I have been freezer cooking, or making freezer meals, for several years and I’ve learned many things over the years that make the process easier and deliver better results. Freezer cooking is simply preparing meals ahead of time that can quickly and easily be heated later. By cooking meals ahead I can go a month or more at a time without having to worry about what’s for dinner. It’s all in the freezer and ready to cook. You get the convenience of quick and easy food without sacrificing taste or nutrient content.
This past weekend I made about 50 freezer meals. My freezer is now stocked and ready for the next couple of months. I’m thrilled! I’ll be sharing my recipes in an upcoming post. Start out with these tips for your freezer cooking day.
1.) Choose half the amount of recipes that you want to make meals for and instead double the recipe. For example, if you want 30 meals for the month then choose 15 recipes and double each one. By making multiples of the same recipe you cut your work in half. It’s far easier to prepare two of the same thing than it is to prepare two different things. By spreading out when you eat them you won’t tire of them.
2.) Choose recipes wisely with a variety of labor intensive and easy recipes. Don’t choose too many time consuming recipes or it will take a lot longer than you wish.
3.) Choose a variety of recipes based on preparation methods. Don’t choose all recipes that need to be made on the stovetop. Mix it up with crock pot recipes, stove top, oven and assembly. That way you can have multiple things going at once and accomplish more.
4.) Print out or write down all of your recipes ahead of time and have them ready. Don’t waste time searching for recipes or running back and forth to the computer or a bulky recipe book to reference it.
5.) Tape your recipes on your cupboards near where you will be cooking or assembling them so that you can quickly and easily reference them. It also keeps them cleaner from spills!
6.) Make your recipe selection ahead of time and then create a grocery list of ALL ingredients. Go through your pantry and cross off what you have then make a shopping list of what you need. Watch for sales ahead of time and stock up when the prices are right. You’ll save a bundle by planning ahead.
7.) Set aside enough uninterrupted time to complete your meals. You will need at least a day to do it depending on how many meals you choose. Interruptions will make the process lengthy!
8.) Have at least two sets of measuring cups and spoons ready. One for wet ingredients and one for dry. Rinse them as you go and keep using them. You don’t want to create a mountain of dishes so reuse them as you go.
9.) It sounds trivial but move the garbage can right next to you. One trip across the kitchen to toss something is nothing but fifty trips adds up quick. Have it right next to you and save time and energy.
10.) Freeze your meals in zip top freezer bags or throw away aluminum tins. Buy your aluminum tins at the Dollar Store. They are much cheaper there than at the grocery store.
11.) Have plenty of plastic wrap, foil and a sharpie on hand for packaging meals.
12.) Individually flash freeze portions so you can bag them later. Things like cookie dough can be frozen flat on a cookie sheet like this.
and then put into a bag later and they won’t stick together. Now you can take out as many as you want at a time.
13.) Do your grocery shopping the day before cooking (for all fresh things like meat and produce). Do not put it away when you get home. Leave it out for easy access.
14.) Chopping veggies and preparing things the day before can really speed up your cooking day. Chop onions, dice chicken, etc to save time.
15.) Make sure all of your meat is thawed the day before so it is ready to cook on cooking day.
16.) Set up your workspace with different cutting boards for different types of food. One for veggies, one for meat, etc. Do the same with your knives. Keeping them separate will eliminate cross contamination and make prep work fast.
17.) Start the time consuming tasks first. If you have a soup that needs to simmer for 5 hours then get that going first. Toss your chicken in the crockpot to cook and then get your oven going. Do multiple things at once.
18.) Use plastic freezer bags, plastic containers and throw away aluminum tins for packaging. Do not use your baking dishes. They will be tied up in the freezer for too long.
19.) You can also freeze your meals in your own casserole pan by lining it with foil or parchment paper hanging over the edges. Once frozen solid it will remove easily from your dish so that you don’t have to leave the dish in the freezer.
20.) When packing your meals label each one with the name of the recipe and the cooking directions. You do NOT want to search for recipes when you pull them out of the freezer. Have everything written to prepare it on the dish itself.
21.) Wrap your aluminum tins in several layers. The first layer should be plastic wrap, pushed all the way down to the food, NOT over the top loosely. Eliminate the air and push it to touching the food. Then wrap in foil over the whole thing.
22.) Wrap well to eliminate freezer burn.
23.) Use heavy duty foil for even better protection in the freezer.
24.) Use plastic containers for dishes you want to be able to heat and eat quickly from the freezer. Make sure they are microwave, freezer and dishwasher safe.
25.) Label plastic bags BEFORE you add the food.
26.) Double plastic bag things to eliminate any spills in the freezer if your bag has a hole in it as well as providing better protection from freezer burn.
27.) Freeze meals in plastic bags flat first so you can stack them like files later. They take up less room.
28.) Don’t buy cheap plastic bags. They are thin and not freezer worthy! Get the good ones.
29.) When filling up your freezer, fill as you go when meals have cooled. Don’t overload it with hot food or it won’t be able to safely cool all the food at once.
30.) When properly packed in a chest freezer meals will last 3-6 mos.
31.) Date your meals.
32.) Create a list with each meal and the quantity and tape it to the freezer with a pen. Cross them out as you take them so you always know what you have in the freezer and don’t waste any meals.
33.) Freeze meal size portions. If you have a family of 4 then freeze the proper amount that your family would eat. If there are only 2 of you then you may end up splitting a recipe into two meals to get the right portions.
34.) Freeze leftover fresh herbs in portions in an ice cube tray with a little water. Once frozen pop out and put in a freezer bag. You can use these to toss into recipes year round.
35.) Generally you will pull out a freezer meal and thaw it in the fridge the night before you plan to make and serve it.
36.) Some meals can be cooked from frozen and not thawed (such as lasagna), you will need to add approx 50% of the cooking time to the recipe if it is frozen. If it should cook for one hour when thawed then from frozen it will take an hour and a half.
37.) Package any ingredients that need to be added at the end of cooking time in a separate plastic bag and tuck them between the layers of plastic wrap and foil. This eliminates the worry of having those ingredients handy come cooking day.
38.) One easy way to cook for your freezer without the time commitment is to prepare two of a recipe on any given night and serve one and freeze the other.
39.) Choosing recipes that freeze well is key. I don’t do a ton of casseroles or cream of chicken soup type recipes. Get the idea that all freezer meals are mush out of your head!
40.) Consider freezing sides such as rice ahead of time as well to eliminate the need to prepare them on dinner day.
41.) Plan to eat an easy meal like pizza on cooking day as you will not have time to stop and cook a meal.
42.) Line up your ingredients on a table or counter for easy grabbing.
43.) Buy a bag holder! I got the one pictured here for free after rebate at Menards. They are invaluable and make quickly filling bags without spilling easy. I plan on buying more so I can have multiple bags held up at once.
44.) One tool I found invaluable was my food chopper from Pampered Chef. It works great for chopping onions, herbs, etc and not having to spend time dicing them.
45.) Another great tool is an apple, peeler, corer, slicer. It makes quick work of peeling, coring and slicing apples for baking.
46.) Plan desserts too by making cookie dough and freezing in individual portions.
47.) Sweet breads like banana bread or zucchini bread freeze great!
48.) Freeze 2 cup portions of shredded zucchini for use in baking anytime.
49.) Allow food to cook before packaging or putting in freezer.
50.) Don’t forget to package single serving sizes as well for quick and easy lunches for work.
51.) Wrap breakfast sandwiches individually in paper towels and place in freezer bag for on the go breakfast ideas.
52.) Freeze yogurt single serving potions for lunches.
53.) Cook all of your chicken breasts at once and then divide into recipe portions placing the recipe by each bowl.
54.) Do the same with your ground beef.
55.) Set your butter and cream cheese out on the counter to soften ahead of time.
56.) Shred chicken easily by using this tip.
57.) Buy pan sizes to fit your family’s portions. My lasagna recipe makes a 9 x 13 pan. We never eat that much lasagna so now I split that into two smaller square pans which also doubles the meal from one recipe!
58.) For recipes that call for marinating you can simply pour the marinade over the meat and freeze. Once thawed the meat will be marinated!
59.) If your recipe calls for ham but you don’t need a whole one then get it from the deli. They can thick slice your ham and give you just the right amount.
60.) Don’t waste time cooking your lasagna noodles! I never have and it always turns out perfectly cooked.
61.) The same is true with manicotti noodles.
62.) You don’t have to cook jumbo shells either but I find them easier to fill when cooked. Be sure to undercook them though!
63.) To thicken sauces easily, combine cornstarch in cold water and add slowly to sauces. Stir until thickened.
64.) To crush cereal or tortilla chips, place in a plastic bag and use a rolling pin to get desired size. It crushes quick and easy with no mess.
65.) Easily cut green onions by using kitchen shears instead of a knife.
66.) Freeze soups and chili in plastic containers for quick reheating in the microwave later.
67.) Do this with a friend to cut the work in time and have more fun doing it!
68.) Do a freezer meal swap with several friends in which you each prepare a certain quantity of your recipes and swap.
69.) Many recipes can be made into three meals for a family of 4. If your recipe makes 6 servings then by doubling it you will get 3 meals for a family of 4.
70.) Wear comfortable Shoes and clothes!
71.) Crank up the music to get you moving!
72.) Use a plastic bag with the corner snipped to easily fill manicotti, no pastry bag required and eliminates the clean up.
73.) Make sure you press out all the air before closing your plastic freezer bags. Then double bag it.
74.) When making things like hamburgers, wrap each one individually or flash freeze them so you can take out only how many you need.
75.) Don’t waste your money on foil pans with plastic covers. I do not use the plastic covers because they take up more room and don’t provide a good seal that gets rid of the air. Use saran and foil to wrap it instead.
76.) Create an assembly line when filling your bags or pans.
77.) Freeze leftover onions in portion sizes for use later.
78.) You can also freeze leftover tomato sauce, lemon juice, etc. Freeze in ice cube trays then transfer to bags and use later.
79.) Make bread dough or garlic bread and freeze for serving with your meals.
80.) If you are pregnant and freezer cooking I highly recommend wearing the Boppy Tummy Support Band. It saved my back!
81.) Drink lots of water throughout the day!
82.) Don’t take on too much your first time around. You will burn yourself out.
83.) Don’t choose all chicken recipes or all meat recipes, use variety!
84.) Package meals in foil tins for easy giving of meals to those that just had a baby, funeral, etc. You don’t have to worry about getting your pan back and you can bless others!
85.) Hand wash big pots and dishes as you go.
86.) Borrow additional crock pots ahead of time if you will be making several meals in crock pots.
87.) Be sure to check your pantry ingredients and make sure you have enough for ALL recipes. If a recipe calls for onion powder make sure you have enough for all recipes. I ran out of several spices before because I just checked off that I had it without checking quantity.
88.) Avoid cooking things like lasagna or anything that doesn’t have to be cooked ahead of time. You will have better flavor with your final meal if it isn’t just reheated from frozen.
89.) Some recipes will be a flop. Keep trying recipes until you find your family’s favorites.
90.) Raw potatoes don’t freeze well.
91.) Peppers and onions will not come out crisp once frozen.
92.) To preserve green peppers from your garden easily, stuff them and freeze for later. They come out great!
93.) You can freeze tomatoes for cooking with later.
94.) Make sure you also buy sides for your recipes when shopping.
95.) Include recipes that can also work for lunch, like pizza braids or homemade pizza.
96.) Many cookies freeze well even after being baked. Bake a double batch of cookies and freeze half.
97.) Don’t allow your bread dough to rise before freezing. Let it rise after removing from freezer for dinner day.
98.) Fully cook meatballs before freezing. Just reheat on dinner day.
99.) Assembly meals are easiest and should be included in your recipe selection. Anything you can just put together in a bag and freeze is an assembly meal.
100.) Don’t get stressed about it! It takes time to get a system down.
101.) Have fun! You’re doing a bunch of work over a day or two but you won’t have to make dinner for a month or more! You can put your feet up and relax once you’re done cooking for the month!