Okay, I am so NOT a fan of cooking. And I'm not really a fan of cooking posts, either. So if you choose not to read this, I won't be offended in the least.
But because I hate cooking, I've become a master at making it quicker and easier. And over the years, I think pretty darn tasty, too. Since I spent this morning cooking up a storm (three ladies in our women's small group had babies this month), I've got food on the brain.
Here are my tips and tidbits:
1. Make double.
Every time you make a meal, make double. If it's freezable, wrap it up to freeze and use it in a week or two. If not, serve it again in 2-3 days. And how handy is it to have a pre-made meal in the freezer when you hear of a friend in need?
2. Make meals bigger than you need.
If you have one or two extra servings in your meal, it can be sent in your kid's lunch kit (or in hubby's). No microwave? No problem - buy a thermos! They're useful for more than just soup and coffee. We use them for hot dogs, mini pizzas, leftovers, and more.
3. Buy (and cook) in bulk.
I always buy my meat in bulk. Not just because there are seven of us, but because it's generally cheaper. I get lean ground beef in a big tube that is somewhere between 5-6 lbs. (Now this is where some people will tell you to separate it out into 1-2 lb portions before freezing. Not me!) Freeze the whole thing. Then, when it's time to use it, defrost the whole thing.
If you're making spaghetti or tacos or a casserole, cook all the beef and season it up. Divide into meal-size portions after it's cooked (I put mine in the very large margarine tubs). Freeze cooked beef. Comes in handy for next time you want to serve chili, shepherd's pie, or good old hamburger helper.
4. Always have disposable foil packages AND large Ziploc bags on hand.
I used to freeze my meals in casserole dishes, which worked fine for me. However, I generally didn't want to use those meals to give out to others (doesn't it kinda take away the blessing if they have to wash a dish and return it to you?). Now I freeze all my meals in either those disposable foil containers (they come in all shapes and sizes, some with lids) or large Ziploc freezer bags. The bags are your cheapest option, but obviously some meals work better (Mexican bean mixture, soup) than others (lasagna).
5. It's not just for casseroles.
Pre-made, frozen meals are distasteful to some people. Lots of folks just plain don't like casserole-style meals. But here's the thing - you can prep and freeze virtually anything! Marinate steaks and freeze. Sauce up your roast and freeze. Make meatballs and freeze. Make your favorite meatball sauce and freeze. Mix up your yummiest veggies with seasonings and butter/oil and freeze! All of those, while not necessarily pre-cooked, can go from frozen direct into a crock pot (12 hours until delicious).
6. Have a cooking day.
If I decide to buckle down and cook, I really cook! I'll pull out my recipe books and 20 lbs of beef, 30 chicken breasts, and go at it all day. Just this morning (having planned last night what I'd make), I made: 2 double-size beef/corn/pasta casseroles, 3 family-size servings of Mexican bean casserole (good for sloppy joes, taco salad, taco bake), and a lifetime supply of 9-bean soup for one family (or enough for 4 families, 1 meal plus leftovers each). It took me just under 2 hours to completion - that includes washing the dishes.
I hope these tips help other busy women out there who hate to cook. Now, if you're looking for baking suggestions, you'll have to go elsewhere. My local grocery store does all my baking for me! Occasionally, we bring in some pre-packaged mixes so the kids can feel like they're baking.
Oh, I should also share my resources, eh? My three favourite cookbooks:
Company's Coming Make-Ahead Meals
Company's Coming Casseroles
The Big Cook
(If you can round up some friends to do the Big Cook with you, you can make up to 200 meals between 4 friends in one day! I usually just do it myself, because I don't have a lot of friends with a family of seven, and it would be too difficult to divide things up. Boo-hoo.)
What's your best time-saving tip in the kitchen (cooking or otherwise)?