I love cooking. Truly, I do. I love entertaining. I love simmering, and sauteeing, and spicing and broiling. I love experimenting in the kitchen, glass of wine in hand, home filled with loved ones.
But I loathe actually HAVING to cook. I hate it with the intensity of a thousand suns. I hate it like hippies hate bras. Like Jimmy Buffet hates touring through dry counties. And I believe that the daily preparation of the Lunch Sandwich (in our home, also known as “the-food-that-must-not-be-named”) is a particular kind of hell.
Enter the frozen lunch.
Making and freezing lunches ahead of time has been a complete game changer in our household. For years now, we’ve spent a few days per semester cooking and freezing, and then had our children (and occasionally, husband) live off of that bounty for months.
It’s helped us save money on lunches, not just because of how little it costs to put them together, but because I can customize the portion sizes to each of my three kids. My youngest doesn’t waste half his lunch if I only send him what I know he will eat.
It’s allowed me to maintain the control I crave, because – let’s admit it – I live in an Intensive Care Unit, I’m actually PAID to be a control freak. I get to control the quality of the ingredients, the nutritious content of the recipes, the preservatives, the variety of my kids’ diets, and the exposure I give them to different foods. So much good stuff to control, amiright?
And with how happy cooking and freezing has made my family, I naturally want to share the wealth. Which brings us to this, my Freezy-Does-It project – okay … I’m a neonatologist, not a marketing person, cut me some slack. And by all means, suggest better titles in the comments section, if you have’em!
What this series will be:
This project is meant to be a guide for you to visualize the steps involved in preparing and freezing lunches in advance – nothing more, and nothing less. Because maybe your mac’n’cheese recipe is way better than mine, or maybe your kids don’t eat broccoli, or maybe you have a nut allergy. Then, by all means, modify the recipes! My goal is to show you how to streamline the process so that you can customize the recipes to your taste and convenience, and build your own arsenal.
Now, I generally do not buy pre-made ingredients, when referring to sauces, doughs, snack bars, and other bits I use in my recipes. Any elements that I use in my lunches (pesto, pizza dough, and otherwise), I will show you how to make (and I will account for that time during cooking as well). That being said, I really meant it when I said this is all totally customizable. I have absolutely nothing against convenience (heck, that’s the whole reason for this post!), so if you would rather buy something pre-made and use it in your recipe, please do so! Remember, this is supposed to help YOU achieve YOUR goals, not mine.
So! Here’s how this is going to work. During the month of August, I will take a few “cooking days” to prepare for my own kids’ impending school season, and I will document them (I usually spend about six non-continuous hours on each of those days, cooking and packing – ie, there’s plenty of time for me to make phone calls and check email if I choose). I will break the days up into regular posts, and throw in an occasional snack post as well, so you can stock up on granola bars and other homemade snacks. I’ll show you how to reheat your meals, and I’ll give you suggestions for how to use your lunch entrée to put together a full meal for your kidlets (or yourself). Every week, I will put out a “shopping list” for you to prepare for the following cooking day, and will give you any tips for materials that you may or may not choose to have. And in a few weeks, I’ll also review the actual lunchboxes and containers we use – you can feel free to experiment yourself, but I’ll tell you what has worked for us and why.
So! Expect another post later this week with our first shopping list, and a quick discussion of basic necessities (packing materials, freezer space, cooking utensils). We’ll start out with some of our more basic recipes – if this goes well, I can expand and give you some of my more fun menus.
Start Your Engines
Hand Pies, Four Times Over
Breakfast for Lunch
The Home Stretch
How to Send Your Love By Proxy
How to Send Your Love By Proxy, Vol 2
Additional Lunch Posts
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.
The FDA does specifically say that a closed, full freezer will maintain its temperature for 48 hrs without power (a half-full one will maintain it for 24 hrs), so food does not need to be thawed or refrigerate or transferred anywhere, as long as you kee the doors closed. So even if your power goes out Saturday, your lovingly-prepared lunches should be safe till Monday when the repair guy comes! Just sayin’ …
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?).
STILL NEED HELP PACKING LUNCHES?
Check out my feedback on how to pack the lunches, with reviews and discussion on cold foods, hot foods, beverages and lunchboxes! But if you don’t think you can take another second of wading through my never-ending drivel, and just want to cut to the chase to know what my absolute preferences are, here’s the short list:
- For hot foods, Funtainer Food Jar or Stanley Food Jar (sorry, you do need to make this decision yourself based on the details).
- For the rest of your lunch, and cold entrees, EasyLunchboxes system: containers, lunchbox, and mini dippers. Close second: PlanetBox.
- Funtainer water bottles (Doc McStuffin, Wonder Woman).
Sometimes, I come across good deals and want to share them, but I don’t want to send you unwanted emails. If you’d like me to email you when I find something really good (like the Instant Pot that went on sale last week for $69.99) you can sign up for those emails here. These would probably be once or twice a month.
I’M ON INSTAGRAM & TWITTER:
You can follow me on Instagram @emiponcedesouza. You can also follow me on Twitter @poncedesouza. If you share your photos, use the hashtag #EmisLunches, and please tag me!