Have fun and mark something off your long, long, LONG to do list at the same time? Why yes… yes you can! JMM Jen deVore is one of our Mamapreneurs, and she offers Freezer Meal workshops through her Pampered Chef business! I love to batch cook, and I particularly like to prep a big batch of “just cook and eat” meals to stock up my freezer when I know things are going to be busy around here. So when Jen sent out a notice that she was offering a crock-pot heavy night of freezer cooking, I said YES PLEASE! (There are multiple menu plans… we’ll be test driving one as a group on 11/22- I’ll let you know how that goes!)
One of the beauties of batch cooking is that it greatly reduces your cleanup time. You can prep an ingredient for several recipes, clean up your work area and utensils, and then at dinner time you have none of that. Do one of these workshops, and it’s even easier- first of all, it’s like double double batch cooking, because you are have several people sharing that efficiency. Secondly, Jen has EVERY tool you could ever possibly need to make this go smoothly- and last but not least, she ran everything through her dishwasher, not mine! (Totally awesome and I HAVE offered to host next time… we’ll see if she says yes!)
Jen keeps this as simple as it can possibly be for you. You’ll order your pantry items ahead of time, and they’ll arrive in time for cooking night. We arrived to find everything we’d need organized and labeled on the top of each jar, so we didn’t even have to hunt for the right ingredients. (We used most of the pantry ingredients, and took home our leftovers. My husband was thrilled, because this meant several more meals with the asian bbq spice that is his new favorite thing…)
Jen sends out a grocery list (and a challenge to keep your total under a certain $$$ amount, just to keep you on your toes! She says the average per serving is $2.50… but, just between us? I hope to beat that with some good sales.) this means you can shop your pantry for things you already have on hand, and, even more importantly, that you can make substitutions. Did you hear what I said? If your family has food allergies, you can select the ingredients they can eat! This blows the lid off those places that you just pay a flat fee and go cook- you can use up what you have in your house, and make sure it’s the right ingredients for your family! I filled two grocery bags with pantry items that I didn’t need a whole one of for this evening. And when I was doing my shopping, I found a good sale on chicken, and subbed chicken for pork in some of the recipes to save some real $$$. (Your shopping list will make note of some possible substitutions, to help you.)
So that’s the basics of how it works. We snacked and socialized while we put our meals together, and just generally had a really good time. You will DEFINITELY want a cooler or real bags to take your food home in- they are heavy, and you’ll be frustrated if you try to take them home in plastic carrier bags.
Worried about picky eaters or food allergies? Jen is a mom too! So she strives to make these recipes as kid friendly as possible. My family of four have various “picks” about food, and I’ve successfully fed most of the meals I’ve prepared from this workshop to everyone. We’ve only had one that the kids turned down, and I think if I prepare it a little differently, they’d eat it another time. My husband has raved about every single one, and it’s been a load off my mind to know I’m out ahead of this one. For allergy families, remember you are shopping your own ingredients! Jen can help you with any questions about the pantry items, and you can substitute other ingredients off your shopping list to make these work for your family.
A few people have asked me since the first workshop we did if it’s possible to split the portions and take home less food if you have a small freezer.
OF COURSE it is. You can buy half the recommended quantities on the shopping list and take home extra leftover pantry staples, OR you can share your pantry order with another person.
If you want to share your pantry order for a workshop that the Joy Troupe is hosting, just work it out between you and one of you register as a participant and the other as a “lookie loo.” You can shop once and split the cost and pre-workshop prep, or divide and conquer as works best for you. Then just bring double the number of storage bags mentioned on your list and divide the recipes as you prepare them. Each of you will take home 7 meals for 3-4 people instead of 7 for 6-8 or 14 for 3-4.
My family and I have now made our way through two sets of these freezer meal recipes, and we have liked ALL of them. Maybe I’m the only person who has an issue with trying to find new recipes that appeal to both me and my husband, but our tastes in food are pretty different. So trying to find something that makes both of us REALLY happy with our dinner is tough. An unexpected bonus of doing these recipes is that we end up doing things I might never have picked. Not only do we enjoy the recipes I’ve brought home, but I’ve had some new ideas for things to try out on my family. (SWEET. Because when you’re the person who is supposed to know the answer to “what’s for dinner,” it’s awkward to be the one asking…)
I also put these to the ultimate test after our last workshop. I handed one of the bags to my husband and said, “you and the kids make dinner tonight.” And then I LEFT THE ROOM. Guess what? Dinner was great. They had no trouble following the directions. The cleanup was no big deal and there were no bizarre and desperate nutritional choices made out of frustration. WIN.