You’ve got a short window of time to get food on the table after a long day with the kids or at work, but a big freezer. Money Smart Mom: Financially Fit Parenting author Sarah Deveau has the solution for you! In this three part series on Freezer Meal Planning, she’ll teach you everything you need to know about cooking for the freezer.

I love to cook. I love browsing through boutique kitchen stores, and not much thrills me more than selecting a gorgeous new cookbook and burrowing into a comfy chair with it at home, dreaming of dinner parties. I have invested in fantastic tools over the years, sometimes discovered at thrift stores and garage sales – vintage Le Crueset dishes, my wonderful Kitchen Aid mixer, and perfectly sharpened Global knives.

So you’d think getting dinner on a table every night would be a snap, right? Not so much. I work full time at my day job and for myself from home 10 to 20 hours a week. And of course, I’ve got a few kids too – three girls under the age of six.

After having my first daughter, I took up meal planning after my husband and I were guests on the Food Network Television show Fixing Dinner. It helped me add structure to my day to ensure I had great food on the table every night. However, as my schedule got busier, I often found I didn’t have time even when I tried to stick with my tried and true meal planning routine.

I turned to freezer meal planning. What a difference! For the past few years, I’ve used freezer meal planning to handle feeding the crowd in our house.

There are two main ways I’ll handle making our family’s freezer meals.

  1. Super Prepared
    This method involves being, well, super prepared! I look at my schedule and choose two days when I’ll have a lot of time to prepare. The first night I’ll set aside three hours to browse flyers for sale items, select recipes, write out the plan for how many times I might double or triple the recipe, and write a grocery list. Then I’ll head to the grocery store, bring everything home, and sort it on the kitchen table and in the fridge by recipe.The next day, I’ll follow my notes of what to prepare when, to ensure there are no long waits in the process wile meat is cooking or the oven is full. By the time I’ve put in five or six hours, I’ll usually have between 20 – 30 meals prepped and ready to freeze. Some meals are made big for sharing with guests, others might be small – just enough for my husband for dinner and his lunch the next day. My kids are still pretty picky, and I keep a container of grilled chicken and plain pasta in the fridge at all times in case they’re not interested in more than the obligatory bite of the main meal.
  2. Slacker Method
    If I just don’t have the time to set aside for a big cook, I’ll use the slacker method. A few nights each week I’ll double or triple the meal I’m making that night, and freezer the others. After a month of doing this, I might have 10 – 12 meal stashed away in the freezer.

Regardless of the method you choose, even the busiest parent can fill your freezer with fantastic meals that will save you money by taking advantage of buying items while on sale, and save you even more money over ordering take out in desperation.

Sarah Deveau is the author of Money Smart Mom: Financially Fit Parenting. She blogs about money at Yummy Mummy Club and at Money Smart Mom.