Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Freezer Cooking 101: Shopping For Your Food

Catch all my Freezer Cooking posts here

Over the past several weeks we have talked about how planning is key to a successful freezer cooking day.   Within the context of planning, I told you ideas for planning your menu and location.  Last week I had to take the day off because of unexpected surgery but today I'm back to talk about shopping for your food.

Make your List
The next step after planning your menu is to create your shopping list.  There are several things to remember here.
  1. Be sure to multiply your recipe out for the number of times you are making it.  If you are doubling or tripling your recipe, multiply that out before you go to the store.  I find it's easiest to use Excel or Google Docs to do this.  (Just a note, using Google Docs to make a spreadsheet makes it very easy to share among several people.)
  2. Keep in mind conversions.  You'll need to convert everything to how they sell it in the store.  Once again, it's much easier to do this before you go to the store.  You might have one recipe that calls for 6 chicken breasts, one that calls for 6 lbs of chicken and one that calls for 6 cups of chicken.  You know you either have to convert all those to number of chicken breasts or pounds of chicken because that's how its sold in the store.  So as best as you can convert everything to a common unit that's easy to find when shopping.  Here are some helpful conversions:
    • 1 chicken breast = about 1/2 lb of chicken
    • 1 cup of chicken = 1 chicken breast
    • 8 oz = 1 cup
  3. Decide who is doing the shopping or if you are dividing it up.  In our cooking group, I have been the designated shopper since I am the one who doesn't have a full-time job.  However, the last time we cooked, the shopping was almost too much for one person.  I was hauling around 20 lbs of chicken, 12 lbs of ground beef plus all the other canned goods, cheeses and other ingredients in one cart.  It was a lot to push around, a lot to check-out, a lot to put in my car and a lot to take into our cooking space by myself.  In hindsight, it would have been better to divide that out among two people or two shopping trips.  So really look at your list and decide if one person can handle it in one trip.
  4. Make sure to include on your list things like heavy duty aluminum foil, aluminum pans and freezer quality gallon bags.  We highly recommend using Hefty brand aluminum pans instead of store brand.  They hold up much better when stacked on top of each other.
OK, now that you have your list.  It's time to shop.
  1. Be reasonable about cost.  We have been able to make our meals for $5-$5.75 per meal.  That means if you are making 15 meals each (each person goes home with 15 meals), expect to pay about $75-90 each.  Last time we went home with 17 meals each and paid $95 each, about $5.60 a meal.  Keep that in mind as you choose your shopper as well.  Consider estimating and paying them your portion ahead of time so it's less out of their pocket.
  2. Look at the sales.  If chicken is on sale at one store, go there to buy it.  This may seem like a no-brainer but when you are buying a lot at one time you'll save significantly if you follow this.  Also remember that places like Walmart will price match other stores.
  3. If you can buy items ahead of time that are on sale and/or you have coupons for them, this will save you time and money.  This especially comes in handy after you have cooked a few times.  There will be certain items that you find that you always use.  In between cooking times, you can look for those items on sale.  For instance, we always use tomato sauce, spaghetti sauce, cream soups, and shredded cheese, to name a few.  If we can find them on sale on a non-cooking week, the cans and jars can be stored safely in a pantry or garage for several months and the cheese can be frozen.  Since our last cooking day, we have been doing this and we have been keeping track of our inventory on a Google Doc spreadsheet.  This helps cut down on our cost and on the amount of food we have to buy at one time.
I hope I helped you in making your list and shopping for your food. 

Planning is key to a good freezer cooking experience! 

Next week we will talk about planning for your cooking day. 

I'll leave you with another recipe from the 30 meals in one day book and website.

(Dinner Is Ready page 71)
Honey Barbequed Ribs
3 lbs boneless pork ribs
1/2 tsp garlic salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 cup ketchup
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup spicy brown mustard
2 Tbl Worcestershire sauce
1/2 Tbl liquid smoke

Place pork ribs in bottom of slow cooker. Cover and cook on High for 3 hours. Drain and discard liquid. Reduce heat to Low. In a bowl, combine garlic salt, pepper, ketchup, brown sugar, honey, spicy brown mustard, Worcestershire sauce and liquid smoke. Mix well. Pour over ribs in slow cooker. Cover and cook on Low for 3 hours. Remove from slow cooker and allow to cool. Place in freezer bag. Label and freeze.

To serve: Thaw. Heat until hot throughout.

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