Freeze-Ahead Lunches, Round One: The Shopping List

Okay, guys, here we go! Our very first shopping list for our very first day of lunch prep! I’m getting rainbow-glitter-colored goosebumps just thinking about it (come to think of it, that’s probably pathological … gross).

Download a PDF of the Shopping List here


corndog-muffins

I mostly stuck with basic lighter-on-cooking and heavier-on-assembling recipes for this batch, to introduce you gradually to the process.

But before printing the list out and running frantically to the corner store, hair trailing wildly in the wind behind you (I’m great on visuals), there are a few things you need to know. I want you to be able to customize (key word, remember?) this project to fit your own lunchy needs.

1.- Please note that for almost all of my menu items, there are alternate suggested ingredients for a purely vegetarian option. Don’t be discouraged if the title of the recipe seems to imply meat should be used – read on before skipping!

2.- I have three kids. Two of them are roughly my size (or bigger, the ungrateful little wretches), and eat like adults. One of them eats more like a typical 9-year old (which is about half of his siblings’ portions). Therefore, all of my recipes are scaled to yield a multiple of 2.5 servings (because I give my two older ones a “full” portion, and my youngest a “half” portion, and round out with snacks and fruits/veggies if I have to). I typically aim to make enough of each recipe so that I get 2-3 school weeks’ worth of my 2.5 portions. So just know that when I say “portion,” I mean something that I (and my older children) would eat, and when I say “half portion” I am referring to my youngest.

So know that if you have two small children who may only eat a half portion each, for example, you will actually be making one-and-a-half times more days’ worth of school lunches than I am for the same recipe and quantity of ingredients. Feel free to scale back or build up based on that.

3.- For each set of recipes, I will suggest material on the shopping list that you will certainly need, as well as equipment that you do NOT absolutely need, but that make my life TREMENDOUSLY EASY when preparing and packing 60-something portions of anything. I’ll discuss what I use and how I use it, and why I love it, but please know that you can do anything I do here without extra pieces, albeit a little more elbow grease from time to time.

 

Wraps

 

So, without further ado, here’s …

THE MENU

Cooking Day #1

  1. Pesto Chicken Wraps (or Pesto-Mozarella Wraps)
  2. Breakfast Burrito Wraps
  3. Broccoli-Cheese Corndog Muffins (or Broccoli-Cheese Muffins, omitting sausage)
  4. SNACK BONUS: Ridiculously-Easy Cinnamon Dried Apple Chips
  5. MAKE-AHEAD BONUS: Ridiculously-Easy Tomato Sauce (for Day #2’s ingredient list)

 

pesto

DOWNLOAD THE SHOPPING LIST

Yield: 25 full Pesto Wraps, 25 full Breakfast Burritos, and 30 jumbo Broccoli-Cheese Corndog Muffins (or 60 regular-size “half-portion” muffins, or any combination thereof that you may need, depending on lunchers’ sizes) – that’s 6-weeks-and-2-days’ worth of lunches for my family, possibly more for yours, all in one day! Plus snacks!

MATERIALS

If making all three recipes, you will definitely need:

  1. Wax or parchment paper (I LOVE parchment paper because it is so versatile and I use it for multiple purposes, including reheating, which I can’t do with wax paper)
  2. Jelly roll pans (you know, like cookie sheets, but with edges curled up) – at least a couple, preferably more
  3. Heavy-duty freezer bags
  4. Muffin tins – a regular muffin tin gives half portions (an entree for a child), a jumbo muffin tin or popover tin gives full portions (an entree for an adult or older child), and mini muffin tins give good toddler portions. This recipe yields about 60 regular-sized muffins, or 30 jumbo (and remember, the more tins you have, the faster the baking will go, so beg, borrow, or steal if you have to, hehe)
  5. Muffin paper liners (regular, jumbo or mini, depending on what you’re going for)
  6. Cutting boards, knives, basic kitchen spoons and utensils
  7. Freezer space (more on this in a moment!)

 

apple-chips

 

You don’t absolutely need the following equipment, but for-the-love-of-parchment-paper, does it EVER make preparing hundreds of servings easier!

  1. Food processor (I love my Cuisinart, and use it at least four or five times per week; it’s one of my workhorses during lunch prepping, and cuts down on time like you wouldn’t imagine!) or strong blender
  2. Stand-up mixer. I use a huge mixer, because … well, cakes. But I also have this one (the head lifts, making it more convenient to access the bowl and paddle), and love it. It’s another workhorse around these parts, it’s ridiculous how often I use this thing.
  3. Dehydrator (I love mine, it takes less than ten minutes of actual work to produce a small bucket-load of snacks, and it operates itself and I can walk away from it – unlike my oven. Plus, it has five trays so it fits far more at a time than I could ever fit in the same oven, and has paid for itself a hundred times over in the sheer quantity of dried fruits and veggies I can produce, even on a work day)
  4. Extra-Large bowls (I have a fabulous super-jumbo tupperware bowl that I use almost every day)
  5. Spiralizer – either the add-on to the Kitchenaid (which is amazing) or a stand-alone version (which I haven’t used, but it looks good).

 

A WORD ON FREEZER SPACE

I admit, I have a lot of freezer space. I live with four adult-sized appetites, and one healthy child-sized one, and I tend to freeze and pack 20 weeks’ worth of food for all the kids at a time. Plus, once upon a time, I used to do this regularly for dinners as well as lunches.

So, I have a freezer upstairs for regularly-used items, then a downstairs freezer for frozen lunches, and a separate chest freezer for when I’m feeling particularly go-getter-y (or for when I make Thanksgiving meals ahead of time because I have the stupid schedule). I call the chest freezer my Sexy Beast, and I make my hubby apologize to it if he doesn’t treat it with an appropriate level of tenderness.

Now, you certainly don’t have to have this. We’re going to work on how to maximize your packing strategies in order to best use your space, and we’re going to use flash freezing and labeling techniques that make my heart skip more than Ryan Gosling (who, for the record, has NOTHING on vacuum sealing). But you should plan on being able to fit two jelly roll pans or large cookie sheets into your freezer at once at any given time during your prepping. If you can’t do that, it may be worth it for you to take a look at getting yourself a separate freezer – not necessarily your own Sexy Beast, but maybe something a bit smaller and inconspicuous, that can still guard your hard work (and only cost you an extra $0.75 or so per lunch if you hold 4 months’ worth of meals for one person in it, right?).

So! there you have it! Some options and some food for thought. Maybe try out a batch or two of frozen meals first, and see how you like it?

Next post will give step-by-step instructions on how to put these recipes together … I’ll give you a few days to shop, and we’ll get started next week!

Questions? Comments? New nicknames for my freezer? Let me know!

Posted on July 29, 2016 in Cooking, Lunches

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Responses (18)

  1. Yun Sun Lee
    July 29, 2016 at 12:46 pm ·

    Thanks so much for doing this. Will I be able to access this same information in about 3-4 weeks? I may not be able to do it now but want to come back later – esp for the muffins!

    • Emi Ponce de Souza
      July 29, 2016 at 3:53 pm ·

      Hi Yun Sun! Yes, this series will be up on the blog, to be accessed whenever you’re ready. Ingredients for now, recipes and an actual timetable and worksheet next post. Happy lunch-packing! 🙂

  2. Priya
    July 29, 2016 at 8:28 pm ·

    Thank you so much for doing this! We struggle with lunches all the time – excited to try your system! 🙂

    • Emi Ponce de Souza
      July 29, 2016 at 9:40 pm ·

      Of course! My goal, though, is for you to be able to tailor it to your needs so it can become your own system!

  3. Tali
    July 29, 2016 at 8:40 pm ·

    Thanks!

    • Emi Ponce de Souza
      July 29, 2016 at 9:41 pm ·

      You’re welcome! Hope it helps!

  4. Meryl
    July 29, 2016 at 11:07 pm ·

    Ok! Thank you! How do we thaw these after freezing? Muffins I imagine we reheat in oven, but what about the pesto mozz burritos/chicken wraps? Just pull out the night before?

    • Emi Ponce de Souza
      July 29, 2016 at 11:14 pm ·

      Hi Meryl! I’ll have full reheating instructions on the recipe pages next week, no worries. The lovely thing about wraps, though, is that they can be served cool or hot. We’ll review safe methods and equipment for packing hot foods, but you could just as easily cut the wrap in half and pack frozen in lunchbox with an ice pack, and it will be thawed but cool at lunch. Otherwise, oven or microwave works (again, will review how to keep hot foods at a safe temperature soon!)

  5. Dhalma
    July 30, 2016 at 2:14 am ·

    Hey!! Thanks for doing this.. This might be a life saver, and I say “might” only because my older son (9y/o) is can be a challenge. (He is a picky eater!!) so far I think he will like at least the corn muffins, so will definetely try your recipes!! Ok, so I have a question. Do you label directly on the freezer bags?? Or you have a preference on stickers??? And if such wich do you choose???

    Thanks again, look forward to try your system 🙂

    • Emi Ponce de Souza
      July 30, 2016 at 10:32 pm ·

      Hi Dhalma! I certainly hope this helps you! Like I’ve been saying, the purpose of this project is not to impose my recipes and goals upon you, but rather, to help you achieve your own goals and tastes with a very easy method. If your son doesn’t love a flavor, you can always substitute it for another, you can cut foods into smaller portions (my youngest will eat just about anything if I expose him to it in small quantities!), or just stick to the recipes you like. With regards to your question, I usually label the foods directly on the bag. There are some adorable stickers out there for tupperwares, but I find it easier to stack baggies (plus, my tupperwares have shattered in the past when I’ve handled them more roughly, since they’re frozen!). My one caveat is that I sometimes use freezer scotch tape, or these labels, to color code bags of food that look the same on the inside, but have different fillings (you’ll see more of this in Round 2!). When you have a TON of food in your freezer, or when you have a smaller freezer space, it makes it easier to pick apart the contents of bags if they’re color coded!

  6. […] space (here’s a link to my original discussion of freezer space, if you’re wondering – it’s toward the bottom of the […]

  7. kristen
    August 7, 2016 at 3:20 am ·

    Wow, I just want to say thank you! Thank you! So last week I was able to make everything except the corn dog muffins. May I say everything has been amazing! That tomato sauce sure was simple! Can’t wait to use it this week! The chicken pesto wraps are amazing! The boys come home every day from camp requesting them! I am bringing the egg bean cheese burrito to work for breakfast, and just yesterday a coworker noted how good it smelled in the office after I heated it up in the microwave! Enjoying every second of this, and looking forward to this week!

    • Emi Ponce de Souza
      August 8, 2016 at 10:15 am ·

      Oh my God, I’m so glad you’re finding it helpful! I’ll also be posting tips on equipment and packing for sending lunch boxes and thermoses, if that’s something you’re interested in too. Keep an eye out, it’s coming soon! Thanks again for posting – I love hearing feedback on how the system is working for you!

  8. Lauren
    August 8, 2016 at 9:34 am ·

    How many days of work is needed each week? And many weeks of work is planned? Trying to find the time for this. Thanks!

    • Emi Ponce de Souza
      August 8, 2016 at 10:22 am ·

      Hi Lauren! Each set of recipes is laid out to be made on a single day (somewhere between 4-8 hours of work, depending on the day, and depending on how comfortable you are in the kitchen). It should get faster as you go! Take a look at the worksheet for Round One (Round Two will be posted soon) it gives the entire breakdown for what the day should look like, and it gives you yields so you know how much food you can expect the session.

      The “Here We Go Lunchers” post tells you how it works for servings, adult v child. Depending on your number of lunchers, you can probably expect 1-3 months of food out of one day’s worth of cooking.

      • Lauren
        August 8, 2016 at 11:56 am ·

        Ok great. And how many rounds will you be posting? Will you be posting every week? I know there’s a lot of servings per round but how many rounds will I need to do in order to get my kids variety. Also – if their school doesn’t refrigerate or microwave will you be discussing how to handle that? Thanks!!

  9. Priya
    August 8, 2016 at 12:07 pm ·

    Emi! You are amazing. I’ve made everything so far. I’m so grateful – I never would have come up with this idea myself. We’ve already started using the frozen lunches and they are a hit!!

    • Emi Ponce de Souza
      August 8, 2016 at 2:09 pm ·

      Yay! I’m so glad it’s working out for you! And please let us know if you figure out that delicious tikka masala wrap … My mouth is watering just thinking about it … Thanks for the note!

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