7 Tips For Saving Time And Money on Freezer Meal Prep

So you have heard great things about freezer cooking from your sister, your co worker and the man at the supermarket and want to give it a try? The first workshop that I hosted was over 5 hours and we only prepped 10 family sized meals! There wasn’t even any cooking required! haha (Not to mention, how high the grocery bill was!) I have learned so much this past year hosting whole food meal prep workshops, so please allow me to help you with your learning curve.
Organization and planning are ESSENTIAL for a stress-free prep day. Imagine having to make two extra trips to the store for forgotten ingredients or getting to the checkout at the store, only to find you went WAY over your budget. Neither of those things, would make freezer cooking worth the effort. In fact, they may send you running for the hills (or the nearest drive-thru)! To make things go smoothly, it is imperative for you to invest an hour or two into the planning stage. I promise it will be worth it!
1. Buy In Bulk Buying in bulk can save you tons of money and that is never a bad thing! There are two ways I achieve this with my freezer meal prep.
The first is to at least double all of the recipes I am making. There are times I make up to five bags of each recipe.
The second is to overlap ingredients when possible. For example, if I am using hamburger for recipe, I may try to find a second recipe with hamburger in order to get the hamburger cheaper per pound.
2. Stay Budget Friendly Aside from buying in bulk, there are a few other ways to keep the sticker shock a little lower for your prep day:
-Look at how many higher priced items you have on your list. If you are gluten-free or Paleo, you really need to keep an eye on things like coconut aminos, honey, maple syrup, fish sauce, almond flour, etc. as these can add up very quickly.
-Protein is always a large part of the bill, so always keep a close eye on this. Things like ground beef, ground pork, chicken legs or beef brisket are going to be less expensive than something like filet mignon, center cut pork loin, chicken breasts or a porterhouse steak. Making breakfast casseroles, using only eggs, also helps to cut down on the overall bill.
-Planning your meals around in-season vegetables and fruits can really save you some money as well. And in a perfect world, you would always purchase organic; however, many of my clients, as well as myself, use the dirty dozen verses the clean fifteen when deciding what we will purchase organic and what we won’t.
-When planning your meals, try to use up any rare ingredients that you may not use otherwise, so that they do not go to waste.
3. Cooking VS Easy Assemble Prep Some meals and entrees need to be cooked before you freeze them and some can be assembled without any cooking at all. If you plan for at least half of your choices to be easy assembly, your prep day will go much smoother! There are also some recipes which only need some cooking. For example, some casseroles will have you brown the meat, but not bake the casserole itself.
4. Variety If you are like most people, you will want to ensure that you have a variety of different types of meals. It is possible to overlap many of your ingredients and still have a variety of meals. It is all about the spices! Also, it can be helpful to have a variety of cooking types in your freezer as well, such as slow cooker, stove, oven, grill, etc. Often times I will prep one type each weekend for a month. The end result is a full variety in my freezer! It definitely helps to keep my family interested in healthier meals.
5. Check Out Your Pantry Building your meals around items that you already have on hand will allow you to use up old ingredients before they expire, as well as cut down your bill at the grocery store or farmer’s market.
6. Double Check Your Math Ensure you doubled, tripled or quadrupled the recipes correctly. If there are overlapped ingredients, ensure that you included all of them from each recipe and added the ingredients together correctly. Ensure that you converted your measurements correctly as well. Don’t forget about the storage bags or containers!
7. Triple Check Your Shopping List Needed to make extra trips to the store will not save you time in the long run. It may even cost you more money, if you are like most people, because you will pick up a few extra items while you are there, that you would not have otherwise purchased. To avoid this, simply triple check your shopping list to your recipes!
I know it is tempting to skip the planning stage, but if you just put a little effort into it, your prep day will go so much smoother (and be cheaper too)! If you would like for me to do your planning for you, check out a meal prep workshop if you are around Columbia, Missouri or email me at ashley@back2basicscooking.net for help via email/skype.
Are there any extra planning tips you would add to this list? Do you have any funny stories about results of NOT planning a meal prep day? I would love to hear about it below! Good luck and Happy Prepping!

How to Make Simple, Delicious, Healthy Meals Without All of the Extras

When I asked people on my support group, “What do you struggle with the most when it comes to your healthy eating goals?” I received a variety of answers. Several of them were similar in nature, in the fact that they all were struggling to find affordable, simple recipes:

“$ (Money) it’s hard to find things here and when you can it’s marked up double or triple what it was back in CA.”

“Money-it’s so much more expensive to eat healthy.”

“Finding good recipes that aren’t overwhelming.”

“Quick, easy recipes that don’t require 30 different specialty ingredients. I know I need to be better about prepping on the weekend, but we only have so many hours in the day to get things accomplished!”

This was certainly a struggle of mine as well, when I first started out eliminating so many foods and cooking from scratch. Things like coconut aminos and toasted sesame oil are amazing, but they are also hard on my budget if used too frequently! So why don’t I struggle with this anymore?

Along with starting freezer meal prep, these five things keep simple, delicious, healthy meals on our table (with a little time and effort):

  1. Fresh Herbs
  2. Fresh Spices
  3. Dried Herbs
  4. Fresh Spices
  5. Practice

Learning to cook with herbs and spices has taken me from someone who used recipes every time I attempted to cook anything, to someone who can just throw “whatever” together! In fact, this is when I have created some of my tastiest dishes that so many people enjoy in my cooking classes and workshops. And as an added bonus, the ability to improvise using herbs and spices, can save you tons of time and money in the long run!

The most amazing thing about herbs and spices, is that they can make the EXACT same ingredients taste like completely different meals! Example, saute some chicken and veggies with:

  1. A Mexican Seasoning Mix
  2. A Thai Seasoning Mix
  3. An Italian Seasoning Mix

Even if you use the same vegetables for every dish, you will end up with 3 completely different tastes! This is why I feel the key to long-term diet change (for those who bore easily) is to know how to use herbs and spices. This does not even get into all of the health benefits of these amazing creations! (Which there are a TON!)

I am working on my first cookbook, which will have a more comprehensive guide for those who do not have the time to experiment in the kitchen. However, I don’t want to leave everyone hanging until then, so I thought I would type out a few herbs and spices to get you started on your journey!

Fresh Rosemary, Apples and Pork are always a winning combination. Also, be sure to try it out with some roasted lamb!

Cinnamon is most known for adding sweetness to your dish; however, it can also add a savory flavor that your dish is needing!

Fresh Basil is a useful herb to get to know as well. It is used to flavor things like sauces, soups and salads and goes particularly well with tomatoes.

Cumin can add a Middle Eastern, Mexican, Indian, North Africa or Southwestern US flavor to your dish; however, it is also used by some to sweeten their dish and even as a pickling spice. If you have never used this tasty spice, I highly encourage trying it out!

Fresh Parsley should be found in every refrigerator, since it can go into just about any dish you prepare! Flat leafed parsley is preferred for cooking since it holds up to heat the best, while curly parsley is used for decorative purposes most of the time.

Turmeric will add a yellowish color to your dish, as well as a mild woodsy flavor. It can be used in place of saffron for those on a budget and is great for making tea. Just be careful, as it can stain your dishes and clothes!

I prefer fresh herbs when possible, but here a great rule of thumb when they may be hard to find or if you are trying to use up what is in the cabinet:

1 teaspoon of the dried herb = 1 tablespoon of the fresh

Don’t be afraid to experiment and if you mess up, it isn’t the end of the world! I know it is hard to waste food, but it is all a learning experience! (And trust me, if you have to throw the food away, you will learn! I know. lol) Throw in some citrus fruits from time to time for that extra zest and you will be unstoppable! In the long run, it will save you money AND time, since you will be able to throw an amazing meal together from what you have on hand without all of the extras!

 

 

Slow Cooker Sweet Potatoes

Have you ever cooked sweet potatoes in a crockpot? If not, then I STRONGLY URGE you do it. Like right now, stop what you are doing and go put some sweet potatoes in your slow cooker.                 You can thank me later!

Pictures are awesome I know, but I will have to edit this post to include them later. People NEED to know about this and my camera is out of batteries! 🙂

Instructions

  1. Wash, scrub and rinse 3-4 organic sweet potatoes.
  2. Place in slow cooker on low for 8 hours or 4 hours on high.
  3. Try not to eat them all.

I promise it will be the best baked sweet potato you have ever had! We make them a lot in our house, because as far as effort goes, this amazing side dish is about as effortless as they come, short of popping open a bag of unhealthy chips.  Baked sweet potatoes pair well with a variety of dishes. Add some butter from a grass-fed cow and cinnamon for a sweet snack!

What Will I Eat If I Don’t Use “Regular” Flour?-A Short Guide to Grain Free Flours

Grain free flours can be confusing, especially when you are used to “regular” all-purpose flours or even whole wheat flours. Have no fear though, because this post will go over the basics with you. After a little experimenting (but not too much because grain free flours are expensive!) you will know your way around grain free flours in no time…

The first thing to remember, is that grain free and gluten free are not the same thing. So anything made from oats, corn and rice, for example, are out. You can use beans flours or quinoa flour; however, if you eat Paleo like I do these are not good options. (Some in the Paleo/Primal communities believe buckwheat flour is ok to use, others avoid it.) Let’s look at what some good options are.

Grain-Free, Gluten-Free Flours

Almond Flour

Almond Flour/Meal- Thanks to more people giving up grains for various reasons, you can purchase almond flour from the health food section in many grocery stores. At around $10-$15 per 16 oz bag, it can get very pricey. You can purchase almond meal (which is slightly less ground than almond flour) from the bulk bins at some stores; however, those who have celiac or high sensitivity to gluten should not use this option due to cross-contamination.

It is much cheaper to make it yourself. Check out this video about how to make your own almond meal.                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

I would offer a word of caution about almond flour/meal though, I believe it should be used in moderation only. I personally do not feel my best if I eat too many nuts, so I looked into this and found this post about why to avoid almond flour. While I do think it is ok from time to time, I do think it is easy to go overboard. So as I said moderation (as with many things) is key.

 

Coconut Flour

Coconut Flour

Coconut Flour-Coconuts are amazing! Not only  is there milk, water, and oil, but you can also use the meat to make flour. Again you can buy it from the health food section of many grocery stores already ground up or make it yourself. Check out this video for a step by step how to guide:

Coconut flour is a lot different than regular flour and it may take you a few times working with it to get the hang of it. This post  from Nourished Kitchen tells you what you need to know.  It does not substitute the same as grain based flours, so check out her post before attempting to cook with it.

It also has a different taste. Personally, it took my taste buds a few times eating it before I got used to it. Now I love it!

Arrowroot Starch

Arrowroot Starch

Arrowroot Starch/Powder/Flour-Referred to as starch, powder and flour, this is my go-to thickener. It will replace cornstarch 1:1. Read more here.

Sunflower Seed Flour

Sunflower Seed Flour

Seed Flours-Seed Flours can be made the same way as the nut flours. Sunflowers are probably the most commonly used; however, pumpkin and flax seeds are another option. This can be a great option for some people with tree nut and peanut allergies (some people with peanut allergies can not tolerate sunflower seed either). Here is a great recipe for Gluten Free Healthy No Bake Brownie Bites that you can try out using sunflower seed flour.

Sweet Potato Starch

Sweet Potato Starch

Other Alternative Flours-There are tons of other alternative flours out there-plantain flour, hazelnut flour, sweet potato starch, tapioca start, other ground nuts and seeds, and plenty more. I personally never used any of these options though, so I do not feel comfortable advising the internet world on them. I just wanted to let you know there are other options if you are the adventurous type.

Peanut Free Flour– Those who follow a Paleo/Primal Diet like me probably already know that peanuts are not actually a nut, but rather a legume; therefore, they do not eat any peanuts. I know there people who read this blog that do not eat a Paleo diet and I also know there are plenty of people out there who simply CAN NOT have peanuts. If they do their airway will close up and they will stop breathing. If that happens, how will they come back to read my blog? (In all seriousness though, my boyfriend gets anaphylaxis to certain types of fish and it is nothing to mess around with. So if this is you, play it safe please!)

Some of these people also can not have seeds. While this recipe does contain buckwheat flour, it is the best option I am aware of for anyone with a peanut/seed allergy trying to eat as close to grain free as they can. (Please note that it also has coconut, which can be an allergen for some people with peanut allergies.)

A Few Final Thoughts

I find that using a combination of coconut flour, almond flour, and/or arrowroot starch works the best for most things for me. Play around and try different combinations to see what tastes and cooks the best for you. Remember to use more liquid than normal if you are using coconut flour.

I believe making things such as pancakes, bread, cookies, and even donuts with Paleo/Primal approved ingredients is ok in moderation. Of course, this does not mean that I believe this to be “health” food. I am one of the people who can not have “cheat” days while eating Paleo, because I am so sensitive to many non-Paleo foods that I end up fairly sick. So to have the option to make some pancakes that won’t leave me feeling miserable for hours afterwards is awesome!

Paleo Waffles

Paleo Waffles

If you eat these types of things everyday, please do not think you are eating healthy. While it is still loads better than eating a Standard American Diet, it is a far cry from having half your plate filled with vegetables. Please save them for now and agains if you want to feel your best! And don’t forget you can use it for things like coating chicken also….

What is your favorite grain free flour to cook with? What do you like to use your grain free flours for?

Eating Healthy on a Budget

Saturday, while on a radio show promoting Back 2 Basics Cooking’s upcoming Whole30 Challenge, a caller by the name of Karin asked me how she could afford to eat healthy if she was on a very limited income. She is on disability, which if anyone else knows someone who lives off this income, they know that they don’t have any wiggle room when it comes to their budget. I answered her question, but I did not feel like I gave her enough ideas. So this post is for Karin.

During our conversation yesterday, I explained to her that when you are on a very limited income you have to go all in when eating healthy. You simply can’t afford to eat healthy AND eat junk food. Also, if you quit the junk food, you will be amazed as to how long you can go without food. It takes sometime, but your body will adjust.

You are not suppose to feel like you’re starving a few hours after a meal.

I also suggested using some good quality lard. Karen said she cut pork out of her diet, so I suggested getting some beef fat (tallow) from the Columbia Farmers Market and rendering it herself. Rendering your own beef fat is cheap, easy and has great health benefits. Here is a great video about how to do this.

Here are some more tips that I did not get to when speaking to Karin:

  1. Meal Plan Meal planning can save you extra trips to the store, help you avoid impulse buys while there, and keep you from being hungry with no idea of what you are going to eat. Always check out what you already have and try to meal plan around that, especially if it is something that will perish quickly. The less you waste, the more you save. Which leads me to me next tip….
  2. Clean Out Your Refrigerator Often The more you clean out your refrigerator, the less leftovers you are likely to waste. Eating for health can get pretty expensive, so don’t waste any of those nutrient dense foods. I often make what I call “Refrigerator Soup” to help us eat up our leftovers (especially in the winter months).  I got the idea from this amazing book http://www.amazon.com/Long-Way-Little-Companion-Deliciously/dp/0979439124
  3. Buy in Season Vegetables and Fruits Buying things like exotic fruits for example, (I live in Missouri) can add up very quickly. Stick to what is in season and local if you are trying to eat healthy on a slim income.
  4. Utilize Bones and Fat As I mentioned above, you can get high quality animal fat from your local farmers market. You can also get bones. Both animal fat and bones are cheap, so they are a must for anyone trying to eat healthy on a limited income. Animal fat will help to keep you feeling full longer. Use the bones to make bone broth for amazing health benefits and taste. Save your vegetable scraps for added nutrient and flavor. Check out this simple explation of how to make it: https://wordpress.com/read/post/id/71388992/32/
  5. Make Things Yourself Obviously making your food instead of eating out will save money. Making things such as baked apple chips, condiments, larabars, salad dressings, and beef jerky can also save  you tons of money. This is also an great option, because you know exactly what is in your food and how it was prepared.
  6. Keep It Simple You do not have to make a 5 star meal every day. Here is an example of a cheap, yet affordable meal. Example:Can of Wild Caught Salmon Sauteed with Diced Onions, Mushrooms, Peas and Peppers or Hamburgers (No Bun) Topped with Avocado, Baked Sweet Potato Fries, & Roasted Brussel Sprouts
  7. Starchy Vegetables As the title of my blog implies, I do not feed my family grains. Doing so eliminates the filler foods that help stretch your dollar a little farther. Including plenty of starchy vegetables such as sweet and white potatoes, carrots, parsnips, and yucca root for example will help fill you up for less when you don’t have grains as an option.
  8. Participate in a CSA program CSA stands for “community supported agriculture”. At the beginning of the farm season you can purchases shares of the crops. Each week (or whatever is designated) you will be given a box of extremely fresh fruits and vegetables at a price lower than you would get them from the store. Read more and find a local farm to sign up for a CSA here: http://www.localharvest.org/csa/
  9. Grow/Raise Your Own Food One sure way to save some money is by planting and growing your own produces & herbs. If you don’t have a yard or the space for a garden you can use pots and window boxes. Here are 10 tips for gardening without a garden: http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/gardening-without-a-garden-10-ideas-for-your-patio-or-balcony-renters-solutions-167221 In Columbia, you are allowed to have up to 6 chickens (only hens, no roosters) as long as they are locked up at night, so you could have fresh eggs straight from your yard.
  10. Eggs Farm fresh eggs are an excellent food source. If you buy them directly from the farmer or at the market you will save more (if you don’t raise them yourself). You can make several meals per dozen, so even if you pay $5/dozen at the store, it is still a cheap protein source. Remember to keep your cartons and take them back to be used again.
  11. Buy a Whole or Half Cow/Pig/Lamb Buying a whole or half animal is a great way to save on the price per pound. For someone like Karin, who is on a low fixed income such as disability, this is probably not an option as you must have a lump sum of money to pay for all of this meat ahead of time. However, if you get a decent tax refund, you can use this to fill up your freezer. Lucky for us, that is when our beef guy takes his cows in to be butchered, so it works out perfectly.
  12. Organ Meat I will be perfectly honest in telling you it is taking me some time to get use to liver. Along with being extremely healthy organ meat are also cheap, even for high quality. Try this recipe (my son loves it!) http://hillarystarbright.wordpress.com/2012/04/23/going-paleo-this-is-the-best-liver-recipe-ever/
  13. Go Fishing/Hunting Food sources from the wild are typically an extremely healthy option. My dad brought me some morel mushrooms this year and every time I ate some I felt AMAZING for several hours! Animals in the wild are leaner because they are more active. This is obviously a cheap food source also. If you don’t personally hunt/fish, you may be able to find someone who enjoys it to sell you some at a discounted rate compared to the store/market.

These are just some of the ways you can afford to eat healthy on a limited low income. I hope they have helped you.

What ideas would you add to this list to help others like Karin who want to eat healthier on a low income?