Think Outside The Lunchbox Age Buster Food Plan

The Game:
One Shot Cooking for 7 Slam Dunk Meals!

Think Outside The Lunchbox – Cook Once…Eat for a Week!

Players: ANYONE who wants to eat! Singles to super-sized families!

Equipment necessary to play the game: Large cooking pans, freezer-ready casserole dishes, freezer bags with zip-tops, and a variety of shallow, plastic freezer containers.

Rules of the Game: PLAN AHEAD – Make a date with yourself with a “no-cancellation” policy! The penalty for cancellation is disorganization, fast food meals, and stress!

How to Play:

Select your recipes. Be aware of what freezes and reheats best.
* Plan meals around several key foods – ground beef, chicken, roast, etc.
* 1st String Players: soups, stews, chili, meat sauces, lasagna (and other pasta combination dishes), rice
* Avoid: dishes with mayonnaise, sour cream, cooked eggs

Prepare your shopping list by category. Organize your grocery list according to aisles such as: produce, dairy, meats, canned goods, etc.

Shop and stock your kitchen.
* Keep a supply of healthy foods on hand for quick nutritious meals.
* Stock up on fresh fruits and vegetables, poultry, fish, yogurt, low-fat cheeses, whole-grain cereals and breads, etc.
* Buy foods with a long shelf life such as canned tuna and salmon, beans, pasta, rice, tomato sauce, and broth
* Stock your freezer with frozen fruits and vegetables for quick preparation.
* Take advantage of your supermarket salad bar and deli for precut vegetables, fruit, meat, etc.
* Save time by purchasing pre-cut and pre-cooked ingredients (chicken cuts, potatoes and other fresh, canned, or packaged fruits and vegetables)
* Buy in bulk when possible especially when your favorite food items are on sale.

Arrange all necessary cooking equipment: baking dishes, pots, storing containers, foil, plastic wrap, spoons, ladles, etc.
* ALWAYS have a BIG pot on hand! Remember you’re “MAKING IT QUICK” and cooking for a week! Make the initial investment and select a pot with a thicker bottom for even heating, less burning, and quicker cleanup.

Prep all necessary food: chop, mince, shred, etc. vegetables, cheeses, meats. Organize your “steps.” This simplifies the prep process and eliminates the possibility of forgetting foods cooking on the stovetop or in the oven.
* Save MEGA time by purchasing prepared food at supermarket salad bar, deli or meat department. You might spend a little more, but the investment is well worth the time you’ll save!
Cook the basics: Prepare “key foods” such as ground beef, chicken, or stock for soups (shortcut: use canned broth, bouillon cubes or granules)

Complete the recipes. Make double or triple batches and extend the life of your one-shot cooking to 2, 3 or 4 weeks of meals.

Cool to room temperature.
* General Rule: Perishable foods, such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy products, should not be at room temperature longer than TWO hours TOTAL! This TOTAL includes every time the food is prepared. In other words, you cannot leave food out for 2 hours, refrigerate or freeze, thaw and serve and leave out another 2 hours before storing. Remember: 2 hours TOTAL TIME!!!
* Once food is cooked, cool it quickly to warm (about 100®¨ F) before freezing to retain the best flavor and quality. The slower food freezes, the larger the ice crystals; this can result in unappealing, mushy food your family will surely refuse to eat!
* Do NOT place hot foods in the freezer – this can result in partially thawing already frozen foods.
* For best results, stir food every 15 minutes while it is cooling; package and freeze accordingly.

Package and store in appropriate containers.
* Follow the “3 Bears Rule”: If food is too hot, the lid will invert. If food is too cold, you risk the growth of bacteria. For “just right” food, crack the lid and let it cool slightly; stir occasionally, seal and store for perfect freshness.
* Let containers cool a bit more before putting them in the refrigerator or freezer; putting steaming hot food will heat up the inside of the fridge or freezer to an unsafe level.
* Select shallow containers that cool faster in the refrigerator.
* DO NOT leave food out overnight! This is the perfect breeding ground for nasty bacteria!
* You select the portion sizes for storing: you can package for 1-6 people depending on your family’s needs. Improve food quality by separating and refrigerating portions for your next meals before you set food on the table

Label with recipe name, date, thawing and reheating instructions.

Store food in refrigerator or freezer.
* Although an extra freezer is nice, it is not necessary. Learn to make the most of your space by stacking and storing food items in Ziploc bags, or foil-packets.
* Do NOT freeze more than 1/10 of the capacity of your freezer at one time or
freezing will be too slow.
* Allow adequate space around the food so air can circulate properly.
* To quick-freeze foods: Arrange foods in a single layer on a cookie or baking sheet.
Freeze uncovered or covered with an inverted pan until solid. Package and freeze for easy removal. This works especially well with meat patties, chicken pieces, baked goods, and small appetizers.

Track Your Inventory. Make a menu list to track what goes in and what comes out!

Thaw food in refrigerator or follow directions according to specific recipe. NEVER thaw any food at room temperature! Most foods can be placed in the refrigerator to thaw; put them in the night before and all you’ll have to do the next night is reheat and enjoy!

Reheat according to packaged directions.

Serve and EAT!!!

Alternate Strategies:
* Cook double or triple meals – eat one tonight and freeze the other.
* Freeze components rather than whole meals. Freeze broth, rice, vegetables, and other freezer-safe foods separately; use as needed for soups, stews, casseroles, and stir-fry dishes.

How you Win: Gain valuable time for activities OUTSIDE the kitchen! Save money, time, energy, and stress!

Sound too time-consuming, too difficult and hardly worth the effort of providing hot, healthy meals for you and your family every night of the week? WRONG!!! Even though this is a challenge for even the queen of organization, it’s well worth the endeavor! Remember: Even small investments reap valuable rewards!
Get ready?
Get Set?
Start COOKIN’!!
The first one to the finish line is definitely the ultimate WINNER!

“Think Outside The Lunchbox by Jyl Steinback, Ashley Arpel Greenwald & Friends