Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Dinner is served (aka meal prepping)

(Not sewing related, unless you count the possibilities of extra hours which can then be spent sewing.)

I am NOT affiliated with anything I'm talking about here. I just stumbled upon this Meal Prepping plan and the related digital cookbooks, tried one out, liked the results very much, Instagrammed my cooked dinners, and had requests to share (both the recipes and the actual dinners! Hah!). So here I am. Sharing.

Meals above, left to right, top to bottom (which is the reverse order that I cooked them):
  • Sweet & Spicy Pineapple Chicken
  • Pork Loin in a Creamy Basil Sauce
  • Barbecue Paprika Chicken
  • Carnitas
  • White Chicken Chili
  • Cilantro Lime Chicken
  • Asian Fusion BBQ  Chicken
  • Korean Beef Tacos
  • Thai Peanut Chicken
A few words about the website where these recipes/booklets live. It's www.laurengreutman.com and the recipe booklets can be found here. Although I had not heard of her before stumbling onto the recipe booklets via another completely unrelated website, Lauren Greutman markets herself as a frugal-living, "Personal Finance Expert" and she has appeared on numerous American TV talk and morning shows and has been featured in various magazines. I say all this not because I care about all that stuff but because YOU might care and think I'm getting a kickback or affiliate fee from her. I'm not. I get nothing from this plug. I'm just sharing something I like. Like with sewing patterns, only this time, it's dinner.

The recipes/meal planning stuff Lauren sells fits into her "frugal living" lifestyle but you'll mostly see other stuff, and not these recipes, on her website pages until you start digging. I make no judgment on the financial info and associated planners, etc. she markets. I just know that I think her recipe booklets are well worth the $5.97 each they cost. And here's why.

Lauren estimates in her booklets that she spends about $150-$165 for the 20 meals. But she shops at Aldi (famously inexpensive U.S. grocery store); I don't. Her pricing is from years ago; mine is from August 2019. She also didn't include some "pantry items" (those things you usually have on hand); I had to since I had just moved and had been not keeping stocked up in anticipation of the move. Finally, she made 20 meals; I made 18, because I just didn't think I needed to crockpot-cook spaghetti and meatballs, so that was the one meal from the booklet that I didn't make or eat . I still feel spaghetti/meatballs as a crockpot meal is kind of pointless but the other meals and the methods overcome any imaginary points deductions for that one. And hey, I guess *she* likes spaghetti/meatballs in the crockpot and it's her book, so ….   :-)

I didn't track every last dime because I went to one regular grocery store and also the local farmer's market and I also bought a few other things not intended for the crockpot (drinks, toiletries, dog food, useless junk, etc.) and I wasn't doing this to save money. I spent about $220 total, so deducting for non-dinner items, that's still pretty good for 18 dinners and many take-to-work lunches. But it's not really the cost that has me sold—it's the method of putting together the meals and the daily time savings and mental space freedom from NOT needing to decide what's for dinner every night and then making it. That, to me, is nearly priceless.

The method is essentially one big assembly line of adding ingredients to freezer bags. Once I got home from the store(s), the whole process took me about 2-3 hours. But I haven't cooked a dinner from scratch since and we've been eating some delicious meals. There is some "side" prep work, such as cooking rice or noodles, or adding an ingredient or two the morning of or when it's nearly cooked, but that's it. Those "side" preps take maybe 15 minutes.

The booklets include complete shopping lists that you can re-print as needed. And they include the "one touch" assembly line cheat sheets for assembling the freezer bags. This is the genius part because you deal with each ingredient just one time and then move on to the next. You do not assemble each meal separately. Instead, you create an assembly line of freezer bags and add ingredients to the bags as you move through the cheat sheets (which are grouped into categories such as Meats, Spices, Liquids, etc. to make it even more organized and easy). When done, each bag contains a full meal (2 of each meal). And surprisingly, my kitchen wasn't even that messy once I was done. I just had to wipe down a cutting board, put away the remainder of the dry/pantry ingredients, and load the bags into my freezer. If you have helpers (spouse, partner, kids), it would go even faster than the 2-3 hours it took me alone.

Photo credit: www.laurengreutman.com

After the cheat sheets/assembly line pages, each meal has its own page with a photo and instructions specific to that meal (crock times, any "side" prep, etc.). The booklet also includes a regular (non-assembly line) recipe for each meal should you want to make it by itself at a later time.

As I write this, it's been a little over 2 weeks since I made the freezer meals (August 4) and this past Sunday we started getting into the repeats. I usually take leftovers for lunch at work and some meals have been enough for 2 nights *and* my work lunch, plus we ate out (sushi!) and opted for pizza for 2 Friday nights. I figure I'll need to go "big" grocery shopping again this coming Saturday morning and do the prepping after. So, from August 4 to August 24, I will not have thought "What's for dinner?"and instead, it will have been ready to go when I get home from work. I love that.

I started out with Lauren's Meal Plan 3 booklet because when I was deciding to do this, I thought it had a good mix of recipes. I've now purchased the other booklets because I didn't want to take any chance of not being able to. Again, I am not affiliated. I do not benefit from anything I've written here in any way. I just really, really like the way Lauren's method is organized, how much time it saves, how tasty the meals are, and even that I'm saving money—although that was not my main goal for doing this. Just having good dinners ready to go after work was my desire. The other benefits are a bonus.

It seems as though Lauren has been doing this a while, going by references I've seen on her website to other booklets beyond the 1-4 currently for sale and the way the PDFs I bought are named. I don't know why those others aren't available any more. I would definitely have bought those too. Hah.

Let me know if you have any more questions and definitely let me know if you try this and what you think. I'm obviously a fan!


  1. Wow, this is a really interesting concept! I'm going to check it out. Cooking for one is such a bummer sometimes. Unfortunately I'm kind of a picky eater and I have some food allergies, so I'm not sure if it will work for me. Maybe I can make some substitutions.

  2. My dear grandmother had a fixed one week "menu" that she followed (boring), but then she had nine children. I use the same idea but cook a much larger variety for the freezer about every four months and then make up a weekly menu based on the freezer meals. Dinner prep takes 30 minutes or less to assemble sides, salad and entree. It's a good way to streamline dinner. I pull from the freezer several meals in advance and feel free to juggle the order depending on what is going on in everyone's lives. I shop the grocery sales for deals on fresh fruit, vegetables, etc and will substitute a meal if something special like salmon is on sale. Cooking ahead and cooking to a menu works. Glad you found a program you like.
    Theresa in Tucson

  3. This is great! Thanks so much for sharing. I've enjoyed seeing your meals on Instagram. Too bad you aren't affiliated with her, because I imagine a lot of people are going to be purchasing these recipe books thanks to you! I bought all four. I'm going to ketofy some of these recipes and have a freezer full of delicious meals!

  4. Better than Blue Apron. :) Will definitely check out her site and books! Your photos sealed the deal. Yum!

  5. Can I ask a question? I buy my beef by the cow and my chicken by the case. It’s currently frozen in meal sized quantities. Do you think I could still do this? Maybe transfer the already frozen into these bags last thing? I’ve got a very busy season coming up and usually rely on take out and junk food. I’d love to set myself up for success.

    1. I've done freezer meals with frozen chicken. Not these same recipes, but there were no problems. Just put the frozen pieces of meat in with the other ingredients and stick it back in the freezer before anything can thaw.

  6. I got them all. Thought it was worth a try. Anything to make my life easier is awesome with me! Plus I have a ton of meat stockpiled in the freezers and didn't know what to make with them. Thanks!

  7. Whatever works to make you eat healthy! Your dinners look really good.

  8. SOLD! to the lady that hates the question "What's for dinner?" I'll let you know how it works out. Thanks for such a great post.

  9. I have wanted to try this method for a long time, just ordered one of the books and am going to do it. Thanks for the inspiration!

  10. Very Interesting! Is there more prep for some of the recipes than simply dump it all in a bag? This seems like one of those "I can do that" with the current recipe books I have. All it would take is some organization, planning, list making, and... sigh - probably better, faster and way easier, and probably less expensive to just buy what someone's already done! :-) I swear, the thoughts of "I can do that cheaper and better" and "Could be useful someday" actually cause me to do less and spend more!

  11. That shopping list freaked me out, it's all in my head and in my husband's since he does the cooking. Having said that most of the spices are already in the cupboard. Keeping that list would be nearly like having a job, I think I'll stick to the sewing list.

  12. Thank you. I very much like this concept.

  13. FYI - you can get all four bundled together for $14.97 - scroll to the bottom of this page. https://www.laurengreutman.com/dump-recipes/

  14. thank you for the information, i follow your blog


Thank you for each and every comment. I appreciate them all, but I have to be honest and let you know that I'm usually bad about answering questions. I hope you understand that there just isn't enough time in the day to do everything I want to do.

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