(This is part of Frugal Upstate's Frugal Foods series. This week is "ground beef," check out Frugal Upstate for more great ideas.)
I am usually fairly organized in my food life. I plan several meal options at the beginning of the week and decide what I'm going to eat for dinner in the morning. Every now and then, however, life takes over. I do, after all, have four children, sometime stuff happens. I have a secret weapon to get me though those days when it is 4:30 and I suddenly realize, "oh crud, I have to actually feed these people tonight!" I have meal starts in my freezer!
I do a version of "once-a-month cooking." I usually do "once-every-few-months cooking." Every couple of months I do a monster cooking session with my good friend Shelly. We spend the whole day cooking and end up with about 45-60 main dish meals and/or starts. Some of the the stuff we do is an actually meal (chicken tetrazzini, beef-topped bean enchiladas) and some are what I call "meal starts." Things like taco meat and sloppy joe meat - they aren't actually a full main dish but they are a start. With taco meat in the freezer I can make tacos, taco salad, taco soup, taco burritos, and taco quesadillas. Doing it this way saves me time and money. It saves me time because browning 4 or 5 lbs of hamburger takes just a little more time than one lb. and if I have the meat already browned and seasoned, the meal is a snap to throw together. It saves me money because when hamburger goes on sale, I can buy lots and prepare it and throw it in my freezer, allowing me to make lots of meals at the sale price!
There are lots of things you could apply this principle to. Cooked seasoned chili beans, taco-flavored chicken meat, a brown rice/lentil taco mixture would work, too. Use your imagination!
Here is our favorite sloppy joe recipe:
2 lbs ground beef
1 Tbs lemon juice
1 1/3 c. ketchup
1 1/2 Tsp minced onion
1 tsp dry mustard
1 1/2 Tbs vinegar
1 Tbs water
2 Tbs brown sugar
2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
Brown hamburger and drain and/or rinse with hot water. Return to pan and add all the remaining ingredients. Stir well and simmer to allow flavors to mix. Serve on buns. To freeze: allow to cool and place in freezer bags, remove air and seal. Freeze. To serve, remove from bag and microwave until warm. (Or place in pan and slowly heat on stove top, but really, the microwave is so much faster!)
Feel free to double or triple this recipe and store your own secret weapons in the freezer!