How to cook ten meals in ten hours–times three

At the end of September, two friends and I embarked on a journey none of us had been on before:  we planned to prepare ten freezer meals for each of our families in one day.  I had long looked online and talked to others who had done this before, and while it always seemed so fabulous, something or other had come up (laziness, anyone? procrastination, perhaps?) to derail my best intentions.  That’s where the accountability of friends comes in.  When I was approached about joining in, I eagerly accepted, knowing that once we had purchased perishable food, we couldn’t back out.   Plus, with back surgery looming on the horizon, I had a feeling it was going to be weeks before I felt up to preparing food.   Seemed like a win-win.

For our first time, we used someone else’s plan.  A simple google search conjured up a well thought out list complete with recipes, shopping lists, and other helpful hints.  We each read over it quickly and agreed that it would work.  If you’re interested in looking it over for yourself, click here for more info.   Admittedly,  we could have looked it over more closely and been more vocal about any recipes that we didn’t care for, but more on that later.  If you’d like to look through the recipes we used, click here, with the exception of one substitution.  Instead of the Hawaiian Pork, we prepared this recipe instead.

On Friday night, Heidi and Lori went grocery shopping for all the ingredients.  Because of Hannah’s volleyball game (uh-huh…SURE…), I was unable to go with them.  They did a fantastic job without me (maybe because I wasn’t there?!) and between Sam’s and Kroger, took advantage of sales and bulk prices to keep our prices low.  They were even able to buy breakfast, lunch, and an afternoon snack for us to consume while we cooked.   Things were looking good.

This is the “pantry” made up of all the non-refrigerated foods we’d need throughout the day, lovingly organized for easy access.

The next morning, the three of us met at Heidi’s house, maybe not bright-eyed and bushy tailed, but ready to tackle the day.  Lori and I brought utensils and supplies that we thought would help out:  she had a ton of Pampered Chef tools and I had to have my own kitchen knife, along with the biggest mixing bowls I owned.   Between the three of us, a blueberry or banana muffin, and a cup of coffee, we grew increasingly enthusiastic about the day.

The first meal of the day was Taco Soup.  Jumping right in,  we were pleasantly surprised to see how quickly it came together.  After browning the beef, it was more or less an “open cans, mix in” sort of soup.  By 10:30ish (as you can see in the picture), it was set on the stove to simmer.

One truth we realized with the first meal was that our biggest stock pots were not going to get the job done.  The one above was filled to the brim!  A call to our helpful husbands solved the problem and Travis brought us a Duggar-sized stock pot to continue on with the rest of the meals.    Check it out:

Here’s the first meal in bags, ready to go to the freezer:

Woohoo! And even while this first meal was being put together by one of us, the other two were trying to figure out how best to tackle the other nine.  We went back and forth between focusing on just one meal at a time or trying to cook ingredients like meat that we could do large quantities at once and then divide later.   I’m not sure we quite ever figured out which way worked best.   It seemed that it was very easy for us to get scatter-brained and forget exactly which recipe those chopped onions were needed in or how much ground beef we’d put in the pan to brown.   Then again, it could have been just us…. We didn’t just silently prepare and cook meals the entire day.  There was also a lot of talking, laughing, joking around, and other activities not necessarily related to cooking.

It didn’t take us long to realize that we had to plan to do this one day cooking extravaganza again.  For one thing, it was just plain FUN.  But equally important, it would be silly to be a one and done and leave all the knowledge we learned throughout the day as to how to make it work better in the future.  And we were learning a ton.

But back to the cooking.   Here’s an example of the meat filling for three (plus a bonus one to share with Ralph and Laura!) lasagnas:

The lasagnas going together layer by layer…

And the lovely and hardworking Lori showing off the finished product:

As you would expect, we made quite a mess in the kitchen as we worked.

Although we didn’t count, I’m pretty sure we had to wash dishes roughly 27 times throughout the day.  Not only did it create a mess, but we also had to keep using the same utensils repeatedly, so conventional wisdom and sanitation dictated that we clean them between uses. 

Although I started out keeping track of how long it took to prepare each meal, that record keeping didn’t last long, so I can’t remember how many meals we’d finished before we had lunch.  It was around 1pm when we stopped and had a sandwich.  We discussed our plan for the rest of the day in addition to other topics.   It was clear that the next time we did this, we would approach it a bit differently, but more on that later.  After we refueled, we jumped back into our quest to prepare ten meals before collapsing.

Throughout the afternoon, we browned many pounds of ground beef…

Assembled a ginormous pot of chicken and rice soup…

Prepared a meatball stroganoff meal….

And chicken enchiladas with an accidental extra amount of sour cream, thanks to two of us trying to make the recipe at the same time and not communicating with each other!

By the way, do you have any idea how much sour cream goes into this many meals?  Let me show you!

Before your heart stops, don’t forget that we split that up over several meals times three.  But I will also tell you that we had to run to the store and get more because of a hilarious error.  Ah well.   None of us planned to eat all ten meals in ten days.

In addition to the ten meals that we planned for, Lori suggested we make pumpkin bread, which is ALWAYS a great idea!  She had a tried and true recipe and at some point during the afternoon, she set about mixing up the batter and getting the loaves into the oven.  Her recipe was supposed to make six loaves, so we had six aluminum loaf pans ready for the bread.

As she mixed up the batter, however, it became increasingly clear that she had prepared enough for an army.   We laughed as we also tried to figure out WHAT we were going to use to bake the bread in.   Thankfully, Heidi had one pan, and I had two, so we managed.  What an unexpected treat to bring home twice as many loaves as we expected!   Even with our extra pans, we couldn’t fit it all in the oven at once.   Here’s the loaded to capacity oven on the first go-round:

Lori also put together some banana bread.  Here are her finished products, wrapped and ready to go into the freezer:

In the end, we had enough extra loaves to give away three to friends who couldn’t cook with us for different reasons.  It was a good day for bread.  🙂

And speaking of pumpkin, by mid-afternoon, we realized the sandwiches we’d had for lunch weren’t going to last forever, and a slice of pumpkin pie and a cup of coffee was just the pick me up we needed to keep on keeping on to finish the day strong.

After a short break, we jumped back in with a chicken rice casserole…

…and tortellini soup….

It in important to note that while we cooked all day, two of our husbands and children met together for movies, playtime, and pizza while the other busied himself with his work.  I can’t say enough how nice it was to be able to work all day (or most of the day) uninterrupted.  Focused time is productive time to be sure!  Still, even though they kept the kids all day, the men still thought of us and brought us dinner.  Foolishly, I thought we would have finished before dinner time, but wow, that was not to be.  We still had a couple meals left to prepare by the time we stopped for dinner, plus all the clean up to finish the job well.  So…preparing ten meals in one day, what is the best meal to eat for dinner yourself??

PIZZA! OF COURSE!!

Well…it isn’t pretty to report, but after we’d finished nine freezer meals, we lost our drive to finish.   It didn’t help that when we started pulling ingredients out of the pantry and fridge, we realized we were a bit short on ground turkey and tomatoes.   After much hemming and hawing, we came to the conclusion that nine meals was almost as good and we’d still be successful if we quit right then.   We were quickly growing more exhausted by the moment and the day was slipping away from us.  We knew that kids were going to need to go to bed, etc., etc.  As we quietly started cleaning up and packing up our supplies, it was Heidi–who had maybe been a cheerleader in high school? or was just that type of clappy clappy person who gets satisfaction from actually completing a job 100%?–who stopped us and petitioned us to assemble the last meal.

(For those of you who don’t know Heidi, here’s an example of her general excitement about anything, even taking out the trash!)

Let me tell you, every 10 Freezer Meals in 1 Day cooking group needs a cheerleader, lest it slide into a 3 Meals Spread Over a Week or Two slothfest….

With a convincing argument, we begrudgingly at first went along with it, Lori and I did.  With a few more cheers and hand claps, Heidi forged ahead and little by little we got on board with being maybe a little more excited about doing it all.

At long last, meal #10, aka Upside Down Fettucine Pie, was completed.

OK, after that we REALLY set to cleaning up and packing up our stuff.  Surprisingly, we had some food left over, so we divided that up.  I’m still not sure how we overbought some items, but oh well.  Since we were nearly slaphappy by that point in the evening, we thought it was hysterical that we had three eggs left over.  We could each take an egg home!  By that time, Todd and Travis had returned and we began the task of transferring our loot into our cars. Also by that time, we were beat.   One thing we hadn’t considered, Lori and I: how much food we’d have to take home.  Sounds ridiculous, I know, considering our entire task was to COOK FOOD, but hey…it was our first go-round.  Todd helped Lori put her enormously heavy tub of food into the car and then we packed up ours.  By the time we left Heidi’s, I was completely ready for bed!  It was close to 9pm when we reached home, but the food still had to be lovingly placed in the freezer.  Before that, though, I needed to take a picture of the fruits of our labor:

Can you spot the egg? I will say that I didn’t work too hard to hide it.

What a productive day!  Here it is stacked neatly in our freezer:

All Day Freezer Meal Wrap Up….What We Learned.  I’m sure that both Lori and Heidi will have additional items to add to this list of things we will do next time–and there will be a next time!  I’m very excited to try this again.   So here’s what we learned:

1. We looked through the menu too quickly and didn’t thoroughly consider whether or not these meals were ones we would normally prepare for our families.  I think peer pressure took over to some degree here.  Although we were vocal about a couple of likes and dislikes within specific recipes, perhaps if we were honest, we would have shared which meals we knew wouldn’t be our family’s favorite.  We also didn’t realize that quite a few of the recipes would require more work when it came to serving them for a meal, instead of just thawing and cooking.  That was a tad disappointed, though the meals that I’ve made have been minimal addtional prep.

SOLUTION: Before our next cooking day, we plan to meet about a week or two before and go over recipes that we love and know our families love as well.   We should be able to compile a list of ten or so meals this way between the three (or more) of us.

2.  Bring more utensils, bowls, and big stock pots.  AND BY GOLLY, BRING THE LARGE FOOD PROCESSOR, DEB!!  I can’t believe I didn’t bring my 6-cup food processor for all the chopped onions and other veggies we had on the menu.  That would have cut down a bit of prep time (and kept Lori from a sore chopping hand the next day! I think the fact that she was sore was the only thing that kept her from smacking me when she learned I had one and had left it at home).

SOLUTION:  If we prepare recipes we’re familiar with, it stands to reason that we know which kind of supplies and utensils we need to put them together.  It should also, in theory, cut down on our prep time overall.   In theory.

3.  We combined recipes and bought in bulk when we could, but it came back to bite us at the end when we were short on a couple things.

SOLUTION: Buying in bulk is cheaper, so I think if we keep better records about what we bought and how it should be divided, that problem would be eliminated.  Record keeping saves lives.  And canned tomatoes.

4.  Turns out, we could have stopped at 9. The Upside Fettucine Pie has not been a hit with those who have consumed it thus far.

SOLUTION:  I’ll let you come to your own conclusion here.  I can’t hold everyone’s hands all the time, you know…

On the whole, though, it was a day I would love to make a quarterly event, at the very least.  It was SO much fun to spend the day with these two lovely ladies both in conversation and work.  We had such a good time being shoulder to shoulder (or cutting board to cutting board, as the case may be), and it was a blessing far beyong filling our freezers.   I thought we worked well together with a good mix of deference and teasing. The next day, while ruminating over the fact that it took us ten hours to prepare ten meals, I had the striking realization that we had actually prepared 30 meals that day.  What a huge accomplishment!  That made it even more satisfying, and it felt even more productive.

It was a very, very good day.

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Hannah C.
    Nov 02, 2012 @ 20:51:57

    I’ve been doing this with three friends for about 3 years now, and I look forward to the day spent with the girls almost as much as filling up my freezer. I have a pretty big stockpile of recipes that we all approve as well, if you’d like to peruse. My favorite new one, and a big hit with the family, is pumpkin and ricotta stuffed shells. It is divine. (Also, it rarely takes us more than 8 hours these days, if that makes you feel any better. You start to figure out the best way to divide the work to best utilize the individual talents.)

    Reply

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