Have you ever stood in the kitchen fifteen minutes before dinnertime and realized that you have nothing started for dinner? Have you ever wished you could spend more time with your family and less with your pots and pans?
Research shows that by age 45, the average woman has spent 50,000 hours in the kitchen. That figures up to 3,124 days of her waking hours feeding and cleaning up after those she loves! It wasn’t my imagination that I was “always” in the kitchen! Three home-based businesses, church and community activities, homeschooling, and the growing appetites of five boys forced me to learn meal-making shortcuts.
By trial and error, I developed a system that allows me to serve inexpensive, nutritious food in fifteen minutes or less without spending a whole weekend cooking each month. This is not gourmet food, just hearty meals to fill those “eating machines” grazing through my kitchen.
We’re not talking about Once-a-Month cooking. We’re talking about a system that will get you through 3-4 meals a week with much less time and hassle, so you can make your specialties on evenings when you’re less stressed.
The key to the Homemade Convenience Foods system is to develop a freezer pantry and to keep it stocked, just as you do your dry pantry shelves and refrigerator. Don’t worry—it is possible to employ the system using only your refrigerator freezer.
To develop a freezer pantry, you will pre-cook and freeze your basic meats. You will use these basics to prepare your favorite recipes. Here’s why it saves you time.
It takes ten minutes to brown one pound of ground beef, plus five more minutes to clean up the pan, lid, spoon and stovetop. That’s fifteen minutes of your time per pound of meat. OR you can brown six pounds of ground beef in about twenty minutes plus five minutes to clean up. That’s twenty-five minutes for six pounds or 4½ minutes per pound. Do the math—the cleanup is the same either way, but would you rather spend 15 minutes per pound or just 4½ minutes for each pound of meat that you brown?
As your budget allows, purchase ground beef, chicken (or turkey), bulk sausage, bacon, and roasts. On an afternoon or evening when things are a little less hectic than usual, begin cooking one of these meats. I cook one batch every 2-3 weeks, rotating as needed among the types of meat.
When cooled a bit, spoon the remaining meat into pint-sized freezer boxes (these hold about one pound each). Label with masking tape and a marking pen and freeze. I keep most of them in my refrigerator’s freezer for conveniencei.
When the day’s schedule calls for a convenient recipe, your meat is all ready to thaw and mix in with other ingredients you have prepared in advance. These might include chopped onions, chopped bell peppers, shredded cheese, and others.ii With practice, you will be making dinners in fifteen minutes or less.Be a professional as you search for ways to get your mealtime prep done more efficiently, making the most of those times when you are in the kitchen. Bon appétit!
[i] You may want to store some meat in empty cottage cheese or sour cream cartons if you will be sending it with college kids or blessing a friend with a meal—no returns necessary! My college-aged sons loved to “shop” Mom’s freezer for pre-cooked meats to use in their own apartments. This method has also allowed me to bless new moms with ingredients for a meal after they’ve eaten all the casseroles that flooded the house the first week after delivery.
[ii] This article is a brief overview of the Homemade Convenience Foods system. For more details about stocking your freezer pantry, plus your dry and refrigerator pantries, as well as sample recipes and play-by-play techniques for prepping fifteen minute dinners, visit MarciaWashburn.com to purchase your copy of Homemade Convenience Foods.