Friday, May 16, 2014

Planning ahead: Cooking

         Ok, so I have talked about planning ahead as much as I can with some of the regular day-to-day stuff. I have put together the comprehensive grocery shopping list as well as to-do list for cleaning in the condo to help both Chris and I in the later stages of my pregnancy as well as the first few months of being parents. I have also printed up a 'When to pay bills' list because I am worried I’m going to forget when various bills are due.

          Another extension of the food category is cooking up some freezer meals to store for easy meal prep when the baby is here. This is recommended for any new parents but for me this is particularly important. If we don't plan ahead and freeze some meals we'll be eating take-out every night and even with my prescription stomach medicine my stomach would not be able to handle living off of take-out. In addition if I am successful with nursing I won’t be able to take my prescription that allows me success in occasionally eating foods that are full of flavor, spice, oil- pretty much anything from a restaurant (I am hoping with the help of my dear Lactaid pills I will still be able to eat take-out pizza in moderation). So for nursing moms it is important to continue to eat healthy after pregnancy but for this mom planning to nurse it is essential. As long as I eat basic, healthy meals I should be ok to go without my prescription med while I nurse (as you can imagine it is largely a quality of life medicine, certainly not a necessity and thus I can make the call on my own about not taking it if I want to nurse). In order to ensure we eat healthy and not order out for the first few crazy months, I wanted to tuck away a decent amount of meals in the freezer that we can just heat up when we are sleep deprived, new parents.
I started a few weeks ago and made my chicken pot pie and taco pot pie both of which I have previously frozen and cooked up in the oven a few months later. Next I took to Pinterest where I found a great pin linked up to a blog written by a mother, who at the time of writing the post was very pregnant with her second child. She had somewhat similar reasons for wanting to ensure she was going to be able to eat healthy during the first few months with the new baby and she provided a list of crock pot meals that can be thrown in a freezer bag, thawed in the fridge 24 hours ahead of time, and dumped into the crock pot to cook up when wanted.  I took a couple of her recipes and then went back to Pinterest for some more- quickly finding pins under the ‘freezer crock-pot meals’ search. As one would suspect, most of these recipes involve chicken, so I tried to diversify looking for recipes with different proteins, also I have this general policy of trying to add one more vegetable to most recipes if they seem lacking to me. For example for the Thai chicken dish, I added broccoli as well since when I make a fresh peanut sauce chicken dish I include it. Broccoli was listed as an ingredient for some of the other freezer meals and it’s pretty hearty so I figure it will freeze well. I initially found three chicken dishes- the Thai chicken dish, a chicken tortilla soup, and a honey-lime chicken (this one has no veggies in it, just pineapple but I left is as is because I wasn't sure what vegetable to toss in), and three beef dishes- a Mongolian beef recipe with carrots, a chili, and a Mexican beef and sweet potato recipe. I tried to find a group of recipes that used different proteins, veggies, and flavor profiles.
I should have taken more pictures while I was prepping the meals, the chicken tortilla soup for example was so colorful it looked delicious making it tough to put it in the freezer for later. Speaking of the prep, the blogs I got these recipes from did all the meal prep in one day, I didn't go that route. I bought the ingredients for one or two recipe(s) per week and in some cases chopped the veggies and stuck them in the freezer bag in the fridge for a day and then added the rest of the ingredients the next day. I definitely paced myself. Also when looking to take pictures of my finished work, I noticed one of the beef meals already has some freezer burn on it, I must not have got all the air out of the bag so if you are planning on doing these kind of meals make sure you get all the air out!

 I’m a bit nervous about freezing, thawing, and cooking but hopefully they will turn out good, since I didn't plan far enough ahead to test a recipe out fully (freeze for a month or so, thaw and cook it up before the baby arrives). For each the recipe instructs you to defrost in the fridge for a day before you throw it in the crock-pot. Also if they needed anything else added to the crock-pot (only one did- lots of chicken broth) or should be served with a rice or noodle I wrote that on the freezer bag with the name of the dish and the date.  Our freezer has never been so full! Although I read somewhere it's less energy to keep a well stocked freezer cold than it is to keep an empty one cold so that's good. The nice thing about all of these recipes is they should serve for at least two meals for the both of us so there are 2 pot pies and 6 crock pots meals in the freezer- the pot pies have 6 servings each and the crock pot meals should at least get us 4 servings (in some cases I scaled down the amount of protein used since it's just the two of us and although we love having leftovers we try to only make enough of a given meal for two additional servings per person otherwise we get sick it). So there is at least 16 meals in that freezer. The other thing that is nice is I paid for the meals while I am still working so while on maternity leave when money is a little tight the grocery bill will be less. 
Another idea I read, or actually heard on a YouTube video embedded in an article with helpful tips about first-time parenthood, was making a grocery list and putting aside the cash for it and asking a family member or close friend to food shop for you the day before or the day you are scheduled to come home with the little one. I definitely plan on doing this so we know we’ll have fresh milk, fruits, and veggies for when we come home! We'll also plan to stock up on some of the basic, non-perishable items each time we go to the market. For us that is cereal, canned corn, canned black beans, chicken broth, macaroni n' cheese, and my guilty pleasure Pasta Roni which I at least now always add some vegetables to in order to make them more of a meal. 

Here are the links to the original blogs I got these recipes from-,  these two blogs had the recipes for the crock-pot meals I used (and in some cases slightly adapted to get more veggies in the recipe or make smaller overall meals). Unfortunately I can't find the link to the helpful article about being a first time mom, with the video that suggested preparing a grocery list for a family member to buy and deliver to your house while you are in the hospital. 

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