Tuesday, November 5, 2013

the scoop on "bonus hours"... FAQ on the Stock Your Freezer in a Snap program

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What if you could open your fridge or freezer door each day and know you were going to feed your family well-- no matter how busy the day might be? Sounds like a kitchen fairy-- or maybe a personal chef-- stopped by overnight, doesn't it? Like many of you, I am a super busy mom. I have two young children, work part-time, volunteer at my children's school, and am constantly on the quest for "me time" as I try to be a good mom, wife and friend. But still, I want to feed my family well. This post will answer some of the questions I have been asked about how I do this, and how I create "bonus hours" for myself while feeding my family well on thebusiest of days.
It takes a lot of effort to feed your family well day in and day out. It is a lot of work to prepare a nourishing, family-friendly homemade dinner every night. Which is why I don't.
As a former personal chef, I am an expert in cooking ahead. I know what freezes well, and what doesn't. So, I spend a few hours here and there getting my favorite freezer-friendly recipes made... and then I can take a few days off of cooking and reap the rewards of a freezer stocked with homemade meals.
It is bliss to open the freezer and see it stocked with meals my family loves. I feel good about the nourishing meals I am feeding my family... and I have realized that by cooking ahead, I actually created "bonus hours" for myself. Yes, you read that right. Bonus "me time". And it's awesome. These "bonus hours" are an hour at the end of most days that I claim as my own. Dinner either goes straight from the freezer into the oven, or was thawed in the fridge, and as it reheats and I can call a friend, play a game with my kids {if they've done their homework!}, workout, check my email, read a book... heck, I can just sit and have a glass of wine if I want.
Moms have a tendency to burn the candle at both ends. We all want to take care of ourselves, take care of our kids, take care of our spouse, have the house in order, squeeze in a workout, be as interesting as we were before we settled down and had kids, be involved in our schools and communities. It's easy to feel overwhelmed. Which is why I took the time to put this make-ahead meal program together. Having everything in one place-- done-for-you shopping lists, the recipes culled down to a set of family favorites, and a totally doable cooking schedule laid out over 4-weeks-- makes "bonus hours" attainable for any busy parent, me included. But you shouldn't just take my word for it! Here are what a couple of busy parents who completed the "Stock Your Freezer in a Snap" program had to say about it:
"Just did first week's shopping... SO easy. Took me 20 minutes with that organized list! Heavenly..." -A. Scott, New Canaan, CT

"It was VERY nice to come home, pop dinner in the oven, and be able to actually do stuff (dishes, clean up, help w/ homework) rather than cooking away. And the kids ate it, enjoyed it, and with all that spinach/squash/beans it was pretty healthy! Week #1 - thumbs way up!" - R. Sekhar, Chicago, IL

"Such a relaxing, rainy Sunday thanks to the already made chicken pot pie I pulled from the freezer for dinner!" - J. Borden, Darien, CT

"Beautiful green pesto! Two lasagnas in the freezer-- my husband is starting to get suspicious that I may be high-tailing it out of here because of all the food I am putting up ;0)!" - J. Valanzuela, Pasadena, CA

"Your packet is SO GREAT b/c it holds your hand the entire way-- from shopping lists and even where to get stuff to exactly what to do!... Dinner time no longer means a s*$& show!" - J. Nedder, Darien, CT

Is this a book I am sent or I need to pick up? No, {since I know some of you are like me and patience is not one of your virtues} this is an **instantly** downloadable 63-page pdf. Upon payment, you are sent a link from SendOwl, and you have the option of saving the pdf to your computer, or printing it out. I know some of you are more tech savvy than me and like to keep a computer on the counter while you cook. I am old school and like to print the recipes out, put them in {sauce splash-proof} plastic sleeves, in a notebook... You get to choose the way you want to view everything!

How will this Kitchen Coaching program help me stock my freezer? Short of me coming and cooking the food for you, this packet contains everything you'll need to take the stress out of mealtimes. It includes:
My lists of go-to cooking equipment and pantry items, so you start off rightMy tips for successfully freezing meals, including recommended packagingMy go-to culinary short-cuts, to save you time12 of my most-popular freezer-friendly recipes, split into 4 weekly cooking sessionsDone-for-you weekly shopping lists, so your grocery marketing is as efficient as it can beDone-for-you shopping lists for each individual recipe as well, for those who just want to make one or two freezer-friendly recipes here and thereSimple thawing and reheating instructions for each meal, so you can enjoy your "bonus hours" and still put a family dinner on the table on the busiest of daysSome have asked how much time it will take you to cook these meals? That depends. Conservatively, I set aside 1 hour per recipe. But some of you may be very comfortable in your kitchen and may whip through the week's recipes much more quickly. I have had parents who were true beginner cooks-- moms, who were absolutely uncomfortable in their kitchen-- successfully complete a round of the program, and claim at the end, "psst...I'm starting to enjoy cooking!". This program really is about making your life easier. The longest the cooking should take you is 3 hours once/week, if you follow the recipes as I have them laid out by week.
A few of you have asked whether you need to cook on a certain day of the week, or four weeks in a row? No! That's the beauty of this program. It is completely flexible. When you purchase the program, it's immediately available to download and either print out or save to your computer. I recommend spending the first week just reading through the recipes, taking inventory of your pantry items and cooking equipment, stocking up on freezer-friendly packaging, and clearing out some space in your freezer. Then you cook on the day of the week, and the time of day that best fits your schedule. I do recommend actually looking at the weeks ahead and blocking time out on your calendar {creating an "appointment" to cook-- the same way you block out a yoga class, volunteer commitment, etc.} just so you actually commit to cooking and creating these "bonus hours" for yourself. The way the program is laid out, there are four weeks of shopping lists, and recipes that balance quick ones with ones that may take more time to either cook or cool down. Some of you may want to go gangbusters and do all four weeks of cooking at the beginning of the program, and that's totally fine! Others may cook one or two week's worth of the recipes, stock a few meals in their freezer, and then take a few weeks off and come back to it, say, after the holidays. That works too!
"Taquitos ROCKED! So amazing!!" - C. Herdeg, Pound Ridge, NY"Made the taquitos last night to great reviews." - H. Wells, New Canaan, CT"...My hubby and kids had taquitos again last night and they loved them! I love having them in a freezer!" - L. Somerville, Darien, CT
A list of the recipes in the "Stock Your Freezer in a Snap" program can be found here. These recipes are my tried and true family favorites ones I used to make for my personal chef clients. I literally have bookshelves filled with binders of recipes. I culled through them, then ran a variety of recipes by the 20 parents who tested my program, and we narrowed it down to this group for the first make-ahead program. This set of recipes is true, nourishing comfort foods, perfect for the Fall and Winter.
What if I am a vegetarian or follow a special diet {like gluten-free, paleo, etc}? First, I recommend perusing the recipes in the program to make sure they sound like meals you can typically enjoy. You will know best. Whenever possible, I gave a meatless option for each recipe. But there are a few, like Mediterranean Beef Stew, for which that was not possible.

What if I am-- or a family member is-- allergic to an ingredient? I trust that if you have been living with an allergy you are an expert when it comes to substitutions.  That said, as a personal chef, I helped my clients find substitutions so they could continue to enjoy some of their favorite meals, even if an ingredient was now off-limits. I am always happy to help you brainstorm substitutions if you post the query on the Full Plate blog's Facebook page. The conversation may help others who are in the same boat!

How often are you eating these meals? If you have been a reader of the Full Plate blog for a while, you know that I believe in everything in moderation. Some of the meals in the "Stock Your Freezer in a Snap" program are on the more decadent end of the spectrum of things I cook {pot pies, lasagna, Mediterranean Beef Stew...}. Our family enjoys these modern spins on classic, comforting meals about 2-4 times/week. I tend to pull a meal from the freezer about that often, and the other nights, we're either enjoying leftovers or I make something really quick with what I find in our fridge and pantry. But keep in mind that for every night you're enjoying Creamy Pot Pie, Butternut and Black Bean Enchilada Casserole or Cheesy Baked Taquitos, there's a night when you're also going to enjoy Power Green Pesto, Baked Zucchini-Carrot Fritters or my super easy Posole Stew from the "Stock Your Freezer in a Snap" program! It's all about balance.

How long does it take to reheat the meals? Some of the meals just take a half hour to reheat from frozen, and others take 1-1 1/2 hours to reheat, if they're coming right out of the freezer. Reheating times are summarized for you in the program, so you can pick a meal based upon what time you get home.  I view the reheating time as my "bonus hour". No matter how nutty my day may have been, or how much chauffeuring I might have had to do that afternoon, it is simply awesome knowing I have 30 minutes to 1 1/2 hours "off" while our dinner is heating {and filling my kitchen with amazing aromas}.

Next big {deer in headlights} question-- what do you do with these "bonus hours"?!!  I know, I know-- busy parents may go into shock having an hour of free time built into their afternoons/evenings. I did. But once you overcome the initial shock, I recommend calling a friend, working out, or just having a glass of wine. And if you have extra hours in your day when you used to be grocery shopping, I recommend going for a walk instead. Those are my three favorite uses for the bonus time.
Will I need any special equipment for cooking or packaging the foods? Basic cooking equipment will do. I list all of my go-to cooking equipment in the packet, and have created an amazon store where you can purchase any loose ends you might still need. If you give the store a peek, you'll see that I do recommend having a food processor for quick chopping/shredding of ingredients. Big bowls/stock pot, and at least two baking sheets are necessary since we're making big quantities so we can enjoy one meal tonight and tuck others away for busy nights. And, other than that, it's just the basics-- a good knife, cutting board(s), spatulas. etc. I go in depth re: the best packaging in the packet, and have also created an amazon store for my freezer-friendly packaging recommendations.
I really want to do this program, but I can't cook? Really? I find that a little hard to believe. If you can read and you're willing to try something new, I think you can. To ensure your success, I have made the recipes really easy to follow. Plus, you can always ask me questions on the Meals in a Snap Facebook page. I am here to ensure your success. "Made the Sloppy Joe's from the freezer tonight... [my husband] declared it even better after it had been frozen. WINNING" - J. Nedder, Darien, CT

"I consider myself an awesome cook, and I don't mind cooking every day." That's cool. Then you keep on going being your awesome self. You do not need this program. I, personally, dread cooking dinner each and every night. I would much prefer to set aside a few hours here and there and stock my freezer with fabulous homemade meals, so when we roll in just around dinner time, I can catch a break and enjoy that "bonus hour" several nights/week.

"Love a recipe where I just throw a bunch of things in a pot and look brilliant. Bean Posole. Yum!" - J. Atkisson, Atlanta, GA"The Posole is soooooo good-- even my Mexican husband was impressed!" - J. Valenzuela, Pasadena, CA

"The Posole is awesome. Great lunch for mama... what's so fantastic about it is how great it is on its own but an easy platform for simple changes (e.g.: cater to cilantro lovers/haters, add extra spice, mellow it out with sour cream, etc). This is my favorite recipe so far!" - C. Taubner, Stamford, CT

"OMG!! I have a favorite recipe!! I have 3rd degree burns in my mouth because it is so good I can't wait for it to cool off!! It is seriously amazing!!! I may finish the whole pot...and I forgot sour cream...can only imagine how good it would be with that on top!!! Thank you Eila, you rockstar!!!" - C. Herdeg, Pound Ridge, NY {aw, sometimes these moms make me blush}

It's ok, go ahead and start planning out those "bonus hours"...

Just think of how much more relaxed you'll be at the afternoon game knowing dinner is made.
"Okay that pot pie is OFF THE CHAIN!! So, so yummy..." - J. Nedder, Darien, CT

"The chicken pot pies were a big hit at dinner tonight!!! Delicious!" - J. Lee, New Canaan, CT

Another question I get: What if I have picky eaters in my family? OK, I just have to ask-- who is in charge when it comes to mealtimes at your house? You, as the parent, have the opportunity to be a role model, and superhero, when it comes to feeding your family well and modeling good eating habits. As you can see in the photo above from one of our recent dinners, my children do not like everything I make. That's ok. Most of the meal {except the mushrooms and "grass" (aka rosemary)} happily went down that little hatch. Need more help in this department, I recommend my friend, Jill's book, Fearless Feeding.
"Sloppy Joe's super popular to the point the kids wanted the meat in a thermos for lunch at school the next day..." - J. Valanzuela, Pasadena, CA
Wondering who the parents were that tested my program? They're moms like you. But every so often, they get tarted up and let someone else make dinner. {Those are two of my test group moms on either side of me, enjoying a much-deserved night out.}

"The chili is one of my ENTIRE (which is saying a lot with some picky kids over here!) family's favorite meals, and it freezes wonderfully!" - L. Keogh, New Canaan, CT "Just tried the enchilada casserole-- it was simply unbelievable-- SO delish!" - A. Scott, New Canaan, CT 

"Week 3 grocery shopping done in 15 minutes!! Thank u" - J. Nedder, Darien, CT

"I started on Week 2. Holy cow, if Week 1 looked good wait until you start Week 2. The stew is unbelievable!! My girls helped roll the taquitos (they look delish) and they loved helping with pot pies... all very easy and everything looks great!! Now I will take a little break but was super excited after completing Week 1 cooking last Friday...we just couldn't stop!! Left a pot pie and small enchilada casserole out to enjoy this week. Thank you! Thank you!" - A. Scott, New Canaan, CT

"The pesto was amazing!! I make pesto once or twice a month-- it is a staple around here. But this is so much better. Great recipe!" - H. Wells, New Canaan, CT

"The meatballs are out of this world...they are so darn sweet and delicious...Home run with me. Cannot wait to give it to the kids tonight. Yahoo!" - C. Taubner, Stamford, CT

"Thank you Eila!!! This has been such fun." - A. Scott, New Canaan, CT"I brought one of the frozen [meals] to my parents as a last minute thank you. My dad just called to say how awesome it was. Nourishing the parents is a great feeling too. Thank you!!!" - C. Taubner, Stamford, CT"Best day ever...EVERYONE inhaled [the meal]... VICTORY!! Eila, there are no words..." - J. Nedder, Darien, CT

Now, you may be thinking, this all sounds great, but what about freezer space?  I have a big freezer, but still I just set aside the door of my freezer for soups/stews and 1-2 shelves in the freezer for my frozen homemade meals. There are several different ways to stock your freezer. You can package everything up in glass/ceramic baking dishes that can go straight from freezer to oven to table, but those will take up more space. You can package some of the meals {taquitos, chili, posole stew, pesto, sloppy joe's, etc} more efficiently, in ziploc bags that can be easily stacked, as several in my test group did. Or if space is really at a premium, you can just make a single freezer meal here and there. {Shopping lists are given two ways-- as four weekly cook days when you make 3 recipes at a time, and 12 single stand alone shopping lists, for those who just want to try a recipe here and there}.

I hope this has answered questions you may have had about the "Stock Your Freezer in a Snap" program. You may always reach out to me via email or the Meals in a Snap Facebook page if you have any questions before purchasing, or as your cooking gets underway.
I cannot wait to hear how you spend your "bonus hours". Cheers!

Disclosure: the links to my favorite picky eating resource, freezer-friendly packaging and cooking equipment/pantry items are amazon affiliate links. I have taken the time to create an amazon storefront for easy one-stop shopping. The pricing is exactly the same for you, and I earn a small commission off of products bought through these links. Thank you for supporting recipe testing on the Full Plate blog by purchasing through my links! I truly appreciate it!!

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