Freezer-to-table recipes — plus a little help from the kids — makes putting dinner on the table easy. (Jennifer Bardsley)

Freezer-to-table recipes — plus a little help from the kids — makes putting dinner on the table easy. (Jennifer Bardsley)

When families cook together, dinner is ready in a flash

Here’s how you, too, can assemble 14 freezer-to-table recipes in four hours for two weeks of easy meals.

My garage contains a magic box full of time-saving miracles. OK, it’s actually a chest freezer with homemade dinners. But however you want to describe it — poof! I can put dinner on the table in a flash.

How did this real-life fantasy come to be? It’s because I live the sweet and easy life of parenting a tween and teenager. Yes, that was sarcasm, but it’s also true. My children have grown up from being entropy’s helpers, into becoming accomplished chefs.

Plus, the pandemic has made them so bored that an afternoon of meal prep with their mom now masquerades as entertainment.

A few weeks ago my high school sophomore and I assembled nine dinners in two hours. A couple of days later, my sixth-grader made five more meals over Zoom with her Girl Scout troop. That’s two weeks of dinners I can dump into the Crock-Pot or pop into the oven. The best part is, cooking together was fun.

Here’s how we did it:

Pick recipes meant for freezing. Right now, I’m loving the freezer recipes from www.passionatepennypincher.com. They are cheap, simple and delicious. Another source of recipes I enjoy comes from the original Dream Dinners cookbook, “Dream Dinners: Turn Dinnertime into Family Time with 100 Assemble-and-Freeze Meals” by Stephanie Allen and Tina Kuna. If you want to be more adventurous than that, Google “freezer to table recipes” and see what comes up. The internet is a great resource for this type of cooking.

Save time at the grocery store. The complimentary grocery pick-up service that stores like Fred Meyer offer is a dream come true. It saves me massive amounts of time and helps promote social distancing. I’d rather put my effort into assembling meals, not standing in line at the register.

Make a mess when you unload the groceries. Normally, I put food away into cupboards when I come home from the grocery store. But when we do a big cooking project, I leave non-perishable ingredients out on the counter, organized in groups according to their recipe. This creates cooking stations. Greek-style pork chop ingredients are in one corner, and cilantro-lime chicken materials go in the other.

Make the mess even bigger. Take out every measuring cup, mixing bowl and measuring spoon you own. Get out freezer bags, a permanent marker and casserole dishes. Everything you need to assemble meals should be at your fingertips.

Set the timer and cook. Tell your kids: “I only need your help for two hours.” Knowing there’s a time-limit on their servitude increases the likelihood that tweens and teens will help. Start them on the easiest recipes first, so they have an immediate sense of accomplishment. Celebrate every time another dinner goes into the freezer.

Have fun and be proud. Play music. Drink a pop. Let the dishwasher do the dirty work. It feels good knowing you are helping your family. One of the best rewards of all is a sense of accomplishment.

Tie on your aprons and let the adventure begin!

Jennifer Bardsley publishes books under her own name and the pseudonym Louise Cypress. Find her online on Instagram @jenniferbardsleyauthor, on Twitter @jennbardsley or on Facebook as Jennifer Bardsley Author. Email her at teachingmybabytoread@gmail.com.

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