Get Started: Planning A Freezer Cooking Session

Successful freezer cooking doesn't just happen: it starts with a plan.

Knowing what you'll do, the order you'll do it, and the ingredients you'll need are basic to the practice of freezer cooking.

To start, you'll create a freezer cooking plan. It's your road map to an easy, efficient freezer cooking session.

Find a large table, spread out and get comfortable! Planning your freezer cooking session should be fun.

First things first: time. You'll need two days--one partial, for shopping, one total, for cooking--to fill your freezer with a month's worth of meals. Before you devote the time, you'll need a plan. Ready? The first step is to create a freezer cooking game plan: the menus, shopping lists and recipes you'll need for your freezer cooking session.

To start your family's freezer cooking plan, begin with the bottom dollar: the weekly newspaper food sections. Scanning these, jot down all the best weekly meat specials; after all, economy is one of the goals of the freezer cooking plan. Write the type of meat special--Sirloin Tip Steak, Whole Ham, Chicken Breasts--across the top of a 3-by-5 file card, one for each cut of meat.

These cards, and the recipes they'll suggest to you, form the raw data of your freezer cooking plan! Under each title, list the entrees usually prepared from that cut of meat. For example, on the "Sirloin Tip Steak" card, make a quick list of family favorites: Grilled Marinated Steak, Fajitas, Steak in Pitas (Mock Gyros) and Beef Stroganoff. Fill out cards for the proteins on sale this week, but plan to spend a few more planning sessions on the roasts-of-the-week and recipes that were missed this time around.

Next (and the most time-consuming single task in setting up this program--but you only do it once), locate the recipes for the entrees listed on each card. You may use cooking software (recommended) or write recipes out by hand. Include even "mental recipes" like Hamburgers; list these no-brainers in cooking software programs to take advantage of the shopping list and menu plan functions.

Alternately, to do this job manually, write each recipe on a large index card. Use these cards to plan menus, make shopping lists and to cook from!

Now, to creating the actual freezer cooking plan. With cooking software, this part's easy. With a family planner or calendar in front of you, use the menu plan function to select 30 days' entrees from the freezer recipes. Your family planner will remind you of evenings out and dinner parties in (double up on that Coq au Vin!); and help you choose recipes according to your family's habits. Choose easy entrees like Hamburgers, French Dip or Barbecue Pork on PTA nights, the Wednesday Bible Study, or kick-back Friday evenings; more complicated meals (Fajitas, Pork-Fried-Rice) for at-home evenings; and fancy entrees for family celebrations, Sunday dinners or entertaining.

Consider serving some family favorites twice during the month, to get maximum time savings from your efforts. Aim for nutritional balance, and for a good mix of easy-to-fancy entrees. Finally, don't forget! You'll go out to dinner on your cooking day!

After choosing your menus, use your cooking software's menu plan function to generate a menu calendar, or manually enter your selections on the blank menu calendar, one entree per day. Post this calendar as a key to the riches in the freezer.

Shopping List next! Using the computer, it's a snap--just generate a shopping list from your menu plan. By hand, you've got some writing to do; use recipe cards to list all needed ingredients.

Either way, take your completed list to the pantry, to determine what foods are already on-hand, and what foods must be purchased. Cross off staples that are on-hand, and you're ready to shop!

Last step: assemble your game plan--the step-by-step guide to your shopping and cooking days. If you're using your computer, print all recipes contained in your menu plan; if you're planning by hand, refer to your recipe cards. Next, group all recipe with common steps: browning ground beef, making white sauce, chopping and sautéing onions. Note how many cups/pounds TOTAL you'll need of common ingredients--grated cheese, chopped onion, sautéed chopped onion, browned ground beef--and write the totals on a separate 3-by-5 card (unless your computer shopping list has broken these amounts down for you!).

Monthly Menu Planner
Shopping List