I have really been making an effort to make more freezer meals. Anything that can be dumped into a crockpot or popped into the oven for dinner – freezer meals feel like a “get out of jail FREE pass” on those days that are overwhelming or extra busy for me. It keeps us from eating out on a whim – which seems to always cost a small fortune, no matter where we go or what coupons we use.
This past December I purchased a 40 pound box of beef from Zaycon Foods. This was a huge step outside my comfort zone, I mean huge. I usually don’t even buy ground beef. We stick to Zaycon chicken and most of the red meat we eat has been moose meat from my dad, which I’ve grown up on and he subsistance hunts in Alaska. But I wanted to give you an honest review and report on Zaycon beef and we were running low on moose meat – so I thought we’d give it a try – and of course I had to blog about it.
About Zaycon Beef – Zaycon lean ground beef is sold in 40 pound box it comes in 10 pound cases inside, so it’s easy to split with others. It is 93/7 lean ground beef at $2.99 a pound – so you’ll pay $119.60 for a 40 pound case. I found the quality was amazing – very, very lean and it tastes great. Zaycon lean ground beef is currently on sale in select locations, but you must place order by tomorrow, February 1.
So there we were on that Saturday in December – my husband and I spent seven hours and we made 40 freezer meals. We were exhausted but so very proud of our hard work:
- 10 taco meat meals (1 pound each x 10 = 10 pounds)
- 6 italian mozzarella meatball meals (1 pound each x 6 = 6 pounds)
- 6 sweet and sour meatball meals (1 pound each x 6 = 6 pounds)
- 6 meals of kalamata/olive burger patties (18 patties, 3 per meal = 6 pounds)
- 6 meals of burger patties (18 patties, 3 per meal = 6 pounds)
- 6 meals from lasagna dishes (6 pounds)
40 meals, 40 pounds of beef. Seven hours. Only one round of dirty dishes and one dirty kitchen. For the meatball recipes and the lasagna dishes we used recipes from the book Fix, Freeze, Feast: More than 124 Recipes by Kati Neville and Lindsay Tkacsik. I like this book because it is very easy to follow and it has you make a lot of the sauces you want by scratch – so I think the recipes taste much better than cookbooks that recommend using pre-made store-bought sauces. The meals aren’t fancy – they are everyday family, kid-friendly recipes. A newer version has come out from the one pictured here, but I think the recipes are the same.
Here’s how we went about the day. . .
We picked out the recipes we wanted to do ahead of time and we purchased the main ingredients in bulk from Costco. Many of the staple ingredients we had in our stockpile from couponing. By picking similar recipes – that used many of the same ingredients, it made it easier to shop and made less prep work.
We worked together. I admit if I had done this myself I would have felt too overwhelmed, especially about five hours into it – when we had to push through to the end. We actually had a lot of fun working as a team and my husband called it “Battle Meatball” because he is a big Iron Chef fan and it seemed like we spent a lot of time making meatballs.
We started with a clean kitchen and did the majority of the work while the kids were sleeping and entertained. Ideally we would have had a babysitter – but that wasn’t in the cards. So we took turns entertaining the kids and plowed through a bunch of the work while the kids were napping or watching a movie (or two).
We saved a ton of time by food processing ingredients, like onions, all at once – for multiple meals. It might not make sense to pull out the food processor for onions on a single meal – but when you’re making many meals – I think I would literally cry if I had to do it by hand.
We multi-tasked. We had taco meat going on one burner, while cooking plain hamburger for the lasagna on another burner. We each tackled a recipe or two at a time and tried to be as strategic as possible about what and when we started things. For example – we knew we had garlic in three recipes – so we minced enough garlic ONCE in the food processor (Amazon) for all the recipes. Same thing for chopped onions – and we cooked them all up ahead of time and used them in multiple recipes.
We had some great music playing thanks to Pandora while we cooked. It was the week before Christmas so we were belting out Christmas tunes while making more meatballs than we’ve ever seen in our lives. It was rather entertaining and made the time go faster.
If I was to do it again, I probably would have only planned to make one set of meatball meals. They are much more time intensive than the lasagna, taco meat or burgers. Having to roll each of the meatballs did take awhile – especially the mozzarella meatballs, which each have a cube of mozzarella inside. But let me tell you – they are amazing and delicious! We opted to bake all our meatballs ahead of time because we figured they would always be going into some kind of sauce – so we weren’t worried about them drying out. They went into pre-labeled gallon freezer Ziploc bags, which you can get at Costco or with coupons.
I decided to dedicate an entire 10 pounds to taco seasoned meat. I know it’s not glamourous but it is flexible – tacos, nachos, taco soup, taco salads – it was easy and something my kids like to eat, so it made sense for us a. I used my Foodsaver to package the taco meat to keep it from gettting freezer burn, plus I like the neat, stackable packages it makes. We date and label everything. (By the way – Costco is a great place to get a Foodsaver and the bags – especially when they have Costco coupons, which they seem to have fairly frequently.)
I like to freeze all my meals on stacks of cardboard. It looks ridiculous – but they freeze flat and do not stick together. Then after 24 hours or so, I go back in and stack them all on their edge (see photo at top of post). It makes it easy to flip through and find what you need and they take up less space.
From beginning through clean up it was about seven hours. This was while we juggled kids in between – so you could probably get it done in less time without kiddos at your feet. My favorite part of freezer cooking – hands down – is only having to do a mess of dishes like this ONCE. Of course I’m going to have dishes when I go to cook a freezer meal – but nothing compared to the mess I’d have if I’d made one meal from scratch for dinner. We even had the foresight to pop one of the meals in the crockpot while we were cooking, so it was ready to go when we were all done.
I can tell you that the 2 day power outage we had a couple weeks ago had us sweating bullets. We knew that our freezer not only had a substantial monetary investment inside, but also a labor investment. Thankfully we didn’t open our upright freezer the entire time the power was out and the garage was cold enough to keep everything rock solid. But my husband was going to go out of his way to get a generator if it came down to it, to keep all of his (our) hard work from going out the window!
Overall the cost for the 40 meals was about $200 – which comes out to $5 a meal! We had the big investment of the $119.60 for the 40 pounds of Zaycon lean ground beef and then about $80 for the remaining ingredients – things like mozzarella cheese, bread crumbs, feta, kalmata olives, etc.. I think it was actually even less than this but I can’t find my Costco receipt (that’s what I get for waiting a month to write about it)! Only $5 for a home-cooked, easy, mess-free meal is worth it to me – how about you?
I’d love to hear from you – how to do you prefer to do your freezer cooking – all at once like this? Or just a couple hours here or there? What are your favorite freezer meal recipes? How do you save on meals and make meals ahead of time? Please comment – I’d love to learn from you!
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