Food Prep January 2021

A two tier cart full of various items, including onions on the very bottom above the wheels
Nothing like a nice, full cart for a food prep day!

In a previous life, aka a life before Cecilia (daughter person), my mother-in-law and I would plan a single food prep day every 3 months or so. I was usually a very full day, we would meet up at 9am, do our grocery shop, and by 11am we were back at her house and chopping, processing, cooking, and processing. Our days would end around 11pm with the canning pot still processing the last of our bounty, and I would head home. It was a very long, yet a very rewarding day where our freezers and pantries were filled with easy to eat meals.

Lime being zested in a grater over a pot
The sauce for our Chili Lime meatballs being made

Now, with Cecilia, these days aren’t so much the same. We now spend a minimum of two days, sleeping over with grandma and grandpa, and we don’t get much more done than we did when we did just one full day. Something about there being a kid around. But now, we have wider variety and yummier products of our big days. Previously all we would get done is some canned apple sauce and canned salsa, then a variety of freezer crockpot meals. It was pretty mono-toned. Now our prep days are full of variety and various preservation techniques. We’re not just freezing all our meals. With two days to produce, we can spend the first day taking care of the things that need longer to cook (like a giant vat of spaghetti sauce) and the second day assembling and preserving our goodies. We also have more time to pump out the harder things like making miles of rolled out lasagna noodles for our frozen casseroles or ensuring that the subtle flavours in our mango chutney are well developed. While dedicating two whole days to making food can be a hard pill to swallow, it is always – always – worth it.


noun: The spice of life

For our prep day this January, we didn’t put a lot of work into the pre-planning like we normally do because between school and work and kid, it just didn’t happen. So when we headed over to the in-law’s for Thursday evening (we stayed there so we could get an early start on day one/have someone to look after the kid while I worked and Jim went to his appointment) MIL and I sat down and planned out our menu and shopping list. Usually, as we plan this out I’m also mentally taking note of the progression everything needs to take to make the most of our time. This time, we were making:

Vacuum packed packages of meatballs
We vacuum seal all the food we will be throwing in the freezer to increase it’s shelf life there!
BurgersVegetable Pasta Sauce
Ginger Chili MeatballsCrockpot Spicy Sausage Pasta Sauce
Szechuan BeefPerogies
Crockpot Fajita Chicken

In assembling this list there is a lot of information I can give you about timing:

  • Burgers and meatballs need to be done on day one so we can freeze them overnight before packing them in vacuum bags; this is how we ensure they keep their shape
  • The pasta sauce will be made on day one, and canned on day two. Because the longer it is cooked, the better the flavour, getting this assembled will be our priority
  • We will be using the veg pasta sauce to assemble the spicy sausage pasta sauce, so we will wait to do that until day two
  • It’ll be best if the filling for the perogies is cold when we stuff the ‘gies, so we’ll do the filling on day 1 and the assembly on day two.
Fresh perogies on a table
Our perogy working has a little to be desired

Most of the recipes we used were found years ago on various websites and cookbooks then modified them to our tastes/needs. While I would love to share these all with you, for now, I’m sharing the spaghetti sauce recipe as that is entirely our own and is possibly our favourite thing to make. You can find it at the bottom of this blog post.

So over the two days we got an impressive amount of work done! This was the first time I made perogies (properly) from scratch and in the future we will have a whole day dedicated to perogies with at least 4 people working on them, because that dough is tricky.

Because I overworked the dough, we had a lot more filling that we could fill for the perogies, so we ended up making mashed potato balls which we have frozen and use as sides for steak dinners.

So let’s do the break down!

How much we ended up making

25Mashed Potato Balls4Crockpot Spicy Sausage Pasta Sauce
144 oz Burger Patties126oz Burger Patties
4Crockpot Chicken Fajita20Perogies
101Meatballs4Szechuan Beef
91L jars pasta sauce

What we spent on each serving

So with this information in mind we spent just south of $210 at the grocery store, and we used 12 lbs of ground beef and 3 lbs of stew beef that we already had from our purchase of a cow over the summer (so approximately $70 of beef) and other random ingredients that we already had like garlic, spices, and packaging, all of which we won’t count. So we spent $280 total on all that food. We like to calculate everything on a “per-serving” rate, so we had 144 servings of food (WHAT!?).

Each serving cost us a mere $1.94! Obviously, to be really accurate, we would calculate the cost of each individual thing we made and the cost of it’s packaging, then do the serving math, and maybe add in labour, but we’re not a restaurant, this is easier, and frankly, more rewarding.

Table topped with all our prepped food from our prep day
The bountiful “harvest” The fruits of our labour The yum in my tummy

Bea’s Big Batch Pasta Sauce Recipe

Don’t be alarmed, that white thing is the cup I used to scoop out the yummy sauce into our jars

5Onions (we use yellow, but white and red are also great options)
4Heads of garlic (more if you’re inclined)
1Head of Celery
1cup Canola Oil/Olive Oil
35Roma Tomatoes
4Sweet peppers (I like green and yellow to add some colour variant in there)
1bunch Parsley
1oz Basil
26oz canned Tomato Paste
112oz canned Diced Tomatoes
56oz canned Crushed Tomatoes
2tbsp Dried Oregano
1tbsp Red Pepper Flakes
5Bay Leaves
1/4cup Salt (or to taste)
2/3cup Sugar (or to taste)
1cup Lemon Juice

Believe it or not, this recipe is pretty simple to make, as long as you have a big ass pot (and you’re going to need a big ass pot). When we make pasta sauce like this, our food processor is our best friend; most things that end up in the pot, go through the processer first. Hot tip; if you can get a food processor that also slices and grates, do that! It’s the easiest way to get all this food in one pot.

Food processor with processed carrots in it
Food processor everything!
  1. peel and cut your onions into 1/8ths. This makes it so your peices of onion are small enough for the processor. Peel all your garlic while you’re at it. In small batches, add garlic and onion to the food processor and mill it down until the onions are at the size you prefer for your pasta sauce. Some people like to be able to pick out parts of their pasta sauce, some like to have it so small that the kids don’t know they’re eating that food they “don’t like”. Add the minced up garlic and onion to your pot with the canola oil; fry until the onion is transparent and hopefully, aromatic.
  2. Again with the celery and carrot, process it down to the size you like for your pasta sauce. We like little bits of both, so we cut celery sticks in 1/2 and carrots in 1/4 and put them through the processer’s slicer attachment. Add these to the pot once the onions and garlic are ready.
  3. Slice your leeks up. Leeks are easiest by hand. Add to the pot. Let the carrots, celery, and leeks cook in with your onions for 20-40 minutes. Just softening them up!
  4. Open up all those cans of tomatoe things and dump them into the pot. Use a little water in each to “rinse” the cans (about 1/2 each can worth of water), and dump that “rinsing” water directly into the pot.
  5. Chop up your tomatoes (hell, throw these in the food processor too if you want smaller tomato bits, but we like these a bit bigger, cutting them into 1/12 or so); then into the pot!
  6. De-seed your peppers and jalapenos, chop them a little then throw them in the processor too! Then into the pot (see how easy the food processor makes this whole cooking thing?). Here on out, everything else can be added to the pot in whichever order.
  7. The mushrooms go through the slicer attachment of the food processor; into the pot.
  8. Put your fresh herbs through the processor with a little bit of oil and salt, and, your guessed it, add it to the pot.
  9. Here’s where you add all your remaining ingredients; the oregano, red pepper flakes, bay leaves, sugar, salt, and lemon juice.
  10. Let your sauce cook ON LOW for 9-12 hours (the longer the better).
  11. If you’re canning, get your pasta sauce hot, and process in hot jars with hot lids and rings. If water bathing, they are processed for 30 minutes (though this is what I deem safe for my kitchen, I strongly recommend that you look up the canning rules you’re comfortable with and roll from there.)
image of two open-faced cheese burgers on a blue plate. The cheese burgers are topped with cheddar, crispy jalapenos, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and pickles.

The Sustainability Teeter Totter

I ‘m going to bring your to my home for a moment on a typical Saturday night from this winter. We are sitting around the table eating dinner. Tonight I’ve made a delicious deluxe cheese burger, and on the side we’re eating roasted veggies smothered in delicious butter. When you look at the bounty on our plates, take a moment to really look at it and think; what part of the meal, the burger or the veggies, is the least sustainable part of the meal?

image of two open-faced cheese burgers on a blue plate. The cheese burgers are topped with cheddar, crispy jalapenos, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and pickles.
Yummy, juicy loaded cheese burgers. Imagine the veggies, will ya?

Without knowing much about how all that food got to my plate, you’re likely going to answer something along the lines of “the burger” because of the vegetarian = sustainability rhetoric that people tend to tout. And in a lot of cases, you probably wouldn’t be wrong. Meat products generally have much higher footprints than vegetables. But look closely at the hypothetical meal. This is being served up in January, and the roasted veggies are all in the nightshade and squash families. There’s peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, and zucchini. None of these fruit grow naturally here in January. I got them all from the grocery store. While the tomato boasted a title of locally grown, the rest of the yummies all came from different countries. How were those tomatoes grown in the dead of winter?

“None of these fruit grow naturally here in January.”

Notice that I refer to the goods on my plate as both fruits and vegetables in different instances? They’re all technically fruit as they all are vehicles for seed growth and distribution, and they are all vegetables as they are all edible crops.

And this is where we start to get into what I like to call the sustainability teeter totter. When two different actions both have different footprints involved and you, the end user, need to evaluate which footprint is the one that you should care more about reducing.


the measurement of the resource(s) that are used in order for the individual or organization to be able to consume/produce the end product.

When we are trying to live more consciously and trying to minimize the harm our actions and consumption take on the planet, we tend to listen to the general statements made about actions we should take. So you might hear that the carbon footprint of meat is astronomical when compared to that of vegetables, or that you should be putting your plastics into recycling to divert it to from the landfills, or that you should take the bus instead of driving. While these are all generally good “tips” they don’t encompass the full picture and often leave people with larger footprints than they intend.

But the issue is when you do start looking more at the different kinds of footprints, aside from the science informing choices, there’s a lot of personal opinions that come into play when making the “more sustainable” option. This is because what is more sustainable and why can be interpretive. Is your water footprint more impactful than your carbon footprint because you value our fresh water more? Well then maybe you only want to purchase hydroponically grown veggies, even if that means they’re trucked in from the states.

So one person may say “in my house I have ceramic dishware because I can wash the plates between each use and there is no waste” but another may say “I use only paper plates in my house as they can be composted and it helps me to keep my water footprint low.” I know at a glance, you may think the second person foolish. Sure, they don’t waste water washing dishes, but what about the water used to make that paper plate? They may argue back “what about the water used to make the ceramic plates?” Different people are going to value different sustainability methods. And hello teeter totter.

Many large boxes, stacked in the back of a car, with the back seats folded down.
This is a whole cow, shoved, somehow, into the back of my little Pontiac Vibe.

Going back to my plate of delicious food. Knowing what you know of the vegetables, you may still say that my burger is still the less sustainable option on my plate. In my personal opinion, it isn’t. The beef in that burger comes from a local farm where I purchased the whole cow. I like to point out that this farm also grows food and uses the composted manure from their cattle to help fertilize their crop, which is so much better for the soil and the plants than synthetic fertilizers. While I may not have gotten the hide, I did get the bones, the various cuts of meat, meat that didn’t make the cut (pun intended) was turned into ground beef. I also skipped out on the organs, but the butcher (who is attached to the farm) did keep them and hopefully was able to sell them in his market. Now, we do not eat enough beef to make a full cow worth it, so I split it among 4 other families. So what you can see here is I did not buy mass produced meat (which is definitely not a sustainable option), little of my cow went to waste, the meat I received came in minimal, paper packaging, and didn’t travel far to get from the farm to the butcher, nor did it travel far to get from the butcher to my home. Additionally because I wanted yummy fresh, local meat but couldn’t take on a whole cow, I was able to have 4 other families make a more sustainable meat option (we all live in the metro area and usually shop at places like Great Canadian Superstore, so this beef option wouldn’t usually be our first go-to). Ultimately, the meat from the burger had far less impact on the environment than if I had gone to, say, a chain restaurant. Another good note here is that that bun was homemade and the pickles were all from cucumbers I grew fresh in my garden. The overall plastic footprint of the burger is minimal, the carbon footprint is below average (as it is still meat from a cow, but the cow was not transported), and the water footprint is also smaller.

Basket with many different sized cucumbers in it
Lookie these homegrown monstrosities!
Clear glass jar filled with cucumbers, dill, garlic, and vinegar.
One of the first jars of homemade pickles I ever made!
6 golden buns sitting on parchment paper
Is there anything better than a home baked bun?

But those veggies? The tomatoes were grown locally, but likely in a greenhouse; how much power was required to keep that greenhouse running; how many contaminates are added to the soil? How much water is used? And the international veggies all took a very long car ride to get to my house. Without doing proper calculations (because I’m not a scientist, I am you regular Joe-shmo consumer who is basing my judgement on the parts of this equation that I understand) I am going to make the calculated guess that my veggies have an equal-to or higher carbon footprint to that of the burger on my plate.

So that makes another valuable point to the teeter totter here. How much information do I know about the choices I am making? If my information is limited, all I know is I have a cheese burger and roasted veggies on my plate, I am going to agree that yes, the vegetables are the more sustainable part of my meal. But the more information I’m given, the clearer the image becomes of the sustainability in each option.

Two vacuum sealed bags containing palak paneer.
I recently made up a bunch of Palak paneer and it was SOOOO yummy, I had to make sure I had more for the freezer. I pack them in these bags so I don’t need to worry about freezer burn.

So when you’re trying to live in a more sustainable fashion and trying to make changes to everyday actions, try to look into what the impact of each action is before coming to the conclusion of which is more sustainable. And try to remember that sustainability can also be a point of view. Is vacuum sealing my freezer food in bags better for the environment, or should I be storing all my food in reusable plastic containers? It doesn’t matter which you view to be more sustainable, and you shouldn’t pass judgement on others for what they’ve deemed to be more important. Personally, I vacuum seal because it means that my food is less likely to get freezer burnt and is therefore less likely to go to waste.