Friday, June 15, 2018

On Your First Father's Day

On your first Father's Day, I have much to say.

I've been writing this in my head for a while now. And you're probably going to be annoyed that I wrote this, because you aren't a writer. But I am. And this, all of this, needs to be said.

We've been a family, you and me, for five years this year. And that, in and of itself, is pretty awesome. But in February, we grew. We became a family of three. We added a nugget, Carter. And I remember what life was like before Carter, but at the same time, I don't. He has completely and utterly consumed our lives as we once knew them. And the man that I've loved for the past 8 plus years was completely and utterly consumed and changed by him, too. So was I. We've changed.

But it's for the better.

I've been told that your love for your spouse changes when you have kids. And it's true. It's so very, very true. Before, you were my other half and my partner in crime. Now? You're my partner in the trenches. You've now seen the worst of the worst. We survived five days in a hospital room without any (additional) bloodshed. We've survived sleepless nights and have learned how to function in a constant state of exhaustion. You're the one that picks up my slack when I have nothing left to give. The one that gets to experience my most epic meltdowns, and yet, you're still here. The only thing I do that you don't in this parenting adventure is pump and produce milk.

Though, I'm sure you might try if you could.

Most importantly, though, you're the best dad I could have asked for Carter.

Sometimes, I wonder if we should have done this earlier. But I think this is just right. We're the people we need to be for Carter. One minute sooner and the three of us would have been different people.  It would all be so different.

So, on your first Father's Day, I want you to know this:

For all the joking around and silliness you contain, of which is endless, you are the best partner I could ask for. You wake up early so you can help get Carter ready in the morning so it's not just me. You stay up with me until my last pump, even though you could go to bed a lot earlier. When we go out, you take care of everything. I've gotten really spoiled by it, honestly. You are the best bottle washer. Hands down (don't worry, I'll keep washing them, too).  But even though all of that is amazing (and trust me, it is), the best part is watching you with the nugget.

Listening to bath time is my favorite and melts my heart every time. Watching his little face when he realizes it's you is the best. He looks at you like you're the coolest thing in the world. It has been my privilege these past four months to watch you grow and become one awesome dad. And now the rest of the world knows it too. As they should.

I hope to never have to do this parent thing without you.  You are forever my first favorite. Stupid movies, jokes and useless nipples aside.

Paul Walker ain't got nothing on you.

Happy First Father's Day.

Love, your tribe.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Measuring Success: Back at Square One - 5/31/18

Hi! Do you know who I am? I feel like I should reintroduce myself, it's been so long! I'm Sarah, this is my blog and I'm now a mom. Also, if you could see the number of draft blog posts I have that I started and never finished. It's kind of sad. But babies. Man, they rock your world. So I thought, what better way to start back the blog than with a back at square one Measuring Success?!

My last measuring success post was January 31. So it's been four months. I worked out most of my pregnancy, right up until about 32 weeks. That's when everything became uncomfortable. I'm proud of myself for doing what I did. And I'd like to think it made a difference, but sometimes I wonder. If nothing else, it helped me feel more human and not so...huge. Like, I might be huge, but at least I'm strong and capable and huge. In the end, I was induced two weeks early due to pre-eclampsia.

Working out at 31, almost 32, weeks pregnant
I like to say that pre-eclampsia hit me like a train. I was fine, or mostly fine, and then I wasn't. High blood pressure runs in my family. Part of the reason why I work out like I do is because between the high blood pressure on one side and high cholesterol on the other, I'm a walking time bomb. I had mildly high blood pressure during the pregnancy. I was watched and was on 81 mg of Aspirin as a precaution, but that was it. Towards the end, they did a urine test and I had high levels of protein, the other indicator of pre-clampsia. So, I went in for a normal blood pressure check on my lunch hour on a Thursday, was induced that night and Mr. Carter made his entrance that Friday. Two weeks early. My blood pressure wasn't that bad that day, but by the time I was in labor, it was hitting 185/105. There were a bunch of things that happened that made for what my nurses called "a traumatic labor." My sweet baby has one gigantic dome piece (as I lovingly call it) and gave me a stage 3 tear (4 being the worst). So, suffice it to say, getting back to working out was not the easiest in the world.

I was cleared by my doctor at six weeks postpartum to start working out again. I started with walking with Aaron and Carter, then yin yoga, and barre. After I gave up my donut (not the one you eat), I finally got the nerve to sit on a spin bike and two weeks ago, I did my first boot camp class.

And it is quite literally starting back at square one. Bootcamp is probably the hardest. I spend half the class thinking, "Man, I'm fat. This is sad" as I am literally the very last one when we run. I spend the other half thinking, "I just had a baby and I haven't died or puked yet. YES!" But I keep going back because each time, I can do a little more and feel a little stronger.

Sometimes, I feel like all that working out I did when I was pregnant was for nothing. Like I might as well have not done it. I was doing 10 and 12 lb hand weights before getting pregnant and now I'm back to 5 lb. I haven't even attempted the 8 lb yet. And when we run in class, I'm dead last. We're talking a good two to three minutes behind everyone else.

But I'm doing it. I'm back in the gym. We're walking as a family. I'm working out at least 3 days a week. And I might be the very last person in class, when running, but I finish those runs. I'm running three months after having a baby. With a big ol' head. And for all of that, I'm proud of me.

I'm defining this as a success. Because it's hard. It's all hard. Having a baby is hard. Taking care of a newborn is hard and I have one of the best, most supportive and helpful husbands on the planet. Going back to work is hard. Getting back in shape and healthy is hard. It's all hard. So I count the fact that I'm doing something and going back every week as a success. I've had so many people tell me that I wouldn't get back in the gym after Carter. I wouldn't be able to work out. But we make it work because I need to be healthy for him. And for me.

So if you're a new mom, or any mom, trying to get back in shape, you can do it. You just need to find what works for you and get ready to work hard. And find you a tribe. Because this momma thing is hard. Every time I think it's getting easier, something new happens and I'm back at square one.

If you've stuck with this post to this point, you're awesome and I love you. I had a lot to say! But, let's get back to the progress!

1 week postpartum versus 3 months postpartum

Pregnancy Weight Gained: 50 lb
Weight Lost: 24 lb
Weight to Lose: 26 lb

Here I am. Back at square one. At the beginning of my new journey.

Friday, March 9, 2018

A Curious George Nursery

Today makes three weeks old for Carter and survival of my first week alone with him. Mom went back home last Friday and Aaron's been on his regular work schedule plus working a little late.  And, Carter is officially back up to his birth weight! It's a big week around here. So, to celebrate, I'm finally posting about Carter's nursery, his Curious George nursery to be exact. Because it's pretty dang awesome.

Before we found out that we were having a boy, I had already decided that we wanted to do a Curious George themed nursery. Also, I don't really think of it as a nursery, just Carter's room. But the world calls it a nursery, so I am. I digress. I figured either way, it would work. We could do blue walls for a boy and yellow for a girl. Turns out, finding Curious George decor is harder than you might think. Pottery Barn Kids had a bedding set a few years ago, but it's discontinued now, so it's not easy to find. And when you do, the prices are jacked up. So I looked on Pinterest, found a few ideas and went from there.

Our friend Kim is an art teacher, so we asked her to do a mural. We found a scene in the original Curious George book and gave that to her for inspiration, but the rest she did herself.  Overall, the project took about three months from beginning to end. Not that it was hard, but Aaron painted the room and trim himself, then Kim worked on her winter break. Then we had to wait for furniture to arrive...then my kid made his appearance two weeks early. We still aren't completely finished as we're waiting on our newborn photos and I want to print some of those and some from our maternity shoot and hang them in his room.  But it's kind of like your house - if you wait until you're done, it's never going to be done!

Aaron and I picked out the main color on the first try. I was actually really impressed with our color picking skills! We went to Lowe's found one we liked, did a swatch and decided it was the one. You'll have to forgive the lighting in these photos. His room is on the back of the house and doesn't get a lot of natural light. We went ahead and measured out the outline of the crib on the wall so that the mural would frame it.  It's a big tall crib and I didn't want it to mess with George.

Aaron also felt the need to label the large box on the wall. You know, just in case someone was confused. 

Then Kim started work.  I documented the progress because it was so cool to watch. She took the photo from the book and then made adjustments so that it wouldn't be too busy on the wall and would work with the furniture.  She also sketched everything free hand.  Be impressed.

The first day, she sketched and painted the grass. Then she worked on George and the Man in the Yellow hat. 

Next came the balloons and trees. And the outlining! The outlining really made everything pop!

The final details were the mushrooms and pink flowers.  Aaron is still having moments over the pink flowers in his boy's bedroom. 

We waited until after our baby shower to order the furniture. And let me tell you, it gave this mom some heartburn! We went ahead and ordered the chair early. It was a custom chair, so we needed to give it 4-6 weeks to arrive. Our baby shower was on January 27 and at that point, I knew I was going to be induced by February 23 at the latest. We ordered the furniture online with a two week delivery time frame.  It was delivered on February 9, which was good since they induced me on the 16th. Photos of the finished nursery are below with links in case you want to copy us!

The crib and dresser are both from Buy Buy Baby and are from the BassetBaby Parker collection. It's not cheap, but it's a convertible crib that will go from crib to toddler bed to full size bed. And it's made of sturdier wood than some of the others, so I'm hoping it withstands Carter probably trying to eat it. The mobile and hamper are also from Buy Buy Baby. For the bedding, I didn't try and do anything too crazy. I went with either solid colored sheets (I have light blue and yellow) or a monkey themed print that I found. 

You'll also notice a beautiful Curious George blanket on the chair.  My mom made that. It's been my friend more than Carter's lately as I use it to cover my legs while breast feeding and/or pumping in the middle of the night!

And that chair. If you're going to breastfeed, get a really comfy chair with arm rests. Life saver!

For added storage, we just did a simple nine-cubby storage shelf. We actually found this on NextDoor for $20. I got the bins and labels at Target.  The space above the cubbies is probably where we will hang the maternity and newborn photos.  My plan is to arrange them around the invitation from the baby shower. 

Finally, another angle of the room to see some of the dresser. We splurged and purchased the changing gallery for the dresser. It was an added cost, but it's made life so easy. We have everything right in arm's reach when changing Carter.  Also, this is our favorite changing pad cover.  The middle is a plastic-like material that wipes down really easily, but the whole thing can be thrown in the washing machine and dryer. The sides are a really soft, minky material. 

I'm so stinking happy with how his room turned out. It's so cute and I love that no one else will have a room just like this.  He's also blessed to have lots of talented and crafty ladies that love him. I plan on doing another post to highlight all of the beautiful handmade items that we've received for him. He's a lucky little man to have such talented ladies in his life!

I hope he loves this room for a long time to come. If not, I'll just enjoy sitting in there with him until he demands it be changed. Happy Friday everyone!

Friday, March 2, 2018

Bumpdate: Hello Mr. Carter!

Hi friends! It has been a long, long time since I've posted a blog on here! And that's for a very good reason. Our little boy made his appearance two weeks early on February 16, 2018!

Meet Mr. Carter Hollon Zinn. Born at 1:59 PM, Friday, February 16.  He was 8 pounds, 1 oz and 20 inches long.  I'm still working on his birth story, mostly because it's kinda crazy, but I though it only fitting to introduce on during my regularly schedule bumpdate post!

Carter's name was a mystery to everyone until he was born. Aaron and I had come up with two names that we liked, but hadn't settled on either one until we were in the hospital.  We'd also decided not to tell anyone the name ahead of time, much to the dismay of the grandparents.  There is no special meaning behind his first name, we just happened to like it! His middle name, however, is for my family.  I'm the last Davenport (only child and a girl!) and I wanted to carry a part of that family forward, but not necessarily Davenport. It's a little long for a middle name.  But the name Hollon is a family name.  It goes back to my dad's grandfather.  Starting with him, all the males had the middle name Hollon.  I thought it would be a very cool way to carry a piece of my family forward and let Mr. Carter be the fourth male with the middle name Hollon. Not to mention my Poppa Hollon was a remarkable man with an amazing story. All of my grandparents were, actually.

Today is Carter's actual due date and he's already two weeks old.  It's amazing the little personalities babies have.  I'm amazed each day by this tiny, perfect, complete human that somehow Aaron and I created and I grew. So far we know that he loves to be swaddled. He even earned the nickname Carter Burrito because of it! He loves sleeping on your chest.  He knows who dad is and loves to hang out with him after work.  The kid hates to be naked (truly, no idea where he gets that from - who actually likes to wear pants?!) Baths are pretty much the most traumatic thing ev-er. And he's actually a pretty chill, happy baby. He really only cries when there is something to cry about - hungry, diaper change, cold, hot, gassy. Otherwise, he's just happy to sleep or chill out with you.

First photo with dad. 

First photo with mom. 

Crabby burrito. 
It's been a wild two weeks. We spent the first 5 days of his life in the hospital and the next 3 shuffling both of us back and forth to doctor appointments. We have two more this week, then hopefully life returns back to our new normal. Aaron stayed home with us the first week and my mom came up and helped after that. I'm so grateful for both because this mom thing isn't always easy. Mostly kind of crazy. But worth it. So very worth it.

Next week I'll be back with some semblance of posts, ha. And I hope you like reading about mom life - because that's where I'll be until mid-May when I go back to work. Then it'll be working mom life! Happy Friday everyone!

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Measuring Success and Bumpdate - 1/31/18

It's been a while since I've done one of these! My sporadic blogging has not been the best for keeping up with post schedules, ha.  But this will probably be the last bumpdate before Little Man gets here, so I thought it important to actually do it! I also have some fun photos with life updates.

How far along: 35 weeks + 6 days (Friday is 36 weeks, holy crap!)

Size of Baby: Canary Melon

Cravings: I haven't really had any cravings per se, lately. I'm all about the sugar and not about cooking, at all. I've eaten more fast food in the past two weeks than I probably have in a year. Sorry kid. My taste buds totally changed this week and foods that I've enjoyed before are totally revolting now. I have no idea why my body decided to wait the better part of 9 months to do this, but here we are.

Weird stuff: Where do I begin? Apparently, the third trimester is when it gets real for me. I have carpal tunnel in my right arm. Really bad. I'm sleeping in a brace and sometimes I can't even squeeze bottles with that hand. It's my dominant hand, so that doesn't help. Mostly, though, I just feel like I've been hit by a bus. Every. Single. Day. That whole, "get your rest!" thing apparently doesn't apply to my body. Also, I've lost a good three to four inches off my reach, thanks to my belly. It's highly entertaining to watch me try and put away dishes right now.

Fun stuff: We had our showers this past week! I had a surprise baby shower with some of my old co-workers on Friday at Nantucket Grill. I was supposed to be having lunch with my former boss, one of my favorite people ever, and when I got there, she led me to the back where about 5 ladies were waiting for me. It was so sweet and totally made my week! One of them even brought me a donut tree from my favorite bakery in Sanford!

I had my main baby shower on Saturday. My friends Hannah and Sarah planned a beautiful Curious George themed shower (our nursery theme!) with my mom, mother-in-law and sister-in-law helping out. Sarah made a ridiculous and amazing cake that tasted as good as it looked! And my favorite part was the Curious George book that they used as a guestbook. There were so many cute details! I loved every minute and I can honestly say that there are few times you feel more loved in life than in a big group of women that are excited for the next phase of your life and already love your kid, long before he's even here.

Me and my wonderful hostesses!

Deviled egg babies!

My Curious George cake made by my friend Sarah Schaefer.
I actually have my work baby shower today. Truly, it's hard to feel anything less than super loved and blessed at this point.

The other cool thing this month is that I was asked to speak to a MOPS (Mothers of Pre-Schoolers) group in Fayetteville. They asked that I speak about body image, food prep, etc. based on what I talk about on this blog. As a blogger and someone that has struggled with her weight and appearance, it was such a fun experience for me and also super flattering that someone wanted me to come speak to a group!

Weight gained: So, I looked at the scale last month. It was a terrible, horrible number that I won't even tell you. At that point, I hadn't gained 50 pounds. It was more like 38. That was depressing and I won't be doing that again.

Exercise: Up until about 33 weeks, I was doing just dandy. I could still do some spin classes, pilates, yoga and barre. And then, it magically went away. Spin became 45 minutes of pure uncomfortable hell. It hurt to sit (too much pressure) and hurt to stand (my feet went numb). I felt like all I did was kick the crap out of my kid when spinning sitting down, so I decided to just stop. Walking in general is a work out right now. So I'm down to yoga and barre, two classes a week. I do what I can. It's so modified it's not even funny. For example, I can't do down dog without getting massive acid reflux, so I stick to table top and child's pose. But, going back to that grace thing, I'm okay with it.  My friend Josh told me I was a beast to have made it this long, so I'm going with that. 

Endurance: It's gone. That's all.

About this time next month, Little Man should be here. The doctors don't want me to go past a certain point, but who knows the exact day of his arrival at this point. I will say that pregnancy has been a ride. Not a bad one, it's been fairly good to me, but I also never realized the things your body goes through to grow a human. I'm proud of what I've been able to do and keep doing and I hope that we both benefit from all that exercise! Happy hump day friends!

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Baby Zinn Prep: Freezer Meal Recipes and Ideas!

Welcome to part two of my freezer meal posts!As I mentioned in last week's post, I've been working on this gigantic project of making a ton of freezer meals so I don't have to cook for the first few months of my son's life. In that post, I talked about my planning and supplies. Today, I'm going to provide you with the recipes I used and my plans for them!

Types of Freezer Food
First, let's talk about the types of freezer food I did. 

Casseroles - I have some casseroles in 9x13 pans and I have smaller versions of the casseroles in loaf pans. The 9x13 pans will feed us for multiple days and the loaf pans will feed us one dinner and one lunch. This way we don't get tired of eating the same things over and over!

Individual Packs - I packaged some items (like freezer waffles) in individual packs. This is more for my husband than anything. He's not always the best at portion control. So, I used my 2 quart ziplocs to make individual packs for breakfast to ensure that a) I made enough and b) he didn't eat all of them at once!

Meat Packs - I got this idea from the Pioneer Woman. She's a genius, I tell ya! In her cookbook, "Dinnertime," she lists a bunch of recipes for meats and fillings that you can then use for multiple recipes. These include beef taco meat, meatballs, chili packets, taco chicken filling, etc. 

Crock Pot Freezer Meals - While the crock pot is amazing on its own (no, I don't have an Instant Pot), there are times when you literally just want to dump some meals and go. So I made a few crock pot freezer meals that you literally just thaw and dump in the crock pot. 

Fillers - At some point along the way, I realized this was a ridiculous amount of work and that I probably wouldn't get to three months of food that I made. So, I started working on back-ups that I could buy that would still be food we wanted to eat and didn't require a lot of work on my part. 

Let's get to the real part of this post, shall we? The part you actually care about! The recipes! I'll share what I've made, how I've packaged each and some of what's still in the plan to be made.

Freezer Waffles (Against All Grain, Meals Made Simple)
I found this oh so amazing and easy recipe in one of my favorite cookbooks from our Paleo days - Against All Grain's Meals Made Simple. I also loved it because it helped clean out some of my frou frou flours that I hardly ever use anymore. I made these waffles in my Cuisinart Griddler and Waffle maker. While the recipe says you'll get 24 waffles, I got about 12 per recipe, maybe a little more. I packed these 3 to a pack and have 9 packs. They are super fluffy and really, really good. You honestly can't even tell they're gluten free!

I also plan to make some breakfast burritos and egg muffin frittatas for us. But, who knows if that's going to happen! I plan to package all of the breakfast items individually, though, so it's just a grab and go kind of thing.

Meat Packs 
Meatballs (Dinnertime, The Pioneer Woman)
The recipe that I have linked is not the exact recipe that I used.  My recipe comes from the Dinnertime cookbook (as do many others on this list!), but just in case you don't have a copy (and you should), this one is pretty similar.  It took me a good while to make these meatballs. Definitely give yourself two or three hours to do all the work and flash freeze in batches. It's not hard, just takes time. The recipe says 125 meatballs, I think I got about 110 meatballs total, which was fine for us.  I froze 22 meatballs per 2 quart freezer bag for a total of 5 bags. Here are some recipes I plan to make with these:
Taco Meat Packs (Dinnertime, The Pioneer Woman)
I didn't find a recipe to link to for this one,  but any type of taco meat would work.  Simply use ground beef and then season with either tomato sauce, chili powder, cayenne and cumin or use a premade chili pack. I froze two cups of the taco meat per 2 quart freezer bag for a total of 6 bags. I used 6 pounds of ground beef.

To store the taco meat, I pre-labeled all of my two quart bags with the contents, how much and reheating instructions.

Once the meat was prepared, I poured two cups into each bag. I use the stand and fill bags, which makes it easier to load!

Once filled, I then flattened them for easier storage. This is an art, you have to let some air out while flattening to get the extra air bubbles out.

Finally, I stacked them on my small cookie sheet and loaded into the freezer to freeze.  This method works great for any type of soup, stew, or meat mixture. 

Here are some recipes/meals I plan to make with the taco packs:
  • Tacos (duh!)
  • Mexican Pizzas
  • Taco Salad
  • Quesadillas
1 lb. cubed chicken breast packs
This is not a recipe, but something totally worth having on hand. When I buy chicken, I tend to either buy it at BJs or at Harris Teeter, both in large quantities. I go home and split some chicken breasts into two and package into one pound packs (see below) or I'll cube the chicken and put into one pound packs.  This comes in handy for quick back up meals like Marion's Kitchen meal kits or even pan grilling some chicken and throwing it in with.  But having it already cubed, you save  yourself a good amount of time!  I use my two quart freezer bags for this.  

1 lb. split boneless skinless chicken breast packs
I always like to have some boneless skinless chicken breasts that aren't cubed. These are great for seasoning and making with vegetables or even putting in the crockpot. You don't always want (or need) cubed chicken, but having portioned out in 3-4 oz. breasts also cuts down on prep time. I use the two quart freezer bags for this as well.

Casseroles are one of the easiest things to freeze. I love to have them on hand, but also get tired of eating the same thing over and over, so I solve that by having larger casseroles and some smaller ones in loaf pans. Thankfully, the freezer 9x13 pans are just a tiny bit smaller than your regular 9x13 casserole dish, so I always have some leftover to make a small loaf pan without having to do any extra work!

When I make the casseroles, I use disposable pans and I write the directions on the tin foil. This way, I don't have to look them up in a book and someone else can easily pop the food in the oven without my help. The less work I have to do, the better!

Here are some of my favorite casseroles that I've already made!

Mexican Tortilla Casserole (Dinnertime, The Pioneer Woman)
I was able to make a 9x13 casserole and a loaf pan with this recipe! The covers us for a couple meals one week and then lunch and dinner another.

Three Cheese-Stuffed Shells with Meaty Tomato Sauce
This is one of my very favorite  freezer meals to make! I'm not a big fan of the regular stuff shells recipe because I like meat in my meals and that one just has cheese stuffed shells. This one, though, has the perfect amount of meat and cheese. I usually make two batches of these. One big casserole and then five small loaf pans. I estimate about 3 shells per person and a loaf pan holds six, so a loaf pan will either cover us for dinner or dinner and a lunch for someone, depending on how hungry we are.

Lasagna Roll-ups (Dinnertime, The Pioneer Woman)
I promise, I made more than just recipes from PW! But her stuff is so good! Lasagna roll-ups is my new favorite way to do lasagna.  Aaron has a small problem with portion control (he has none), so roll-ups are great. One normally does it for me while he definitely eats two. But it helps keep him from eating so much at once! I made two of these as well, doing a full 9x13 dish and opted to do the second set in loaf pans instead. I was able to get four loaf pans with four roll-ups each.

Lasagna Roll-ups packaged with instructions on top!

Butternut Squash and Spinach Lasagna Rolls (Skinnytaste Cookbook)
Full confession, I can barely choke these down pregnant. The texture is not okay for this pregnant lady. However, the taste is wonderful and I'm excited to eat them again when my texture issues aren't off the charts (thanks Little Man!). I liked this recipe because it uses lots of veggies, which you don't always get when doing freezer meals. I made two batches of these, we ate one and then we froze one. The author recommends freezing these in a gallon size ziploc, so I did! They take up a lot less space than the 9x13 pans!

Crockpot Freezer Meals
I love my crockpot. I haven't been watching This Is Us, so my love hasn't been tainted yet. I also don't have an instant pot, though I hear they are magical. So, it's still me and the crock pot once a week. However, even those meals take some prep. I found this awesome graphic of easy, healthy crockpot freeze meals and I've made a few of them! I made the Glazed Carrots for dinner one night and it turned out pretty good, so I made two others for the freezer.  The link to these recipes is here.  Here are the ones I've made/plan to make:
  • Ginger Garlic
  • Spicy Orange
  • Seasoned Corn
  • Maple Potato
For us, this fed us both dinner and lunch the next day. I froze these in gallon size ziploc bags, as suggested by the site.

I figured I wouldn't be able to get a full three months complete, so I also came up with a list of filler meals to have on hand.  Here's what I've got:
  • Marion's Kitchen meal kits - I did a post reviewing these meal kits a while back. I love that they are easy and have good ingredients that you actually know what they are.  They're pretty cheap at Wal-mart, but I've also found them at Harris Teeter.  These are great to use the cubed chicken breast with!
  • PF Chang's Meals for two - Hi, I'm Sarah and I love Asian-inspired food! The PF Chang's frozen meals for two are actually really good and easy to do.  We have a few of these in the freezer now. 
  • Stouffer's Chicken Enchiladas - This is by far my favorite frozen family meal. It's so good! I almost always have one of these in my freezer.
  • Pasta - I have a variety of pastas on hand - macaroni and cheese, penne, spaghetti noodles, etc. These can be used with the meats up top to make lots of meals!
  • Uncle Ben's 90 Second Rice packs - These things are a life saver in my world. I mostly use the Spanish, Jasmine and Basmati rice packs. They're great because they literally just take 90 seconds in a microwave and bam - you have a side dish. They pair perfectly with the PF Chang's Meals and the meal kits. 
To finish up my meals, I've actually signed up to do a Pampered Chef freezer meal prep party with one of my friends.  You choose a menu and make 10 meals to take home and freeze.  Hopefully, that will finish up my freezing because this lady is tired! I've also hit that point where I don't want to cook anymore (already!!), but I'm trying to be good and not break into those meals just yet. Here's what my freezer looks like right now (minus the girl scout cookies that we just added last week).

Have you done any freezer meals? What are some of your favorites?!

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Baby Zinn Prep: Freezer Meal Planning and Supplies

I've hit that lovely spot in pregnancy where the nesting phase hits hard. Real hard. I want to buy all the things, organize all the things, wash all the things and reorganize all the things I just organized. Both of my baby showers are this month, which I'm super excited about, but that also means I can't really buy anything until we know what we're getting. And right now, for me, that's hard. Because of the crazy nesting need. So I've found other ways to nest and prepare.  My biggest project right now is freezer meals.

Two of my closest friends both told me that they wished they had prepared more freezer and crock pot meals when they were pregnant. And I read a lot of blogs that said the same. I don't particularly love cooking right now (hello, tired!) and can only imagine that feeling getting worse with a newborn. Or as I get closer to my due date. So I sat down and made a freezer meal plan.

The Plan
I determined that I wanted to have approximately three months of meals ready to go. That sounds like a lot, because it is a lot. Do I actually think I will have a full three months ready? Probably not. I'm at about a month and a half right now and hope to get to two months' worth. My goal is to have most of it done by February, when I'll be in my last month of pregnancy.  This gives me one month of pregnancy and two months post partum of having to do very little cooking, if at all. Aaron even volunteered for me to teach him so he could help me out when it came time to do any cooking. I love him.

I broke each week down based on the types of meals we would need:
  • One breakfast pack/casserole
  • One casserole or big meal or crockpot meal
  • Two mix and match meats (meatballs, taco filling, grilled chicken, etc)
  • 1/2 soup or stew
My biggest complaint with freezer food is that it's a bunch of pasta and casseroles and not a lot of good, healthy options. I also get tired of eating the same thing day in and out. But by doing one big meal and then mix and match meat options, we have choices. Choices are glorious. I could do ground beef and use that for tacos, spaghetti, or pizza. I could use frozen grilled chicken for salads, sandwiches, etc. 

Once I had the weeks broken down by meals, it was easy to see how much I would need to plan for:
  • 12 breakfast packs/casseroles
  • 12 casseroles or big meals or crockpot meals
  • 36 mix and match meats (2 quart packs)
  • 6 soups or stews
From there, I had to figure out how to store all this mess!

The Supplies

Step one was finding a freestanding freezer. I abhor the freezer that came with my refrigerator. It has four buckets, which aren't conducive to freezer meals, freezing cakes or anything like that. I knew that if I was going to take this project on, I needed a separate freezer. Originally, I was just going to do a freezer chest, but then I found out about upright freezers.

Insignia 5.8 Cubic Feet Upright Freezer
This is the freezer we ended up getting. It's only 5.8 cubic feet, so it isn't huge, but it also has a ton of storage space! It doesn't have automatic defrost, but for less than $200 (we paid $180), I can handle that. I love that you don't have to dig around like you do in a freezer chest, everything is right there out in the open. The shelves are nice and deep. The top shelf fits a frozen pizza really well. The other shelves can hold three 9x13 pans. The bottom part also holds a 12 pound turkey quite nicely!

Freezing Supplies
I did a lot of research on what freezer friendly supplies I wanted to buy. We're talking a lot of food and, still, limited storage.  The Pioneer Woman (my hero) has a great post on all things freezing, which you can find here. This is one of the main resources I used when planning out my project.  Ultimately, I decided to use these products:
  • Aluminum 9x13 pans - I ordered a pack of 30 from Amazon for $16
    • These are also great for flash freezing meatballs, waffles, etc. in your freezer before packaging them up!
  • Aluminum 5x8 loaf pans - I ordered a pack of 25 from Amazon for $10
  • Freezer Gallon Ziploc bags - I also decided to use the stand and fill kind
  • Freezer Quart Ziploc bags - I also decided to use the stand and fill kind for these
  • Aluminum foil - for covering the pans
  • Sharpie - for labeling and adding directions
I had also planned to use plastic containers like PW used, but I decided that given the amount of space I had, the bags would be more efficient. 

Based on my freezer and the storage containers I'm using, here's my breakdown of what I (should) be able to get in my freezer:
  • Skinny top shelf - pizza, because sometimes you just want something that will take 20 minutes or less
  • Second shelf - mix and match meats. These will mostly be in 2 quart freezer bags, so I estimate being able to do at least 24 meat packets (three stacks of 9 packs)
  • Third shelf - I'm going to use this shelf for my large meals that I'm storing in gallon size bags. I also have some loaf pans for single night meals. I should be able to do 6 gallon size bag meals and 3 loaf pans. 
  • Fourth Shelf - I'm going to use this shelf for a combination of 9x13 pans and gallon size bags. I can fit three 9x13 pans on these larger shelves, so I should be able to get at least two 9x13 pans and two gallon size bag meals, for a total of 4 meals. Possible 5 depending on what is in the gallon bags. 
  • Fifth shelf - the same as fourth shelf, another 4-5 meals
  • Open space at the bottom - this is for whatever else I need to store, but haven't had room for.
Tomorrow, I'll share the recipes I've planned to use. Some I've already made, some are going to be brand new! I've looked long and hard for a good variety of meals, so be prepared to be excited to eat what's in your freezer!