Yesterday, the topic of discussion was preparing large batches of meals in advance and freezing them. It’s a really powerful money-saving strategy because it makes it incredibly easy for you to eat at home. The drawback is that in order to prep a bunch of meals in advance, you have to burn some significant time just preparing meals that you’re not yet going to eat.
There is a simpler way. While it’s not going to net you the freezer full of meals that the other method will net you, approaching the idea from a different angle can also save you some time and money.
Simply put, if you’re already making a meal at home, make two of them and freeze the extra one. Doing that offers many of the benefits of making a batch of meals in advance, but it doesn’t require you to set aside an afternoon to do it.
In fact, it’s almost as easy to do this as it is to make a single batch of most meals.
I’ll give you a specific example of what I’m talking about. At our house, we really enjoy eating a vegetarian lasagna. It’s essentially just a layering of noodles, sauce, cheese, and vegetables repeated three times, with the vegetables consisting of whatever fresh vegetables we can find in season (green bell peppers, fresh mushrooms, eggplant, zucchini, etc.), often with the vegetables grilled.
Whenever we make a pan of it, we just pull a second pan out of the cupboard. We simply chop up and cook twice as many vegetables and twice as much pasta and get out twice as much cheese and sauce.
We assemble one pan and toss it in the oven, then assemble the other pan while the first one is cooking for our family’s dinner. That second pan is taken to the freezer and soon we have a fresh meal on the table.
The real question is how much time this all adds to the meal prep. Frankly, it doesn’t add very much at all, as long as you keep things moving.
Start off by pulling out all of the ingredients, which doesn’t take much longer than before. Use a big pan to boil all of the pasta – again, not adding much time at all.
You can chop half of the vegetables and put them on the grill, then chop the other half. Take the first batch off and use them to assemble the first lasagna, then put it in the oven. Then, while that first lasagna is cooking, pull the second batch of vegetables off the grill, assemble the second lasagna, cover it, put it in the freezer, then set the table – right in time for the first lasagna to come out of the oven for dinner.
All you really give up is some downtime during the preparation of the meal. The total time – from taking things out of the refrigerator to eating dinner – doesn’t grow much at all.
The same thing is more or less true with any meal you might “double batch.” As long as you keep moving forward, you can do most of the prep of the second meal while the first one is cooking, which means your total cooking time isn’t affected very much.
This method lets you take advantage of some of the money saving of cooking in bulk at home and the convenience of having meals in the freezer without burning an entire afternoon preparing meals. The other method works well for stocking up in advance, but it requires some significant time investment. This method doesn’t produce the same quantity of meals, but it’s a lot easier on the time.
We use both techniques to save time and money on our family meals. Sometimes, we have time to make a bunch of meals on Saturdays. Sometimes, we don’t. Either way, we make the idea work for us.
This post is part of a yearlong series called “365 Ways to Live Cheap (Revisited),” in which I’m revisiting the entries from my book “365 Ways to Live Cheap,” which is available at Amazon and at bookstores everywhere. Images courtesy of Brittany Lynne Photography, the proprietor of which is my “photography intern” for this project.