Rising costs for gas, food and just about everything we use today provides food for thought, discussion and stress in our everyday lives. It seems that around every corner, someone is predicting that we will have to make a decision between eating well and heating our homes this winter. There are steps that each of us can take to help ease the worry about food and heat in the coming months. Our focus in this article will be simply be preparing for the upcoming cold seasons by getting our freezers and pantries stocked with food that is good for you.
Begin your preparations by finding a bulk or warehouse store in your area. You will also need to look for your local dollar store. They have been appearing for years in every area, though most do not take advantage of them due to the irrational fear of being seen shopping in a “dollar store”. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and regardless of your income and ability to provide for your family, bulk and dollar stores are a great place to save a few bucks and find some great deals. If you have a farmer’s market in your area, plan a stop there as well. You can find great deals on large amounts of fresh veggies there.
You must have a great list for this shopping expedition. Plan for what you will buy, and stick to the list. Budgets depend on us being able to say no to that cute little sweater or that bottle of perfume that might draw your eye. This article will give you a base list at the end for everything that you should purchase to stock your freezer to the limit. It will also give you the best place that I have found for purchasing the items we need, though your area may have a better place. Think before you shop, and be prepared to get cooking after shopping.
Dust off the crock pot, wash that air fryer and roll up your sleeves. Btw if you don’t have an air fryer I highly recommend it. You can read some air fryer reviews and pick one out for yourself. It’s a great way to quickly cook and fry healthy foods. Get the kids or your partner ready too, as their help will make this process a bit quicker, and they will have fun doing it. Your work space should be set up to make everything easier for you. Get the spices out of the cabinet and place them next to the stove, place your containers and/or freezer bags at one end of the counter for packaging when all is finished, turn the music up and have fun!
Make Your Own Bread – This can be done while cooking other items or used for a one day project on the weekends. Bread dough freezes very well, and there is nothing better than your own bread as opposed to paying $2-$3 a loaf. You also have the ability to “dress it up”. It adapts well to making plain white bread, as well as adding things such as garlic, cheese, onions, Italian seasonings or anything else you can imagine. After making the dough, you can form loaves, rolls, hoagie rolls, and french bread loaves. Using freezer bags, lightly grease the inside of the bag with a light oil or cooking spray. Place the formed dough inside the bag, remove as much air as possible from the bag and seal. Mark the outside of the bag with the name of the product using a permanent black marker, and freeze.
Tip: Expensive freezer bags or generic, they work well. Purchase from the dollar store, and double bag if you are worried that the generic one will not work as well as the name brand. Bulk warehouses, such as Sam’s Club are a great place to purchase freezer bags and save as well.
Tip: If you plan to do more bulk cooking than daily cooking, invest in a vacuum sealer.
Marinara Sauce is an excellent thing to make ahead of time, freeze and use as needed. Using tomato paste, add water until you find the desired consistency for your base sauce. Add spices such as basil, oregano, onion, garlic, and Italian seasoning to taste. I use fresh onion and garlic for my sauces and saute them before adding them to the sauce, but dried onion and garlic will work as well. You can add meatballs, sausage or hamburger to the sauce as it simmers. This is a great way to use those marked down packages of meat from the store that need to be frozen or used within a day or two. When delighted with the taste of your newly homemade sauce, allow to cool and package in large freezer bags. Remember to mark the bag with the name of the meat has been cooked and added to the sauce!
Tip: Use 3 cans of paste to make enough sauce for 2 meals that will feed 4-5 people.
Tip: Tomato paste cans are usually 3 for a buck in the dollar store.
Tip: Basic spices for marinara sauce are generally $1 a jar/bottle in the dollar store. Generic spices are much the same as name brand, and will go farther than those little $3-$5 jars.
Wimpies/Sloppy Joes require very little time and energy to create, and are a hit with kids and adults alike. Use your crock pot for these, as the longer they cook on a low heat, the better they taste. This recipe is one of my family’s favorites, and is great with some of those homemade rolls!
Start with 5lbs of hamburger and fry it up. Use a wooden spoon or spatula to break the burger into chunks or pieces. While frying, add spices such as fresh or dried onion, garlic, basil, oregano, salt and pepper. Once complete, drain most of the fat from the burger and add the meat to a crock pot. Stir in ketchup until desired consistency is reached. I generally use 2 large bottles of ketchup per 5lbs of burger. Add 1-2 tablespoons of spicy mustard. Add 1-2 teaspoons of brown sugar or sugar. Cover and cook on low heat, stirring occasionally for 2 hours. Allow to cool and split into meals by packaging in freezer bags.
Tip: Purchase marked down or bulk packages of hamburger for this recipe. You will save money per pound and have approximately 4 meals for a family of 4 from this recipe.
Tip: Grate carrots or add vegetables to this recipe. It is a nutritious way to get your kids to eat their veggies while “hiding” them.
Tip: Purchase ketchup from the dollar store. $1 a bottle for a generic ketchup beats the heck out of the price of those name brand products.
Roast Turkey is a great way to create multiple meals for your family. Turkey and stuffing freeze very well, and can be placed into bags for meals or individual containers for those nights when you don’t want to cook! The leftover bits and pieces of white and dark meat should be placed into a bowl for our next recipe.
Shop for turkeys when they are on sale. This includes holiday times when turkey is a popular meal. Purchase a 20-25lb. turkey, and roast. If you are not quite sure how to cook a turkey, each has directions on the package and there is a variety of recipes that can be found online as well. Remember that you can used boxed stuffing or homemade stuffing to add to your turkey. I prefer to make my own, as I can then cook it in bulk to be used with other recipes, including stuffed pork chops.
Once your turkey is cooked, allow to cool. Slice and strip the turkey off all meat, including the bits of dark meat that many tend to throw away. Small pieces or chunks can be tossed into a bowl to use for turkey soup. Package the turkey into freezer bags that will be used for several meals. Package the stuffing, including the extra stuffing that you may have made, into freezer bags as well. Remember that slices of turkey can be used with some of your homemade bread in the future for meals such as sandwiches and salad. A 25lb turkey will produce approximately 6 meals for a family of 4.
Remember to freeze the chunks or pieces of dark/white meat to be used for a soup if you are not cooking it the same day.
Tip: If using homemade stuffing, use some of your own homemade bread to make the stuffing.
Tip: Stuffing is another great way to hide the veggies from kids who may profess to not like them!
Tip: Cook more stuffing then is needed for your turkey! Be sure to only freeze stuffing that has already been cooked.
Turkey Soup can be made using chicken broth as your base. Keep your chunks and pieces about the size of a soup spoon or smaller. Add celery, onion, garlic, green beans, carrots or any other veggie that you like to your broth. Simmer the broth, chunks of turkey and veggies that are either purchased frozen or fresh and marked down until veggies are cooked to your liking. Spice to taste with salt & pepper. Don’t forget to add noodles or rice to soup shortly before the vegetables are cooked to taste. Once the noodles and vegetables are tender, allow to cool and package into containers for freezing, and use at a later time.
Tip: Purchase broth at the dollar store or discount bulk store. You will save money, and the name on the package really does not make much of a difference.
Stuffing – Cooking stuffing in bulk will give you the ability to serve it as a side dish for beef, pork or chicken. If using for pork chops, cook the chops until almost done, and then drop a scoop of stuffing on top of each chop.
Meatballs are a great addition to the freezer. Mixing up a bunch of homemade meatballs can be great fun for your kids, and give you more time to do the actual cooking. Chop up fresh spices such as onion and garlic to add to your mix. Grate carrots or chop up small pieces of any other type of vegetable you may have a hard time getting your kids to eat and add to the mix. Use one egg per pound of meatballs to help with keeping the form of your meatballs. You can find many recipes online for meatballs, but we’ve included our own recipe. Please forgive me, as I cook by eye and smell, so measurements given here, if at all, will be basic and may need to be adjusted for your taste.
Using 5lbs of hamburger, add onions and garlic to taste. Add Italian Seasoning, basil, oregano to taste. It may sound odd, but giving your raw meatball mix a good sniff will tell you if they have been seasoned well. I add one egg and 1/4 cup of seasoned bread crumbs to my meatball mix per pound of hamburger. Get your partner or kids to mixing them well and provide them with cooking sheets to place the formed meatballs on, leaving little space between each meatball.
Broil meatballs until brown inside and out. Drain fat from pans and allow to cool. Package them in freezer bags for later use in one of your sauces, for sandwiches or for snacks.
There are many great ways to over cook and fill your freezer. Just about any of your favorite meals can be prepared ahead of time, frozen and pulled out to defrost in the refrigerator for the next night’s meal.
Last but not least, fill your pantry with items purchased from a dollar store or grocery store. Watch for the sales, and when you find a great one, stock up on the item. 10 for $10 sales have become increasingly popular, and with the right planning, can fill your pantry with all types of side dishes to be used with the meals you have cooked ahead of time.
Each time I shop, I plan $20 to be used in the dollar store for items such as instant potatoes, rices, flavored rices, canned vegetables, broths, pastas such as noodles, rotini and elbow macaroni. If you keep these items on hand, almost any leftover can become a nutritious stew or soup. If you cook ahead of time, such as once every 2 weeks, you will keep your freezer filled with inexpensive meals and have plenty to get you through the winter.