If you have followed along and completed step one and step two, you have - believe it or not - already done most of the work in creating your own personal cook ahead plan. Well done!
So, just to recap, there are 3 distinct parts to creating a cook-ahead plan :
- Checking your inventory and buying the necessary groceries
- Doing the prep. work
- Cooking and Freezing the meals
Today I am going to concentrate on the third and final step - Cooking and Freezing the meals .
So back to our example. I have decided to make Italian beef vegetable soup, lemon chicken, and hamburgers. I've shopped and prepared my food and it's all waiting, ready for cooking. So what's next?
I will be using my Master To Do List form from YourWay.net again to make my cooking day To Do list, and again, I will be making one list for each recipe. Let's use my Italian Beef Vegetable soup recipe again as an example.
Italian Vegetable Beef Slow Cooker Soup
- 1 1/2 lbs. cubed stewing beef- 1 medium onion, chopped- 2 cups of water- 1 (28 ounce) can of whole tomatoes- 1 small package of frozen peas- 1 bag of frozen cauliflower or 2 cups of chopped fresh **- 4 cups of beef stock- 1 tablespoon of Italian seasoning or just dried basil- salt and pepper to taste- a dash of hot sauce if you like a bit of spice
** If you use fresh cauliflower make sure you put it in first and don't mix the soup. Fresh vegetables take the longest to cook so need to be at the bottom of the pot.
- In a hot pan with a couple of tablespoons of fat (butter, olive oil, coconut oil) brown the meat. When brown add the onion and cook until it starts to brown as well. Put the beef and onion mixture into the slow cooker, making sure you scrape in all the good stuff from the bottom of the pan as well - that's where all the flavour is!- Add all the rest of the ingredients and mix well.- Cook on low for 8 hours. Serve with some freshly grated parmesan and you have a soothing hot meal in a bowl. Enjoy. (will freeze)
At this point, because all our ingredients are ready in the form required, we can just concentrate on the directions and copy these onto our lists. This is very straight forward. You just list everything else that needs to be done to finish the dish. Here are the three lists for my dishes.
Once you have your three lists, you are again going to put them together into your Master Cook Ahead To Do List. This will require a little thinking - but not too much!
If you have followed my suggestion and chosen one slow cooker, one oven and one prepare for later recipe it will be very easy. List all the slow cooker steps first. You want to get this going so it can be cooking while you do everything else.
Next, prepare your oven dish and get that into the oven. Then, while both of these dishes are cooking, prepare your third dish. Since this dish doesn't require cooking, make it and then package it for your freezer.
At this point your oven dish will probably be ready so you can take this out and cool it. While you are waiting for it to cool, start doing your clean up.
Then pack the oven dish and freeze it. You can freeze food even if it is still warm. It won't harm your freezer or any of the other food in it, as long as your freezer is at least half full.
You have now finished two thirds of your cooking! You have time to finish cleaning up and probably even have a cup of coffee or tea and take a well-deserved break.
Once your final dish is done, you can pack and freeze that, pop the slow cooker liner into the dishwasher or into your sink to soak, and your pretty well finished!
Of course you aren't limited to my suggestions. This is just an easy way to get started, but you can create any kind of cook ahead plan you want. As you get more experience you will find it easier to group work items together. Here are a few more suggestions :
- If you are making several oven cooked dishes, choose ones that can all be cooked at the same temperature, that way you can cook a couple at once.
- When dishes require different oven temperatures, cook the one at the highest heat first, then the next highest and so on. This way you won't be wasting time or energy reheating your oven.
- Try to always include at least one slow cooker dish. This can be put to cook at the beginning of your cooking session and will give you more meals for a minimum of effort.
- You can add a stove cooked meal to the three I suggest very easily, just make it something that doesn't require a lot of stirring. This will take up too much of your time and you will get very hot if you are also making something in the oven at the same time. Choose a soup or stew, prepare it first thing after your slow cooker meal, and cook it on a relatively low heat so you just need to check it once in a while and can concentrate on the rest of your cooking.
One final suggestion - plan on eating one serving of your slow cooker meal or oven meal for dinner. After spending so much time in the kitchen you really don't want to be doing more cooking, and this meal is ready and waiting for you. Just add whatever sides you need and your ready to go.
So here is your To Do for today :
- Print out 4 copies of the Master To Do List form here.
- Make a cooking day list for each of your three recipes.
- Make a Master Cooking List for your Cook Ahead Plan
That's it! Your finished!
You've just created your first personal cook ahead plan. You can now file this away in your household binder and when you want to use it in the future it's ready to go.
I suggest you set up two sections - one for Cook Ahead Plans and one for Recipe Plans. This way, when you want to make a different cook ahead plan using one or two of the same recipes, you will already have it partially done. All you have to do is follow the same process for the new recipes you want to add and then create your new plan.
I hope you can see now that cooking ahead, if done step by step the way I've shown you, isn't difficult at all. It doesn't have to take up a lot of time either. After a few sessions, your freezer will look like the one below and you will have lots of choices when you don't feel like cooking.
However for some people, finding even a few extra hours a week for cooking ahead can be a challenge, so I have a few other options for you as well. Tomorrow I will show you the first one.
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