Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Menu-Plan Series: 2 Hours of Cooking

I have sick kids today and, since I'm preparing for some busy weeknights through the winter, I took the opportunity to cook and freeze some meals ahead.

I started with two 2 lb packages of ground beef. This is meat I receive free from my parent's farm but for the sake of those interested in budgeting, I just checked my local Superstore flyer and lean ground beef is $3.77/lb. So for the purpose of this post I am starting out with 4 lbs of ground beef worth approximately $15.08.

2 lbs each of ground beef

For curiosity's sake, I took note of the time so I could show how long it took for me to cook several meals for my family. I began at 9:40 this morning, intending to bake and freeze 2 lb meatballs and make a lasagna and extra meat sauce to freeze.

On the left, scramble frying hamburger. In the bowl on the right,
preparing to mix up meatballs. It is 9:56.
 In the first 15 minutes I have 2 lbs hamburger fried and ready to be made into a basic meat sauce. I have also assembled what I need to make meatballs and set my kids up working in their little school workbooks at the coffee table. I think by this time O has lost interest and is running head first into the couch.

Fried beef is seasoned with fresh and powdered garlic and  dried oregano.
Meat mixture is ready to be rolled into balls, portioned into burgers or
pressed into a loaf pan for meatloaf. Today I choose meatballs.
Note that the oven is preheating.
 By 10:07 I have mixed up the meatballs with bread crumbs, 2 eggs mixed with onion soup mix, Worcestershire and homemade seasoning salt and a splash of milk.

Meat balls ready for the oven. 
 By 10:19 the meatballs are ready for the oven. My meat sauce will use up one large Ziploc bag of baked tomatoes from my garden. This homemade sauce included zucchini, celery, onion, garlic and peppers from my garden so I did not have to do any chopping of vegetables for today. I am glad to know my kids are getting an extra pop of garden vegetables with out realizing it ;)

Meatballs are in the oven.
To the right of the stove I have reserved a small amount of fried beef to season for taco salads.
Lasagna noodles are cooking and my cottage cheese filling awaits being layered into a lasagna.
 By 10:41 (one hour from when I started) I am assembling a lasagna to freeze and the meatballs are cooking in the oven. The kids have now moved onto the computer where J is working on his school literacy program.

At the last minute, I decide I will reserve some meat sauce to make chili.
 By 11:28, the lasagna is assembled and cooling on the counter along with a portion of taco meat for salads. I have reserved enough straight meat sauce to be served over spaghetti once Husband is home. There will likely be enough for a full supper plus lunch for myself and the kids. The meatballs are baked and cooling. I also have enough chili simmering to feed us two meals (we like it with fresh buns or over fries with cheese on top).

In one hour and 48 minutes, all of this food was prepared, cooked and cooling.
I then sat to have a bowl of chili and play crazy 8's with the kids. 

From top left: meat sauce (2 meals for 3-4 people),
lasagna (1 full meal for 4 plus a bit leftover, I'm guessing), meatballs
portioned into bags (2 meals for me and the kids, one for Husband, the kids and I),
2 full meals of chili,
one small portion of taco meat for a salad for myself and baked tacos for the kids.
 By 12:18 I had the dishes done, tea made and was sitting down to write this post. I am a fairly quick and organized cook as I have been cooking for many years and have always enjoyed it. Some might prepare this number of meals faster, some slower. The main thing is that the food is ready when I need it, as long as I am organized enough to remove it from the freezer the day before or morning of.

Cost Breakdown:
$15.08 meat
$1.50 can of 6 bean medley beans
$1 pork and beans
$1 can of crushed tomatoes
1 large plus 1 small bag homegrown baked tomatoes (priceless!)
$2 cottage cheese (guessing)
.50 cents -2 eggs (free from mom but probably .25 cents each?)
$2 mozzarella cheese (a high estimate)
$1 breadcrumbs and spices

I think I remembered everything I used, for a grand total of $24.08 for what I'm estimating will be 8 meals. This works out to $3.01 per meal for a family of 3 or 4 depending if Husband is home.

Admittedly, you would add a salad or garlic bread, fries or baked potatoes etc to your meals. Some fast options to go with meatballs are rice with roasted vegetables or a pasta with salad. So this would be a couple dollars more for that entire meal. seems likely that you could serve up a good home cooked meal in 20 minutes for around $6 or less. Compare that to being tired on your way home from work and spending $40-50 on a meal for four that does not even provide leftovers. I prepared 8 meals for under $25 in less than 2 hours this morning.

Now when I do up next week's menu-plan I have some ready-made meals to use on Monday and Wednesday, my busiest evenings. Also, if I run into trouble and need a quick meal at any time I won't give in to the urge to grab something quick for us to eat. Having these meals on hand saves us an incredible amount of money while ensuring we eat healthy even on busy nights.

I hope this example encourages you to give batch-cooking and menu-planning a try!


  1. Wow...impressive. I have to remind myself to time myself when doing things. I always think they will take a lot longer than they usually do, and I tend to use that thought as a reason to procrastinate.

    1. Hi Jo! You are right--I had this same conversation with a friend who said she'd been putting off cleaning her linen closet for months and it was always on her mind that it needed done. She said when she finally did it, it only took half an hour. Yet she had dreaded it, put it off, and allowed it to drag her down for so long! I'm guilty of this also--paperwork is my ultimate downfall. To the point that I avoid tidying the desktop lest I run into filing that needs done. So silly. It feels great to get it dealt with and never takes as long as I think it will!