3 weeks till Christmas: menu plan & batch cook for December

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by Tsh

Tsh is the founder of this blog and is currently traveling around the world with her husband and 3 kids. Her latest book is Notes From a Blue Bike, and believes a passport is one of the world's greatest textbooks.

December is typically a very busy month for most families — holiday parties, school events, and shopping lists keep us hectic and busy.  Keeping up with typical household tasks feels a bit intrusive and even a bit of a seasonal damper.  Who wouldn’t rather bake Christmas cookies than tackle the laundry?

Dinner easily falls to the wayside. Pizza delivery becomes all too common, and healthy, sit-down meals are set aside for convenient fast food or quick, frozen dinners.

With a simple meal plan, you can easily double your recipes in the first half of December, so that in the second half — when we’re swamped with holiday festivities – all you have to do is thaw, heat, and serve.

I’ve written plenty about menu planning — how I sometimes plan a month’s worth of meals at a time, how I use Google Calendar and Delicious to manage it all, and how batch cooking and freezer meals can cut my time in half.

12 weeks till christmas on simple momFor December, I’m incorporating all of these tools.  Winter food can easily be doubled and frozen, so with a basic two-week meal plan, I can have our family’s dinners stocked for the fun-yet-hectic holiday season.

This week’s task for our 12 Weeks to a Peaceful Christmas series is to make a meal plan for December that incorporates batch and freezer cooking.  Plan to cook more in the first half of the month so that you’re free to enjoy the season in the second half.

Our December Plan

Here is my family’s December meal plan.  Feel free to copy verbatim, or simply get an idea or two to work for your household.

Friday, December 4homemade pizza and salad

  • task: triple my pizza dough and sauce batches, and use it each Friday
  • additional days: Friday, December 11, 18, and January 1

Saturday, December 5shepherd’s pie

  • task: double the recipe and freeze the second
  • additional day: Saturday, December 19

Weeks 1 & 3

Sunday, December 6 – grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup

  • task: double the soup recipe and freeze the second; roast a chicken, cube it, and freeze in one cup batches
  • additional day: Sunday, December 20

Monday, December 7 white chicken chili

  • task: use cooked cubed chicken; double the recipe and freeze the second
  • additional day: Monday, December 21

Tuesday, December 8tacos, beans, and rice

  • task: double the seasoned ground beef and freeze the second batch; make beans and freeze half
  • additional day: Tuesday, December 22

Wednesday, December 9 — stir fry (honey glazed or Pacific rim, depending on our mood)

  • task: roast a chicken, cube it, and freeze in one cup batches
  • additional day: each Wednesday — December 16, 23, and 30

cinnamon roll
Photo by Steven Depolo

Thursday, December 10French market soup

  • task: double the recipe and freeze the second batch
  • additional day: Thursday, December 24 (when I’ll also make cinnamon rolls for Christmas morning)

Saturday, December 12 chicken and dumplings

  • task: use cooked cubed chicken; double the recipe and freeze the second (mix the dry ingredients for the dumplings and store in a separate container, then add the milk and cook that day)
  • additional day: Saturday, December 26

Weeks 2 & 4

Sunday, December 13cheese enchiladas, beans, and rice

  • task: double the enchiladas and freeze half; make beans and freeze half
  • additional day: Sunday, December 27

Monday, December 14corn and potato chowder

  • task: double the recipe and freeze the second batch
  • additional day: Monday, December 28

Tuesday, December 15chicken pot pie

  • task: use cooked cubed chicken; double the recipe and freeze the second batch
  • additional day: Tuesday, December 29

Thursday, December 17 chicken and sausage gumbo

  • task: use cooked cubed chicken; double the recipe and freeze the second batch
  • additional day: Thursday, December 31

This doesn’t include Christmas Day, where we’ll most likely be gathering with others and celebrating in true food overload style.

What are your go-to recipes for the holidays or for particularly busy seasons?

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Comments

  1. I recently started making big batches of rice and freezing them. I also cook steel cut oats and various beans once a week. I love the idea of cooking double and freezing half. I used to do that, but it’s been a couple years. I really need to do that again, we’ve been doing too many stops on the way home at drive-thrus already this season!
    .-= Angela Mills´s last blog ..I don’t make my bed and other confessions… =-.

  2. Brilliant idea! I can’t wait to dive into some of those recipes, they look like serious comfort food. I get so overwhelmed during the holidays…I think you’ve just helped me simplify!
    .-= The Secret Life of Kat´s last blog ..How Not To Do Christmas – A Lesson From The Trenches of Idealism =-.

  3. I am seriously craving a grilled cheese sandwich now :)
    .-= Samantha @ Mama Notes´s last blog ..9 Months Old Beaver Believer =-.

  4. Thank you for the ideas! We love risotto and soup in the cold season, so there will be fennel or pumpkin risotto, potato soup, pasta with different sugos and -if there is really no time – fries with köttbullar or something like that.
    .-= Micha´s last blog ..Maronensuppe =-.

  5. Sounds good! But that’s a lot of chicken you have there! Surely there’s no need for a meat dish every day? Wouldn’t it be nice to eat a few more vegetables, legumes and fruit rather than stock up on meat towards Christmas? Feel lighter yourself, and give the animals the present of life. What could be better!

    • It is a bit of chicken, but we do have plenty of meatless dishes as well, and we rarely eat meat for lunch or breakfast. We also snack on fruit and raw veggies all day long. We hardly eat any red meat since it’s so expensive here.

  6. Love this! Thanks for posting! For the pizza dough, do you just roll up a bunch of balls and place in a ziploc bag? What is the process for freezing and then defrosting?

  7. That’s an amazing schedule. Cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning is our tradition as well! The kids are already talking about it.

    We eat REALLY simple meals almost all the time, and rarely cook any meat at home–so our dinners don’t take much time to create. It wouldn’t work for everyone, but it works for us in this season and keeps life simple and sane!

    Jamie
    .-= steadymom´s last blog ..Blogoversary Giveaway: Love & Tea Company =-.

  8. How do you freeze your pizza dough? In balls, rolled up? I’d love to try this!
    .-= Sara*MamaGoesGreen*´s last blog ..Bread! =-.

  9. About freezing pizza dough — Yep, I just put them each in separate ziploc bags, freeze, and then take them out that morning to thaw. They’re shaped more like discs, kinda like when you freeze pie dough. It takes less time to thaw that way.

  10. “Thaw, heat, and serve” – this is how I get through all the madly busy weeks, be that because of Christmas or anything else. But I am seriously constrained by the space that I have for the frozen food, my freezer has its limits :) Any creative solutions?
    .-= Emma @ Baby-log.com´s last blog ..Potty training, step 2 – using a potty. =-.

    • Try canning a few times a year. We can chicken when it’s on sale and spaghetti sauce when our garden tomatoes are ripe. It is really quite easy and our favorite quick dishes are spaghetti and chicken enchiladas.

  11. You’re awesome! Thanks for this. Menu planning is huge for me. I still don’t love doing it, but I love the results.
    .-= PS~Erin´s last blog ..You’d think… =-.

  12. Keeping the freezer stocked really does help get dinner on the table. I put out a free, weekly menu plan with a printable grocery list and recipes. One of those weeks (I think week 8) is a Fill the Freezer menu. I like to keep cooked chicken and ground beef in the freezer. It really cuts down on prep time.
    .-= Tiffany´s last blog ..Cheesy Chicken Chowder =-.

  13. I’m not sure why #8 is a smiley face in my comment. It looks cute though :-)
    .-= Tiffany´s last blog ..Cheesy Chicken Chowder =-.

  14. Darn it, I was looking through posts in my Google reader, and now I’m really craving a grilled cheese sandwich! Your organization and meal planning are fantastic, and we’re going to start heading in that direction to reduce the amount of take-out food our family eats. Baby steps!
    .-= Dustin | Engaged Marriage´s last blog ..Are You Ready for Something Extraordinary? =-.

  15. This is pretty much what I did a month before DS was due to be born. All my husband or I had to do the first month of Benjamin’s life was to remember to take stuff out of the freezer in the morning, then heat it right before dinner time.

    Since we eat mostly raw foods now, I don’t do as much bulk cooking, but when I buy meat I’ll buy 4 pounds of it, cook it in the crockpot, and voila! several pre-made meat dishes that I can throw in the freezer and take out when we want. The same for vegetable soups. It does make life a lot easier–holidays or not! :)
    .-= Emily´s last blog ..Five Reasons to Drink Caffeinated Alcoholic Beverages =-.

  16. Seeing your system makes batch cooking look so doable. You’ve motivated me to give it a shot! Thank you for the inspiration!

  17. Tsh, this is one of the most comprehensive make-ahead meal plans that I’ve seen. It makes it seem so doable. I’ve also done batch cooking along the way but, really, who has time (and energy!) to do one big cooking day? Thanks so much for sharing! I’ll be linking to this post on my blog!
    .-= Carmella´s last blog ..Bun Trouble =-.

  18. Great ideas for the month. Can’t wait to use some of these.
    .-= Rana´s last blog ..Do You Monkey Platter? =-.

  19. Ok, now I just NEED those cinnamon rolls! Thanks for the link of the recipe. :)

  20. Wow, I am in awe of your level of organisation! Absolutely in awe.

    Thank you for inspiring me!
    .-= chaotic kitten´s last blog ..Seeing Stuff I have Dehoarded In the Shop =-.

  21. love the meal plan – thanks for sharing! i’ve been inspired by your site to look for (and implement) ways to simplify…food, cleaning, money, life.

    one service i recently subscribed to that i am *loving* is e-mealz.com. it’s $5 per month but they send you your weekly meal plan with accompanying grocery list. the recipes have been super simple and delicious and i just post the meal plan (which has the recipes on it) on the refrigerator to keep it accessible.

    anyway, sure there are other services but i now spend virtually NO time planning meals but still have yummy meals each night!
    .-= Aimee Davis Clevenger´s last blog ..happy thanksgiving! =-.

  22. MoneySavingMom and I just did big batch cooking this week. I’m so glad I did it. You’re right that a cpl days non stop cooking is crazy. Your option here is a good one, esp when you don’t have a cpl days.
    .-= FishMama´s last blog ..Grocery Geek Presents: Free Batteries =-.

  23. The menu plan is brilliant! Great idea!
    .-= Aaron Shaw´s last blog ..Fun For Kids Activities – Conversation Starter! =-.

  24. Thanks for the reminder about the importance of making extras this time of year.

  25. I have to add. We just made a bunch of whole wheat choco chip cookies. And froze little dough balls so when we want to sit down and read a Christmas story we can have fresh cookies. Here is recipe we used
    http://www.joythebaker.com/blog/2009/07/whole-wheat-chocolate-chip-cookie-dough/

  26. I am so excited. Day 2 into this plan… we have eaten 2 meals together and everyone (all 5 of us) at the same thing. I have 2 meals in the freezer and 2 batches of cooked chicken. I bought enough food for about 20 meals and did not spend much more than I normally would have at the store. You are a genius! Many thanks.

  27. I love that your meal planning is not complicated! Thanks for the great tips. I have a Christmas Menu that is easily doubled with some recipes easily frozen. Rather that spending the time to make one dish I often make two. Potato Gratin is easily doubled with extra maple vegetables being used to make a cous cous salad.
    .-= Ruthie´s last blog ..Christmas Menu =-.

  28. This really helped me. I’ve been tweaking around my ideas of bulk cooking. I have the problem of forgetting that I cooked ahead! I used your idea for doubling batches and putting the meal on the calendar, so that everything is all ready to go (and I don’t forget!)

  29. Where’s the cinnamon roll recipe link that Ana mentioned? I can’t find it!!

  30. Do you cook and freeze the chicken, and then make a recipe with it later, and refreeze a it again as part of a new dish? Is that safe to do?

    • I have heard you shouldn’t freeze, thaw and refreeze meats. If I brown hamburger, I wouldn’t freeze that, thaw and then cook it in something to refreeze. I do keep frozen cooked meat (chopped chicken, hamburger) in the freezer and pull it out to add to a dish, but I wouldn’t take part of that dish and refreeze again.

  31. I love the idea of bulk cooking and freezing. Your plan sounds great! I’m just wondering: do you have a large stock of casserole dishes or do you put things like the Enchiladas in plastic container and then transfer it to a baking dish when it’s time to re-heat?

    • I don’t have a lot of freezer space or dishes, so I use a lot of Ziploc gallon freezer baggies. You can carefully lay enchiladas in them single layer (side by side) and then put that on a piece of cardboard or something and stack the bags — takes very little room. I also put chicken breasts with seasoning and cream of chicken soup in them, mush it all up and then sort of push the bag flat. Just put something between that baggie and the next so they don’t freeze into each other.

      I’ve also lined a casserole dish with foil, frozen it and then popped the foil out of the dish and wrap that carefully with more foil. You can store the “shaped” casserole without the dish. And, Sam’s sells those aluminum pans that are great for freezer food — just no tomato stuff in alumninum.

  32. All the recipes sound absolutely delicious – and what a great idea. Thanks for sharing!
    .-= Christi {Jealous Hands}´s last blog ..Cade =-.

  33. I just finished my first week following your menu plan (replacing a couple of my own recipes) and, wow, how great it was to eat at home for a change! Thank you for not only the idea, but also your monthly menu. That took so much of my planning time away – I usually spend an hour planning one week (when I do cook) but I don’t think I spent that much time planning a whole month using your menu plan. My parents bought us a FoodSaver last Christmas and I’ve used it more this past week than I have the entire year! Totally worth the investment if cooking this way. My boys (7&9) loved your White Chicken Chili. We also just had your pizza recipe – no more Domino’s for us! I substituted one and a half cups of the white flour for wheat flour (doubled dough recipe) and yumm-ie! Thanks again!

  34. My 11 year old and I made some Muy Nacho Stuffed Shells (http://wegottaeat.com/CandaceT/recipes/muy-nacho-stuffed-shells) and froze up batches. The kids absolutely love them even when the pasta shells fall apart during stuffing. We stuffed shells, put them flat in ziploc bags and froze them, with the sauce in a baggie attached. I used the manicotti shell boxes to “layer” the ziploc bags in the freezer and keep them from getting smushed.

    This was so great to pull out of the freezer and bake yesterday after all the turkey and turkey soup and turkey sandwiches through the weekend.

    I find I always enjoy having a “copy” of something in the freezer that’s a favorite. It took a while to stuff all those shells, but now we can enjoy them anytime. And, because he helped, it’s a guaranteed winner with him!

  35. Lovely list! Thanks! I hope to incorporate some of this this month – one question on the pizza dough — when you batch make the dough – do you freeze it in dough form or do you cook a view plain ones and then freeze that? Something I’ve always wanted to do but that part confuses me ;)

    • Janel, I’m not sure what Tsh does, but I prefer to have my pizza ready for the oven when I pull it out of the freezer. So I have made the entire pizza (in a rectangular shape to fit into a FoodSaver bag) and freeze all the toppings and sauce along with the dough on a cake cardboard piece – just like they do from the freezer at the grocery store. Be sure to wrap the cardboard with foil or parchment paper so dough won’t stick to the board. It works perfectly! I hope that helps!

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