Author Topic: Updated: Increasing Time (budget efficiency ideas requested)  (Read 4829 times)

Mongoose

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 2438
Updated: Increasing Time (budget efficiency ideas requested)
« on: January 28, 2016, 11:17:24 AM »
I have recently started a part-time contract and, while great for increasing the monetary budget, it has wrecked my time budget. Last night this resulted in a hungry DH grabbing some fast food. Our hair is still on fire and there is no money in the budget for eating out. I also grabbed a package of frozen gluten-free pizza crusts this week for a quick meal (very expensive from my perspective). I want to hit the brakes on this behavior before it takes away the gain from me working.

I want to stick to all from scratch cooking for budget and health reasons. DH would be fine with that if I can make it convenient for him. Otherwise, he will take the path of least resistance (and buy fast food on a regular basis. Ugh!).

Constraints:
- for all practical purposes, all the household chores/cooking, childcare (except when I am physically at work), errands, budgeting etc is on me. DH struggles badly with organization and works overtime with a long commute.
- my job also has a long commute (2 hour round trip). This cannot be fixed right now (see above mentioned hair fire).
- kids are too young to help a lot (can unload dishwasher, put clothes away, stuff like that).
- I need to make everything (for instance, for burritos, I need to make the tortillas and filling and then assemble them) so I can accommodate food allergies. The recipes I'm currently using are somewhat time-intensive (mostly to create viable gluten-free products that my family will actually enjoy).

I absolutely believe it is possible for me to take care of the house/kids, scratch cook everything, and work part-time. My grandmother did all that while raising 7 kids and taking care of her invalid mother-in-law. And she didn't have all the modern conveniences (indoor plumbing, running water, freezer, etc.). I already batch make all our bread (make 6 loaves and freeze 5). This works really well but when I tried freezer casseroles, for instance, they took so long to defrost that I could've made 4 dinners before it was ready to eat.

I get up at 6 am, work one full and two half days per week on site plus one half day from home, and need evening time (7 pm to kids bedtime) free for the kids.

Any suggestions for efficiency that would help me get the house chores, and especially scratch cooking, done? I would especially love some grab from freezer and microwave quick meal ideas. And ideas for getting ahead making 'convenience' food (tamales, burritos, etc) given tight time constraints? I no longer have two full days to devote solely to cooking such things.

I have a crock pot that I rarely use but may help some for days when I don't forget to start it.
« Last Edit: February 28, 2016, 04:25:59 PM by Mongoose »

honeybbq

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1223
  • Location: Seattle
Re: Increasing Time (budget efficiency ideas requested)
« Reply #1 on: January 28, 2016, 11:34:11 AM »
I would not make anything that required significant time to make like tortillas unless, like the bread, it could be done quickly and once and then be set for a long time. Use lettuce or find a different meal.  Can you not use corn tortillas from the store if it is a gluten issue?

Set out your casseroles to defrost the day before. Or two days before. Then they will be ready to reheat and should take less than an hour in a 400 degree oven.

Instead of tacos, have taco salad.
Instead of burritos, just make a casserole (with no tortillas/chips) or use corn chips/corn tortillas.

You haven't mentioned soups. Those are my mainstay - so easy and fast. Chili, veggie and noodle, squash curry soup, etc. I can get those made in less than 30 minutes + simmer time.

Use your crock pot for pork carnitas or other foods that you can eat for days at a time.

Red beans and rice is an another easy staple.

Platypuses

  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
  • *
  • Posts: 67
Re: Increasing Time (budget efficiency ideas requested)
« Reply #2 on: January 28, 2016, 11:39:38 AM »
Utilizing a crock pot is a game changer. My DW has about 10-15 recipes that she rotates and will make 2-3 meals a week. Other nights we eat leftovers or I have simple go to meals like mac & cheese and hot dogs. Nights when I pick up the kids from daycare and beat her home she texts me what to do with the food. Simply having instructions and her creating a game plan has kept me from going to get fast food once I pick up the kids.

It will be a bit more of a challenge due to gluten restrictions, but it can be done. Find a few crockpot recipes (pinterest has a lot of options), stock up on GF mac & cheese (or some simple easy prepare meal) and let your DH know whats for dinner or what he needs to cook.

FrugalZony

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1463
Re: Increasing Time (budget efficiency ideas requested)
« Reply #3 on: January 28, 2016, 11:50:56 AM »
I was going to suggest the slow cooker as well.
This site has a lot of gluten free recipes, as her family has gluten sensitivity as well
http://www.ayearofslowcooking.com/

other than that i would talk to DH to see what chores can be shared better, even partial task
and maybe you can up working from home from 1/2 day to more to cut down on time lost commuting

any chance of a move to cut your losses and cut down on commuting for both of you?

formerlydivorcedmom

  • Pencil Stache
  • ****
  • Posts: 628
  • Location: Texas
Re: Increasing Time (budget efficiency ideas requested)
« Reply #4 on: January 28, 2016, 12:19:36 PM »
I second the idea of getting the casserole out 2 days before.  It will be fully defrosted for whenever you are ready to cook it.

I have also frozen fully-cooked casseroles too.  They just have to be defrosted for a day or two and then warmed up.  Easy-peasy when I get home.

When time permits, I will spend all of Sunday evening prepping for the next week's worth of meals.  Each shelf on the fridge will hold all the ingredients for one night's dinner (either a fully-put-together casserole, a bowl of stuff to dump in the crock pot, or the meat and veggies I will cook on the stove that evening).

Mongoose

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 2438
Re: Increasing Time (budget efficiency ideas requested)
« Reply #5 on: January 28, 2016, 03:59:34 PM »
Thanks. When I tried freezer casseroles before, I was perpetually mystified how it saved time as an 'emergency meal' when it took 4 hours to thaw. Had a major blind spot there. Duh!

Yes, we can use corn tortillas but I am hoping to be able to recreate the gluten free lentil burritos that we like ($4 each but oh so convenient to just microwave and eat). The corn tortillas are too small to make them well I think. We desperately could use an "oh crap I forgot to thaw/cook that and we are starving now" meal. Tamales and frozen burritos are great for those days. We currently default to quesadillas but cheese gets pricy.

I will investigate the slow cooker website recommendation. I got one as a present and have rarely used it. My family growing up never ate soup either so I never think of it either. Time to find some soup recipes too. A friend just sent a link to a website on premaking salad portions in mason jars. I'm going to try that too.

DH means well but after 20 years, I'm resigned to the fact that he is too unreliable to depend on to make food, get routine chores done, etc. He does the major repairs, jumps in to help if I'm already doing something, works hard, but will maybe get an item done (make dinner, take out the trash) 10% of the time, even with texts, reminders and alarms. I decided for my sanity and a peaceful home that I would get the absolute necessities done myself and be happy with anything he does manage to do.

any chance of a move to cut your losses and cut down on commuting for both of you?

This is the medium term plan. We located here to be within walking distance of jobs. Jobs moved but we have to save up for a semi-complicated move plus sell the house. Definitely our desire to eliminate this stupid commute.

Sailor Sam

  • Magnum Stache
  • ******
  • Posts: 4195
  • Age: 39
  • Location: Steel Beach
  • Semper...something
Re: Increasing Time (budget efficiency ideas requested)
« Reply #6 on: January 28, 2016, 04:54:57 PM »
For salads, I've found it very convenient to pre-make a large bowl, and use that as a vegetable source for several days. As long as you discard the gloopy bits like cucumber and tomato seeds, the lettuce will stay crisp for 3-4 days. Adding dressing, or other wet ingredients before consumption is the work of a second. Just cover the bowl with foil, and you may have to experiment a bit to find the best place in your fridge.

When freezing soups and casseroles, I find it much easier to divvy those up into 1-2 person servings, then freeze. That way you have a fighting chance of counter thawing in a few hours, or microwaving in a few minutes. Family sized blocks of casserole are much harder to wrangle.

You can also take most soups and stews from frozen, directly to the pot. Just don't turn the heat up too high before there's a decent amount of liquid. 

Tabitha

  • Stubble
  • **
  • Posts: 103
Re: Increasing Time (budget efficiency ideas requested)
« Reply #7 on: January 29, 2016, 06:46:21 AM »
I second the soups and stews and crockpot idea.  Your DH sound similar to mine.

For the crockpot, you can group the ingredients on the shelf, but I like to have one or two fully assembled in the freezer - out of the freezer to fridge the night before, then out of the fridge n in to the crockpot before I go. I don't worry if there are a few ice crystals left.

I do most of my food prep on weekends, chopping veg for the rest of the week, baking muffins, cooking up a couple of soups or stews. We'll eat the the soup or stew that night, a family meal portion will go in the freezer, a family meal portion will go in the fridge to have again Tuesday, and what's left goes in the freezer in individual meal servings (usually for lunches, but sometimes for fast food dinner.)  the soups are wet enough that single portions can easily be thawed in the microwave.

I have a great book out of the library at the moment: 163 paleo crockpot recipes. They're all gluten free, from basic unprocessed ingredients.

SomethingFishy

  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
  • *
  • Posts: 15
Re: Increasing Time (budget efficiency ideas requested)
« Reply #8 on: January 29, 2016, 07:54:08 AM »
I am also gluten-free, as well as pescatarian, and never want to cook from scratch on work nights. What I do is to make all the food for the week on Sunday. It takes me about 2 hours to make breakfasts, lunches, and dinners for two people for a work-week. I just re-heat what I've made each night. The week night prep work is rarely more than 10 minutes of actual work.

Here are some ideas of dishes that can be made in advance and then re-heated. If you like the sound of any, I can share recipes.

Breakfast:
Baked oatmeal
Veggie fritatta
Steel cut oatmeal (Use certified gluten free oats, if you can tolerate them. I do ok with the baked oatmeal, but can no longer tolerate straight oats.)

Lunch or Dinner:
- Fajitas (Slice and grill the veggies and any meat on Sunday, then just heat tortillas and assemble on weeknights)
- Black bean burgers/lentil burgers/beet burgers (depending on the recipe, I either make a batch of burger mix and cook to order, or make a batch and freeze individual patties. It takes ~20 minutes to bake the patties and 10 minutes to cook the refrigerated mix).
- Chickpea curry with brown rice
- Quinoa, green bean, avocado, walnut salad
- Polenta lasagna (Scoop home-made polenta into oven safe dishes. Top with pasta sauce and cheese and bake for 20 minutes @ 400.)
- Tofu and mushrooms with brown rice
- Quinoa with roasted root veggies, feta cheese, and vinaigrette dressing
- Black beans with spices, tomatoes, and shrimp/chicken/tofu

teen persuasion

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1060
Re: Increasing Time (budget efficiency ideas requested)
« Reply #9 on: January 29, 2016, 09:30:11 AM »
What about things like baking a ham (on a weekend), and then using that meat as a base for several days' meals? By the end of the week it becomes the base of a soup, which leaves leftovers for lunches, etc.  Cook once, use different parts in different ways.

How much can the kids do or help?  I've got 5 kids, so over the years I started giving them small duties to help with dinner, and they graduated to more duties as they mastered each.  Set the table, get drinks/condiments/etc from the fridge, make salad (tear lettuce, count baby carrots for younger kids, cutting when older), mix or stir things.  Now my teen son makes dinner on the nights we need to eat and dash after work - I prep things for him (get correct size pots out, measure rice, add salt, fill stockpot ahead for pasta, thaw meat) and left notes the first few times.

Some time intensive favorite meals just have to go in a time crunch.  Use the fast and easy ones when you have to, save the others for when free time is available.

GizmoTX

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1397
Re: Increasing Time (budget efficiency ideas requested)
« Reply #10 on: January 29, 2016, 10:21:11 AM »
When making a casserole, I split it into 2 pans to bake half for DH & me, & freeze the other half for a future meal. For larger families, double the ingredients to make 1 to serve that day & freeze the other. Casseroles can be baked from frozen without thawing by adding 15-30 minutes more oven time. Cover with foil if the top is getting too browned.

We also like freezer meals that are ziplock bagged raw, frozen, & then cooked in a pressure cooker (usually 30 minutes) or in a slow cooker (6 - 8 hours). The bag should be placed in the refrigerator overnight to thaw enough to pour into the cooker pot. Place the ingredients in the bag in the reverse order that they should go in the cooker; usually protein should be cooked on the bottom, so it should go in the bag last.

If you are buying a slow cooker, consider getting an Instant Pot instead -- a pressure cooker saves time as well as increasing flavor, & it can function as a slow cooker, rice cooker, or steamer.

Mongoose

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 2438
Re: Increasing Time (budget efficiency ideas requested)
« Reply #11 on: January 29, 2016, 04:20:32 PM »
Hmm..my last reply got eaten. Weird.

Thanks everyone for the ideas. I've been taking notes and am going to try a new strategy. I'm going to try the weekend prep this weekend. I hadn't thought of putting crockpot meals in a bag to just dump. Seems so obvious in retrospect. DH might be able to do that (and I can have a backup plan in case he gets distracted). I'm excited about the possibility of getting meals streamlined so we can eat well and hang on to more of our money. And I hope meal planning will be easier. I'm pretty burned out on trying to come up with ideas.

@SomethingFishy: I would love to have a recipe for baked oatmeal. Never heard of that preparation method. The other ideas sound yummy too.

I do have the kids helping as they are able (4 and 6). They do a lot. Honestly, if I had the bag ready to dump, 6 year old could start the crockpot. She might forget but is at least as likely to remember as her daddy. They crack me up (supper time should not come as a surprise...it happens pretty much every day... I don't get it). I do make batch meat on the weekend and freeze the leftovers but we have had trouble following through on using it (not me...but others...). The crock pot and frozen casseroles should help.

A friend just gave me a paleo crockpot cookbook. What great timing. Can't wait to check it out!!!
(I'm possibly excessively excited at the prospect of easier meal planning and execution.)

TrMama

  • Magnum Stache
  • ******
  • Posts: 3033
Re: Increasing Time (budget efficiency ideas requested)
« Reply #12 on: January 29, 2016, 05:27:54 PM »
My DH and I also both work full time and we have 2 kids, one of whom is intolerant to everything. No premade stuff here either.

My solution has been to simplify our meals. My kids wouldn't eat casseroles anyway and the only soup I can get them to eat is chicken broth with plain noodles. They're not into "mixed together" foods. Our basic meal is some sort of grilled, pan fried or baked meat, a starch some raw veggies and a salad. No crockpot or ready made freezer meals.

Get a rice cooker. For $30 your 6 yo will be able to make rice and quinoa (works for barley too if you can eat it). BBQ whenever possible since there's less clean up and maybe you can get your DH to do it. Baked potatoes can be made in the microwave in minutes. Turn them once mid-way through to prevent the flat spot on the bottom.

I fought for years to get my kids to eat cooked veggies. Then I saw the light and realized how much easier it was to just eat them raw. I peel and prep all kinds of veggies on the weekend and just keep them in bags in the fridge.

If you're using some sort of marinade for the meat, it can be frozen with the meat in a ziploc. Just take the meat out of the freezer the night before and it'll be thawed by dinner time.

AMandM

  • Pencil Stache
  • ****
  • Posts: 916
Re: Increasing Time (budget efficiency ideas requested)
« Reply #13 on: January 29, 2016, 09:49:54 PM »
A friend of mine recommends this system:
On a weekend, when she has time to prepare a meal from scratch, she makes a 7-tuple batch of it.  Eat one, freeze the others.  Do this every week for 6 weeks, using a different recipe each week.  This sets up a system where each week you eat one fresh-cooked meal and have six different frozen from-scratch meals, but you only have to prep/cook once a week (granted it takes longer than cooking one meal, but not as long as cooking seven).

11ducks

  • Pencil Stache
  • ****
  • Posts: 562
  • Location: Duckville, Australia
Re: Increasing Time (budget efficiency ideas requested)
« Reply #14 on: January 29, 2016, 10:32:17 PM »
Can I ask who has the allergies in your family? If its only you, have you considered separate meals?

I'm casein (dairy) intolerant, so avoiding dairy means there is heaps of meals that my partner and son love that I can't have. Plus, I'm vegetarian and both are huge meat eaters. To make something that accommodates us all can be really time-consuming as they are picky eaters, so I've defaulted to easy-cook things for the two of them for M-F, while I'm happy to have a rotation of the same few safe meals from the freezer. This week they've had rissoles and vegies (defrosted/chopped the day before and bunged in the oven when I got home), hotdogs (shudder), pasta bake (easy to do), and spaghetti (defrosted Bolognese with fresh pasta), while I had rice and beans (defrosted), tofu stir-fry with rice prepared over the weekend, a vegetable omelette and a quinoa salad.

It works because I meal plan, grocery shop from that, and put a big schedule on the fridge. After dinner each night while DS is showering I have a quick look at tomorrows foods to see if I need to defrost something overnight, soak beans, chop veggies, marinate something. Anything complex is made on the weekend, and I have a big stock of single-serve meals that will defrost quickly (vegetable muffins, quiche, rice meals for me).

The meal plan also includes daily breakfast, lunches and snacks for each of us, so DH can look and know what stuff is there for him when he's peckish (usually wraps, ham or chicken, yoghurt, cheeses, crackers and fruit cups). Stops DH from stealing stuff allocated to DS's school lunches!

For mornings, I keep cucumber, spinach and banana in the freezer for daily smoothies. 

For DS, I prepare, bag, and freeze school stuff (sandwiches, muffins or mini pikelets, bottled water) so I can just add an apple and a bag of chips each morning and we are done.   

During the week, all of our meals are pretty basic, when I have time on the weekend I'll batch cook.

Mongoose

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 2438
Re: Increasing Time (budget efficiency ideas requested)
« Reply #15 on: January 30, 2016, 07:24:36 AM »
A friend of mine recommends this system:
On a weekend, when she has time to prepare a meal from scratch, she makes a 7-tuple batch of it.  Eat one, freeze the others.  Do this every week for 6 weeks, using a different recipe each week.  This sets up a system where each week you eat one fresh-cooked meal and have six different frozen from-scratch meals, but you only have to prep/cook once a week.

Oooooo! I love this idea. I'm going to have to figure out how to work something like that into the rotation. Meal planning is something I haven't gotten figured out yet.

Can I ask who has the allergies in your family? If its only you, have you considered separate meals?

Sure. Unfortunately, we have multiple food allergy people. I can't handle cow dairy (goat/sheep is fine but super pricy), 6 year old has celiac, DH gets migraines from eggs that have been treated for long shipping/storage (can eat local eggs only), and the littlest can and will eat anything. Lucky kid! I also have to be careful how much vinegar I consume (I still can't figure out how I can be allergic to it since it isn't a protein but a couple of episodes have convinced me to be wary). Grandparents all are allergic to at least something so family get togethers are interesting.

Thanks for the meal planning plan description. I'm still working on learning to do that (sometimes I don't get what seems like obvious things...grrrr).

Tabitha

  • Stubble
  • **
  • Posts: 103
Re: Increasing Time (budget efficiency ideas requested)
« Reply #16 on: January 30, 2016, 07:47:02 AM »
It works because I meal plan, grocery shop from that, and put a big schedule on the fridge.

The meal plan also includes daily breakfast, lunches and snacks for each of us, so DH can look and know what stuff is there for him when he's peckish

+1
Lots of us have talked of batch cooking and pre-prep, but having a plan and POSTing the plan where DH can see it is important. It's also a lifesaver for me when I'm tired after work to look at the plan and know what we're having.

I use the plan as a guide ie on Wed I might choose from Wed Or Thurs meal, but I won't take Friday's because I know it suits best our other activities that night. This lets us benefit from "the plan" without feeling like we don't have choices.

Urchina

  • Stubble
  • **
  • Posts: 198
Re: Increasing Time (budget efficiency ideas requested)
« Reply #17 on: January 30, 2016, 01:15:18 PM »
Here's what we do, in a similar situation (though we don't have food allergies, we do cook nearly everything from scratch, including tortillas). Both DH and I work full-time, and we have kids as well.

1. We meal plan. We have a handful of reliable meals that we know everyone likes and that DH & I can both make. Each Saturday, as a family, we decide what to have for dinner each night, based on what's going on that week and who will be making dinner. This gets written down and posted on the fridge and on Sunday we decide who is making what meal, so that we both know what nights we're on deck. We have "dinner categories" that help us - for example, a roast something on Sunday, Indian food / Asian curry with rice on Monday, Tacos/burritos/taco salad on Tuesday, pasta on Wednesday, crock-pot soup with salad and homemade bread on Thursday, pizza/Netflix movies on Friday, Try a New Recipe Saturday (which then can get put into rotation during the week if it's a good one).
2. Sunday prep. DH and I eat salads for lunch. Kids have home-packed lunches for school. Sunday afternoon, we pre-chop veggies, make salad dressing, boil eggs, grill and slice chicken breasts, cook batch of beans, make muffins and egg cups for breakfast, you name it, so that we can quickly put together our meals for the week. I also wash and cut lettuce this day and we stick it in a big Rubbermaid tub in the fridge (we eat a LOT of lettuce -- 5 heads a week or so).
3. We batch-make essentials, like bread and tortillas and chicken broth. You already do this with bread, but you can easily freeze tortillas, and making two dozen doesn't take much longer than making a dozen since the main part of making them is in the dough prep. I've gotta say that my food processor rocks my tortilla world; makes dough lickety-split. You can also pre-make and pre-bake pizza crusts this way. And when we make pizza, I make three or four and we slice and freeze the rest for a quick drop into kids' lunch boxes later in the week. We do the same with cookie dough -- make dough, portion, freeze, then drop into ziploc bags for easy bake-off later on (just put frozen dough balls on cookie sheet & bake for a couple of extra minutes -- works great!)

Now, on to household chores. We have what we call the "magic minimum" in chores -- the bare essentials. And I mean bare. This is what ours looks like (I've printed it out and post it on the fridge, so there's no confusion for anyone):
Daily
Clean litterbox
Feed cats & dog
Dishes (we run the dishwasher at night, empty in the morning and load throughout the day)
Wipe down kitchen counters and dining room table
Sort mail; bills go to bill box, everything else gets dealt with that day and then put in recycling.

Weekly:
All shopping. We do it Saturday, after we've made our meal plan. I go once a week. Saves tons of time, gas and money because it forces me to plan in advance.
Laundry. We do it once a week, on Saturday morning. Kids and DH and I bring out our laundry, sort it, and then run it through.
 Vacuum the whole house. This takes me one hour. I usually do it Friday afternoon just before the kids get home from school.
Clean bathrooms (not a deep-clean: just counters, mirrors, toilets, tubs/showers. Takes me 15 minutes per bathroom). Again, this is usually a Friday afternoon task for me.

Twice a month:
Pay bills. I pay them on the 1st and 15th. All bills go to the bill box and I pay them in batches. I've put whatever I can on autopay. Saves SO MUCH TIME!

Monthly:
Give dog heartworm/flea meds.

That's it. We have a clean-enough house, home-made meals 7 days a week, and a housekeeping system that works for us.

Oh, and you can make oatmeal in a Crock-pot! The night before, put one cup steel-cuts oats in a Crock-pot, and add 4 cups liquid (I like almond milk). Set it to low and go to bed. Wake up in the morning to hot oatmeal! Works great! My aunt adds dried apples, brown sugar and cinnamon to hers and then sprinkles with chopped nuts and it's good that way, too. We take the leftovers and pop them into single-serving containers in the fridge; they're easily microwaved for future use.

We also make double or triple batches of pancakes and waffles and freeze extras in single-meal portions. Both reheat very easily in our toaster for quick breakfasts.

Good luck!
« Last Edit: January 30, 2016, 01:18:37 PM by Urchina »

With This Herring

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1208
  • Location: New York STATE, not city
  • TANSTAAFL!
Re: Increasing Time (budget efficiency ideas requested)
« Reply #18 on: February 01, 2016, 08:11:03 AM »
Last minute meals:
Eggs - scrambled, quick omelets, sunny-side up on homemade bread toasted
Rice with stuff
  • defrosted slow-cooked beans (AFTER SOAKING, KIDNEY BEANS MUST BE BOILED 10 MINUTES BEFORE NORMAL COOKING), salsa, hot sauce, sprinkling of cheddar, etc.
  • miscellaneous cut-up veggies, soy sauce, hot sauce, stir-fried or not
  • (if leftover rice) cook with milk, dried fruits, honey to make porridge http://allrecipes.com/recipe/96787/brown-rice-breakfast-porridge/  (cranberries are a great, cheaper sub for blueberries)

Forgetting to set the slow cooker:
If you use your phone to wake you in the mornings for work, first alarm is "wake up!", second is "start crockpot!" maybe fifteen minutes before you need to be out the door.

For cooking ahead:
Chili does excellently in the slow cooker.
If your soup contains noodles, don't add noodles before freezing!  They remain edible, but they go all wonky and break up.
You can make burritos ahead and freeze them.  Again, they like to defrost overnight for lunches or throughout the day for suppers.

Be careful with putting cold things into a hot oven.  Lovely, thick, solid glass will shatter, so tricks like adding cooking time to defrost casseroles in the oven only will work for metal pans.  (Also, a glass casserole full of apple crisp will not survive the hot burner you set it on when you've taken the dish from the oven to cool.  Ask me how I know...)

mozar

  • Magnum Stache
  • ******
  • Posts: 3008
Re: Increasing Time (budget efficiency ideas requested)
« Reply #19 on: February 01, 2016, 02:10:09 PM »
Instead of freezing stuff I will make a casserole and leave it in the fridge and eat it all week. I don't mind eating the same thing every day though. Another thing I do is make casserole fruit pie. Instead of rolling out the dough so it's round I make the pie dough rectangular and line the bottom of the casserole dish. I layer fruit and some sugar, and lay more dough in top. I do this in the summer then freeze it so I can  eat warm apple pie in the winter.

Mongoose

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 2438
Re: Increasing Time (budget efficiency ideas requested)
« Reply #20 on: February 01, 2016, 02:55:39 PM »
Casseroles can be baked from frozen without thawing by adding 15-30 minutes more oven time. Cover with foil if the top is getting too browned.

So, this is the part that is bugging me.  I have frozen casseroles and tried to bake them from frozen based on these types of instructions.  Dish is a metal casserole pan. Straight out of freezer into a 350F oven. I thought it would take an extra 30-60 minutes.  Every time the thing was literally in there 3+ hours before it was thawed.  And at that time, it wasn't even as warm as we would want it to be. WTH?!?!?!?!? I'm sure the oven temperature was accurate (everything else baked in a normal amount of time).  I asked my mother and she has the same experience.

Is there a trick I'm missing? My freezer is too aggressive (upright freezer not just part of the fridge...probably a bit colder than the freezer part of the fridge/freezer combination...keeps ice cream very hard)? An extra 30 minutes would be no big deal. 3 hours makes it ridiculous.  I still will try again by thawing the the fridge for a day or two and then reheating portions as needed.  Kiddos don't really like casseroles but I'm crunched enough for time that, as long as whatever meal accommodates everyone's allergies, then if they are hungry, they will eat it. I sometimes feel a bit bad about that but I don't want to add anything to my list of things to do.

I've incorporated several of the suggestions already and time is already freed up a bit.  I think once we get rolling on this I might just finally get the food preparation/meal planning under control.  That would be awesome! The regular house chores aren't too bad...I think decluttering and simplifying will help those a lot (I joined the declutter in 90 days challenge.)

snuggler

  • Stubble
  • **
  • Posts: 154
Re: Increasing Time (budget efficiency ideas requested)
« Reply #21 on: February 01, 2016, 05:49:56 PM »
A couple of other suggestions for busy/lazy/hangry nights that I haven't seen mentioned yet:

- Have you seen BudgetByte's top freezer meals? There are some great ones in there. The black bean quesadillas are just divine. See: http://www.budgetbytes.com/2012/04/top-10-freezer-meals-2/

- We also have recently started to prepare beans from dry, and cook a full 2 pounds (dry) at a time in the slow cooker. We then freeze 1-2 cups in a ziplock bag, and always have 1 or 2 bags of beans available in the fridge. When one gets low, we just grab another one and let it thaw in the fridge. These are great cheap protein sources for easy burritos/tacos. Some of our favorites:

a) fried egg, rice, beans (black or pinto), avocado;
b) black beans with sauteed bell peppers, onions, and cheese;
c) hummus, cucumber, beans, bell pepper (raw), and feta cheese;
d) sweet potato chunks (1 inch cube sauteed in a pan for 10 minutes with cumin and salt), rice, black beans, and guac or lime sauce (squeeze lime juice into sour cream or plain greek yogurt).

Most of these fillings would probably be freezer-friendly too, although they are super easy to do in a pan on the stovetop with 5-10 minutes.

- We cook a big batch of brown rice on the weekends and then use it to make rice bowls, burritos, thicker/more-filling soups, fried rice, etc. Here is a delicious recipe for fried rice: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/food-network-kitchens/fried-rice-recipe.html. It is SO easy, and works well with other veggie substitutions.

- We cook large batches of soup and freeze 2 cup portions for the two of us to microwave and eat with fresh bread. So delicious! Some of our favorite recipes that have frozen well:

a) Thai Butternut Squash soup: http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/thai-butternut-soup
b) Potato stew: http://www.budgetbytes.com/2011/12/slow-cooker-potato-soup/ (just use more chicken broth instead of the milk)
c) Chicken noodle soup: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/26460/quick-and-easy-chicken-noodle-soup/

- My friend did a huge crockpot freezer meal cooking session before she gave birth, and loved how easy dinner was in the first couple of months. There are lots of recipes online, but here is one great example: http://www.thirtyhandmadedays.com/2015/08/31-crockpot-freezer-meals-for-busy-weeknights/

Good luck!

Rosy

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 2123
  • Location: Florida
Re: Increasing Time (budget efficiency ideas requested)
« Reply #22 on: February 01, 2016, 06:29:12 PM »
So glad you asked this question:) My immediate response was you need a pressure cooker - you know that instant pot that everyone is raving about and there is a huge thread here on MMM - I think it is in the introduction section. Totally fresh and done in 5 to 15 min max.

I second the soups and stews - don't bother trying to reheat them in the oven. If you have a heavy bottom pot, a good stockpot works well just reheat with a tad of water and a couple of spoonfuls of olive oil, keep the lid on and set heat on medium in about ten minutes your frozen chili or whatever will be ready to decimate with a wooden spoon - stir once, add more liquid only if needed.

Works like a charm and if you made the kind of casserole where it doesn't matter if you stir it up a bit - do as above - I promise it will be ready to eat within about 15 min or so, 20 min max.

I'm definitely stealing that steel cut oat recipe for the crockpot - must try this weekend - we buy the ready made stuff and it is so expensive.

Mongoose

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 2438
Re: Increasing Time (budget efficiency ideas requested)
« Reply #23 on: February 28, 2016, 04:25:22 PM »
Update

The suggestions have been enormously helpful. I have several casseroles in the freezer. I've been remembering to set them in the refrigerator before we need them. We haven't had any "emergency" meals out all month.

I haven't used the crock pot yet as I've been enchanted with frozen casseroles that are actually useful. I'm hoping to edge into burritos and stews and slow cooking in the next couple of months.

I just wanted to revisit this to thank everyone for the super helpful suggestions and information!

NonprofitER

  • Stubble
  • **
  • Posts: 160
  • Location: Texas
  • Reaching FIRE w/ High Purpose (Low Pay) Nonprofit
Re: Increasing Time (budget efficiency ideas requested)
« Reply #24 on: February 29, 2016, 07:11:00 AM »

If you are buying a slow cooker, consider getting an Instant Pot instead -- a pressure cooker saves time as well as increasing flavor, & it can function as a slow cooker, rice cooker, or steamer.

+1 on the Instant Pot

I work F/T and manage child drop-off and pick-up and dinner most days due to my DH's work schedule. The Instant Pot has been a huge help to me. We also live on soups and it has cut down on cooking time for most of my recipes.  I found I felt intimidated by the learning curve of converting recipes - even though I'm an experienced cook. But I continued to experiment and now we use it multiple times a week. It's also super efficient and making bone broths, beans and legumes from scratch, etc.