Many of my close friends are teachers.  As we neared the beginning of school I started to think about how crazy our lives were about to become with schedules, homework and after-school activities.  And then I thought about my friends… the teachers who spend their days devoted to other people’s kids and often find themselves at the end of the day with tired bodies, hungry families and no plans for dinner.

And so I decided to start a new tradition this year.

We did a cooking day.  A monster, stock  the freezer, cook until you drop kind of day.

Planning & Preparation

After I suggested the idea, one of my sweet friends helped me to put together our menu of dinners and to complete all the shopping for our cooking day.  We picked five dinners we thought would be winners and made a spreadsheet (I’m that kind of gal) with the menu, the recipes, and the grocery list of all the items on the recipes we’d need to buy.

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We planned for one meal per recipe per family, included things like disposable casserole pans and freezer bags to make the storing even easier.  We sorted further into which stores we were going to purchase items from, planning to go to our local warehouse store, Aldi (for the bargains) and then finishing up whatever we couldn’t get at those two places at the grocery store.

And then we planned a massive shopping trip. It was a rainy day when my friend Cindy and I headed out with the girls in tow and our shopping list and grocery bags at the ready.  We started at Aldi and got as much there as we could, finishing up at our local grocery store.  (in a side note, I was amazed at the bargains we found at Aldi. They’ve got my business in the future, for sure)

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That afternoon, Cindy took the chickens (8 of them!) and roasted them at her house. I took the sausage and hamburger meat and got it prepped at my house.  That left us down to assembly and minimal cooking for the next day when the rest of the crew joined us to work.IMG_3545[1]

I also decided to go ahead and make the batch of spaghetti sauce that we were planning to freeze for each family.  That’s the most sauce I’ve ever made in my life, but it turned out soooo good.

I couldn’t help but think of my grandma (who taught me to make this sauce) and wondered if she was looking down on me and smiling at my massive cooking project.

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Cooking & Assembly

Saturday morning dawned bright and early and I was wondering what in the heck I’d been thinking with this cockamamie scheme to do a massive cooking day.  I sure hoped the promises I’d made to my friends worked out and that everyone was happy with the results of our work.

I sorted all of our groceries on the counter with each recipe, writing the basic measurements for the recipe and assembly instructions on a piece of paper with each pile of ingredients.  I was hopeful we could just move from one recipe to the next and follow those cheat sheets to do the assembly.

Once Cindy and Kim arrived, we tackled the most time-intensive recipe first (chicken spaghetti) and moved on from there.  The kids got in the game, too, helping with assembly and packaging also.

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I was surprised at how smoothly it went – and how much fun we had.  We worked hard, for sure, but there were a lot of laughs, a lot of fun and we loved spending time together.

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Here’s our finished spread of food.  The kids were pretty proud of themselves for helping us (and we were so appreciative)  We ended up with EIGHT meals per family (after our original estimate of five) because some of the recipes cooked up larger portions (11×13 pans) and we split them into two smaller casserole dishes.

The exciting part was that we ended up with a per-meal cost of about $8.  So, around $60 per family for everyone to eat healthy and happy for the first month of school.

In addition, we’ve all been thoroughly enjoying our dinners.  My friends have been reporting in when they’ve used a dinner and we’ve all agreed it was well worth the time and effort to do this.  It’s been so nice to pull one of the dinners out of the freezer at the end of a busy day and know that your family is going to eat some good food and you don’t have to kill yourself to provide it.

So, I am pretty sure we’ll be doing it again.  I’ll keep you posted on what we decide to do in September.  Here’s our menu for August’s dinners:

Oh, and one other thing – we had enough food left over that we were able to sit down together and have BBQ chicken sandwiches for lunch! A well-deserved lunch to celebrate our hard work.

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