Guest Post by Hip2Save reader, Martha Parker:
I’m Martha Parker, married and newly retired from a long 41-year career. My daughter Kelly and I “Power Cook ” to ensure serving healthy meals to our families every day of the week. Eating and living a healthy lifestyle are important to us. We don’t eat fast food and limit our eating in restaurants to only celebrations and special occasions. Kelly is married with 2 kids and has two part-time jobs. We are both super busy and enjoy our families, couponing, bargain shopping, skiing, exercising, pets, hobbies, entertaining and lots of social activities.
I struggled for years to provide healthy meals for my family – it was tough with a hectic marketing career, kids, home, pets, and a self-employed husband. Six years ago, when Kelly’s first child was born, I signed us up for “Power Cooking” classes taught by a licensed dietitian. The class consisted of a demonstration, power point presentation, family friendly healthy recipes, and food samples of several freezer entrees.
At first, we didn’t realize what a life changing event power cooking would be, but as we left the class (over 5 years ago!) my daughter pulled out her calendar and said, “What day are we doing this?”. She could not wait to get started! We put it on the calendar and have never looked back!! It is a bit overwhelming the first time as you are dealing with 25+ pounds of fresh chicken, a ton of ground turkey, beef, some pork and a mountain of fresh vegetables, but we have it down now. It’s a great day spent together and my husband helps us too by cutting up all the fresh chicken the night before into appropriate sizes for stir-fry, chicken fajitas, and baked chicken.
Our month of meals include 2 each of 15 different entrees for a total of 30 meals. Each entree serves 4 and can include turkey gumbo, Lasagna, Beefy Macaroni, stuffed chicken breasts with red wine sauce, baked chicken with orange sauce, chicken pot pie, spaghetti, chicken stir fry, lentil and rice burritos, ginger lime pork, meat loaf, chicken fajitas, taco bake, white fish with tomatoes and herbs, kielbasa with sauce, enchiladas, pork chops with fruit, etc. I used to think that tacos, stir-fry and fajitas were pretty simple to fix on the spot for dinner, but now I know that you can have all of this prepped ahead in the freezer to just heat and serve. No shopping, no mess, and very little clean up. The 30 meals will actually last much longer when you take into account other family favorite dinners such as pizza, dinners with friends, holiday meals, and vacations away from home.
I really hope everyone will try power cooking. If you’re a little unsure about jumping in with 30 meals, then try doing 15 meals. Cooking using this system will save you time, you will eat healthier, and you will save a LOT OF MONEY!! It’s difficult for me to give exact numbers on entree costs as I shop in stages, however a year ago I had a fairly accurate estimate – around $2 per serving or less. Power cooking is work and takes lots of planning and time; however each session gets easier and faster.
Here are some tips to get started and ensure your success:
1. Take time to plan the entrees you would like to prepare.
2. Assemble the pans and containers that you will be using for freezing the entrees. I bought most of my 8×9 inch Pyrex, and other containers from Goodwill and other second hand stores.
3. Make a food shopping list, then start checking store ads, and purchase when ingredients are on sale. We always establish approximately when we are going to cook and then nail it down as soon as we see the fresh boneless, skinless chicken breasts on sale as we use about 24 lbs at each power cook session.
4. We generally power cook on the weekend and outline it such as this: Friday night shop for fresh food and vegetables, Saturday cut up meat, cook chicken for meat pies, cook ground beef and turkey for entrees, assemble all containers and freezer bags, and decide which goes in what dish. Sunday we start in early with washing and chopping vegetables, preparing soups and sauces, and then assembling the entrees.
5. Prepare a large batch of your favorite spaghetti sauce and/or seasoned taco meat and freeze in appropriate containers for your family’s size. Also, prepare your stir fry and fajitas by cutting up fresh chicken or pork to appropriate sizes along with fresh vegetables such as broccoli, carrots, peppers and onion. Place the fresh cut up meat for each meal in one freezer bag and the fresh vegetables in another and freeze.
6. For families of 2, package meals for 2. For instance, I have found small corning ware containers at Goodwill that allow me to make chicken pies to serve 2. I also freeze the turkey gumbo in pint size freezer bags which is perfect for 2.
7. Make a list of all the entrees that you have prepared and have ready in the freezer to reference as you decide which meals you will serve each week. This will help keep good variety and allow you to ensure you have freshly purchased salad fixings, rice, pasta, potatoes, bread ready to round out meals.
8. Pull from freezer each night the entree you plan to serve the next day and place in refrigerator to begin to thaw.
9. Share with friends and family. When friends are sick or unable to cook for their family, I like to take them a homemade chicken pot pie, or container of turkey gumbo. Once when Kelly was arriving home with her car full from a power cooking session, she saw a new family moving into her neighborhood. She introduced herself and offered them to select one of the meals for their freezer as a gift. :)
10. Find a family member or friend to power cook with. I cook with my daughter Kelly, and we have so much fun. We call ourselves the “power cooks”, Kelly made us cute aprons to wear when we power cook, we take pictures while we’re cooking, and post for friends on Facebook to show them what we are up to.
Our “Power Cooking” sessions end up being long and hard days, but ARE so rewarding and the accomplishment feels so good. I think the cutest picture is of Kelly loading up her Suburban with her 30 meals. Preparing these meals really is a day and a half out of a precious weekend, but when we are done – she is so happy and cannot stop smiling!
NOTE FROM COLLIN: If you’re motivated to get started “Power Cooking” after reading this guest post and are on the lookout for recipes, be sure to check out some of Lina’s phenomenal recipes that would be great to prepare ahead of time and freeze. One of her most popular posts is…
Chinese Beef and Broccoli
Creamy Italian Chicken
Sausage with Onion & Peppers
Cilantro Lime Chicken