Create Your Own Menu (Part 3): Planning Recipes
Believe it or not, this still isn’t the stage where you start choosing which recipes you want. There is still another stage before you do that. Well, that is if you want to be efficient. And I have a thing for efficiency people!
1. Baked Items
One of the first things I look at or take into consideration when planning a freezer cooking day is to determine how many baked items I will have on a menu. And by baked items I mean recipes which need to be baked in the oven before freezing. Items that are being baked take longer than cooked items, in general. And sometimes, like in the case of most muffins, we have several rounds of baking batches that need to take place so that we can make a lot. For this reason, my rule of thumb with a 15 item menu is to not have more than 3 baked items on a menu. This equates to approximately 6 hours of baking.
In general, you might say for every one baked item you have on your menu, you can estimate approximately two hours of your time. Now, you can do other things when those items are baking BUT you can’t do other items in the oven. Hence, limiting the oven items to three. If you are working to try and create a menu that is shorter in length so you don’t have to be in the kitchen for so long, make sure that you limit the number of baked items.
Now, there are a few cases where a recipe will indicate that it needs to be baked but, in fact, can be frozen prior to baking to save you time on your cooking day. You will have to determine whether that will work for a particular recipe or not. Items that typically freeze well before baking include casseroles, marinated meats, pies, cookie dough, batters and doughs.
2. Slow Cooker Recipes
During the cooking day, I try to utilize my slow cookers as additional kitchen resources for my cooking day. This is a simple and easy way to cook a recipe to completion without much effort. Keep in mind that you are making multiple batches though so you will be utilizing multiple slow cookers. If you don’t have access to multiple slow cookers you will want to limit this resource.
Also, I try to make sure that slow cookers are plugged in and cooking in another part of the house other than the kitchen so that there is more working room in the kitchen. I have used a spare bedroom with card tables, the living room or even outdoors when my space is limited. (Just make sure they are plugged in somewhere the kids can’t reach them!)
On a 15 recipe menu, I usually strive to only include one or two recipes using my slow cooker. Usually, you are doubling or quadrupling a recipe which means that one recipe would utilize at least 2 slow cookers. Doing 2 recipes would utilize 4. Much more than that and you will be on outlet overload!
I usually choose 2-4 main meats for building our dishes around for a particular menu. There are many others that would suggest that you do an all chicken, or all beef, or all pork menu so that you are only utilizing and working with one meat. This is a great way to tackle a cooking day as well, especially if a particular meat is on deep discount. However, I find that method doesn’t create much variety throughout the month. And I don’t want to be eating only chicken dishes the entire month. Thus, I choose the method of selecting main meats.
When I am selecting meats, what I select as main meats is first determined by what is on sale. After that, I determine that approximately half of the meat needs to be raw use and not more than half can be precooked. Why? Precooked meat either gets done the night before in the slow cooker or on the stove. This takes time and space. The meat has to be able to fit into a slow cooker(s) for overnight or in a large skillet for mass browning beforehand. Too much of this can equate to more time on your cooking day. Just another factor to keep in mind as you move onto the next step of finding recipes.
Many times I refer to these as “dump” recipes. They are recipes that you simply “dump” into the bag or dish and freeze. They take no cooking on your cooking day. There is no precooked meat, noodles, rice, etc. They are simple and easy to put together and forget about until your serving day.
When creating the Once A Month Mom menus I aim to choose 2-4 of these types of recipes. The reason being that they are so simple and don’t take much time at all. And at the end of a weary 8-12 hour cooking day, I need some mindless recipes that can just be thrown together.
5. Other Seasonal Items
I simply keep my list of seasonal items close at hand whenever I am moving on to the next step of choosing recipes so that I can match recipes and sale items as closely as possible. If there are a few items that I want to highlight I do so. For example, on the October (Thanksgiving) Menu I knew I wanted to focus on pumpkin, potatoes, and pork. I kept these items in mind as I was searching through recipes.
Overview Questions – Planning Recipes
1. How many baked items will you be making?
- 1 Baked Item = 2 hours x _____ = ____ hours
2. Slow Cookers
- How many slow cookers do you have access to? _____
- How many recipes would you like to utilize in your slow cooker(s)? _____
- How many main meats will you choose? _____
- Which meats are you focusing on for this menu?
4.”No Cook” Items
- How many “dump” recipes do you want? _____
5. Seasonal Items
- What seasonal items would you like to focus on for this menu?
**Hint, hint – I am also dreaming up a great contest for having readers create March’s Once A Month Mom menu. Study up on this series and stay tuned for more details coming soon.
Please feel free to direct questions in the comment section below. However, keep in mind that this is a multi-part series. Please review previous posts for answers before submitting questions and review upcoming topics to see if your question will be answered shortly. Thank you.
Previous “Create Your Own Menu” Posts:
Future “Create Your Own Menu” Posts:
- Part 4 – Finding Recipes
- Part 5 – Selecting Recipes
- Part 6 – Evaluating Quantity
- Part 7 – Creating a Grocery List
- Part 8 – Creating Instructions
- Part 9 – Substitutions & Equivalents
- Part 10 – Creating Labels
- Part 11 – Bringing It All Together