Okay, guys, we’re in the home stretch now!
Many of you have already started the new school year, and the rest of us are just about there.
For anyone who has already made the three previous Rounds, you should have a pretty well-stocked freezer by now. But just in case you’re still working your way through them, or just want a little more variety, we have time for one more Round of freeze-ahead recipes before school is in full swing!
Round 4 are the dishes I typically pull out for the chillier fall/winter months.
I know, I know, It’s flippin’ 89 degrees outside now, and you’re all mentally (some not so mentally!) giving me the finger.
I get it. And I know I sound like the damn local mall, playing Frosty the Snowman the day after Halloween, but trust me. When you’re prying your sweet little lumpkins out of bed in a couple of months because the temperature has dropped, and you tell them there’s something warm and stick-to-your-ribsy waiting for them in their lunchbox, and they practically fall over themselves to get their teeth brushed and hair combed because they can’t wait to taste your delicious lunch at school today – well, I hope you’ll think of me. Sans the finger.
- The-Best-Freeze-Ahead-Soup-Known-To-Man. No, seriously.
*This soup is perfection as is, but absolutely withstands omissions and substitutions. Whether it’s a vegan thing, a dairy- or gluten-allergy thing, or a “kid hates anything remotely green” thing, I promise you this soup will see your modifications and raise you an OM
- BONUS How-To: Chicken Stock/Vegetable Stock to use in your soup, that will just make you feel sorry for all those suckers eating out of a can – EXTRA BONUS: we’ll do this stove-top, but Ill tell you how to do it with your Instant Pot as well, which is just a whole other level of awesomeness.
- Mini Mac-and-Cheese Muffin Bites.
- Pumpkin Spice Waffles
- Ridiculously-Easy-And-Totally-Worth-It (yes, it’s a theme) Bagel Chips (three ways, people!)
- Chewy Dried Pears
Also! After Round 4, snacks should be the only things we’ll need to refresh from time to time for awhile, so I’ll shift my focus there. As the holidays draw nearer, I’ll do a short series on my typical freeze-ahead holiday prep (because like many of you, for-the-love-of-parchment-paper, my schedule is crap and I’m always freaking working, so I don’t do holidays like a normal person, either). Look for that in the next few weeks. And I’ll be in touch again in January, when our freezers will be barren, but nobody will want to spend the next five months making sandwiches any more than we did back in August.
Ideas for other series you’d like to see? Suggestions for products you’ve discovered? Pics of your own kitchen successes? (head over to our Hall of Glory to see some awesome pics from readers, we’ll be adding this last week’s pics in the next couple of days!)
You know where to find me!
Here’s the list of equipment you’ll need, and a list of equipment that makes life easier.
- Large Stockpot. No need to try to stir slowly to not slosh out of a 10 quart stockpot. Go for this 16 quart stockpot. It’s about $25, and will make your soups and broths far easier.
- Measuring Funnel Pitcher – 3.5 cup
- Muffin tins, for your individual servings of mac and cheese. You will be baking eight tins so you’ll want at least two, but ideally four
- Silicone Muffin Cups for soup – standard size or jumbo
- Paper muffin liners (don’t get the foil wrappers for these! Foil muffin liners + Microwave = bad words in comments on my blog)
- Waffle Maker
- Big Tupperware Bowl
- Gallon Freezer Ziplocks
Strongly suggested, but not absolutely needed:
- Stand-up mixer (it was mentioned in a comment thread earlier this week that some of these lunch batches really won’t fit in a standard 5QT mixing bowl – if you don’t have one already, but are thinking of taking the plunge, consider purchasing a 7QT mixer like mine; I can throw an entire birthday party in there, and everything fits.)
- Food Processor – can’t emphasize this one enough (see? I wasn’t lying in Round 1 when I said we’d be using it!)
- Nesco Food Dehydrator, and remember, the Nesco has extra trays if you need ’em!
- Dutch Oven – 7qt
- Parchment paper
- Jelly Roll Pans – get two
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!