Friday, October 10, 2014

Freezer Meals (AKA Saving Time, Money AND Sanity!)

JWe have officially been in our own home (first time on our own!) for two years now. 25 months, to be exact. Just a couple months after moving in we got engaged and spent the next year and a half planning a wedding. With both of us working full time, coming home to tend to the needs of our very energetic pup, maintaining a house & lawn, budgeting and providing dinner for more than just one mouth, we found the unhealthy and financial pitfall that is eating out.  A couple weeks ago, I found out about the fabulous world of freezer meals. Mind BLOWN.

That Sunday, I spent a couple hours on Pinterest and searching blogs for good recipes that weren't JUST pinned, but also attempted. I picked the ones that received the best reviews that also sounded good to us. I made a shopping list after scouring the cabinets for things I already had on hand (i.e. spices, sauces, canned goods), paired up what I could with coupons and headed off to the store. The initial research was the biggest time consumer. I look at it as an investment that was WELL worth it. And now YOU can benefit from me having done all the research for you!

If we both were purchasing lunch at work just three times a week, that's at least $60. And if we ordered out or went out for dinner just twice a week, that's another $80 easy! That's $140 for three lunches for each of us and two dinners. Not to mention the weekends, or groceries for breakfast and other dinners/lunches, another $100/week, for a grand (minimum) total of $240. The end result of my freezer meal trial run was $108 (I saved $62 by using coupons and buying sale items!) for everything needed to create 8 freezer meals. Each meal was enough to serve both of us a hefty portion for dinner and leftovers for lunch the next day. Still with me? So one dinner and one lunch EACH. Meaning $108 would feed us EACH eight dinners and eight lunches. Over one week's worth of yummy, healthier food for less than half as much as we were spending before. Some meals even produced enough for us each to have 2 lunches!

So what were our favorites? The following are recipes we will definitely put into regular rotation! If forgot to take pictures, so I'll update this post next go 'round!

Creamy Italian Chicken


Creamy Ranch Chicken


Chicken Rigatoni Alfredo


Chicken Taco Bowls


Honey Teriyaki Chicken


Chicken Fajitas


***If you don't have a programmable slow cooker, you may want to consider using chicken thighs instead of breasts for less dry chicken when cooking times are longer than suggested.***

Creamy Italian Chicken (LOW 4-5 HOURS cooking longer makes chicken dry)   
Label and add in the bag:
4 chicken breasts
1 (8 oz) regular cream cheese, softened 
2 cans cream of chicken soup
1 dry packet of italian seasoning
Serve over rice with a veggie side

Creamy Ranch Chicken (LOW 4-5 HOURS, cooking longer makes chicken dry)
Label and add in the bag:
4 chicken breasts
1 (8 oz) regular cream cheese, softened
2 cans cream of broccoli
1 dry packet of ranch seasoning
Serve over rice with a veggie side

Chicken Rigatoni Alfredo (Low 4-5 HOURS)
Label and add in the bag:
3 Chicken Breasts
1 Jar Alfredo Sauce (after adding sauce, fill empty jar with water half way, shake and pour in bag.
half bag frozen mixed bell peppers
2 cans mushrooms
During last hour or two of cooking, add half a bag frozen chopped brocolli
Added to slow cooker during last 30 minutes:
1 box rigatoni (boiled al dente on stovetop) 
8oz block of cream cheese.
Shred chicken in slow cooker with two forks, will fall apart easily.
Sauce will thicken if left to stand 20 minutes with slow cooker turned off and lid removed.

**OUR FAVORITE** Chicken Taco Bowls (Low 7-8 hours)
Photo credit from original recipe source, Budget Bytes.
Label and add in the bag:

3 chicken breasts
1 (16 oz.) jar salsa
1 can black beans, drained
1 can (or half bag frozen) corn
1 Tbsp chili powder
½ Tbsp cumin
½ Tbsp minced garlic
½ tsp dried oregano
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
¼ tsp salt
to taste cracked pepper

Shred chicken in slow cooker with two forks, will fall apart easily. 
Cook on stove top 1 bag Saffron (spanish) rice (or 2 bags to make this recipe feed up to 8)
put rice in indivudual bowls and top with large scoop from slow cooker, top with cheddar and fresh cilantro (and hot sauce, sour cream/guacamole if desired)
This is also amazing in tortillas or without the rice atop tortilla chips for nachos!
**You can easily feed 10-12 with this cheap meal by adding 2 chicken breasts and 1 each salsa, corn, black beans. GREAT for gameday nachos!!
If you don't have all the spices, just buy a package of taco seasoning ;-)

Honey Teriyaki Chicken: (Low 4-5 HOURS, cooking longer makes chicken dry)
Label and add in the bag:
3 chicken breasts, cut into bite size pieces
1 cup honey teriyaki sauce
1 cup water
2/3 cup brown sugar
3 cloves garlic, minced
a few sprinkles of ginger
We serve on brown rice and broccoli
I personally think this recipe is better with thighs.

Chicken Fajitas (Low 4-5 hours)
Label and add in the bag:
1 bag frozen bell peppers
1 onion cut in strips
3 chicken breasts
1/2 cup chicken broth
taco seasoning packet
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp paprika
1 tsp salt
shred meat in slow cooker with 2 forks and serve on tortillas with cheese, sour cream, guacamole, rice, whatever you'd like!

To recap, I spent:
3 hours doing initial research, creating a shopping list and couponing
45 minutes at the grocery store
$108 at the grocery store (and earned $.40 off each gallon of gas!)
1 1/2 hours labeling/stuffing bags, cleaning up prep items and putting away groceries.

All in all, this process should now take no more than 3 hours on a Sunday to get my list, coupons, shopping and freezer meals done and in the freezer! 3 HOURS on ONE DAY and I can now reclaim my weeknights!

I'm hosting a freezer meal workshop on November 2nd. If anyone is interested in starting their own journey to eating better and having more time to spend with your family after work instead of slaving away in the kitchen, let me know and I'll send you the info! I'll need to know by October 18th at the latest!


These recipes were originally found on the following blogs, although I've tweaked the ones above based on how they originally turned out.
Making Our Marx
Budget Bytes