The following post is the second in a series of meal planning posts. Keep an eye out for Part 3: Healthy Whole-food Snacks! You can find Part 1: The Planning here.
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If you are a meal planner, or are interested in becoming one, then you will love freezer cooking! There is a certain satisfaction in having my freezer full of good, homemade food for my family, not to mention that it means a night off from cooking when I put a freezer meal on our Menu Planner, and we all know that’s a reason to celebrate!
Freezer cooking looks different for each family as everyone has their own favorite meals and tastes, but I’m sharing some of our top freezer meals for breakfasts, lunches, and dinners to show you the process I use and some of our favorite recipes.
Before you get started, here are the basic supplies you will need:
Foil pans – An assortment of pans is a good idea depending on the foods you will be cooking and storing. I use these Reynolds bakeware Pans for big dinner casseroles, lasagna, enchiladas, and chicken pot pies. I use these Reynolds 8×8 smaller bakeware square pans for quiche and desserts, and loaf pans for breads.
Plastic Containers – I order these 32oz. restaurant quality plastic containers to store all of my homemade stocks and sauces, and these 16oz. containers to store homemade refried beans, applesauce, humus, and lots more. I saw Ina Garten do this a long time ago and realized how smart it was not to tie up my regular plasticware in the freezer for months.
Glad Cling Wrap – this is to wrap up the meals tightly and keep the air out. Air means freezer burn, and that’s no good.
Sharpie – to mark the date and what is inside. No mystery meals, thank you.
Now that you have the supplies, you are ready to start planning and cooking some delicious foods! The first step to this process is to…plan! Check out my first meal planning post here to learn more about the meal planning that makes freezer cooking easy.
There are two types of freezer cooking that I do: big batch cooking about every 4-6 weeks to stock up dinners, and then smaller scale freezer cooking usually a few times each month. I’ll break down both here.
Big Batch Freezer Cooking
Every month and a half or so, I take a look at my freezer inventory and note what is looking low and needs to be replaced. I spiffed up my Freezer Inventory printable to share with you, if you’d like to give it a try. I find that if I don’t write down what I cook and then freeze and also what I take out of the deep freeze, then I can’t remember and run out.
Once I have my list of what I’m going to cook, I write my grocery list and carve out some time to spend in the kitchen. Freezer cooking a few meals and some desserts really only takes a couple of hours, and sometimes I try to work it into my dinner prep for that night, too. For example, one of my family’s favorite dinners to keep on hand is the Pioneer Woman’s Sour Cream Noodle Bake. I have a wicked girl crush on that woman in general (hello, #lifegoals!), and her newest cookbook, Dinnertime, was under the tree for me this year, thanks for Mr. P. Check it out, friends, it is a good one!
If I know that I’m freezer cooking that day, then I will buy enough ingredients to triple the recipe. This makes enough of the meat sauce for dinner that night, plus the two Noodle Bakes for the freezer. It really doesn’t take much time to assemble the meals at all, so making more than one is a good time saver. Wherever possible, I like to substitute whole wheat flour and whole wheat pasta in our dinners to help us in our goal to eat mostly whole foods.
Dinner Meals for the Freezer
We have tried many freezer dinner recipes over the years and these are our top five favorites:
- Meatballs and sauce – you can find the recipes I use here
- Chicken Enchilada casserole from 100 Days of Real Food
Weekly Freezer Cooking
Another time-saver for me is to make big batches of some of our favorite foods during the week to keep in the freezer.
Here are a few things I make regularly during the month to keep in the freezer:
Crock pot refried beans – we love them on Taco Tuesdays! We make bean and cheese burritos, top taco salads with them, and layer the beans with cheese and sour cream for a heavenly dip. My boys can put a hurting on a container of homemade refried beans. Oh, the jokes that go on at the table when we talk about beans. Boys are too, too funny.
Rotisserie chicken meat and broth – 100 Days of Real Food changed my meal prep and planning with her recipe for crock pot rotisserie chicken. Who would have thought to put a whole chicken or turkey in the crock pot all day and then come home to the most delicious aroma and a perfectly cooked meal? If you haven’t been making your life easier with this meal, start now! I promise it’s a game changer.
After cooking the chicken, I remove it from the bones and dice half or all depending on my meal plans and freeze it for quick meals. I like to toss on salads, heat it up with some cumin and chili powder seasonings for tacos or enchiladas, or make a quick soup or pot pie. The options are endless for using pre-cooked chicken! The bones then get simmered in the crock pot to make broth, which freezes beautifully. I make a lot of soups, and I still grimace when I think about how much I used to pay for organic chicken broth at the store each week.
Breads, muffins, and pancakes – I have so many favorite recipes for these, and I bet you do, too. When I make a batch of any of these, I like to double it and then add the extra to our freezer stash. We are still eating the bounty of blueberries we picked last summer in our breads, muffins, and pancakes! I love this recipe from 100 Days for banana bread and this recipe for her carrot applesauce muffins, both are nutritious snack options for the whole family.
Crisps, cookies, waffles, pancakes, and pies – it doesn’t take much to double a dessert recipe, and it’s so worth it when the kids go to bed – I mean, after dinner when we share it as a family. Ha! I love to make Ina Garten’s recipe for apple crisp especially. On nights when we make pancakes for dinner, I just double the recipe and stash the leftovers in the freezer for a snack or alternative to sandwiches in lunch boxes.
Freezer cooking saves us loads of time on busy nights and money saved from not going out to eat at the last minute, not to mention we eat much healthier in doing so. So, what do you think? Do you use any of these recipes or similar to stock your freezer? Do you have any tips or recipes I should try? Drop me a comment if you’d like to share!
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