Just in time for September’s back to school craze, we’ve caught up with Elisa Giorgio, creator of Single Mama Blueprints. We love Elisa because she is such an expert meal-planner all the while cutting down on food costs. Elisa’s dream is to live in a world with an unlimited rainbow of sharpies, a magic broom that cleans up after sticky-fingered toddlers, and where the view from the kitchen window is of the beach.
As a blogger, organizer, and meal-planner extraordinaire, she’s helped women and moms learn how to simplify their lives. Freezer meal planning is such a passion that she started running workshops in her home to teach others how to save time and money by being smart about using their freezer. Wanting to help more single mom’s Elisa wanted to expand to bring her expertise to mom’s everywhere with her online workshops.
Her first online course, Freezer Meals Blueprint is slated for pre-sale soon and will begin this fall. She’s created a resource with free practical tips on how to run your house and kids without losing your mind at singlemamablueprints.com.
When she’s not writing or creating courses to help mama’s get organized, you can find her whipping up some spinach artichoke dip, reading at least 3 books at any one time, or explaining why it’s not a good idea to stick toys up your nose — for the eleventy-hundredth time.
For back to school planning, we’ve asked Elisa share some of her best expertise with our readers. For her best tips and tricks to freezer meal planning, check out our interview.
Interview with Elisa Giorgio, of Single Mama Blueprints
Anna Curran: What expert tips do you have for beginners who want to start meal planning and freezing for back to school?
Elisa Giorgio: I think the thought of meal planning can be completely overwhelming for anyone who’s just looking to start. If you googled meal planning, you’d come up with a bazillion suggestions from spending hours upon hours on Sunday cooking and chopping to making a gourmet meal every night. And my personal favorite suggestion for newbies: meal planning for 6 weeks. What?!? Now, I love to cook and I have been know to meal plan for 6 weeks, but that is most definitely just for people who love meal planning AND have been doing it awhile. Most of us are just trying to feed our families something other than take-out, drive-thru, or meals from a box. It doesn’t have to be hard.
- Keep it simple. Plan for one week of dinners at first. Make meals that you could make with your eyes closed. Oh, and spaghetti with jarred sauce totally counts!
- Check the weather. Seriously–– who wants to cook lasagna in a heat wave or grill some burgers while it’s monsooning outside?!?
- Save a picture of your meal plan to your phone. No matter how well you plan or how long you’ve been doing it, it’s inevitable that one night you’ll end up at the grocery store and need to know what’s for dinner on Thursday. If you have a picture to refer back to, you’ll never be caught without your plan!
- Get your friends involved! I guarantee you have friends that want to save time, save money, or eat healthier, which meal planning can do. Swap recipes, create a joint meal plan where everyone cooks the same things that week, or pick 5 recipes you want to freeze and do it as a “freezer meal party”!
Anna Curran: What are some of the tips you have learned on your journey to become an “expert freezer meal prepper”?
Elisa Giorgio: Not everything freezes well! Fruits and veggies with high water content (think: celery, tomatoes, zucchini) and most milk products (like: cream, butter, cheese) can be tricky. It’s not that you can’t freeze them, it just might take a few extra steps. Honestly, I just leave them out – there are plenty of things to make without them!
Make double and freeze one. This is probably the one that everyone forgets about, and how I began my journey to freezing meals. If I make something like enchiladas, spaghetti sauce, or soup I just make twice as much and freeze the extra!
Ice cube trays. Yes – ice cube trays. They are awesome. I’m sure everyone has seen homemade baby food in ice cube trays, but they have lots of other uses too. They are fantastic for freezing leftover ingredients like: tomato paste, chipotles in adobo, pesto, canned coconut milk, and chopped green chiles. You could also keep things you normally only need a small amount of like: chicken broth, lemon juice, or fresh herbs in olive oil. I recently saw that someone made some flavored almond milk for their coffee by mixing it with sugar and vanilla, and then freezing it in an ice cube tray so they can grab it quickly for their morning coffee – genius! Keeping with that idea, you could also do yogurt for smoothies, beaten eggs (oh yes you can!), raw cookie dough, and even wine for wine slushies. My advice? Invest a few bucks in some silicone ones because they will make your life much easier than the hard plastic ones. Once they’re frozen, just pop them out and put them in a labeled plastic freezer bag. Voilá!
Anna Curran:You’ve developed a guide to Single Mama Simple Meal Planning. What’s different about your approach to meal planning, prep, and organization?
Elisa Giorgio: I hate complicated. Meal planning can get really complicated when you’re spending hours figuring out what to make, chopping veggies all day on Sunday to put in little containers, or how not to have any leftovers. I don’t do any of that. I think my approach is successful because it’s simple, flexible, and customizable. There’s actually a running joke with my son where I ask him what he wants on the meal plan and he says burgers, tacos, and French Dip sandwiches (more about that yumminess below!). It’s what he loves and if there is an entire week devoted to burgers, tacos, and sandwiches – well, that’s OKAY!
I digress. Here are my basic steps:
- Make your freezer work for you by always having some prepared meals on hand.
- Make your pantry work for you by always having the ingredients for making 3 quick meals.
- Make meals you’re comfortable making at first. Don’t reinvent the wheel for the first few weeks. Think of things that you don’t need a recipe for and make a salad instead of veggies.
- Definitely use the slow cooker! Man, that thing is a God-send.
- Jot down 5 meals you want to make next week (and 2 days for leftovers) and write down the groceries you need for them at the same time. So in about 30 minutes you could create both your plan and your shopping list.
I just want to encourage people to do what works for them and their family. Meal planning is not supposed to be perfect. You can make your own rules, change the rules, and make sandwiches for an entire week if you want!
Anna Curran:What’s your favorite freezer meal that you always have on ice?
Elisa Giorgio: Just one??? I have lots of favorites, but the one that comes to mind is French Dip Sandwiches. My oldest son is a picky eater, but he loves this one and it’s the absolute easiest to make in the slow cooker (even if you don’t freeze it ahead). It’s a simple chuck roast that turns into flavorful, melt in your mouth, chunks of meat that you put on a big, soft roll with some melted cheese. Mmm, it even makes it’s own “au jus” just like at fancy restaurants.
Oh man, now I want some!
(See recipe below)
Anna Curran: How has meal-prep and planning changed the way you cook?
Elisa Giorgio: Oh boy, so many ways. I started out with the need to save time (and my sanity!) because I was a working, full-time single mom. I didn’t even realize at first how much money I was saving simply by not throwing out rotted veggies and fuzzy leftovers! Before meal planning, I would go to the store and buy whatever looked good (which when you love to cook is every. single. vegetable.), have grand plans of making Pinterest-worthy recipes and not have the time to make it all before it spoiled! Or I’d be so dead-tired after a stressful job that I didn’t want to cook at all. We ate a lot of pizza and chinese food in those days!
Now that I’m a work-at-home single mom, it’s not really any easier to avoid eating out. Actually I think it’s easier to forget about dinner when you’re bustling around all day because there’s no time to end work and clock out. Planning dinners and freezer meals definitely helps me quickly prepare meals (especially dinner) so I’m not consumed with what to make on a daily basis. I love anything that makes my life easier! I still love to cook and try new recipes, but now, I know to do that occasionally so food doesn’t go to die in the bottom drawer. Meal planning allows me to think about it once, at the beginning of the week, so I can keep my focus during the rest of the week on my work and family.
Check out Elisa’s collection of freezer-friendly meal-prep recipes on Cookbook Create!
Elisa’s Back to School and Meal-Prep Resources:
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