinching guy, and mom of two kiddos who are learning about saving and wise spending by earning commission for housework.