Being the cook is one of my contributions to our family of 4 with 2 small children. I plan and cook every meal, mostly from scratch, so our family can eat what we feel is best for them. During any given day I spend a couple hours cooking and cleaning up in the kitchen.
Shortly before the recent holiday I went through some medical stuff that ultimately would require a future surgery to treat fully. Thankfully I was told to expect a short recovery of 1-2 weeks and I had the upside of ample time to plan and prepare.
Though my recovery would hopefully be short, I was fully expecting to have about 7 days of discomfort and low to no energy based on what I’ve been told from friends who had similar surgeries. During that time I wanted to make it as easy as possible for my husband to fill in and take over the things that I normally take care of in our home. We knew he’d be picking up everything I couldn’t during this time because of where we live. Family and friends aren’t near by, nor do we have take-out options.
The month leading up to surgery was spent filling the freezer with our usual from scratch meals. A few times a week I cook double batches of dinners to fill the fridge for the nights that I come home late with the kids and don’t have time to prepare a meal. Meals that I felt would keep well in the freezer were tripled or quadrupled so there would be plenty to freeze for my upcoming surgery recovery.
Some of the things I like to freeze are:
- Hearty soups or stews like: Sausage, Bean, Potato and Spinach Soup or Meat and Bean Chili. These are excellent because you just reheat and they’re as good as the day you made it fresh. Serve with a fresh salad or some dinner rolls, if you’re into bread, or gluten free cornbread.
- Protein with sauces of some sort like: Sweet and Tangy Pork, Beef Roast with Mushroom Gravy or Turkey Meatballs. The idea with this category is to get the bulk of the meal prepared and frozen. If possible, to preserve the flavor of the dish as much as possible, I ‘d save fresh ingredients like bell peppers or mushrooms for the day the recipe is reheated to keep them from getting over cooked.
- Other dishes like: Turkey Stuffed Cabbage and Kale Rolls. I’d add casseroles to this category as I hear they usually freeze well. I’m not a casserole fan so I have no input on that.
The idea was to get the main portion of the meal prepared and frozen so that only a side of rice, quinoa or potatoes and a frozen vegetable or fresh salad would need to be prepared to continue serving our family meals as usual.
Each time I prepared an excess of something to freeze, I’d portion out what was needed for one meal for our family of 4, seal it in a vacuum sealed bag, LABEL EXACTLY WHAT IS INSIDE (including how many people it will feed), and move it to the freezer. I love this method of freezing because a vacuumed sealed bag can go from frozen solid to thawed and ready to heat in about an hour if you stick it in a bowl of cold water. Plus, they take up very little room in the freezer.
The key to being successful in preparing for something like a surgery that will throw you off of your normal routine is to be organized.
I created a list of what my freezer stock was. I had 10 from scratch meals prepared and frozen, plus a few frozen pizzas and sausages just in case. I used this list of my freezer stash while doing me meal planning for the first 2 weeks after surgery.
I can not stress enough how helpful meal planning is. I meal plan for every meal I prepare in our home. Every week I plan the week ahead and create my shopping list. This is vital for us because we live rural and there is no quick trip to the store to grab that one thing I forgot when I went grocery shopping. Additionally, I try with all my might to schedule a grocery store trip at the end of one of my 2 work days and the day varies each week. This extra planning allowed me to have the ingredients I needed to triple or quadruple my recipes leading up to surgery and also to ensure we had the sides and extras we would need to complete our frozen meals after surgery.
I can say that being able to stick the meal plan on the fridge for all to see so the frozen meal could be pulled out of the freezer in the morning was such a stress relief. I put zero energy into thinking about food while I was recovering and we all ate healthy, nutritious meals.
Another tip: I found it helpful to kind of ease myself back into my routine after surgery. The last 3-4 frozen meals I had were staggered between normal cooking days. This allowed me to have a really easy day of cooking, or an easy meal for my husband to throw together after his full day, if I still wasn’t feeling up to par. Also, take into account what the rest of the day will look like when doing your meal planning; don’t over-schedule your day with activities, or doctor appointments and then leave yourself with a meal to prepare at the end of the day.
Remember that getting back to “normal” after surgery takes time and once you get there, “normal” may feel more challenging and exhausting if you’ve been down for a week or more. I lost my stamina and muscle strength pretty quick and had to slowly build both back up.