By Patrice Frantz
Done right, a frugal lifestyle saves time, money, and frazzled nerves. A star player in this venture is a freezer meal plan, sometimes referred to as “once-a-month cooking.” This method of one grocery visit, one day of cooking, and easily-accessible meals fits the bill for reducing your food budget. Following a freezer meal plan may seem overwhelming for a beginner, but if you break down the process step-by-step, it’s doable for almost anyone.
A Freezer for your Creations
Many consider a freezer meal plan to save money, so this first hint may seem inconsistent. But investing in a small freezer will pay off in the long run. Refrigerator freezers have limited space and you will need it for your day to day use. Having a small second freezer dedicated to your freezer meals will make your life that much easier. One can be purchased new for around $100. There’s also a good aftermarket for freezers so you may be able to snag a gently-used one at a great price. The cash you save by continuing to use this frugal method will pay for your new freezer in no time. If you can’t manage a freezer at this time, don’t let it keep you from jumping into a freezer plan. You can still make it work with your fridge freezer.
Two key elements to getting started out on the right foot are making a menu plan and creating a grocery list from that plan. There are a number of books available, such as "Once-a-Month Cooking," that simplify the process by laying everything out for the novice. Here you will find two-week and four-week menus and their respective grocery lists, equipment needed and steps for assembling and cooking the dishes. Using a guide when first starting out will help you to hone your own method for freezer meals. Check out your local library for available titles.
More money tends to be spent when the grocery trips are many and unplanned. By making one trip to the grocer with menu and list in hand, you’re already saving cash. And you will have all the ingredients you’ll need to load your freezer with meals for the weeks ahead.
Pick a Day
Key to freezer cooking is picking a full day for cooking that’s free of any other obligations or distractions. You will want to dedicate the day to all things cooking. Except for dinner. Think about eating out on cooking day; it will be a much-deserved reward for a job well done.
When thinking of what containers to use for your freezer meals, the number one consideration is space. While it’s just fine to use your existing pans and dishes, think about the extra room they will take up. This is even more important if you’re making use of your refrigerator freezer. Plastic storage containers of various sizes won’t hog so much needed freezer space. Even better are zip top freezer bags. Freezer bags will lay flat and can be labeled easily with permanent markers. Labeling your dishes with meal name, date assembled and brief cooking instructions will save you from a guessing game later on.
Besides your meal creations, there are a few things that are great to have on hand in your freezer stockpile. Cook and freeze a supply of chicken breasts, browned hamburger and spaghetti sauce. These are good basics that will come to your rescue in a pinch.
Crock Pot Quickies
Your slow cooker can participate in the freezer fun as well. Simply take the uncooked ingredients of your favorite crock pot recipes and load them into zip top freezer bags or other containers. Next time you need to have something ready and waiting for dinner time, just thaw and drop in the slow cooker in the morning.
Imagine how you will feel when you look into your fully stocked freezer at the end of your day of cooking. And imagine the time and money all those nicely labeled and stacked meals will be saving you in the days and weeks to come. Frugality never looked so good.
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