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Helpful Heather

June 9, 2009


Kitchen Assistance – part two:

     Last week we talked about how becoming part of a cooking co-op may save you some time in the kitchen. I also heard from readers that instead of participating in co-ops, they take the approach of doubling meals and freezing one. Other lessons I learned while doing a cooking co-op were:
– meal planning
– purchasing in as large a quantity as possible & reasonable 
– re-package larger quantity into more user friendly portions
– setting “theme” nights on the calendar makes it easier for menu planning

Meal planning: I usually sit down once a month and plan for the month. For some, it may be easier to plan by the week – especially if you choose to plan your meals around the sale fliers.When I first started, I found it daunting to plan a month of meals until I realized I could really plan for two weeks worth of meals and then duplicate! The other thing I found helpful was that we deemed Friday night as pizza night. This is not to say that we purchase a pizza out every Friday night – more times than not, we make it. In addition one other weekend night I use to make a large-ish more labor intensive meal. Whatever approach works best for you, is fine, just do it and then SAVE your menus. Save them on the computer and then print them out and post them on the fridge – that way those in your family who can read, will know what’s for dinner, thus eliminating the need to constantly answer the same question. Also, if you are so inclined, possibly have some older children work with the younger ones and cut out pictures from magazines and paste them in the calendar so they will know what’s for dinner. 

Once you have planned your meals, try to do as much ahead as you can. Again, some of you may even find it helpful to do some meal preparation for the week, on the weekends. Saving time in the long run is the goal. For me, this includes purchasing something that may be pre-packaged such as shredded cheese or seasoning or flash freezing some ingredients ahead. (By this I mean to lay out the item individually and allow them to freeze, so as to make it easier to select the number you desire at any given time. This can take anywhere from 30-90 minutes sometimes a bit longer, depending on the item or items you are trying to freeze.)

Purchasing in as large a quantity as possible & reasonable:
When purchasing ground meat I try to find the largest amount possible for the best price – even if it is ten pounds or more. Once I get the meat home, I immediately divide it into the general portions sizes I need. Then, if I have time, I go the next step, if not, then I package the general portion sizes in zip bags and put in them in the fridge until I can get to the next step. Keeping in mind that the next step needs to happen within the next day or so, if not, then throw the sections into the freezer. I encourage you to do as much ahead before throwing into the freezer, though.

Re-package larger quantity into more user friendly portions:
The next step is deciding what I am going to do with each of the sections of meat. Usually when I purchase the larger sizes of meat – ten plus pounds – I section off into approximately 2.5lbs at a time (that’s just what works best for our family). One I season and make into hamburger patties, one seasoned and put into a meatloaf, another seasoned and made into meatballs and the last just plain, browned, drained, and ready to throw into the freezer. The latter two are the only ones that I precook in any sort of way. I mark on the packaging what it is, how much approximately and the month and year it was put in the freezer. The plain browned meat can then be pulled out and used in spaghetti sauce, seasoned for tacos, or in a make ahead and freeze lasagna. The meatballs, once made into the ball shape, I just throw in my broiler for about 1-2 minutes and brown the outside. You can also brown them in a pan, drain when finished and then place them on a cookie sheet to flash freeze. Once individually browned and frozen I place in a zip bag, mark as above and then put in the freezer until needed. 

Setting “theme” nights on the calendar makes it easier for menu planning:
I mentioned that Friday night is pizza night at our house. There is also left-over night and big meal night as well. You may also want to declare Wednesday Mexican night or Thursday dine out night. Make it work with your schedule. 
We purchase a pizza every now and then, but often we make ours and have a whole lot of fun doing so. Our family makes personal pizzas by using toaster muffins or Italian bread sliced lengthwise,  sauce, and favorite toppings. One of the family favorites is by using store purchased dough. There are a variety of ways you can get this – my time saving tip is that my local cost savings warehouse allows me to purchase a case of 20 frozen dough balls for around $1 a dough ball. (The first case I purchased, I kept all for myself and I found that it used up about half a shelf on my extra freezer – I would suggest that you find a friend or two and divide them up.) I find these frozen dough balls in the deli counter – where I would purchase the already warmed pretzels and fountain drinks. Just ask, there is a sign behind the counter saying what you can purchase at market price. *In most places this is not really an advertised fact, but helpful none the less.

These are a small number of things I do to save some steps, but for now, I encourage you to be creative and see where you can more wisely use a few moments to save some rush later on. You are your own best kitchen assistant! Good luck.

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