Having a trucker in the family, I am always trying to think of ways to allow my husband to eat healthier and at less cost than what the truck stops provide. One of the best solutions that we have found was for me to home can meals for him. I began doing this about 5 years ago. We were given a large pressure canner that someone had purchased by mistake thinking it was a pressure cooker. Instead of returning it to the store, they used it a few times, then gave it to us. What a blessing!
I have found the easiest method for canning meals is to simply cook a large batch of any given meal that I plan to put up in jars. For example, tonight I made a cabbage dish containing rice, ground beef, and tomato sauce. Now, typically, it is not recommended to home can rice. This is due to the amount of water it requires as the rice cooks and soaks the liquids up. The way I get around this is to jar up the meals as leftovers. I fully cook the meal, then after dinner I put the left overs into the jars and add the lids & rings. I process them just as you normally would for anything containing meat. The meal came out just fine and the rice did not become too soft. We use the meals within 2 months on average. For some reason, I never seem to be able to keep them on the shelf longer than that. We use them too quickly. 🙂
A benefit to canning meals is that I can take advantage of meat sales. If I see a large package of stew meat on sale, I go ahead and buy extra carrots, celery, & potatoes while I am at it. I get out my largest roasting pan and make a roaster filled with beef stew. Once cooked, I have enough for a meal and a canner full of pint jars of meals for the pantry. In that one canning session, I have saved money in not having to buy smaller packages of meat for a single meal. For under $30 (includes meat & all veggies) I am able to make enough beef stew for 8 meals for a family of 4 or about 18 meals for my husband to take on the truck. The only thing needing to be added to the meal are the fresh baked biscuits that I bake as I am heating up a casserole dish of the stew.
A favorite in our home is when I make homemade soups. Here is a quick tip for these that I have learned. Cut up the vegetables for the soups into bite size pieces or no larger than 1″ square. When making a vegetable soup, you can chop all of your vegetables and mix them together in a large bowl. Fill your jars about 2/3 full of the vegetables. Add enough precooked meat to have the jar 3/4 full. Pour your seasoned broth into the jars leaving 1/2″ headspace. Process the jars as you normally would with any recipe containing meat using a pressure canner. Once processed, the vegetables will be fully cooked and tender. Soups that contain pasta, rice, or dairy products can be processed without those ingredients. Just label the jar with the ingredients that you need to add when ready to use the soup. My theory is this, if you can raw pack the vegetables to home can them separately, then why not do the same when making a vegetable soup? So far, I have had good results when doing this. Most of the soups are used within 6 months.
The main focus here is to think about the meals that you make that may be able to be home canned. Look through canning recipe books to get ideas if you are needing them. You may be surprised at the wide array of meals that can be put up in jars. It is a way to turn meals into convenience foods for your pantry. You may consider making the filling for tamale pies and canning it up into pint or quart jars. When ready to use, pour the filling into a casserole dish or individual serving size baking dishes. Top with the cornbread mixture and bake.