I’ve come to the realization that freezer meals are essential for my survival and sanity as a mother. I made the tragic mistake of not making freezer meals in October and I paid dearly for that decision in so many ways. Not only did we spend more money on food, I was more frazzled, more exhausted and our entire household was less peaceful. So, to make a long story short, I’m just not doing that again.
I made several improvements to my plan this month that helped me reduce the cost and prep time of my meals.
I purchased a food processor to shred the cheese, slice the veggies and generally make prep time so much faster. I’ve bought food processors before but I rarely used them because it was always such a hassle to clean and store all the pieces after each use that it seemed easier just to do it by hand. Since I only cook once a month now, it is definitely easier to use the processor! I used my new Hamilton Beach 70730 Bowl Scraper Food Processor to prep all the meals, cleaned it once and set it aside for next month. So easy!
Bonus: This machine chopped the veggies so finely that my kids won’t notice them or pick them out!
I also learned how to properly freeze potatoes. Last month, the potatoes I’d cut and froze myself turned into nasty blackish things. I ruined a whole dinner because of it! This month, I learned about blanching and practiced preparing my own potatoes… and it worked great! Except in rare circumstances, I won’t be buying packaged frozen potatoes any more.
I also decided to cut down on the menu. Instead of trying to make as many different meals as possible each month, I’m going to make multiples of each meal. Although I love variety, it’s cheaper to buy ingredients in bulk.
I also invested in a small stockpile of slow cooker liners, which makes after-meal clean up so much easier! I hate doing dishes, so I love these liners!
Please note: Many of these recipes will be the same each month. Returning readers can skim for the new recipes, by looking for BLUE recipe names. Budget-conscious readers can easily find the cheapest recipes (less than $1 per person) by looking for the GREEN prices. Thanks!
Chicken Enchilada Soup
$4.90 (about $0.82 per person)
This is one of my very favorite meals, so it’ll be making a monthly appearance in these dinner plans. It’s as easy as it looks! At $3.50 per packet, the Cugino’s Chicken Enchilada Dry Soup Mix packet is the bulk of the price. If I find a coupon or find it on sale, I’m going to stock up!
I added about a third of this giant can of refried beans, two cans of corn, some enchilada sauce, a half an onion and a whole bell pepper. If it tastes good in a chicken taco, it’ll taste great in this soup – so be creative! I also add about four cups of water. Since the water won’t boil off in the crockpot, you don’t need to add all the water that the package calls for.
$13.50 (about $2.25 per person)
I cooked about five pounds of hamburger. I tossed it into the bag with the rest of the giant can of refried beans (leftover from the chicken enchilada soup), some enchilada sauce, a half an onion and a green pepper. This reheats deliciously in the crockpot and my family prefers it to taco chicken (much to my disappointment). For the price, I’m hoping this yields a lot of leftovers.
Cheesy Beef Rice Casserole
$3.28 (about $0.55 per person)
It just wouldn’t be blog-worthy if I wasn’t trying something new this month, right? The cheesy beef rice casserole was inspired by Gal on a Mission and I hope it works as well in my crockpot as it does in her skillet!
I realized when I wrote my last freezer dinner post that I was spending quite a bit per person to feed my family. This has made me much more cost-conscious, so I am trying to find cheaper meals like this. If you know any other recipes like this, please share in the comments!
The recipe calls for taco meat, rice, onions, peppers, tomatoes and cheese. I improvised a bit with what I used and added corn… because my kids love corn, and I hope that’ll convince them to give it an honest try.
If you are uncomfortable or unfamiliar with cooking rice in a slow cooker, you can cook the rice beforehand or even leave it out. The first time I made this dish, I was very concerned about the rice turning out. It eventually did, but it would’ve been just as easy (and significantly faster) to cook the rice separately in a rice cooker while the rest of the ingredients reheat in the slow cooker.
Café Rio Chicken
$9.10 (about $1.52 per person)
Wondering why I spent so much more on Café Rio Chicken this month? Because it was too good, that’s why. Last time, I was making it for the first time and I was only willing to spare about a pound and a half of chicken on this recipe because I was afraid we’d hate it. End result? It was so good that I fed my kids something else so my husband and I could eat it all ourselves. It’s shameful but it’s true. It’s that good.
This time, I used a lot more chicken. And I made three Café Rio Chicken meals.
It’s simple! If you like exact measurements, you can follow this excellent recipe on Mandy’s Recipe Box blog. Inspired by her recipe, I just tossed zesty Italian dressing, powdered ranch mix and a bit of chili powder and cumin over the chicken. I usually don’t measure anything, so it’s a good thing this recipe turns out well no matter what I do to it!
$6.59 (about $1.09 per person)
It doesn’t look like much… but it tastes divine.
My husband would eat this every day if he could… but, to his disappointment, I only made enough to eat it once a week.
To make this dish a little cheaper, I cut and blanched my own potatoes. A 10 pound bag of potatoes provided enough potatoes for four entire dinners and only cost $2 – approximately the same price as one meals’ worth of frozen potatoes! To save money on the meat, I also stretched two pounds of sausage and three pounds of bacon across all the meals instead of using one pound of each in every casserole. These modifications cut the price of this meal almost in half!
I could only blanch about six potatoes at a time because of the size of my pans and my small freezer. I cut them into chunks, boiled them for three minutes, strained them and then immediately transferred the chunks into ice water for three minutes. I greased a tin foil sheet, spread the potatoes over it and stuck it in my freezer until the chunks were frozen solid.
The blanched potatoes worked perfectly!
After the potatoes were frozen, I sealed in them in a freezer bag with the other ingredients: a pound of cooked bacon, a pound of crumbled sausage and some shredded cheese. I cooked one of these today and the potatoes were perfect!
(Remember – this recipe has to be stirred throughout the cooking time, so don’t cook this when you’ll be away from home)
$5 (about $0.83 per person)
The first time I made spaghetti in a crockpot, I was AMAZED. It was unbelievably good! Since half of my picky eaters hate anything that remotely resembles pasta, I am not very practiced in the art of pasta cooking. For spaghetti, I simply dump a box of pasta, a jar of spaghetti sauce, some Italian seasoning and some cooked, crumbled hamburger into a Ziploc bag. When it’s done, I cover it with parmesan cheese so that my picky boys don’t know what it is until it’s too late.
$6.98 (about $1.16 per person)
Did I mention that pasta isn’t very popular in my house? However, it is cheap… so pasta is making three appearances in my house this month. I’m pretty sure that’s some kind of record. To keep my boys from losing their minds, I’m trying to add a little variety. But it’s not really working. My “lazy lasagna” is basically the same thing as the spaghetti, only with a full pound of meat and a lot of cheese mixed in… and to convince my boys it’s a different dish, I used different shaped noodles. Because I’m desperate for affordable yet fight-free meals.
First-Place Pizza Pasta
$25 (makes enough for a large crowd)
Best. Sauce. Ever.
Last month, I made a variation of pizza pasta that won first place at our Church’s pasta cook off! It was less than a year ago that I insisted I couldn’t cook anything at all. It’s amazing what a difference a few months and a bit of practice can make!
I used two boxes of mini rotini pasta, two jars of Guy Fieri’s Green Pepper Pepperoni spaghetti sauce, a pound of shredded mozzarella and parmesan, a pound of crumbled sausage, a pound of pepperoni, a small can of crushed pineapple, two handfuls of finely diced onion, two handfuls of finely diced sweet peppers, two tablespoon of Italian herbs and a pinch or two of white sugar.
Be warned… this is some seriously good stuff.
It’s also expensive. I could only find Guy Fieri’s Green Pepper Pepperoni spaghetti sauce at Safeway for roughly $6 per jar. When I make this at home, we use one jar of this and one jar of a cheaper alternative to help cut costs. This month, I also left out the sausage and sweet peppers.
…but wait! I tried something else this month that you won’t want to miss!
Yup. Those are cinnamon rolls.
I decided to put my trusty bread machine back to work this month. This news made my children very, very happy because they know that when the bread machine is running something yummy is being created. Like cinnamon rolls. Or breadsticks. Or sweet bread. Or just plain soft warm white bread… with butter… oh, so yummy.
This is my magical cooking counter… I love my bread machine and my slow cookers!
Anyway, for a little less than $8, I picked up a 25 pound bag of flour at Costco this month. From that bag, I assembled almost 25 bread mixes for my bread machine. I mixed all the dry ingredients in little Ziploc bags. The full recipe is stuck to the inside of the cupboard door, so I can simply add the wet ingredients when I’m ready to make it.
I used this excellent recipe from Money Saving Mom as a base. I added a tiny bit of my husband’s favorite maple syrup, some vanilla extract and a dash of cinnamon to the dough. When the dough’s ready, I roll it out, slather it with the buttery cinnamon sugar mixture and slice it.
And then, just to frustrate my children (or so they believe), I lay the slices on a baking sheet and freeze them solid. Once completely frozen, they can be transferred to a Ziploc bag (I swear Ziploc doesn’t pay me to endorse their products, although they probably should) and stored for later use. When ready, just lay them in a greased pan and pop them in the oven for about 30-35 minutes at 325 degrees. They turn out great!
Or, you know, you could cook them right after you make them. You could do that, too.
Hawaiian Sweet Rolls
My family loves the store-bought Hawaiian sweet rolls we usually eat. I’m hoping this recipe from eRecipeCards will satisfy that craving and help us save money!
Olive Garden Copy Cat Breadsticks
This recipe from the Hungry Hoarder had me at Olive Garden. I’ve been known to go to Olive Garden and order breadsticks and alfredo as take out. Now that Olive Garden has posted their alfredo recipe on their website, I may never need to order out again! My husband will be thrilled – and so will my budget.
Stuffed Pizza Bread
This stuffed pizza bread by Snail Pace Transformations received rave reviews from my children. My mother-in-law said it was awesome, too! Unfortunately, I didn’t get to try it because I had to leave right after it went in the oven… but I’m glad I have several more mixes ready in the cupboard!
This. is. delicious.
Soft Bread Machine Bread
I love soft, warm bread fresh from the bread machine. This recipe has been my go-to recipe for simple yummy bread for years. It always turns out great!
I’ve made pretzel dough in the bread machine before, using a boxed mix. I’m hoping that this recipe will work just as well because my little people love them!
Anyway, that’s what’s cooking in my kitchen this month. If you have any suggestions for freezer meals or bread machine recipes, I’d love to see them in the comments!