Category Archives for "Meal Planning Tips"

How can we make dinner time easy and fast? These time-saving tips for busy moms make it so much easier to assemble dinners at meal time! No more dinner prep stress!

3 Secrets to a Stress-Free Dinner Prep

Is dinnertime chaos at your house?

Honestly, dinner time used to be a huge stress point for me. I hated that every weeknight I would wonder, “What are we going to eat? Do we have all the ingredients?” It added way to much stress to my already stressful-enough life as a mom.

How can we make dinner time easy and fast? These time-saving tips for busy moms make it so much easier to assemble dinners at meal time! No more dinner prep stress!

But then I discovered a few simple dinner time prep techniques that have made cooking and feeding my family so much easier. Not to mention that they save us money on our grocery bill each month!

Here are my four secret weapons for managing dinner and the chaos of meal time in general:

  • Monthly meal planning
  • Freezer Meals
  • Instant Pot

Ladies, these meal prep techniques don’t have to be intimidating (I promise!).

In fact, I want to show you must-have meal planning and cooking resources that make each of these techniques super easy and low stress.

Ready to get started? I can’t wait to help you get rid of the dinnertime stress and make meal planning easy and doable too!

Secret #1: Monthly Meal Planning

Maybe you’ve heard about (or tried) monthly meal planning and been too intimidated by it. I understand.

But really, truly, monthly meal planning doesn’t have to be.

The biggest issue is that you need an easy, efficient way to organize all the recipes, ingrediSimple Meal Planning - Plan to Eatents and shopping lists. And that’s where Plan to Eat comes in.

Plan to Eat is an an incredible, online recipe, meal planning and grocery shopping system that I’ve used for a good 7 years now. And let me tell you–it is a lifesaver!

The site houses all your recipes (you can input your favorites or upload them from any website) and allows you to drag-and-drop your recipes to different days of the month via an interactive calendar.

Sanity... who doesn't need more of it when parenting and homeschooling?! Meal planning, freezer meals and monthly shopping are my sanity savers! Here's a list of 17 must-read resources and tips to bring organization to your home! Vibrant Homeschooling

When it comes time to grocery shop, simply input the calendar dates you’re buying groceries for and the site generates a master shopping list which can be separated by store. As you’re shopping, you can simply click on each item and it is marked off the list.

I truly could not monthly meal plan without Plan to Eat!

Sign up for their 30-Day free trial here:

 

 

P.S. If planning out a whole month is too stressful, then only plan a week or two at a time. Do what works for you! Either way, Plan to Eat makes it easy and simple.

Honestly, if you do nothing else to streamline your dinnertime planning, I would highly suggest you sign up for Plan to Eat. Just the ability to have all the ingredients of all your planned meals auto populate into a grocery list is flat-out incredible.

And with the free 30-day trial you’ve got nothing to lose! Click here to try it free for yourself!

 

 

 

Secret #2: Freezer Meals

Oh… the pure glory of pulling out a pre-assembled dinner meal and knowing that, not only are all the ingredients included, but they are all pre-measured and ready to go!

Read here on how to convert your tried-and-true recipes to freezer meals.

And here I share my secrets for having a freezer meal family prep day where you can make meals in bulk with your family.

By the way, I highly recommend these little standing bag clips to make freezer meal prep super easy. They hold the bags up for you! Brilliant!

Jokari Hands-Free Baggy Rack Clip Food Storage Bag Holder, 2-PackJokari Hands-Free Baggy Rack Clip Food Storage Bag Holder, 2-Pack

If you want to try some new freezer meal recipes, these books are awesome!

Fix, Freeze, Feast: The Delicious, Money-Saving Way to Feed Your FamilyFix, Freeze, Feast: The Delicious, Money-Saving Way to Feed Your FamilyThe Healthy Make-Ahead Cookbook: Wholesome, Flavorful Freezer Meals the Whole Family Will EnjoyThe Healthy Make-Ahead Cookbook: Wholesome, Flavorful Freezer Meals the Whole Family Will EnjoyNot Your Mother's Make-Ahead and Freeze CookbookNot Your Mother’s Make-Ahead and Freeze Cookbook

 

Secret #3: Instant Pot Cooking

I have been a huge Crock Pot fan forever (here’s my favorite one that can be used on the stovetop too!).

But then I discovered the Instant Pot (cue the angelic voices).

Instant Pot IP-DUO60 7-in-1 Multi-Functional Pressure Cooker, 6Qt/1000WInstant Pot IP-DUO60 7-in-1 Multi-Functional Pressure Cooker, 6Qt/1000W

Oh my gosh. Have you used one of these? Here’s just a few things that an Instant Pot can do:

  • Chicken breasts (from frozen to cooked) in about 10 minutes.
  • Rice and beans (from dry to cooked) in 10 minutes
  • and a whole chicken in 20 minutes.

I’ve found that by combining pre-assembled freezer meals and the magic of the Instant Pot, dinner is super duper easy. I mean, like ridiculously so.

Do I cook every dinner in the Instant Pot? No.

But, yes, there are those days when life is insanely busy and I nearly melt into a pile of giddiness when I step into the house and know that I can dump a freezer meal into the Instant Pot, walk away, and know that in about 20 minutes dinner will be on the table.

Here are some great Instant Pot recipe books (I love all the different types of food you can cook in the Instant Pot!):

The Instant Pot® Electric Pressure Cooker Cookbook: Easy Recipes for Fast & Healthy MealsThe Instant Pot® Electric Pressure Cooker Cookbook: Easy Recipes for Fast & Healthy MealsInstant Pot® Obsession: The Ultimate Electric Pressure Cooker Cookbook for Cooking Everything FastInstant Pot® Obsession: The Ultimate Electric Pressure Cooker Cookbook for Cooking Everything FastPaleo Cooking With Your Instant Pot: 80 Incredible Gluten- and Grain-Free Recipes Made Twice as Delicious in Half the TimePaleo Cooking With Your Instant Pot: 80 Incredible Gluten- and Grain-Free Recipes Made Twice as Delicious in Half the TimeInstant Pot Cookbook: Easy & Healthy Instant Pot Recipes For The Everyday Home – Delicious Triple-Tested, Family-Approved Pressure Cooker Recipes (Electric Pressure Cooker Cookbook) (Volume 1)Instant Pot Cookbook: Easy & Healthy Instant Pot Recipes For The Everyday Home – Delicious Triple-Tested, Family-Approved Pressure Cooker Recipes (Electric Pressure Cooker Cookbook) (Volume 1)Great Food Fast : Bob Warden's Ultimate Pressure Cooker RecipesGreat Food Fast : Bob Warden’s Ultimate Pressure Cooker RecipesWeight Watchers Instant Pot Smart Points Cookbook: The Ultimate Collection Of Weight Watchers Recipes For Your Instant Pot – Lose Weight And Improve ... While Saving Time (Smart Points Edition)Weight Watchers Instant Pot Smart Points Cookbook: The Ultimate Collection Of Weight Watchers Recipes For Your Instant Pot – Lose Weight And Improve … While Saving Time (Smart Points Edition)

That’s it! I hope you see how monthly meal planning with Plan to Eat, freezer meals, and Instant Pot meals can make dinnertime fast in easy in your home too!

Other Posts to Make Weeknight Dinner Solutions

14 Ways to Make Freezer Meals Fast & Easy

How to Make Monthly Meal Planning Work for Your Family

Freezer meals are a LIFESAVER for busy moms. Get 14 amazing tips from a freezer meal making expert on how to make them fast and easy! I learned so much here from her Freezer Meals 101 course, and you can too! For example, Hack #6 is so simple, but it totally blew my mind...

Dinner’s Done! 14 Ways to Make Freezer Meals Fast and Easy

Freezer meals are a busy mom’s best friend. With freezer meals, you can know that you always have a meal ready to go (no more last minute trips to the store or through the drive-thru)!

Maybe you already know that freezer meals are an amazing time-saver, or perhaps you’ve only heard about them and always wanted to make them yourself.

Either way, I want to teach you how to make freezer meals faster and easier!

Freezer meals are a LIFESAVER for busy moms. Get 14 amazing tips from a freezer meal making expert on how to make them fast and easy! I learned so much here from her Freezer Meals 101 course, and you can too! For example, Hack #6 is so simple, but it totally blew my mind...

I want to share with you these 14 awesome tips so you can make freezer meals like a pro!

Plus I want to share with you about Freezer Meals 101a brand new course from my friend (and freezer-meal-master!) Sharla Kostelyk.

Sharla a busy blogger and homeschooling mom of 7 who has this freezer meal thing down to an art (you may have seen her highly popular Chicken Dump and Beef Dump Freezer Meal books).

Her online video course Freezer Meals 101 is the perfect primer for freezer meal newbies and veterans. I’ve been making freezer meals for about 9 years now and I definitely learned from this course!

Here’s Sharla with more about the course:

LEARN-MORE-ABOUT-THE-COURSE

 

Ready to become a freezer meal making expert too? You’ll love these freezer meal making tips that will help you take control of the dinnertime chaos!

These freezer meal hacks can be categorized into two areas:

essential freezer meal tools; and

choosing the best freezer meal making style for you.

 

Freezer Meal Tools for Fast and Easy Meal Assembly

The proper tools make all the difference! These 8 time-saving (and stress-relieving) freezer meal hacks help you prepare several meals as efficiently as possible.

NOTE: It’s true that you don’t have to have all of these to make freezer meals (and that some of these tools are an investment), but WOW… they sure streamline the process. Remember, you can slowly build up your collection over time if need be.

Hack 1: Hands Free Bag Holders

These Hands Free Bag Holders are ingenious! There’s nothing worse than prepping a full freezer meal bag and then having it spill all over the counter. Ugh! I also love how they fold flat when they’re not in use. Stack these up in a row for fast and easy meal assembly!

Hack 2: Address/shipping labels

Over the years, I’ve used address labels only intermittently in my freezer meal prep to label and date the bags. But lately I’ve been convinced more and more of their necessity (the ink from the sharpie-on-the-bag trick sometimes wears off). I also love the idea of having the freezer meal instructions (plus any extra fresh items needed) all pre-printed in one place.

Bonus: The recipes in the Freezer Meals 101 course not only come with shopping lists but with files to the pre-printed bag labels.

 

Hack 3: Automatic Can Opener

In Freezer Meals 101, Sharla recommends an Automatic Can Opener and I totally agree that it’s a time saver. Especially for those recipes that use tons of canned goods (soups, sauces, etc). Trust me, you’ll want one of these when you’ve got a ton of meals to assemble at once!

Hack 4: Large Stainless Steel Mixing Bowl

Ever tried to make several batches of freezer lasagna… only to find out that you don’t have the space to hold the sauces? If you’re making lots of meals in bulk, you need oversized bowls like these to mix stuff. I also use my bowls to make big salads ‘Nuff said.

Hack 5: High Quality Freezer Bags in various sizes.

My first experiments in freezer meal cooking didn’t turn out so well. The food was bland and had an “off taste.” The culprit? I didn’t have high-quality freezer bags. Over the years I’ve learned that this is one area where it doesn’t pay to get the cheap-o version.

Hack 6: Food Processor and/or Mandoline Slicer

Need to chop 15 onions? You will when you’re making freezer meals! This is the time when you’ll want to have gadgets like a food processor or a mandolin slicer close at hand (Note: the Freezer Meals 101 Course teaches you how to dice onions on a mandoline!).

Hack 7: Slow Cooker with Stove-Top Browning Capability

Freezer to slow cooker recipes are a godsend on the busiest of days. But my biggest beef (pardon the pun) with freezer cooking was that the meat never got that lovely browned taste. Then the slow cooker creator geniuses created a slow cooker insert that can be used directly on the stove (cue the angels choir singing)! Yes! This is the new model that I have and love. I just keep the meat in a separate smaller bag so I can brown it on the day of cooking.

Hack 8: Stapler (yes a stapler) and staple remover

This was one of those why-didn’t-I-think-of-that? tips from the Freezer Meals 101 course. Such a simple idea (and so much better than my attempts with shipping tape to hold bags together). Simply staple bags with “extra” meal items (such as cheese) on the side so that they don’t mix.

Hack 9: Your smartphone and a Bluetooth Speaker

Grab your smartphone and crank up your favorite tunes on a portable bluetooth speaker as you power through your freezer meal assembly. A great playlist can totally invigorate any freezer meal making session!

And if you’re a competitive person like I am, set your timer on your phone to challenge yourself (Can you make these 10 meals in the next 20 minutes? Yes, you can!).

Hack 10: Lots of little helpers!

Start putting together meals and your kids will come flocking (at least, mine do).

And that’s a good thing because there are plenty of things kids can do–adding ingredients, mixing sauces, sticking on labels, running the food processor and even chopping (if they’re old enough).

I like to make freezer meals a whole family affair because, first, it helps me get through the process faster; second, I’m teaching them a valuable life skill; and third, it’s an easy family-hang-out time.

 

Pick Your Freezer Meal Making Style

Bottom line: You need a plan to make all those meals as efficiently and easily as possible.

Sharla talks about each of these freezer meal making methods in the Freezer Meals 101 course and gives tips on how to make each of these work.

Check out these 4 “freezer meal making method hacks” and see which style best suits you!

Hack 11: The “Make Them as You Go” Method

This is great if you’re wanting to experiment with the whole freezer meal cooking thing. Just make a few extra batches of a recipe and place them in freezer bags for later (the Freezer Meals 101 course let you know which ingredients freeze well and the best ways to freeze them).

Hack 12: The “Once a Month” Method

This is my preferred method. I make up about 25 meals every six weeks so that we have plenty of dinners to choose from. Yes, it takes me 3-4 hours to prep and assemble everything, but once everything is made, all I have to do is pull out a few meals every few days and cook them up. Score!

And the Freezer Meals 101 course has meal plans, shopping lists and labels to make it that much easier!

Hack 13: The “Make Them With Friends” Method

Got a friend who wants to try making freezer meals with you? Plan a day where you can work together to assemble meals! It’s a fun way to hang out and you both leave with loads of pre-made freezer meals!

In the course, Sharla introduces us to her freezer making buddy and they share priceless tips on how to make combined meal-making sessions a win-win for everyone.

Hack 14: The “Freezer Meal Swap” Method

Here’s a fun idea: What if you made 7 versions of a recipe, and then got 7 friends to also make 7 versions of their own recipe? You could meet up and share bags and voila–you have 7 different freezer meals for your family!

Sharla shares the pros and cons and gives her thoughts on how busy moms can use this option to easily make freezer meals.

Get More Freezer Meal Hacks!

We’ve just scratched the surface here! The Freezer Meals 101 course shares many other helpful and practical tips such as:

  • How to create a grocery shopping list for all those freezer meals,
  • How to maximize prep time,
  • Tips for quickly chopping ingredients
  • How to stretch your food purchases by making meals that use up ingredients,
  • How to quickly thaw a freezer meal
  • Tips on which foods can be frozen (and which cannot),
  • Awesome (and easy!) recipes that can be assembled in a matter of minutes,
  • Gluten free freezer meal recipe adaptations
  • and so much more!

With 10 video lessons, three sets of printables, and two meal plans, Freezer Meals 101 walks you though every part of the freezer meal process. Prep lists, grocery lists, recipes, printable labels–it’s all included in the course!

Every member gets access to the private Facebook course where you can ask Sharla questions and get great ideas from other freezer-meal-making moms.

You can even get new freezer meal plans sent to you every month!

Spend less time in the kitchen (and more time with your family) by making freezer meals work for you!

If you’ve loved the hacks in this post, you’ve got to join the Freezer Meals 101 course!

About 5 years ago I finally began implementing monthly meal planning. Gone was the guesswork of what to eat and what we would make it with. The decision had been made and the supplies were there just wanting to be cooked. Here are the 2 BIG secrets I've learned on how to make monthly meal planning a reality!

How to Make Monthly Meal Planning Work for Your Family

Dinner: if we’re not careful, it’s the one thing that can catch us off guard nearly every day.

Isn’t it crazy that something that happens every night can be such a challenge?

The repeated queries of “Mom, what’s for dinner?” start around 3:00, and suddenly we’re shocked into reality: These people expect me to feed them too.

For me, however, it’s less about the fixing the dinner part and more about the deciding—the what-exactly-are-we-going-to-pull-from-this-kitchen-to-make-some-sort-of-a-meal part.

Then the next question is: Do we have all the supplies to make this dinner dish, or is it time for (another) trip to the store? No wonder so many of us end up at the drive thru or calling Mr. Pizza Delivery.

About 5 years ago that I found myself pretty much over this ridiculous cycle.

I finally began implementing monthly meal planning. Gone was the guesswork of what to eat and what we would make it with. The decision had been made and the supplies were there just wanting to be cooked.

About 5 years ago I finally began implementing monthly meal planning. Gone was the guesswork of what to eat and what we would make it with. The decision had been made and the supplies were there just wanting to be cooked. Here are the 2 BIG secrets I've learned on how to make monthly meal planning a reality!

The Two Great Secrets Behind Monthly Meal Planning

When people find out that I do monthly meal planning, I often get elevated to Supermom status.

Honestly I find this hilarious for two reasons: Number one, having a plan means I have less stress and less to do at that crazy dinner hour; and number two, I totally cheat when it comes to meal planning.

OK, so I do still make a monthly meal plan (no cheating about that). But I’ve found two secrets to making regular monthly meal planning so much easier and this makes me feel like I’m cheating. Here they are:

Create your own meal plan (using an easy online software that stores your recipes and auto populates your grocery lists); or

Have someone plan your meals for you and hand you an itemized grocery list.

Both of these are super solutions that making monthly meal planning so much easier. Not only will they save you time and mental energy but probably shave quite a bit off your monthly food budget too.

Let’s look at these options.

Option #1: the DIY Meal Plan

Simple Meal Planning - Plan to Eat

At first I resisted monthly meal planning because it felt so restrictive and limited. But, five years later, let me testify that it is possible to have flexibility and freedom… and a meal plan.

How? Plan To Eat is my secret weapon.

Plan To Eat is a incredible online software that manages everything from your recipes to your dinner schedule to your grocery list.

I have been a Plan To Eat member for a good five years now and I’m not joking when I say it’s revolutionized how dinner happens at my house.

Here’s what monthly meal planning looks like for me:

1) Once a month I gather any new recipes (plus any old ones) and make sure they’re in my Plan To Eat recipe list. By the way, adding recipes is easy because you can easily import recipes from any site into the Plan To Eat software with the click of a button.

recipes--WEB

2) Next, I drag each recipe to the appropriate day of the month. I try to note when my husband will be traveling that month (and we can have a lighter meal); and what nights we have outside commitments (and therefore a slow cooker meal or leftovers would be appropriate). I also try to schedule recipes that require quickly perishable items (such as fresh herbs) at the beginning of the month, and those with a longer shelf life (freezer meals or those consisting of mainly frozen foods or pantry items) toward the end of the month.

recipes-for-month--WEB

3) Then I auto populate my grocery list by choosing the date range for my meals. The software automatically takes the ingredients from each recipe and collects them together. It’s a beautiful thing to see (especially since I remember the days of having to manually determine all my ingredients).

grocery-list

4) Next, I clean up the lists. The software learns where you typically buy certain ingredients and automatically places them in the individual store lists, but there are often new ingredients that I need to place (it throws them in a default list) or I just need to remove some items (I don’t need to buy water and I usually already have most spices). I can also add in any extra items here that maybe didn’t show up on the list (toilet paper, snacks, etc).

moving-ingredients

5) Last, I go to all the different stores and buy the items! Plan To Eat is mobile-friendly, so not only can I access the recipes on my phone, but I can see all of my lists and check off the items as I shop.

Boom! Take that, dinnertime monster!

Plan to Eat offers a free month trial so you can try it for yourself to see what you think. And right now (from today to Cyber Monday only!) Plan To Eat is offering their annual 50% off all memberships sale!

Simple Meal Planning - Plan to Eat

I take advantage of this every single year (yes, the 50% off works for new and returning subscribers)!

Option #2: Someone Else’s Meal Plan

Here’s another great way to do monthly meal planning: buy already determined recipes and shopping lists!

There are several companies offering this service, but here are a few of my favorites.

$5 Dinners  20-meals-for-150

Erin Chase (owner of $5 Dinners) offers two services to help with monthly meal planning. The first is a subscription service that delivers a weekly list of recipes and grocery list items (classic and gluten-free options are available), or a 6-week menu plan (slow cooker, Paleo/Whole 30 and vegetarian options are available).

The second option is to purchase a freezer meal-type list (such as “20 freezer to slow cooker meals for $160”).

With both options, dinners cost no more than $5 each, making this a cost-effective, pre-designed solution to monthly meal planning!

Learn more here.

 


Build-A-Menubuild-a-menu--WEB

Build-A-Menu offers a similar concept, but gives a little more flexibility in the meals you choose each week. Subscribers choose their favorite grocery store; select any recipes from the Build-A-Menu library; and then print the recipes and an organized shopping list. You can also add your own recipes, and shopping lists are available online or via mobile.

And then, just like the Plan to Eat site, you can drag and drop those recipes into a calendar for the month. Pretty cool. You can also download sample recipes and shopping lists to give it try before becoming a subscriber.

I also appreciate that a percentage of monthly subscriptions are donated to several orphan care ministries.

Learn more about Build-A-Menu here.


Meal Planning Central

weekend (small)

Here’s another great solution for monthly meal planning: Meal Planning Central. With this service, you’re handed done-for-you meals and a grocery list every month. You can choose from different meal plans to fit your family’s dietary needs as well (frugal, vegetarian, healthy, etc).

The coolest thing about this service is that they offer lifetime memberships! This means that you pay one price to have meals and shopping lists delivered to you each month… and that’s it!

You can also give the service a try for free! You will receive access to 4 weeks of meals and grocery lists to see if Meal Planning Central is a good fit for you. Give it a try here.


Get out from under that crazy dinner monster and take control of dinner again with monthly meal planning!

I’d highly encourage you to give one of these monthly meal planning options a try and see what a difference they can make in your sanity (and your family’s budget)!

Other posts on meal planning:

How to Make Your Own Amazing Freezer Meals (16 Tips and 2 Recipes Included!)

monthly meal plan | meal planning tips | vibranthomeschooling.com

Homeschool Sanity Savers (Part 1): Monthly Meal Planning, Monthly Shopping, Freezer Meals and the Crock Pot

Homeschooling-Sanity-Part-1--meal-plan,-freezer-meal--WEB

17 Tips for Monthly Meal Planning

monthly meal plan | meal planning tips | vibranthomeschooling.com

How to Have Your Own Family Meal Prep Day (20 Tips Plus A Free Planning Sheet)

family-meal-planning-day--VH


 

How to Have Your Own Family Meal Prep Day (20 Tips Plus A Free Planning Sheet)

Freezer meals are awesome, but boy, do they take a ton of work to put together. Enter our family’s solution: family meal prep day.

Get the whole family to help you make meals in bulk! Discover 20 ways to make family meal prep day possible. Plus a free planning sheet! Vibrant Homeschooling

About once every six weeks, I used to find myself alone in the kitchen on a Saturday afternoon as I made 14-20 freezer meals at a time.

The fact was that my family wanted to help, but I (ahem) was more than a little overwhelmed to invite them into my meal-making chaos.

But as the months progressed (and I continued to labor alone on freezer meal prep days), I realized that I was missing a golden opportunity: Here were four kids (and a husband) who were willing to lighten my load. They wanted to learn how to chop and do all those meal prep things. Most of all, they missed me on these days and just wanted to hang out.

That’s when I decided to drop my pride and ultra-high expectations… and Family Meal Prep Day became a regular part of our routine.

I recently wrote a guest post for Meet Penny that shares about our Family Meal Prep Days, including:

  • 4 Benefits of Family Meal Prep Day
  • 20 Tips for a Successful Family Prep Day
  • and a free downloadable “Family Meal Prep Day Planning Sheet.”

Seriously, ladies, once you get into the rhythm of Family Meal Prep Days, you’ll wonder how you ever had homeschooling sanity without them!

You can read the post (and get the free planning sheet) here. 

monthly meal plan | meal planning tips | vibranthomeschooling.com

How To Make Your Own Amazing Freezer Meals (16 Tips and 2 Recipes Included!)

freezer-meals--social--WEB

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To survive as a mom (especially during high-stress times), you’ve got to have a few key weapons in your arsenal. For me, right up there with an endless supply of Band-Aids (and some days, and an endless supply of patience) are… drum roll, please…

Freezer meals.

Let’s all pause a moment out of sheer respect for the wonderful bliss of simply opening a package, dumping some contents into a crock pot (or a waiting oven), and going back to your crazy life. Around dinner time, while you’ve been hustling kids to and fro, tidying up the house (or perhaps been able to sit down for a minute?) the wonderful aroma of goodness and comfort begins to float through the house as you realize that “aahhhh… dinner is ready!”

It’s one of those few things that makes me feel very giddy (and slightly guilty) at the lack of effort I’ve expended. But thankfully, I’ve learned to get over the “guilt” part real quick. I’m sure you will too.

It’s “fast food” made fresh and healthy to your family’s liking, without the hefty cost of take-out. It’s food that can be made in bulk ahead of time, and it’s ready-to-serve-when-you-are.

Freezer meals are also highly adaptable. As long as you follow the basic guidelines (see below) you can come up with your own formulations.

1) Gear up with good recipe books and a great slow-cooker. (see my recommendations for both below). Pinterest also has amazing recipes! Check out these Pinterest boards from Six Sisters’ Stuff and A Taste of Home.

Here are two of our family’s favorites:  Green Chile Chicken Enchiladas and Crock-Pot Lasagna. You can also check out these freezer meal books:


Fix, Freeze, Feastis one of my favorite freezer cookbooks because all the recipes are based around bulk-store-sizes and make a good 3-4 meals at a time.

I also use and recommend this slow cooker by Hamilton Beach

This slow cooker is amazing because you can take the insert out and cook with it on the stovetop! Awesome for sautéing veggies and browning meat before the long, slow cook! Or if you need to brown something in the stove afterward, the insert is also oven-safe. This means everything can be done in one pan… which is sheer bliss to me!

 

Have I sold you yet? If you’re ready to give it a go, here are 16 other tried-and-true tips:

1) Good freezer bags are your friend for freezer meals.

This is not the time to skimp on cheap-o bags from the Dollar Store. The extra thick plastic keeps freezer burn out (and flavor in) your food. And speaking of flavor…

2) Don’t cook your food before your freeze it.

Cooked food that has been frozen and then re-heated tastes… well, kind of like the flavors have been muted. It’s the quickest way to give freezer food a bad rap. And it takes more time to assemble! So, unless absolutely necessary (there are exceptions to the rule–see #3!), don’t cook it before you freeze it.

3) Don’t thaw, cook and re-freeze food.

One of those “don’t cook unless absolutely necessary” exceptions usually involves meat. If you do decide to cook up the sausage or ground beef ahead of time (so that it can be more easily thrown together in a meal), don’t defrost the meat, cook it up and then re-freeze it in your (now assembled) meal.  I’ve never quite figured out the whys behind this, but food safety experts consider this is huge no-no, so it’s probably not a good idea to risk it. Instead, if you must cook up the meat in advance, use fresh not frozen meat.

4) Almost anything can be frozen and made into a freezer meal.

Yes, almost anything: cheese, bread, veggies, pasta, rice, most sauces, quick bread mixes… you name it! The few exceptions to this rule would be raw potatoes; leafy greens (in theory you can freeze them—think bags of frozen spinach—but every time I’ve tried they’ve ended up kind of a slimy mess); and fresh herbs or more delicate vegetables like mushrooms or eggplant (unless they’re folded into a sauce). Some sauces (especially those with high amounts of dairy, such as alfredo) can sometimes change texture after freezing. When in doubt, remember… (number 5)…

5) Some items are best added in on the day of cooking.

I really, really try to keep all my ingredients together so I have as little as possible to do come cooking day, but some recipes are best when a particular ingredient is fresh. For example, fresh basil is dynamite on top of an Italian dish. So if I have a freezer sauce I’m going to throw on some pasta, I’ll make sure to have fresh basil on hand. But I won’t add it into the freezer bag because… yeah, basil will turn to mush in the freezer.

6) Onions—to freeze or not to freeze?

I go back and forth on this one. Onions—if frozen on their own without any sort of sauce—will release a ton of water during the thawing process. This doesn’t affect the dish’s ultimate flavor, but it can be annoying. I have tried sautéing the onions and then freezing them, but there was still some water loss (and there was definitely a loss of flavor unless it was folded into a sauce). Ideally, you would add raw onions the day you cooked the dish, but let’s face it—the beauty of a freezer to crock/oven dish is the minimal prep time. I for one don’t want to spend my time chopping and cooking onions the day I’m making a “pre-made” dish. So, if a dish requires sautéed onions, I usually chop them and freeze them raw in their own bag (the Green Chile Chicken Enchilada recipe is an exception). Then on cooking day, I do a quick sauté in my crock pot the day I make the dish (yes, I splurged and got a super cool slow cooker with a removable, stove-top-safe crock so I can sauté and slow cook in one pan!).

7) Group your ingredients into different bags, and then place all ingredients in one large bag.

Separate out different sections of the dish (such as the red sauce from the ricotta filling in a lasagna dish) and label each bag if necessary. Also, if an item will need some sort of prep the day of cooking (again, only do this when absolutely necessary) or is to be used as a topping (such as shredded cheese) then make sure it is separate from other ingredients.

8) Remove as much air as possible from each bag.

This cuts down on space and keeps freezer burn at a minimum. Squeeze out as much air as you can manually and seal the bag almost completely closed. Then insert a straw just through the open slit in the bag, and suck out any extra air through the straw. It sounds odd (and you have to be careful you don’t suck up any of your recipe!) but it works! Who needs a fancy-schmancy food sealing machine?!

9) Move your freezer meal to the refrigerator to defrost several days before you plan to cook it.

Meals like Crock Pot Lasagna or Green Chile Chicken Enchiladas can be pre-assembled and frozen directly in a pan so that cooking day literally means removing the item from the freezer and turning on the oven (just don’t forget to add extra cooking time so the meal can thaw). Some meals can literally be removed from the bag and tossed into a crock pot as a hard block (think chili, soups, etc). However, if the meal requires any sort of layering, arranging, etc (or you don’t want to plan for an extended cooking time), it’s best to move the freezer meal to the fridge a few days before cooking day.

10) Label and keep track of your meals.

Mark the recipe’s name and the date you prepared it on the outside of the bag. I’ve created a simple spreadsheet with empty spaces to write in the meal, the quantity, and the date created. There’s also an “in/out” space on the chart. I circle the “in” when the meal is put “in” my freezer, and the “out” when I take it “out” to make as a dinner. Meals should be eaten within 3-6 months of freezing.

11) Don’t freeze what you don’t need to freeze.

Sometimes a recipe requires an item (such as tortillas) that I know I always have on hand, so in order to save space, I don’t include it with my main freezer meal bag. Another example would be if you’re using a pre-bottled sauce that doesn’t require any additional ingredients for the recipe. If the item is shelf-stable, why not just keep it in your pantry until you’re ready to use the recipe? Mark the item in your pantry as “to be used for XYZ recipe” so that you don’t accidentally use it for something else.  This will also help cut down on freezer space. Speaking of freezer space…

12) Consider investing in an extra freezer.

I know… this is an additional expense. But after I (very quickly) saw the benefits of using freezer meals, I knew I wanted to do this type of cooking regularly. And the super-tiny freezer in my fridge just wasn’t going to cut it. So, one Christmas I asked for a stand-alone freezer for our garage (how’s that for a 50s-housewife-type gift?!). It has been not only great for storing freezer meals, but it helps immensely in my one-a-month meal planning and grocery shopping (another huge timesaver–I’ll post on that in the future).

13) Find a meal-making buddy (or buddies).

It’s really fun to make several batches of freezer meals with a friend! Plus, it’s often cheaper to buy ingredients in bulk. Gather all your ingredients together and spend an afternoon chopping and sorting. Along with some great chat time, you’ll each walk away with several ready-to-go meals. Once I participated in a freezer meal “party” of sorts where seven of us gathered to make 56 meals in about three or four hours! We each brought different ingredients and then were assigned different “meal stations” in the kitchen. At the end, we each walked away with 8 different recipes! It was a little crazy (we were using giant Tupperware tubs to mix our enchilada filling!) but it was a blast! My kids are also my freezer meal buddies. They love to run the food processor, shred items, measure spices, etc–anything that gets them making a mess in the kitchen with Mom.

14) Make extra meals as-you-go.

If making a dozen meals at a time sounds daunting, then just plan to make double or triple of a particular meal as you make it. For example, last night I made soup. Instead of just making one batch, I put together ingredients for three batches (freezing two of the batches and cooking one up for dinner last night). You’re only doing slightly more work (you’re already peeling the potatoes or whatever) so why not make more than one batch for another night?

15) Freezer to crock/oven meals aren’t just for dinner!

There are so many great breakfast dishes (like quiches or muffins) that can be pre-assembled in a freezer bag and then thrown into a casserole dish or muffin tin on the morning you’d like to eat it! One of our family’s favorite Saturday morning dishes is muffins and eggs, and if I have defrosted batter on hand, I simply snip off a corner of the bag and pipe it into a muffin tin. Super easy and super good! Pre-made garlic bread is also fantastic. I recently made up a huge batch of mashed potatoes (I completely cooked them–potatoes don’t freeze well–and added all the seasonings) for a future side dish.

16) Consider adopting freezer meals as your regular dinner routine.

You could plan all your dinners like this! I did so for about a year and it was great. I did a massive shopping trip at the beginning of the month, and then over the next few days I’d spend the evening (or I’d take a weekend afternoon) making up a good 15-20 dinner meals (around 3 batches of 6 meals).  I rotated meals throughout the month (using some of the meals I’d made up from a previous month as well so that we weren’t stuck just eating those six different meals). It just became a rhythm:  after putting together a monthly schedule of meals, each Sunday I’d move that week’s freezer meals to my refrigerator and use them each day accordingly.

So, that’s the basics! Experiment and see how freezer meals can change your life too!

17 Tips for Monthly Meal Planning

17 Tips for Monthly Meal Planning--here's REALLY how to make it work!

At my house, the days are full and sometimes hectic (I’m guessing your days are like this too).

That’s why I am huge proponent of systemizing as much of the regular tasks as possible.

Like meal planning and grocery shopping.

It’s pretty simple: I just don’t have time (nor do I want) to be running to the store every few days. I also don’t want to answer the question every night, “WHAT IN THE WORLD ARE WE GOING TO EAT?!?” And let’s not forget the fact that every time I set foot in the store I find new ways to spend money.

That’s why, for a good four or five years now, our family has done once a month meal planning and grocery shopping. It sounds impossible, but I pinkie-swear-promise-you it is completely do-able.

My goal is to show you how to, realistically, do once-a-month planning and shopping. I’m not talking about creating a rigid, inflexible schedule, but instead a guideline and helpful tool lined with grace.

Here are my top tips to make it happen:

1) Streamline the process. I used to handwrite my monthly meal plan (and the subsequent grocery list). This did work, but, got cumbersome after a while (“How many onions do I need for the whole month?!”). But now I use PlanToEat.com—a fantastic meal planning, recipe storing and grocery list website. Plan To Eat makes it so, so much easier (and faster) to put everything together!! I simply input my recipes (either manually typing them in or importing them from the web), move the recipes to the days I want, and the site auto-populates the grocery list! When I go shopping, the list is right there on my phone, and I can click off items as I grab them. Awesome!!

(By the way—PlanToEat.com did not pay to be included in this piece, and is not affiliated with my site at all. I have been their customer for over a year now and I just wanted to share a good thing! At the very least, give their free 30-day trial membership a try!)

2) Plan the meals around the month’s activities. I identify the regular activities (like the nights we have lessons or practices) that happen every week, and plan leftovers or “easy” meals on those nights so that dinner isn’t so hectic.

Next, I add in any other events that will happen that month: planned vacations, date nights, special events, holidays, out-of-town guest-visits. I also include any other foreseeable events that may be happening where I may need to make something special: potlucks, a meal for another family, parties, church events… you get the idea. Do I need to make something special for these nights? Are we planning to go out to eat? For example, I made this fabulous-looking recipe as our family’s Valentine’s Day breakfast. So when I sat down to plan out February’s meals, I imported the recipe into my recipe list, scheduled it for February 14, and it added the needed ingredients to my grocery list.

Including these activities/events into the meal plan is a pivotal first step because these are the occasions that are unusual and that can easily trip up our dinner plans.

3)  Plan meals with the most perishable items at the beginning of the month. If I’m planning something with fresh mushrooms or herbs, for example, I plan those at the beginning of the month since I know that these are highly perishable. Or, if need be, I assemble the meal and freeze it until I need it for later in the month (this only works for ingredients/recipes that freeze well, obviously). I also plan end-of-the-month meals that take advantage of pre-made sauces, frozen meats in my freezer, and/or canned goods. For example, an easy end-of-the-month meal for our family might consist of sauteed frozen veggies and frozen chicken sausage served with bottled marinara sauce over pasta.

4) Consider freezer meals and cooking in bulk. Once-a-month planning and freezer meals go perfectly together. A few years ago my regular monthly habit was to plan out all the meals for the month, gather the ingredients and then take a few weeknights to pre-assemble them. This did require some work up front, but oh… what a wonderful payoff! My meals were planned, determined, and pre-assembled, and all I had to do was pull them out at the beginning of the week to defrost and then cook them that evening.

Now I do a combination of some freezer meals and some “regular” meals. I like to make double or triple batches of some recipes and stick them in my freezer for those nights that I know dinner will be tough. For example, today we are out of town and tomorrow we will be traveling back home, so I have a now-defrosted Mexican casserole in my fridge that I will pop in the oven tomorrow night for dinner. That Mexican casserole was a recipe that I tripled from last month.

5)  Consider making enough of a meal for leftovers, and then having that meal another night that week. I prefer to not have to cook every night, so whenever possible, I make enough of a dinner meal for us to eat two nights. We don’t eat the meal two nights in a row, but I instead interweave it between another meal. If we have lasagna on Monday night, we might have enchiladas on Tuesday night, and then leftover lasagna on Wednesday and leftover enchiladas on Thursday.

6)  Make the most of each item. If one meal calls for an unusual item (especially one that is perishable like sour cream), I try to plan other meals throughout the month to use up any extra. Plan to Eat also helps with this because each item in the grocery list is linked to a specific recipe. So sometimes I see an ingredient and I think, “Well, we’re using this very similar ingredient in this other dish… I’ll just plan to use that same ingredient in this dish.”

7) Grab items for other meals and snacks. Naturally, dinner isn’t the only meal we have to plan for! Plan to Eat allows you to enter in miscellaneous items that aren’t part of a specific recipe, but are still needed. There’s also a handy “Staples” item list. This is a list of items that you buy every month. I quickly go through my “Staples” list and click on the items that I know we will need in the upcoming month.

8) Keep a clean and organized pantry, refrigerator and freezer. This is crucial when doing once a month shopping because no one needs loads of extra food hanging around or going to waste! Before choosing meals for an upcoming month, I take a quick inventory of what’s currently in the kitchen. A bag of uncooked beans languishing in the pantry could be a great side for my husband’s favorite dinner dish planned for next month. If I see some freezer meals that need to be used up, I will add them to the month’s meal plan. In addition, I usually do a good fridge “clean out” right before I go shopping–just to make room for all the food coming.

9) Make a realistic plan. Just because I plan our meals doesn’t mean our family never goes out to eat! I specifically plan nights to go out to eat (and switch them around, if needed, as the month unfolds). This helps me stay in the realm of reality, and to not feel guilty for skipping a planned “at home” meal.

10) Plan a few days into the next month. It’s just not realistic to expect the next month’s shopping to be done for the upcoming month. That’s why I include 3-5 days of the following month when I’m making my meal plan.

11) Do all grocery shopping in one or two trips. I have three main places that I get all of our groceries. Plan to Eat automatically separates the ingredients by store (or you can manually move between stores too). Then I pick a day… and head out. Ideally I would love to go to all the places in one shot (yes, I am that crazy!), but honestly, I run out of room in my car! So it usually takes two or three trips, often over a few days. But I definitely prefer to get it done quick–like ripping off a band-aid–so that all the food is in the house and ready to go.

12) Plan a simple meal (or leftovers) on big shopping days. Trust me, the last thing you will want to do on your big shopping day is cook a big meal! The Crock Pot is awesome for these times… or yes, I’ve even been known to grab a Costco pizza and a bagged salad for dinner. I work extra hard that day, so I definitely make dinner easy!

13) Consider buying an extra freezer. Our family of six goes through a lot of bread, tortillas and frozen fruit in a given month! And we just don’t have room for it all in our fridge. Our chest freezer in the garage has made all the difference in storing extra freezer meals and extra ingredients needed for an entire month’s worth of food. Craig’s List is a great place to find one on the cheap.

14) Be flexible with the meal execution. Inevitably, there are days when I look at that night’s planned dinner and I think… yeah, no. Sometimes that’s because everyday life has taken over and I would be unable to prep that type of dinner; and other times it’s because, honestly, that meal doesn’t sound appealing. So, that’s when I give myself permission to switch meals around: maybe I choose to switch next Thursday’s meal for tonight’s meal. Or, occasionally, to just chuck the whole thing and go out to eat. 🙂

Ultimately, this is your family’s meal plan. The meal-planning-police are not going to break down your door if you decide to switch things up. Promise. Life happens, and your meal plan is there to help you—not to cause guilt or stress.

15) Fresh fruit and veggies are still possible. We are fairly healthy eaters and so having fresh produce around is a must.  Therefore, I am often asked: “If you’re only shopping once a month, what about fresh fruit and veggies?” To solve this dilemma, our family is part of a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) vegetable cooperative. This means that, every week, our family receives a box of organic vegetables and fruit from a local farm delivered to a nearby pickup location. The produce is fantastic and we love supporting our local farms.  If you have the ability, another option is to grow some of your own produce. Now that we have more land, we’re hoping to make that a reality for our family in the next few years. If neither of these is an option, you can always plan one additional grocery trip mid-month to stock up on fresh fruit and veggies. Find what works for you. And speaking of an extra shopping trip…

16) Give yourself grace if you need an item or two over the month. Again, life happens! Sometimes I forget to grab an item, or an item isn’t available. Other times our family plows through the food much quicker than I’d estimated, and I need to grab a few more things to get us through the month. Or maybe we’re invited to a last-minute dinner party and need to grab an item or two. If I had a crystal ball to predict exactly how my month was to play out, then I’d have no excuse about going back to the store. The goal of once-a-month planning is to help a family’s food needs be met as efficiently as possible. We’re not striving for perfection here–just a system that (usually) keeps us on track.

17) Take it slow, if need be. If you’re a day-to-day-kind-of-meal-planner and the idea of even planning meals for one week is daunting, take this process one step at a time! Just plan meals for one week or two weeks, and once that gets comfortable, work up to a month. Remember that some planning is better than no planning! Baby steps, baby steps.

That’s it! I know you can do this! Give it a try next month and let me know how it goes.

 

Did you know that your faithful crockpot can do more than just make awesome chilis, soups and casseroles? I have been doing some experimenting in the kitchen lately (you know, just me and Mr. Crock hangin’ out) and thought I’d share five unique uses I’ve discovered for this timeless Mom-helper appliance.

What A Crock! 5 New Uses for The Mighty Crock Pot

Did you know that your faithful crockpot can do more than just make awesome chilis, soups and casseroles? I have been doing some experimenting in the kitchen lately (you know, just me and Mr. Crock hangin’ out) and thought I’d share five unique uses I’ve discovered for this timeless Mom-helper appliance.

This post contains affiliate links which help cover ongoing site costs. Click here to learn more.

It’s no secret that crockpots are totally awesome. Especially this one that I use and recommend(which lets you brown veggies and meat on your stove in the slow cooker insert)!Seriously, this specific crock pot changed how I cook!

But did you know that your faithful crockpot can do more than just make awesome chilis, soups and casseroles? I have been doing some experimenting in the kitchen lately (you know, just me and Mr. Crock hangin’ out) and thought I’d share five unique uses I’ve discovered for this timeless Mom-helper appliance.

 

crock pot meal | crock pot recipe | crock pot new uses | crock pot oatmeal | crock pot chicken stock | crock pot pizza | crock pot yogurt | crock pot whole chicken | vibranthomeschooling.com

Pizza!

Yes, pizza! Disclaimer: this isn’t one of those thin-crust, New York-style pizzas. So if that’s the only way you do pizza, then you probably want to skip this one. But if you enjoy a good homemade, deep-dish pizza pie, then keep reading.

Ingredients:

–Pizza crust dough (I buy mine pre-made)

–1/2 jar of Marinara sauce

–Cheese (dairy-free or regular)

–your choice of toppings (I included pepperoni, swiss chard, onions, red pepper and olives on mine)

By the way, I really like cooking a pizza this way because you can add a whole bunch of veggies as toppings without too much squawking from the kiddos.

The basic recipe is fairly simple:

1)      Oil the bottom and sides of the crockpot. This is an important step because if you don’t oil the top and sides, your pizza crust will stick and you will be sending me angry hate mail about how it took you 15 minutes just to get one piece of pizza out (just saying… I don’t have practical experience with my pizza crust sticking or anything).

2)       Roll out the dough to the shape of your crockpot bottom. Place the dough in the bottom of the crockpot. Do your best to push the dough up the sides to form a deep-dish crust. Note: I have moderate success with this… sometimes my dough pushes up and other times it’s just really thick on the bottom. But this is OK too because thick dough on the bottom equals thick-crust pizza (which is fine by me).

3)      Pre-cook any veggies. You may skip this step if you’d like, but I personally like my onions and peppers to be pretty soft and pre-cooked before putting on a pizza. So, for me, it’s worth the extra few minutes (and washing another pan) to have soft veggies. If you are using raw deep leafy greens (such as kale, swiss chard, or spinach), this step is a must since the deep-leafy greens need to be cooked down before put on the pizza. But, if you don’t want to pre-cook (but still want deep-leafies), then use frozen spinach that’s been thawed (just squeeze out any excess water).

4)      Top with half of the cheese.

5)      Add the pizza toppings. I like to add my veggies on the bottom, and any meats on the top.

6)      Top with the rest of the cheese.

7)      Put on the crockpot’s cover, but place a paper towel underneath the glass cover (see photo).

crock pot meal | crock pot recipe | crock pot new uses | crock pot oatmeal | crock pot chicken stock | crock pot pizza | crock pot yogurt | crock pot whole chicken | vibranthomeschooling.com

This is an important step because the paper towel collects the condensation that rises from the pizza, thus helping the pizza crust get crunchy and not soft and soggy.

8)      Cook on high for 2 hours.

9)      Remove and serve. Bonus points if you can get the whole thing out at one time and cut it up into true pizza slices. But it will taste great even if just cut in wedges from the pan (unless you’re Italian grandmother is visiting for dinner. Then you better pray your pizza can come out at one time and be cut into wedges.)

 

Whole Chicken

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Photo courtesy of TheLittleKitchen.com

Here’s a great freezer to crock pot method! It’s fast and easy for those crazy, busy days. Cooking a whole chicken (especially from frozen) in a crock may seem odd, but I’ve done it several times with great success.

Ingredients:

A frozen, whole pre-seasoned chicken (see directions/variations below)

 

Directions:

1) Clean and season the chicken right after you buy it at the store. I like buying them at Costco because I get two of them for a decent price, and I can prep two of them at the same time.

2) Season the chicken.

Here are some seasoning combos:

Lemon/Herb: Make a simple flavored butter by combing olive oil or butter with spices like rosemary, oregano, thyme, crushed garlic, salt, pepper in a bowl. Zest a whole lemon and add it to the flavored butter. Slice the rest of the lemon and squeeze the juice over the chicken. Stuff the rind and any remnant pieces of the lemon inside the cavity.

Raspberry-Rosemary: Mix equal parts of butter and raspberry/strawberry jam in a bowl. Add fresh rosemary, garlic and minced onion to the butter.

Salad Dressing: Use your favorite salad dressing as a seasoning. This is super fast and easy. Italian-flavored dressings work best.

1)      Using your fingers, rub the butter/sauce all over the chicken (yes, you are giving your chicken a massage!), both under and over the skin.

2)      Place the chicken in a freezer bag and freeze (unless you’re planning to eat it that day).

3)      On the day you’re ready to eat, simply place the frozen chicken in the crock pot, saving as much of the bag’s seasonings as possible.

4)      Cook on low for 8 hours (or until the chicken meat is falling off the bones). In order to get rotisserie-flavor and crispier texture, remove the cover from the crock and place the entire crock in the oven to cook under the broiler for about 10 minutes or until the chicken is browned. Of course, if your crock can’t be used in the oven, transfer it to another pan before you do this.

5)      Carve the chicken and serve! If you have more than one crock, you can be extra sneaky and cook some seasoned rice or veggies in there as well. Add a tossed salad and you have a complete meal!

6)      Save the leftover chicken bones and make chicken stock in the crock pot (see below)!

 

 

Chicken or Veggie Broth

This, bar-none, is my favorite way to use a crockpot. It’s practical (it uses up any leftover veggies or bones—see above); it’s cheap (did I mention that it uses stuff already left-over?); healthy (you know exactly what’s in the broth); and easy (just set it and leave it for a good 24 hours). If you juice, this is a great use for all that leftover veggie pulp that you don’t know what to do with.

Ingredients:

–1 onion, roughly chopped

–4 garlic cloves, roughly chopped

–Assorted veggies (root veggies are best–carrots, potatoes, parsnips, radishes) but really, you can throw anything in there

–chicken or beef bones (if you are making a meat broth)

–Salt (I prefer kosher salt for this, but regular sea salt works fine too)

–Whole peppercorns

–1 bay leaf

–12 cups of water (or however much liquid your crock will hold)

 

Directions:

1) Toss all the ingredients and seasonings in the crock. The order doesn’t really matter.

2) Add the water.

3) Turn the crock on Low and forget about it for a good 24-36 hours.

4) When it is done (the water will be a deep brown, and the veggies will be super limp), simply strain it. To do this, I place a plastic strainer over a large bowl and slowly pour the broth in. The leftover veggies/meat/spices can be discarded.

5) Pour the broth into Ziploc bags or mason jars and freeze. I freeze mine in approximately three-to-four-cup size portions since that’s the size I tend to use in recipes.

 

 

crock pot meal | crock pot recipe | crock pot new uses | crock pot oatmeal | crock pot chicken stock | crock pot pizza | crock pot yogurt | crock pot whole chicken | vibranthomeschooling.comYogurt

 

We try to eat very little dairy in our house, and therefore, when we eat yogurt it’s usually made from coconut milk. But you see, the price of coconut milk yogurt is crazy high. Crazy high price times six people equals our family not buying a lot of yogurt.

That’s why, for us, making yogurt ourselves is an interesting option. I have experimented with this a little, but I still need to fine tweak my own recipes to share.

I’ve learned that: 1) doing it in a crock pot helps; 2) the yogurt can be a little runnier than traditional store-bought yogurt (especially when made with coconut milk; 3) it does take a little babysitting and a little time. But… all that said, I still think it’s worth it because it’s way cheaper than in the store and I know exactly what’s in it.

Here are some recipes to try. Some of them require that you purchase the bacteria, and others include a small amount of store-bought yogurt as the bacterial base (the good bacteria has to come from somewhere):

How to Make Foolproof Crock Pot Yogurt

Homemade Yogurt with a Crock Pot

Homemade Yogurt in the Crock Pot

How To Make Yogurt in The Crock Pot

 

crock pot meal | crock pot recipe | crock pot new uses | crock pot oatmeal | crock pot chicken stock | crock pot pizza | crock pot yogurt | crock pot whole chicken | vibranthomeschooling.comOatmeal

Aaahhh… oatmeal. There’s nothing yummier for breakfast on a cold winter’s day.

And it tastes even better when you can cook it overnight in your crockpot! Not only do you have an instantly yummy hot breakfast, the pervading smell throughout the house just makes everything feel warm and toasty. I like to make up the contents in several freezer bags and then pull them out the night before and place them in the crock.

My favorite recipe is Crock Pot Oatmeal Perfection. But check out these other recipes from Alton Brown, Kitchen Treaty and Stephanie O’Dea (Stephanie O’Dea’s entire blog is about cooking with a crock pot, so if you’re a crockpot fiend, you gotta check out her site).

 

Those are the five new ways that you can use your ever-fantastic kitchen appliance–the crockpot!

Have fun building new memories with your faithful friend the crockpot (and of course, enjoying all those great dishes)!

Need more awesome meal ideas? Check out these posts:

Homeschool Sanity Savers Part 1: Monthly Meal Planning, Monthly Shopping, Freezer Meals and the Crock Pot

Homeschooling-Sanity-Part-1--meal-plan,-freezer-meal--sidebar--WEB

 

How to Make Your Own Amazing Freezer Meals: 16 Tips and 2 Recipes

monthly meal plan | meal planning tips | vibranthomeschooling.com

 

This post is part of the “Feeding the Homeschool Family” series for the iHomeschool Network.