Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Lunch Time Freezer Meal Win

We've been making freezer meals for quite a long time but until this past freezer meal session, I had focused almost exclusively on dinners. We often had leftover pancakes or french toast in the freezer and bagels or English muffins if I made a large run to the bread store. But lunches were never really covered. I always figured leftovers or sandwiches would work. But lately the concept of leftovers is laughable around here. I think I would have to start cooking for 20 to have leftovers. And sandwiches get a tad boring.

The kids seem to love anything in a tortilla and almost every freezer meal plan I'd browsed included recipes for making freezer burritos. I always avoided those recipes because they were unnecessarily complicated and a part of me just kept saying it's easy enough to just make burritos when you want them. This time we had 2 lbs of ground beef that needed to be used up along with some leftover rice from another recipe so I decided to make up our own freezer burritos. They were a complete success.

I kept the filling simple. Ground beef seasoned with taco seasoning, about 2 cups of rice, and shredded cheese. This filling gave us 24 burritos which are easily warmed up in the microwave. Most of us have been adding salsa or peppers and some sour cream. I'm thrilled with the easy grab and go option for everyone and plan to make a larger batch of them this weekend. Loving the extra options for lunch. Makes life so much easier lately.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Meal Plan and Such

The kids got a break from school this week since Kieran's school was out on break. Of course, that meant they all took turns getting sick. I think maybe half of them have been sick, half are either sick now or will be soon.  We apparently like to spend our Easter's laying low.

I learned yesterday that a fasting day is not the right day to push yourself to make it to 5 miles for the first time in a while. So did not make it but I'm ok with that. Getting close and still working on it. Also did a little research on what fasting rules used to be for those of us of the Roman Catholic ilk. Seriously folks, we are all a bunch of wimps now. And enough of this ignoring the rules about no meat on Fridays because I'm fairly certain almost all of us are not doing the prescribed penance needed in order to eat meat on Fridays year round. It does admittedly annoy me that even so called Catholic schools no longer offer meatless options in their cafeterias on Fridays. That was a standard even in our public school growing up. Seriously, Catholic Kid Problems: when you are thrilled to discover lunch meat hidden in the back of the fridge until your siblings all remind you it is Friday. Not as if that is played out around here on a near weekly basis or anything.

But enough rambling. The side of beef for the year has been ordered. We are eating our prepared freezer meals and a few roasts and will be using the last of the bones to make broth. Must break out the pressure canner. Ok, I'm slightly afraid of the thing but I'll figure it out.

M: bagels (B), chicken parm casserole over spaghetti (D)
T: yogurt, granola (B), ham and potatoes (D)
W: eggs, toast (B), salisbury meatballs (D)
T: yogurt or eggs (B), Italian beef sandwiches (D)
F: cereal (B), tilapia (D)

Using Amazon to Stock the Pantry

Over the past year, I have learned to love the added extra benefits of Amazon Prime membership. We all know that Amazon Prime is great for super fast two day shipping, movie and video streaming, streaming music, free kindle books, and more. Two other benefits available for Prime members are subscribe and save orders and a service called Prime Pantry. I have been using these two services to help our budget, stock our pantry, and find amazing deals on food to donate to the local food pantries. The trick is learning to find the deals hidden among the expensive products to actually save money and not lose it. Unless what you need at the time is someone to deliver groceries to your door for free. Then maybe the cost is not as much of an issue.

You have to watch the prices on Prime Pantry very closely but once you find a good deal, snap it up. I've been able to find boxes of oatmeal for $0.74, large packages of cereal for $0.97, stuffing for $0.25, and 4 packs of soup for $0.99. I don't usually do the searching myself. I joined a group on Facebook that does the looking for me. This means that sometimes good deals pass me by because someone else snagged it first. But when I find a great deal, I stock up. It has become slightly normal to send Alan a message saying I just ordered 30 or 40 of a certain item. I combine these deals with free shipping promos and Prime Pantry credits for opting for slower than 2 day shipping. Right now I have 2 $5.99 credits in my account waiting for new deals to pop up. When I deal does show up, I fill a box and plan to donate 50% of what comes in.

Subscribe and Save is a service that gives you up to 15% off your order in addition to sales, coupons, and free shipping. If you are an Amazon Mom member, you can also get greater deals on diapers and wipes. You have to watch for the deals and not everything is worth it but when things are priced well, you can save a ton. I follow another Facebook group that track subscribe and save deals. I've managed to get $120 worth of formula for $36 and a case of diaper wipes for $2.00.  I often find dishwasher detergent very inexpensively, pasta for less than $0.50 a pound as well as deals on occasional snacks for the kids.

Prime Pantry can also be used to send groceries to those away from you experiencing a need. Maybe they just had a baby or surgery or life is just rough. Whatever the need, you can bless a friend with a Prime Pantry box full of groceries and other necessities and they can save a trip to the store. We were blessed with a similar box after Charlie was born. Lots of quick snacks and grab and go meals for the crew along with boxes that the younger boys turned into cars and rocket ships.

Just a reminder that even if you can't feed 100's, you can take the time to help feed 1. Even if that 1 is just your own teen boy. Seriously, how do they pack it all away? 4 teen boys in this house so you can understand why I am a wee bit obsessive about tracking down grocery deals.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Meal Plan

S: bagels (B), creamy ranch pork chops, mashed potatoes (D)
M: Robert's birthday so his choice, there will be chocolate cake with chocolate frosting and chocolate ice cream apparently
T: eggs, toast (B), Robert's birthday dinner out (D)
W: oatmeal (B), chicken and stuffing casserole, veggies (D)
T: breakfast casserole (B), beefy ravioli, salad, garlic bread (D)
F: cereal (B), quiche, salad (D)
S: pancakes, fruit (B), pizza (D)

Charlie Update

Charlie has survived the rigors of her first major surgery. The repair to her lip was successful. She looks like a wee bit of a different baby and even her voice sounds a bit different. She's learning how to actually breathe out of her nose for the first time.
She goes in next week to have a few of the stitches removed and to make sure everything is healing properly.  At the moment, Charlie is still on some fairly heavy duty pain killers at least part of the time. Healing the mouth makes for some rather painful eating times but she is doing better. I have even caught her smiling at her big brother Sean.

I think the person hardest hit by the surgery just might have been Seamus. The minute his sister arrived home, he ran out to check on her and spent a good deal of that first day home trying to hug her and climb into her bed with her to check on her.  He was truly missing something with his sister out of the house. All is now back to normal, or mostly so. Hopefully we will have an uneventful few months to look forward to now.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Freezer Cooking

Life is getting a bit busy again so I decided it was time to fill the freezer with freezer meals. Ok, Elizabeth posted about the wonderful cooking session her freezer cooking group had and I got a wee bit motivated. I took Katie with me to the grocery store since we needed to get a new mattress for the upstairs bedrooms (yay for moving Seamus out of our room) and we stocked up on meat. I'd originally planned on just doing beef and pork but we found a case of boneless skinless chicken breast on sale for $1.55/lb. If you've never bought meat by the case, that was around 36 lbs of chicken. That I had not planned on. But I am not a fool or willing to pass up a price like that because have you seen how expensive conventional meat is lately? I was going to buy stew meat until I saw the price. No stinking way am I paying $4/lb for conventionally raised beef. We pay that much for our grass fed organic side of beef every year. Not spending that much on the conventionally raised stuff. Just not going to happen.

So we arrive home with all of that chicken (plus the 2 packages I'd picked up at Wegmans the night before), a large pork loin I had the butcher cut into chops, a bit over 10 lbs of ground beef, and 2 large packages of ravioli and got to work.

Some of my favorite freezer meals are often referred to as dump meals. With these meals you just put everything together in a container and then the day you plan to use it, just dump it all into a crockpot. Seriously simple. I also like to precook and shred some of the chicken breast for casseroles, soups, and using for making pizza. Two of our favorite pizzas are Buffalo chicken and BBQ chicken. Having precooked, shredded, portioned chicken in the freezer makes pizza night easier and keeps us from using the canned chicken breast. We also made several pans of pasta based meals and a large batch of meatballs. Pretty much every meal is going to need side dishes added to it but making those takes almost no time (plus I have lots of extra helpers who can easily handle that part alone) but having the main dish already prepped and planned means all I have to do is just pull something out of the freezer each morning. No real thinking or planning needed. Just what my life needs right now.

I have learned that with lots of folks helping with putting dinner together, it is helpful to label each meal not only with cooking directions but also with side dish suggestions or serving instructions. I may know we usually eat a certain meal over rice, but writing it on the bag means there are no chances of the meal making it to the table alone. For some reason that I can't understand, many of the cooking folks in this house seem to forget that side dishes are truly needed to round out a meal.

So here is the final tally since it was requested:

honey glazed chicken
maple dijon chicken
chicken cacciatore
baked beefy ravioli (a cheater version of lasagna) - 2 meals
chicken divan casserole
chicken parmesan casserole
sweet and sour pork
creamy ranch pork chops
cheesy chicken and stuffing casserole - 2 meals
baked rotini
sweet Asian chicken - 2 meals
salisbury meatballs - 2 meals
creamy salsa chicken - 2 meals
shredded chicken for pizza - 4 meals
shredded chicken for soup
shredded chicken for a casserole
24 beef and rice burritos
uncooked chicken portioned for a crockpot meal
uncooked chicken portioned for soup
chicken broccoli alfredo

I am planning next week to turn a few of our roasts in the freezer into a few extra meals and cooking up/seasoning some ground beef to have ready for tacos. Here's hoping having dinner already prepped for the next few months will allow us to focus on more important things the next few weeks.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Meal Plan

The lack of meal planning last week meant there was a lot of chaos at dinner time. Not really a good thing when we were dealing with an already busy week. Hoping to rectify that situation this week. I'm also hoping to spend some time putting together a decent amount of freezer meals. They make life so much easier and I am feeling the lack.

M: bagels (B), all things pie related for PI day (D)
T: eggs, toast (B), crock pot Italian beef sandwiches (D)
W: cereal (B), spaghetti (D)
T: oatmeal (B), tacos (D)
F: eggs (B), bean burritos (D)