By nature, I am drawn to processes and efficiency. After all, years of science and engineering drills that into you. Now that I am a housewife, I get an itch to practice my vocation but find few outlets outside the home. Why are there no local Engineering Mom Playdates? So, I have to find something at home. Cooking is a perfect place to go crazy on mental math stuff!
But I won't bore you with the logistics because I often end up making things harder than they need to be. Once I let go of my Iron-Chef-Wanna-Be tendencies, (like cooking 10lbs of ground beef in a 10" skillet and making 10 dishes out of it) I was able to make freezer cooking work for my style of cooking. More or less: throw some protein, carbs and veggies in a pot and call it stirfry!
Our fridge freezer has a month's worth of bread, muffins, bbq pork, bananas for smoothies, a Turkey waiting for Easter, and more. We also have a small chest freezer that holds more meat, cookie dough, marshmallows (yes, you can freeze it!) and even more food. Although I love to cook and bake, adding these tasks to couponing, planning, and shopping is a bit too much. I don't care if you're a rocket scientist or a toddler wrangler. Superwoman I am not! So if I find some convenience food cheap and it has a higher nutritional value than Cheetos, then I stock-up on it. Not everything we eat is homemade.
Now, the method to my simple freezer strategy:
1. Find loss leader sales from the grocery ads for produce, dairy and meats. *See note
2. Price-match them at Wal-mart (one trip for all Non-BOGO sales.)
3. At home, have grocery items out, and also a box of quart size baggies and a permanent marker. Label the bags because frozen food is annoyingly unrecognizable.
4. Divvy up the items in one pound or 1 cup measures.
5. When it's time to cook, your ingredients are already waiting for you in the freezer, premeasured!
Loss leader sales are sales the stores likely lose money on just to lure you into the store. They don't think you have laser focus to avoid all their other overly priced items. But since we all have more sense than that and Wal-Mart, although evil at times, is great for price-matching meats and produce, I would just get those loss leader items there. If the sale is really good then I buy more and freeze.
Really good for me is:
less than $1/lb for Boston Butt, porkchops, split chicken breast
$1.25 for ground beef (or less than $1.80 for ground chuck)
less than $1/lb for vine-ripe tomatoes & seasonal veggies
$1 for 3lb bag of onions, or 2 green bell peppers
At home, I take the baggies and label them before filling them. It's easier to write on a dry baggie. If I buy a whole 5lb chub of ground beef, then I cook it in the crockpot (on high for 3 hours, break it up every hour). I take 5 baggies then divvy the beef into each. So 5lbs of meat in 5 baggies means 1 pound of meat per bag! Same with cooking and freezing chicken breast. Porkchops and dark chicken pieces go in a gallon freezer bag. I put how many total pieces we'll eat in one meal in that bag. The veggies I just chop them and put as much as what can fit into a quart size baggie.
A couple times a week, I cook up a storm. I cook lots of dishes that require no measuring like stirfry, casseroles, crockpot and pressure cooker wonders. These handle leftovers and creativity well. I pull out the freezer bags I need to start cooking. I like cooking a whole batch of ground beef with onions, garlic, celery, and green peppers. From this batch I add: eggs and rice for fried rice; pasta and sauce for spaghetti; beans for burritos, Asian-inspired veggies for stirfry, etc.
When I started freezer cooking, I thought all the dishes had to be premade and ready for the oven on cooking day. Because of our small freezer space, it was impossible to have these dishes and then the stockpile of loss leaders I found every week. It also made me anxious thinking about how much needed to be cooked, so, I would procrastinate cooking. Much to my dismay, the food would go bad before I did anything with it. So now, I eased up on myself and just do prep work: straight from shopping to the freezer.
I hope this helps you with managing your freezer stockpile. Want more research? Visit Home Sanctuary, Life As Mom, Once-A-Month Mom, and the book that started it all for me: Once-A-Month Cooking by Mary Beth Lagerborg and Mimi Wilson!