Learn the basics of making freezer meals so you don’t have to cook every night to have a delicious and nutritious meal on hand.
With the arrival of a new baby + having to feed 2 other small children, freezer meals seem like the most realistic way of cooking to rely on. With little sis’s arrival, my plan is to step out of the kitchen and away from the regular mealtime grind for a week or two. Instead, I will be turning to my freezer and a few meals and foods I have prepped before baby to help us get by— I also plan on using a few takeout menus too. Having a stock of freezer meals is an important piece of advice I frequently give to new and expecting moms so I wanted to share some of my freezer meal knowledge with all of you. You can rest assured that there is no single method of preparing freezer meals, just some simple guidelines to keep in mind along the way. Once you know the tricks of the trade, it’s a valuable tool you can apply to virtually all of your family favorite dishes.
Why freezer meals?
For me, the biggest reason is T-I-M-E! Preparing a meal is half the battle; waiting for it to cook is the other. Spacing these two tasks out provides you with extra time on both days to spend elsewhere. I also tend to freeze pre-packaged protein items like chicken breasts and lean Ground Beef when I find them on sale at the grocery store!
What materials should I use?
All you really need is some type of storage container. This could be a foil baking pan, sealable plastic freezer bags, or plastic food storage containers. OR if you’re looking to become a freezer meal cooking pro, perhaps you need a vacuum food saver. These work great for long term storage but if you plan on eating your meals within a few weeks, then it’s not much of a necessity. I’d also suggest using a permanent marker for labeling. It’s important to date when each meal was prepared, the title of the recipe and cooking instructions.
To Freeze or Not to Freeze?
Virtually all meals can be assembled and frozen for later cooking or they can be cooked and frozen for reheating. Here’s a simple breakdown of the two methods you can use to perfect freezing meal cooking:
1. Make extra food at one meal and freeze to thaw and reheat for later.
2. Freeze foods [reference chart below] in portions you’ll use in recipes for the future. If you use this method, you don’t necessarily need to precook the foods.
In order to successfully accomplish both of these freezer meal methods, it’s first important to understand the freezing capabilities of certain foods. Here are some tips to keep in mind when deciding the best way to convert your recipe into a freezer meal.
|Food Group Freezer Guide||Freezing method|
|Assemble Raw → Freeze → Cook||Cook → Freeze → Reheat|
|Grains||• Hearty grains such as rice can be thrown in raw|
• Softer grain products such as pastas should not be added raw
|• Slightly undercook pastas before freezing to avoid them turning to mush during reheating.|
• Fully cooked hearty grains will hold up during reheating
|Vegetables||• Do not combine raw vegetables that require more time to cook (potatoes) with vegetables that require less time to cook (broccoli). Prep these components separately and add at appropriate times during the cooking process||• Blanch quick cooking vegetables for one to two minutes to avoid overcooking during reheating.|
• Longer cooking vegetables can be cooked all the way through before freezing
|Protein||• If using frozen meat, do not thaw the meat before assembly. Add the frozen meat with the other components and put back in the freezer|
• Leave the seafood out. Seafood only takes a few minutes to cook so add it to your dish later on in the cooking process
|• Use never before frozen meat. When meat is thawed more than once it will lose quality and the risk for bacterial contamination greatly increases.|
• Seafood should not be cooked before frozen, the reheating process can quickly cause it to overcook and become rubbery
|Fruit||• Same rules apply for both methods. You can assemble freezer desserts such as crisps or cobblers to be baked later and you can also freeze them after they are cooked.|
|Dairy||• Cultured dairy products such as sour cream and yogurt tend to curdle when they are frozen raw. This does not change the quality of the dish just the appearance.||• All cooked dairy products can be frozen for reheating later|
Tricks, Tips and More Words of Wisdom
- When you buy in bulk….
- Often times I’ll get packages of boneless skinless chicken breasts or lean ground beef on sale at the grocery store and freeze a pack or two for later. The same can be done with other bulk items such as in-season produce that you can get for a steal when purchased at the right time of year.
- Try one meal at a time while you get the hang of it!
- Freezer meal prepping does not have to be done all in one day. Power to the moms cranking out weeks worth of dinners in one haul, but realistically not all of us have the time or concentration span for such task. Freezer meals can be made during your usual weeknight dinner routine, simply double the recipe and freeze half for later. Soon enough you will have your own stockpile of meals to rely on but it might just take a little longer to get there.
- Focus on your family favorites or essentials.
- In the morning, before their feet even touch the ground, my little ones already want to have breakfast in hand. Having pre-made frozen breakfast options is a must in this household so I always make sure to have something stocked and ready to go. Space can fill up quickly in our freezer so making sure to save room for the essentials is key.
The freezer is one of the most efficient appliances in your kitchen, so use it to its full potential. Keeping these simple tips and tricks in mind you will soon realize that freezer meal preparation is not as daunting after all.
Some of my favorite freezer meal recipes include virtually EVERY slow cooker recipe you’ll find here on Mom to Mom Nutrition, as well as my skillet meals [remember to leave the pasta out and cheese out and add that right before serving]. I also have had great success freezing a batch or two of homemade muffins and pancakes for the boys for those “hangry” breakfast moments they wake up with.
Freezing and Food Safety Tips from the USDA on freezer food safety and quality control.
Freezer Cooking from the Pioneer Woman
Freezer-Friendly Meals from Martha Stewart
Freezer Meal Tips for Beginners from Happy Money Saver
Freezing Cooked Food for Future Meals from University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Disclaimer: I am proud to partner with the Kroger Co. of Michigan to bring you healthy recipes and science-based nutrition advice. Because of these great partnerships I am able to share delicious and nutritious family-friendly recipes. As always all opinion and ideas are 100% my own.