Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Benefits of Bulk Food Prep, Assembly Line Style, To Save Money and Time

 photo 100_7345_zpsa6e57f8e.jpgWith my life having been crazy busy and hectic, I've been discovering just how many of the frugal measures I've been doing until now require time and energy that I don't have, at least not every day. But that doesn't mean we can afford to just ditch being frugal now- not at all.
The tough part is figuring out how to do the frugal stuff in as little time and with as little energy outlay as possible.
I wrote a post recently about quick and easy frugal suppers. But sometimes you need to do more than that. Sometimes you need to spend an effort to be frugal, but streamlining your efforts so that you aren't wasting time doing unnecessary things is very important.

Henry Ford revolutionized the automotive industry and the world in general by using the assembly line to manufacture cars en masse.
Using an assembly line to make large batches of whatever it is you're making is much more time efficient and allows you to be much more frugal than making smaller, individual batches as needed.

See, the thing is- if you are short on time, its very tempting to do only the bare minimum, so it'll take as little time as possible. Whatever is fastest works, right?

But the thing is- sometimes spending a little more time at once saves you so much time and so much money at the end of the day.

I had heard about the concept of freezer cooking, or once a month cooking already a while ago- menu planning for the month and cooking entirely for the freezer, so that each night you defrost something you already made and serve it. It  never really appealed to me, for many reasons.
First of all, my freezer isn't big enough for a month's worth of meals.
Secondly, I buy food and get food (free and foraged) throughout the month and would need to be able to use those things, not just what is in my freezer.
Third- my freezer usually ends up being a black hole where things that enter end up getting sucked in and only found when spring cleaning the next year.
Fourth- I really prefer my food fresh, and don't enjoy defrosted, reheated food.
Fifth- there are some foods that their texture changes once frozen, and I vastly prefer the unfrozen texture. (Potatoes and carrots are two of those.)

In short, once a month cooking isn't for me.

But if I could apply some of the concepts to give myself some of the same benefits, even if not exactly doing once a month cooking, it would save me time and money.

Doing everything at one go might seem counter productive, because you are doing the same work each time- what is the difference between baking one cake many times, or many cakes one time?

The answer is- prep work and clean up.

Some of the hardest things for me are cleaning up, both before and after cooking. My dining room table and counter are usually covered, and my sinks are typically filled with dishes. Some foods I can cook just by clearing off a small portion of the counter and we can eat at the table by pushing some stuff to the side, but there are other, messier foods that I need a dining room table entirely cleaned or a kitchen counter entirely cleaned before I can do them. Not to mention all the dishes that get dirty because of my cooking.

Streamlining my food prep and doing it in bulk, even if only partially bulk, saves time, because instead of needing to clean the table/counter/dishes each time I want to make those foods, I only have to do it once.

This point really hit home when I needed to grind flour the other day.

I really am happy with my grain grinder- as a gluten free household, making my own flours instead of buying them ready made saves me so much money- I can make my own flours for a fraction of the price of what they cost in the store, and having all these flours allows me to make our own snacks and meal items instead of relying on ready made stuff like bought cereal, rice cakes, etc...
But each time I run out of flour, I dread making more flour. Because flour flies everywhere when I grind it, and it coats the work surface. I can only make flour once the table or counter is cleared entirely first, and then I have to clean up the mess it makes afterward. So I just keep pushing off and pushing off grinding flour.
The other day when I made flour, I thought- why not just do mass quantities at once, so that I don't have to go through this clean up every single time? And so I did. I made double or triple the amount of flour I usually do. And the flour will last that much longer. And it really was barely any more work.

So I decided to try that with pasta making.
I make homemade pasta with my pasta maker. Again, that takes work to mix it, and I need to clear the table entirely first, and then make it, and then clean the mess afterward. I wanted to see how much extra work it would be to make "mass quantities" of pasta instead of a single batch.
So I quadrupled my pasta dough recipe.
I did it assembly line style- first I rolled out each piece of pasta through the pasta maker, rolling them to the desired thickness.

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Once I did all that, I ran all those sheets through the pasta maker to cut them into spaghetti or linguini, and set them to dry. (Yes, I used the back of my chair for that. Next time I need to make more pasta drying racks to make it even better.)

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And after cooking a pasta meal, here's how much I have left- enough for at least 2 or three more meals.  Perfect for when I'm in a rush.

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And since they're dry, they don't need to be frozen- just use as is when I want a quick meal.

I decided then to bulk bake muffins. I'll be honest- I do prefer freshly baked muffins and do not always like defrosted muffins or cakes, etc... but at the same time, its best to have these available in the freezer, to use when I need a quick snack or a breakfast or something, and not need to bake them as needed. So I made 48 muffins today- 24 buckwheat lemon and 24 buckwheat banana coconut (both vegan, gluten free, and refined sugar free) and put them in the freezer to use as needed.

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I now have a ton of extra food to use in my house for a later date.

Another thing I like to bulk prepare is soak 3 or 4 types of beans/legumes at once, cook them, and then freeze them in small quantities, typically a cup or two, to defrost and use as needed for a quick legume dish, instead of opening a can. At the moment I have 4.5 pounds of white beans soaking, 3 pounds of chickpeas, and 2 pounds of mung beans.

I'm still working out the details of what exactly I can do in bulk to save time and money, and yet not compromise on the taste/enjoyment of my food, but this is progress...

But I will certainly be trying to do more of this assembly line food prep. Because it makes life easier while not costing extra. Who doesn't like making things easier for themselves?

Do you do once a month cooking, or any other type of assembly line food prep? Do you have any other suggestions for me of things to prep assembly line style?


  1. I like to freeze blended soups because the texture issue isn't a factor anymore. I make a quadruple batch of tomato basil bisque (gluten-free but not vegan) and freeze it in 2 cup portions. I'm guessing you don't use ziploc bags but I do; I lay them down until the soup freezes flat and then stand them up so they don't take up as much room in the freezer.
    I would love to say I make kale chips in bulk, too, because they're healthy and shelf stable, but the reality is I eat them as fast as I make them, no matter how many bunches of kale I start with...

    1. Megan, I gobble down Kale Chips as soon as they come out of the oven as well! The second time I made them, I made sure to save some for a snack for hubby and me the following day. I did NOT like them leftover. Now I have a good reason for eating them all!

  2. I love freezer cooking! I usually make foods that require the same utensils at the same time... like make a few recipes that require my food processor, so I only have to clean it once. I also like to prepare chicken while it's raw, so when I defrost it all I have to do is stick it in the oven.

  3. I would love to hear more about this and know what works for you. Week at a time cooking is pretty much what I'm set up for. I haven't had great luck with anything longer than that (our freezer is a black hole too).

    I recently moved back home to go back to school and one thing I'm doing to help my parents out is to have something in the fridge for dinners during the week. Both my mom and I work cruddy office jobs so we don't want gourmet, just quick and filling. She batch-makes eggy muffins (little frittatas made in muffin tins) for the week for breakfasts and lunches (wouldn't work for you because of the eggs). I've gotten good at pressure cooker chicken stock and am going to try and incorporate a few salad dressings soon to take advantage of all the summer green things. The dressings I put in squeeze bottles to make it easier.

  4. Been thinking about doing mom homemade pasta for a while now. You can make the noodles without a machine if you roll out to desired thickness. Roll up in a roll and cut with a knife unroll. Mom was the queen of homemade egg noodles yum! I miss her and grandma cooking too.

  5. If you can get your hands on a pressure canner you can avoid the freezer. I can can 18 pints of beans at once. I received my canner and jars from an older lady who was downsizing. I also can green beans, spaghetti sauce, chicken, chicken broth, beef, beef broth, soups, etc.

  6. Recently I have been craving my mother's home made noodles. Her approach was to make a huge batch at once, dry it and store it. The house was covered in noodles drying from chairs and any item of furniture she could use as a drying rack. Her home made chicken noodle soup was just delicious. I haven't actually made noodles myself but I have been thinking about it. I batch cook rice, beans and spinach for the freezer. I have also been making biscuit dough that is frozen and only has to be cut and put in the oven when needed. There is such a feeling of relief knowing that I can quickly cook a meal from my stash in the freezer. And, as you say, why clean multiple times when you only need to do it once!

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  8. I have made some dishes according to recipe, and have frozen the leftovers. One example is lasagna. I also make way too much soup and that is good to freeze part of a pot of soup for another time. Soup is something that usually freezes well, except if it has noodles. For many years I would make a big pot of soup and freeze it in one serving size. I would take a serving container to work with me and by the time it was lunch time it was usually thawed.

  9. Any time I use my food processor, I process as much food as I can at that time. If it's multiple kinds of food, I do them in the order that requires the least cleaning between, for example: Make stale bread into breadcrumbs because all parts of the processor need to be dry for that. Shred carrots. Shred kale; carrot juice in the kale will be unnoticeable, unlike kale juice in the carrots. Shred onions last.

    I find that if I shred vegetables before freezing and then use them in cooked foods, the texture is fine. It's super-convenient having vegs frozen in portions to use in recipes so we don't have to do the prep work right before cooking; we eat more vegs as a result.

    Shredding before freezing prevents texture changes in cheese, too. With only 3 people in the family, we usually can't use more than 1/2 pound cheese before it gets moldy, but if we're willing to freeze some we can save a lot of money by buying 2-pound cheeses.

  10. Yeah. I just spent a bunch of time grinding up old bread when I should have been cooking real food. Since I bake my own bread, we always have plenty of leftover/stale bread, and earlier this week I came across a suggestion to grind up and freeze it and then you have bread crumbs for binding and coating/breading and such. :-)

  11. I do this all the time too. My favorite tip is to do it with rice and chicken. When chicken goes on sale (or whatever meat you love), I cook several at once. Then dedicate an hour or two to picking the bones clean. Then divvy up the meat into zip top baggies, which lay flat and save space, and freeze. When I cook brown rice, I cook two bags at once in my big pot. I use what I need that night and then after it cools, I divvy up into zip top baggies again. Because I always have some sort of veggie frozen or fresh in the house, I now have the base for an instant meal. Chicken, rice and veggies are fine as is. Add some soy and a scrambled egg and you have a mock egg fried rice. Add it to tortillas and you have burritos. Pre-cooked rice is a life saver when I don't feel well, too! Sometimes you just want comfort food for an upset tummy...brown rice pre cooked and in my freezer to the rescue!

    Oh and I often make a double meal. Making burritos- make two pans. Casserole...two pans. Freeze the second one. Because as you said, it really only adds a few minutes to make additional. Instead of starting from square one on a busy night.


  12. Nice idea...i agree with your points!

  13. I learned of a better way to freeze muffins over at You prepare your batter, spoon into lined muffin tins and then freeze the batter! Then pop the liners out of the tin and store in a ziplock bag. When you're ready to bake, take out as many as you'd like, pop them in the muffin tin, put in a cold oven, set to your cooking temp and cook for about 10 minutes longer than normal. fresh, bulk muffins!


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