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Here we are at week 3 of prepping food to get ready for that crazy back to school season! I'm trying to fill our freezer and pantry with easy meal components to take some of the time out of meal making. I'm not making full blown meals during these food prep sessions, just cooking or prepping things ahead of time to make the actual cooking times shorter and my meal planning a little easier when we have extra things on our schedule.
Here are the links to the other weeks of the five week Food Prep series:
Week 1: Refried Beans, Black Beans & Enchilada Sauce
Week 2: Pancake Mix, Sausage and Cheese Balls, Biscuits, & English Muffins
Week 3: Taco Meat, Shredded Chicken, & Pizza Crusts
Week 4: PB&J, Banana Bread, Banana Muffins, & 30 Minute Dinner Rolls
Week 5: Cookie Dough, Cookie Bars, Granola Bars, & Puppy Chow
I kept things a little simpler this week because I have other tasks on my agenda but I still wanted to get some items we use consistently into the stash. These aren't difficult tasks and could easily be knocked out in an hour or so. I chose to spread it out between other parts of my day to make things a little simpler but it's definitely possible to make these all faster!
If you've read my weekly meal plans for any period of time you've probably picked up on the fact that we eat a lot of Mexican style food. Burritos, tacos, taquitos... they are all fondly loved in this house! I grabbed two pounds of ground beef and browned it while I was doing dishes after breakfast this morning. Once it was cooked and I drained off the fat I added enough of my homemade taco seasoning for the double batch of meat and let it simmer.
After the meat cooled a bit I portioned it out into four 16oz freezer containers. I decided to portion these into smaller batches because rarely do we eat lots of taco meat in one meal. The kids aren't huge fans of large portions of meat so we tend to bulk up our tacos and burritos with lots of beans and veggies. Smaller amounts of meat is also great for taco salads and taco pizza. Mmmmm... I think that needs to go on the menu next week!
At the same time I was getting the taco meat cooked I threw in two chicken breasts to my small 4qt slow cooker. I was given ours as a hand-me-down from Micah's mom but amazon has an amazing selection if you are in the market for a smaller slow cooker. I have the one 4qt slow cooker and two 6qt slow cookers. They all get LOTS of use in this house but I love the small one for cooking foods like chicken breasts and reheating smaller batches of pasta sauce, chili, soup, drip beef, and pulled pork.
This really shouldn't even be a "method" or instructional thing but here's what I do for cooking chicken breasts in the slow cooker: Put the chicken breasts in (mine were straight out of the freezer!), add a small amount of water (I used 1/2 cup, maybe, for 2 large breasts), and turn it on low for 6-8 hours. I started mine about 9am and by 2pm they were done. I plopped the chicken on a cutting board and diced them up. Just like the taco meat I divided them into the 16oz freezer containers in less than full portions since the diced meat is used for dishes like buffalo chicken taquitos, chicken and dumplings, and Thai chicken pizza where a little goes a long way. I also sliced some chicken thin for using in pasta dishes and stuck that in a container. That's at least three meals out of two chicken breasts!
Last up for the day was pizza crusts. I've been using this recipe for at least seven years I would guess. It's the recipe I use every week for our Homemade Pizza & Movie nights. I like to make our crust from scratch on pizza days because we cook the pizzas in cast iron pans. The cast iron pans make for an incredibly chewy crust - just how we like it!
Every now and then life gets crazy and I don't have time to make fresh pizza dough on Friday afternoon. I've thought about making pizza dough and sticking it in the freezer (similar to frozen bread dough) but I've never done it and I'm a little afraid of it failing... so I haven't pulled the trigger on that yet. But on those busy weeks, or when we just come back from out of town and need a quick meal to throw on the table, these crusts are perfect for a fast pizza night. They are par-baked so they will be a bit crispier than fresh dough but they are still fantastic and hold up well to lots of toppings.
I made a double batch of dough in order to really stock up on crusts. The directions say to divide the dough into the number of pizzas you want to make and this is where your personal preferences can really make a difference! If I'm making Thai Chicken pizza i divide a single recipe of dough into two balls, roll it out, and make two large thin crust pizzas. However, for freezer crusts I divide the dough in half and then into quarters. Each quarter then gets divided into thirds. I roll these small pizzas to about 8 inches each. They are the perfect individual sized thin crust pizzas. Do you like thicker crust? Roll the dough out to a smaller size or cut it into less portions. You could easily make 6-8 thicker crust individual pizzas with a single recipe versus the 12 crusts I get per recipe. Totally up to you!
Homemade Pizza Crust
Alright! I'm pumped about everything I'm getting done each week to prepare for school starting NEXT WEEK! Ack! But now that I'm rocking these food prep days I'm thinking of doing at least one each month. As you can see from the foods I'm making you don't need a huge amount of time to stock your freezer with helpful items. No need to make a full freezer meal if that's not what floats your boat. Make items that make menu planning and cooking just a little simpler and you will be so glad you did!
Join me next week as I focus on easy fill in items - peanut butter & jelly sandwiches (seriously, they can be frozen!), banana bread, banana muffins, and 30 minute dinner rolls. It's going to be a great week to get the kids involved!
Have you done any freezer cooking or food prepping lately? What types of foods do you like to make ahead? Let me know in the comments!