Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Homeschool Review Crew: Freezer Meal Plan Membership from MyFreezEasy Freezer Meal Plan Membership {MyFreezEasy}

My daughter and I are ecstatic about our new review product called Freezer Meal Plan Membership from MyFreezEasy which has simplified the meal planning process. It saved me hours that would normally be spent in the kitchen preparing meals. It allowed us to have home cooked meals even though we have a busy schedule. My goal was to eat healthier, well-balanced meals every night. I wanted meals that I could throw in the oven that would last me several days. I didn't want to waste anymore money eating out. No more quick "go to" drive-thru foods on those busy nights. Saving money is a huge priority for this single work-at-home homeschool mom. At first, I was overwhelmed with the concept. I needed to spend less money on groceries. I also wasn't sure I would have enough room for freezer meals, but it worked out perfectly. I am inspired to continue with the freezer meal prep process. MyFreezEasy was my lifesaver.

What is MyFreezEasy? 
We received the Premium Annual Membership to review, which is an online freezer meal prep subscription with access to printables in PDF format. You will need a printer and Adobe Reader to read the PDF files. MyFreezEasy is an effective and efficient freezer cooking meal planning strategy developed by Erin Chase. Erin is the founder of Grocery Budget Makeover and $5 Dinners. The ultimate goal and idea is to freeze 10-12 meals in less than one hour. Erin arms you with the tools and resources you need to successfully freeze an assortment of meals which makes meal planning less stressful and easier. Freezer Meal Plan Membership {MyFreezEasy}

My membership gave me access to ALL 8 meal plans offered each month. Each preset meal plans offers 5-10 recipes providing you with 10-20 meals. Most meal plans have 5 recipes. Then, you double the recipe which gives you 10 meals. Since it's just my daughter and I one meal lasted us 1-3 days which means as long as we don't mind eating leftovers the prepared meals will span across 10-30 days. The customization desktop app allow us to access ALL the recipes in the database and we have the ability to personalize our meal plans to fit our preferences and needs.

Meal Plan Categories
  • Traditional
  • Slow Cooker
  • Gluten Free
  • Clean Eats
  • 20 Meals
  • All Chicken
  • All Ground Beef
  • All Pork Chops Freezer Meal Plan Membership {MyFreezEasy}

We won't use the all meat meal plans as often, because my daughter and I would be eating the same type of protein all month. One meal lasts us several days. I can only store a few meals in my freezer. This is why I absolutely LOVE the swapping feature. I can swap out a few chicken recipes for other recipes. 

A new set of recipes and meal plans arrive each month with printables for all meal plans. Each recipe includes a bulleted ingredient list and numbered step-by-step cooking instructions. The instructions were provided for a single meal and a doubled recipe based on the serving size you indicate before reviewing and printing the file. The serving size and cook times are stated at the top under the recipe title.

You'll Receive
  • Recipes Including Gluten-Free and Dairy-Free Modifications
  • Several Organized Shopping Lists
  • Step-by-Step Assembly Directions
  • Printable Meal Bag or Tray Labels
  • Instructional Assembly Video of the Traditional Meal Plan
  • Video Library with Meal Plan Highlights and Tips Freezer Meal Plan Membership {MyFreezEasy}

How We Used MyFreezEasy
The first task was to clean out the freezer and trash expired food. We've had access to the September and the October meal plans so far. I am a freezer cooking newbie. The meal plans were immediately downloaded in PDF format and saved to my computer. Of course . . . I realize now that I saved the default serving size of 4 instead of the serving sizes of 2 for the September meals.

The September meal plan notification arrived via email. As soon as I received my log in information, I viewed each meal plan. We wanted to customize our first session so we browsed the categorized recipes. There were several  search options available such as type of protein, cooking method, or dietary preferences. We found a few of our monthly favorites in the MyFreezEasy recipe database.

They are working on a My Favorite Meals storage. If you click on a recipe listing, then you can click the little heart in the top-right corner changing it from green to red if it was one of your favorite recipes. This is great way to store the recipes your family enjoys most so you can find them quickly and easily in the future.  

We started with Chicken and Traditional recipes. My daughter sat on my lap and we skimmed the titles. The photos captured our attention. We chose NEW recipes based on the ingredient list and photos. It didn't take us long to add 5 recipes to our MyFreezEasy Meal Plan Box from the database.

I also used MyFreezEasy with my 8-year-old daughter (Alyssa) as a way to bond and to teach her how to cook. People in the store noticed Alyssa comparing prices and shopping frugally from our menu plan list which may explain why our shopping trips took longer too. I wanted this review to be a learning experience that will last her a lifetime.

We tried a customized meal plan in September. As we added recipes to the box, we changed the serving size to 2. We added the following meals to our Meal Plan Box:
  • Lazy Lasagna Bake
  • Corn Chicken Chili 
  • Apple-BBQ Pork Chops
  • Pesto Chicken Bake
  • Greek Chicken Bake
Surprisingly, she LOVED the Greek Chicken Bake!

The first time we utilized MyFreezEasy we put one meal in the fridge to cook and eat the next day. The other nine were stored in the freezer. My freezer is small so I have to limit the number of foil tray recipes. I used aluminum foil to cover the pans. I froze the Apple-BBQ Pork Chops in a gallon-sized bag instead of in a foil tray to save space.

Prior to a cooking session, we watched a few of the helpful Assembly Videos which highlight useful tips. I jotted down a few relevant notes related to recipes in our plan.

I printed the recipes, shopping lists, assembly directions, and labels. I stored the meal plans in a 3-hole punched pocketed folder. My daughter wrote the meal plans on post-it notes and tabbed the pages. For example, she labeled the first one September Custom Meal Plan 1. An extra post-it note was placed inside the folder for additional staple items we needed to replenish. If I had any coupons, they were stored in the back folder pocket. The store we shop at offers free items and coupons so we always try to look at the ad before shopping to see the deals and what's on sale.

The meal plans included a 14-16 page set of printables. The meal plans began with a Table of Contents listing the numbered recipes. The step-by-step recipes come after the Table of Contents. Each recipe has its own page.

Additionally, each meal plan contains 4 types of shopping lists: Complete Shopping List by Recipe, Complete Shopping List by Store Section/Category, Freezer Meal Prep Day Shopping List by Recipe, and the Freezer Meal Prep Day Shopping List by Store Section/Category. The last few pages consist of assembly prep and meal assembly instructions. The format was the same for each meal plan which makes it easier when switching recipes.

We used the Complete Shopping List by Store Section or Category most frequently. My daughter placed it on a clipboard and headed to the kitchen. She searched the pantry, fridge, and freezer for food items we already had on hand. If we had an item, then she placed a checkmark next that particular item. This was the list that we took to the grocery store.

Our plan was to always shop for groceries and prep meals on two separate days. This is HIGHLY recommended. HOWEVER, with our busy schedule that never happened. Some weekends my daughter would be gone and she wanted to participate so we planned accordingly. We usually reserved a weekend evening for freezer meal plan prep. Grocery shopping usually took us about 1 1/2 - 2 hours. Both times we prepped freezer meals it took us approximately 2 - 2 1/2 hours from the beginning to the end excluding clean up time. I believe this was due to the fact that I wasn't as organized as I hoped, I didn't utilize all of Erin's suggested tips, and the entire process was used  as a teachable moment with my daughter. The first night we listened to an audio drama while working.

Once we got home with groceries, my daughter unloaded the bags and helped me sort the ingredients by recipe. This is where the Freezer Meal Prep Day Shopping List by Recipe came in handy. We don't have a lot of working space in my kitchen so we cleaned a long table from my garage. The ingredients were organized by recipe in sections on the table and it became our main prep area. We always had some sort of pasta dish so after viewing Erin's Traditional Meal Plan Highlight Video, I remembered to start the pasta water and cook ground meat while Alyssa began the sorting and organization process. It'll need time to cool down.

Next, we labeled the bags and trays. I didn't have the recommended Avery sticker labels for the first session so I printed the labels and covered them with clear packing tape. We used the Meal Assembly Instructions to figure out what we needed to pre-cook and prep. We eat a lot of chicken so I purchased pre-cooked rotisserie chickens to save cooking time. My daughter had the task of shredding the meat. She did an excellent job getting as much meat of the bones as she could. She also scooped out cottage cheese for the Lazy Lasagna. We decided to use Ricotta cheese next time which is a personal taste preference.

She also carefully poured ingredients into the Corn Chicken Chili gallon bags after shredding chicken. 

In the photo below, you will see three of the first session meals I served. Salad was a popular side for us, because it is something quick and simple for my daughter to make. We tried the Corn Chicken Corn Chili with dinner rolls, Apple-BBQ Pork Chops with whole grain rice as a side, and the Lazy Lasagna with garlic bread. Click on the photo to enlarge. The meals were taken out the night before and they thawed in a pan of water in the refrigerator overnight.  

The first recipe we made was the Apple-BBQ Pork Chops. My daughter loved it and said, "This is one of the best meals I've ever had - these are my favorite!" We used Honey BBQ sauce, because it was already in the fridge. My daughter asked me NOT to eat the second container unless she was home. This was a quick meal and tasted good. I cooked ours for 30 minutes. I overcooked the thin pork chops making it almost too dry to eat so I reduced the cooking time later. The second time I cooked them for only 20-25 minutes. The cooking time will depend on the size and thickness of your meat. I also wasn't sure if they were suppose to cook with or without the foil cover. We ended up not covering it.

A few problems occurred while cooking the freezer meals (all my fault of course). We hardly ever prepare foods with onions, because I dislike them. We decided to give them a try during our freezer meal session and boy was it a mistake. I purchased a pre-chopped onion. The onion overpowered the Corn Chicken Chili. I even tried adding other ingredients to hide the taste, but I only ended up wasting food because we tossed it. We wouldn't eat it, because it tasted exactly like a strong onion. 

I also uncovered the cheese-covered Pesto Chicken Bake. I let the dish cook without checking on it for the indicated 50-60 minutes at 400 degrees, because they were large chicken breasts and I knew they would need a longer cooking time. Well, the cheese burnt. This is what happens when you don't get enough sleep. I did read the directions. The freeze and thaw instructions say cover tightly with foil, but the cooking directions didn't state anything. I just made the wrong decision.   

In October, we decided to utilize the Traditional Meal Plan. I swapped out the 4-serving meal plans out for 2-serving meal plans using the Swap Meal plan feature. I dragged the 4-serving meal plans out of my recipe box, changed the serving size, using the drop down menu, dragged them back into my box on the right, and printed the shopping lists. Yes, I know I could have just split the recipe in half, but I wanted to try the desktop app features and have the printables ready to go.
Adjusting Serving Sizes of Traditional Meal Plan

The October 2016 Traditional Meal Plan included the following recipes:
  • Chicken Ranch Macaroni
  • Bacon Cheeseburger Nachos 
  • Stuffed Sweet Potato (Filling)
  • Red and Green Chicken Enchilada Bake
  • Italian Sausage Pasta Skillet 
We made one Chicken Ranch Macaroni recipe to serve that night and froze the extra one. We ate two big helpings of this particular meal for dinner two days in a row.

We made the Stuffed Sweet Potatoes for last night's dinner. I purchased the sweet potatoes and didn't want them to go bad. This recipe received rave reviews from my daughter - we both really liked it. It was delicious! This recipe will be added to our favorites.

My daughter already asked me if we can eat the Bacon Cheeseburger Nachos next so the mixture is in the fridge thawing. This membership has been a tremendous help with figuring out what's for dinner each night. I set a reminder on my phone to pull out a meal to thaw.

We followed the same process as above except that we chatted during the second session instead of listening to music or audio dramas. My daughter shredded three whole chickens during the second session while I pre-cooked the pastas, ground beef, and ground Italian sausage. I also opened some cans and prepped other items. We couldn't remember how many total cups of shredded chicken came from the last chicken so Alyssa insisted that we buy 3 chickens. We ended up having 3 extra cups of chicken so we added more chicken to the recipe. We froze the extra chicken in a separate quart-sized bag to use during our next session. Once we run out of freezer meals, we will start the process again.

I made a few adjustments to the Red and Green Enchilada Bake. I purchased canned red and green enchilada sauce and mixed it with the green salsa, a little red salsa, and green chilies. We are not fans of chunky salsa or onions. We also like saucy enchiladas. I can't wait to try them, because it is a mixed version of what I do with Erin's recipe. This will also be the first time we've made enchiladas with pepper jack cheese which happens to be one of my favorite kinds of cheese. I bought the mild cheese so that Alyssa could eat the meal. I also made only two layers instead of three layers, but I used more tortillas than required. I purchased a package of 20 and split it between the two pans.

We bought Doritos instead of corn tortilla chips for the Bacon Cheeseburger Nachos. Corn tortillas tend to be too salty for us and we like the cheesy flavor of Doritos. Furthermore, all onion was eliminated from all the recipes during this cooking session. We won't make that mistake twice! I also substituted mild ground Italian sausage for the linked and sliced Italian sausage to save time. I didn't want to remove the casings and spend time cutting it.

I should let you know that we added extra spice and seasonings to MOST of the recipes, because we enjoy flavorful meals. During the second session, I used less pasta and add more protein to the meals.

The meals were stacked neatly in the freezer. You can see a few meals below from two different freezer prep sessions. Several are about to go into the freezer and others are already in the freezer. My ink was running low, but you can see the printable labels in the bottom right corner photo. Thawing meals was super easy. I took a meal out the night before and placed it in water overnight.
Bagged Apple-BBQ Pork Chops and Corn Chicken Chili
What We Love
  • Printable Categorized Grocery List
  • Customizable Meal Plan Option
  • Swapping Feature
  • Bonding Experience (Sharing Our Love of Cooking)
  • More Quality Time Together Since I'm Not Stuck in the Kitchen Every Night
  • Adjustable Servings Sizes for Smaller or Larger Families
  • Meals Easily Modified to Our Family Preferences
  • Labels are Provided
  • My Favorites
  • Kid Friendly Recipes That Taste Good
  • We Are Trying New Recipes
  • Recipes Instructions to Serve or Freeze Meals
  • Meals and Leftovers Last 1-3 Days
  • Special Notes, Dairy-Free, and Gluten-Free Modifications are Offered
  • Website is User-Friendly
  • Meal Plan and Recipe Variety
Possible Vendor Suggestions
  1. Add a member's only Video Library with 24/7 access to all videos for all months.
  2. Offer a diabetic meal plan option.
  3. Indicate in the cooking directions whether or not the meal should be cooked with or without the foil cover.
  4. Add ounces for meat ingredients, because small and large can have different meanings for different people. 
  5. Double check all ingredients for serving size adjustment errors.
  6. Provide more seafood (shrimp and white fish) recipes.
Things I Learned Along the Way

  • Shop and prep on two separate days.
  • Get everything organized before beginning to ensure a smooth process.
  • Keep meals covered unless it indicates differently in the recipe
  • Check if pans must be lightly sprayed with a non-stick cooking spray.
  • Easily change a recipe by taking out ingredients your family dislikes and adding ones they like.
  • Cook the pasta al dente, because it will continue cooking in the oven.
  • Don't stand freezer meals with liquid up on a wire rack in freezer. The liquid froze in between the wire on the rack making it hard to pull out the meal when needed. I stood it up because I didn't want it to leak.

The cost of a Premium Annual Membership is $95. There are other options available on the website. I recommend the Premium over the Basic online subscription, because you can adjust serving sizes and customize meal plans. I suggest you watch the FAQ Page for more information.

Note: All prices can change without notice.

I HIGHLY recommend MyFreezEasy to ANY individual wanting to save money and time in the kitchen. This product is great for new and experienced cooks. Alyssa thought it was a wonderful way to learn how to cook. Are you tired of figuring out what's for dinner? Is your busy schedule keeping you from feeding your family home cooked meals? Do you enjoy trying new recipes? Do you want to stock your freezer but you're overwhelmed with the concept? If that's the case, then you may want to seriously consider MyFreezEasy.

Overall Results
We will definitely continue using MyFreezEasy throughout the year, because of the benefits we experienced. If I can afford it next year, then I will consider purchasing a membership. I wasn't spending as much time in the kitchen hovering over the stove or sink area. I didn't have to clean as much in the kitchen each night. I wasn't stressing about dinner plans. We were spending more time together and I was able to get more work done.

I haven't crunched any numbers yet, but I believe we saved money on groceries in the long run. Even though it seemed like a lot upfront, I wasn't making multiple trips to the store to purchase forgotten items. Trying new recipes was like discovering a surprise each night. Furthermore, we ate at restaurants less often. I believe that the process will become quicker with practice.

I am hoping we will try the Clean Eats meal plan soon so we can start eating healthier. Our consumption of pasta increased with the use of MyFreezEasy. I'm trying to limit the number of carbs I eat, but we were drawn towards the oven pasta dishes for cooking simplicity. The meal bakes while we spend time together. I also need a slow cooker, because I'm anxious to try several recipes from the Slow Cooker meal plans.

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I hope you'll visit the Homeschool Review Crew to read the experiences my colleagues are having using MyFreezEasy. Freezer Meal Plan Membership {MyFreezEasy}

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