Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Tip of the Day: Food Preparation

In previous posts, I have mentioned saving money and time while shopping.  These posts have received the most "feed"back.  That is probably because that is where a large part of your money goes, and also a large part of your time.  Coming up with 365 meals a year is hard, but there are ways to make it easier.  One way is to go out to eat.  I love this idea, but if you're trying to save money, you're up a creek.  A more reasonable solution is to prepare meals ahead of time.

Meat is one of the biggest expenses on your shopping trips.  I have already mentioned that by buying it in bulk, you can save a bundle.  If buying half a beef is not your style, family packs are a great alternative.  It may seem these are harder to use.  There are ways to prepare it, however, that are easy and will save a lot of time.  Some of the meals that I mention are just examples; you can plug in your favorite meals in these places.  Also note, the amount I use is for a family of eight, six if they're older.

In every grocery store I've been to, you can buy hamburger in five pound family packs.  This is usually cheaper than the single pound alternative.  When I get a five pounder home, instead of freezing the whole bunch of it, I use it up right then.  If I don't have time, I put it in the refrigerator until I do, maybe while I'm making dinner.

All measurements are approximate, but by splitting the meat up, you can figure out about how much a pound is.  I take about 1 1/2 pounds and make into a meatloaf.  Then I put that in the freezer.  I use about 1 to 1 1/2 pounds to make hamburger patties, separate them with wax paper, and put them in the freezer.  I then cook the remainder of the hamburger, chop it up, and separate it into about 1 pound increments. With this, I make lasagna, shepherd's pie, spaghetti casserole, tator tot casserole, and/or beef enchiladas.  You can substitute any other casserole dish your family likes, and put them in the freezer.  I usually have about 1/2 pound left over.  I put it in a bag and freeze it to add to taco soup or spaghetti sauce.

You now have four to five meals made already!  It's also handy if a neighbor needs a meal to take it our of the freezer, add a salad, and wah-lah!

All of the above meals freeze really well.  To use these, I take them out of the freezer the morning I want them and they're ready to bake by dinner time following the directions in your recipe.  If they're defrosting too quickly, put them in your refrigerator until time to cook.

Just a note: if you don't have enough casserole dishes, you can line one with tin foil, make the casserole in it and freeze.   When it's firm, dump the food out of your dish, and wrap well to avoid freezer burn.  Now, you have your clean dish back, (because you used the tin foil,) and you've saved time on doing dishes!  When you want to bake these, just unwrap the meal, (you can leave the bottom foil in place,) put the casserole in the correct pan, and bake.

You can follow this same concept with family packs of chicken, pork chops, or any other meat that you can buy in bulk.  With ham, you can buy a whole loaf and the meat department will slice it for free.  At home, divide it up into single meal-size portions and freeze it.

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