How to Save Money with Prep-Ahead Meals
One of the great things about batch cooking ingredients in bulk is that when I see a great deal on meat, I feel comfortable buy several packages at once to use in my bulk cooking. I can then bring it home and cook it within a day or two. If I don't have time to cook it in a day or two, I can freeze it and then that it ad batch cook it on a more convenient day. While you can't thaw and then refreeze raw meat. You can thaw meat, cook it and then freeze the cooked meat.
In my cookbook Prep-Ahead Meals from Scratch, the first 4 chapters focus on a primary protein (chicken, beef, pork, and rice and beans) and include 4 – 6 different ways to batch cook that main ingredient. This allows you to choose a batch cooking technique that fits into your schedule and uses the appliances you have in your kitchen.
Frugal Prep-Ahead Meal Planning
I usually make my meal plans on Thursday for the following week. I start by going through my refrigerator to see what produce and other perishable items I still have available to use in recipes. Then I check the freezer to see what batch cooked meat, beans, and rice are available to use in recipes. I also check to see what frozen raw meat I have available to cook for recipes if I am short on precooked meats. Then I check the pantry to see what staples I have available either to batch cook or to use in recipes. This helps me save money because I don't buy things we already have on hand. Buying too much food can easily lead to food waste.
After I know what I have available, I go through the grocery store sales fliers and look for sales on meats to batch cook. I also look for sales on staples such as rice, pasta, beans, and cheese. I find the best deals on fresh produce by buying what is in season. If I want to cook a vegetable that is out of season, I look for deals on frozen vegetables.
Once I know what I have available and what I can buy on sale, I start brainstorming which recipes I can create with the ingredients I have and a batch cooking plan for the ingredients I buy. I pick a batch cooking method based on how I plan to use the meat in the recipes. I choose the batch cooking method for the rice and beans based on which appliances I am not using to cook meat, so I can cook multiple items at the same time. The batch cooking instructions for each chapter of Prep-Ahead Meals from Scratch are followed by 20 recipes that use the batch cooked ingredient to make a quick and easy meals making it simple for you to pick a batch cooking method and recipes to use the item you have cooked in bulk.
This week I found great deals on boneless pork loin chops and ground beef. I picked up 4 pounds of pork that I cubed and batch cooked in a skillet. The pork will make a great base for stir-frys. I bought 3 pounds of ground beef to make meat balls.
You can find a printable shopping list, menu plan, and batch cooking plan here.
For this week's menu, I will be able to use frozen batch cooked chicken, rice, and white beans from last week's batch cooking session for a few of my meals. I will then batch cook cubed pork, meatballs, and black beans to use in other meals. By combining pre-cooked ingredients from the freezer with batch cooked ingredients I can create a menu with greater variety.
1 hour Prep-Ahead Session
Cooked 1 pound of Black Beans in a Pressure Cooker. Directions page 114. (30 minutes)
Batch cook 4 pounds of cubed pork loin chops in a skillet. Direction page 46. (15 – 20 minutes)
Batch bake 3 pounds of meat balls. Directions page 107. (30 minutes)
Chop broccoli and onion.
Sliced carrots and celery.
Make a large salad.
Make dressings used on salads.
How I organized the batch cooking session and vegetable prep:
- Start the black beans in the pressure cooker.
- Cube the pork and batch cook it in a large skillet.
- While the beans and pork are cooking, chop and slice the vegetables.
- Make a large garden salad to use as a side dish through out the week.
- Make dressings to use on salads.
- Grate cheese.
- Let the beans and pork cool off, then store in usable portions. I store the beans in 1 3/4 cup portions and the pork in 2 cup portions.
- Make the meatballs and put them in the oven.
- While the meat balls are baking, make Mongolian Beef Glaze and the Garlic-Ginger Green Beans.
- When the meatballs are done cooking. Place 20 in the Mongolian Beef Glaze and toss to coat. Package the rest in 1 pound portions and freeze for future meals.
I store the cooked pork, and beans for the first 3 – 4 days worth of meals in the refrigerator. I freeze the pork, meatballs, and beans for the meals on days 5 – 7 and future meals in the freezer. I pull them out to thaw in the refrigerator the night before they are needed. If I forget, I can quickly thaw them in the microwave.
Menu Using Prep-Ahead Meals from Scratch
I decide which recipes I am going to make before I start my batch cooking session. Since I wanted to used cubed pork in some of the recipes, I cooked it in a skillet. If I had wanted to use shredded pork then I would have used a different method such as the slow cooker or pressure cooker to produce shredded pork.
The below recipes all come from my cookbook Prep-Ahead Meals from Scratch. The recipes are designed to be used with batch cooked ingredients. All of the recipes can be made in less than 30 minutes.
Sunday – Mongolian Beef Meat Balls (page 108) over Rice and Garlic-Ginger Green Beans (page 159)
Monday – Tuscan Pork (page 58) over linguine and a garden salad
Tuesday – Cajun Chicken and Pasta (page 43) and a garden salad
Wednesday – Honey Lemon Pork and Broccoli (page 53) over Rice
Thursday – Pasta e Fagioli with Tortellini and Kale (page 128) and a garden salad
Friday – Black Bean and Sweet Potato Burritos (page 132) and Mexican Rice (page 138)
Saturday – Apple, Cranberry, and Chicken Salad with Cranberry Vinaigrette (page 41)
There will be 6 – 2 cup portions of cubed pork, 3 – 1 3/4 cups portions of black beans, and 2 – 1 pound portions of meat balls leftover from my batch cooking session that I will freeze for future dinners.
You can use the prep-ahead and batch cooking techniques with many recipes, but I will be sharing weekly menu plans and tips specific to the recipes in my cookbook Prep-Ahead Meals from Scratch.
If you would like more batch cooking tips and menu ideas based on Prep-Ahead Meals from Scratch, join the Prep-Ahead Meals from Scratch Facebook Group! I will be sharing quick prep-ahead ideas, menu plans, and tips for saving money on groceries with the group.