Lorelei Boschman and Deanna Siemens have devised a way to spend one day every few months stocking their freezers with hundreds of entrees they can simply thaw and bake, grill or slow-cook so they can feed their families a nutritious and different home-cooked dinner each night.
The women are the authors of "The Big Cook 2: More Celebrated Recipes," published this spring and a sequel to "The Big Cook Cookbook," which also included author Joanne Smith. They started making their meals in bulk more than 16 years ago, when the three women had 10 boys and one girl among them, said 45-year-old Boschman, who has since remarried, adding three more children to the mix.
" It solves the dinner dilemma and your supper stress is gone," said Boschman, a professor of math and education at Medicine Hat College, while Siemens, 47, is a dental assistant for her dentist husband.
"We were right in this busy point of our lives, birthing children, holding full-time careers, wanting to be the best moms we could be," and they thought there had to be a better way than going home each day and frantically trying to throw something together for supper or resorting to takeout.
They decided to buy bulk ingredients and get together for a day of preparation. The first time, they each went home with 10 meals. "We were thrilled. Because now in our freezer we had 10 meals for those days when we would come home and feel that panic," she said.
For 10 years they continued their "big cook," working off their notes, then with other people begging to be shown how to achieve the zen feeling the women exuded surrounding the supper scramble, they put together their first cookbook, "The Big Cook Cookbook."
They prepare all the ingredients needed for a meal and place them in a zip-close plastic bag, which is then frozen and can be thawed when needed. The meals are not cooked the day they are prepared — just the ingredients that go in them. You're not cooking everything, freezing it and eating leftovers forever, Boschman explained.
"We like to say we do our meal prep in three to four days for the whole year. When we do a big cook, we're going to come home with about 60 meals. We're going to do that four times a year and that's it. The other days in the year we're doing other things with our kids," Boschman said, adding that at the time of the interview she had 40 meals ready to go in her freezer.
"The concept is never make one of something, then you're stuck tomorrow. If you're getting out the ingredients it might take you 15 minutes to prepare one meal, but it only takes 17 minutes to prepare eight of them," she explained. "Instead of measuring two tablespoons of vinegar, you're measuring one cup of vinegar. It doesn't take any longer."
The first book contains 73 family favourites using beef, pork and chicken, while "The Big Cook 2" has 134 recipes and includes vegetarian and seafood selections. Boschman and Siemens — other commitments kept Smith from being involved in the second book — put out a call to their 2,300-member Facebook group for submissions and have included 50 recipes from people across the country in the second book.
The women have devised a comprehensive how-to section that explains how to get ready for a big cook day. Compiling a thorough grocery list is key; they have an example in the book and a downloadable example on their website.
All recipes have been tested for taste, ease of method and freezability and have been vetted by a dietitian. The recipes offer several cooking options — oven, barbecue or slow cooker.
In the morning Boschman or her husband choose what they'll eat that evening and pull out the appropriate bag to thaw. If they're going to slow-cook the dinner, they'll thaw it overnight and put the contents of the bag in the slow cooker in the morning. They just make a salad or dessert to accompany the meal.
The authors have set up the recipes in columns with the ingredients listed to make one, four, six or eight meals.
"We've got lots of singles that get together and they do the four-meal column but divide it up into eight so they end up with eight half-size portions for themselves. Anybody can adjust it," she said.
When Boschman's son went to university last year, "we did a big cook. We did a four-meal column and we froze it into eight smaller bags and we set him up with a small freezer and a bunch of these bags of meals. He throws it in a small slow cooker and he goes to college. So that's a lifesaver."
Boschman said doing a big cook is also economical. "Each of these meals costs $10 to $12 on average. If you do a good variety of chicken and pork for a family-size meal that's going to feed a few kids and parents," she said. "If I end up having to go to a drive-thru with my boys it costs me about 60 bucks.
"So you're saving money, you can pronounce the ingredients, you're eating healthy. You feel less stress. We have seen so many awesome benefits."