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When my son started first grade, I was like “2 snacks plus a lunch to pack every single day?!” I mean, it wasn’t a surprise. I knew what was coming. The reality of that kind of meal packing can be overwhelming, even to a registered dietitian mom.
Add on to that, kids in elementary school are often intrigued by the foods their peers are eating. I knew my son would want to eat the processed muffins, cookies, and treats his classmates were eating.
While he does eat processed foods, I still want to provide minimally processed foods as best as I can. I wanted to pack him foods that would be satisfying and similar to what his classmates had. I plan my meals using this Veggie Exposure Shopping List and Menu Template. It keeps me organized and ensures I get everything I need for my 12 day meal plan.
The thing is, I don’t have time to bake all week long and he gets bored of stuff quickly. So I knew I would need to use my freezer to make homemade snacks quick and easy. It can be hard to fill up a freezer with goodies when you’re a parent and juggling work, kids, the house.
Here are my 5 top tips for filling up a freezer without giving up a whole weekend or a whole week just to cooking.
1. Start with one recipe a week
Rather than taking on “meal prep” where you spend 3 hours every week, just pick one thing to bake each week. This is what I based my own meal planning on (which you can now have too!). I bake just one recipe per week and I make extra so that I can use a little bit this week and save most for when I need it.
Baking and making stuff from scratch can feel overwhelming if we haven’t done it for a while! I hadn’t baked anything in a few years. The first time I went to make muffins, I was rusty and not very efficient. After doing it for a few weeks though, I got my groove back and now I’m back to speedy when I make them!
2. Make a “baking station”
I find keeping all of my key baking ingredients together in my kitchen saves a ton of time! I don’t have a large kitchen, but I found one shelf in a cupboard and I keep all of my baking things right there. Then when I make my weekly recipe, it’s a lot faster to have my core baking ingredients super handy.
3. Make a little bit extra now and then
Getting into the habit of making double batches, when you can is a great help. For example, as part of my Real Easy Weekdays meal plan system I always make a double batch of taco filling. It’s just so easy to throw in an extra can or two of beans and save half of the filling in the freezer for the next time it shows up in the system.
You can also do this whenever you bake something – just make a double batch. I actually bought this affordable extra set of muffin tins so that I could put a double batch of muffins in the oven at the same time and save myself a bunch of time.
Same goes with chopping veggies for dinner. I will often chop the whole thing at once, whether it’s a head of cauliflower or a tomato. Sometimes these bits of pieces can just be quickly thrown in the freezer and used in soup, chili, or a smoothie later in the week or month.
4. Have a strategy
If you’re like me, and want to have a plan for that freezer, this tip may be for you. Think about how many types of snacks you would like to serve. Would you like to serve just 1 kind of muffin? Or would you like to have a few different ones that you make on occasion?
I want to have a rotation that I know my kids won’t get tired of, but that is what is manageable for me. I typically prepare a 12 week-day rotation of snacks. There’s variety, but there’s enough repetition that I can learn to make the recipes fast after practicing a few times.
5.Have a plan for a rotation of items
Let’s get into the nitty gritty of how to both make ONLY 1 recipe per week AND slowly fill up a freezer into a 12 week day rotation of snacks. There are plenty of ways to do it, but here’s one way all laid out for you.
Figure out your specific child’s meal needs
For a 12-week rotation of homemade snacks, you’ll need to be able to serve each recipe 5 times.
First, decide how many snacks you need to make for your child. If you have 1 child who eats 1 muffin for a snack (plus fruit and/or vegetable), you need 5 muffins in your freezer for the rotation.
If you make a batch of 12 muffins, you can have 5 in the freezer, and 6 fresh to serve.
Wait, what happened to the other one???
I don’t know, but I do have 2 kids. Which means something happens to at least 1 muffin out of every batch. Someone “steals” it. It ends up on the floor. A kid somehow pees on it. You know, things you only imagine if you have little kids. If you end up with 12, then you are really winning the game and can celebrate by eating it yourself!
Plan your recipes
Using the strategy below, you’ll make something each week. You’ll put some in the freezer, and some fresh items. At first, you’ll serve fresh items without much variety. That’s expected for a few weeks here and there. Within 3 weeks you’ll add in more variation and start putting your freezer stash to work for you.
By the end of it, you’ll be able to put some in the freezer and the rest use on the weekends. Maybe even have enough to share with other family members! And all this only making one thing per week.
Use a meal prep schedule
After you finish with this schedule here, you exclusively use your freezer stash during the week. If you keep making one recipe per week you will keep your freezer stocked.
Pull a superwoman and just do it
Finally, I know there are some Superwomen and Supermen out there. This isn’t part of the top 5 ways to fill a freezer without burning yourself out, but if you are the person who LOVES to take on a challenge, this is for you. Make your list of 12 recipes that you make from scratch and boom, make them all in a day. I don’t even know if that’s possible, but if it is, and you did it, then let me know in the comments!
If you’d like to get the free Veggie Exposure Shopping List and Menu Planner, here it is! I also have 12 weeks of easy recipes in my Kids Eat In Color: Real Easy Weekdays Meal Planning System.