I’m not a die-hard freezer-mealer. But I AM about to give birth to our third child, and have learned, with arrivals of our other two sweet bundles of joy, how essential it is to my less-stressful recovery to have meals ready and waiting for a quick thaw and a toss in the oven for most of the first month.
Helpful elements that make Freezer Meal Day a success for me:
- kids gone to Grandma’s or a friend’s house for a day or two if I can swing it. This time they gleefully enjoyed time with my husband’s family for an overnight.
- list all the meals I’d like to make.
- make a comprehensive grocery list, including at which store to purchase the items. (I shopped at Aldi, Costco and Cub Foods, which is our local mainstream grocery chain in MN).
- one day for shopping, one day-day and a half for cooking
- FOIL PANS. Ziplock bags. Paper towels.
- a willing, able and affable helper. The past two times I’ve done this, my wonderful mom has come up to help me. She is a great sous-chef and dishwasher!
- Some fun treats/food to eat while we work, along with good music. Or a good movie or two on Netflix via the iPad. 🙂
- Sturdy shoes. I’m on my feet almost all day, so no barefoot pregnant girl in the kitchen business. Save the tootsies!
With all these things in place, its time to start chopping. I’m sure there’s a more efficient way to do things, but I just cook a couple recipes at once, then move to the next ones. I don’t chop all my onions and carrots first or anything like that. I do make sure all the meat is thawed, and most of the chicken recipes call for cooked, diced chicken, so I toss a bunch of chicken breasts/thighs into the oven and cook them off first thing.
Here’s the list of recipes that I have found to work pretty well for our family. We don’t have any serious food sensitivities, so there is plenty of dairy, gluten and other sundry allergens in these recipes. I’ve seen great resources for allergen-free freezer meals – http://www.onceamonthmeals.com has some good meal plans. There are some kid-pleasers and some more grown-up friendly meals.
Freezer Bean Burritos – easy peasy for quick lunches!
Creamy Chicken Taquitos – Bake at 425 for 20 minutes from frozen. (We LOVE these things.)
Swedish Meatballs – Freeze in ziploc bags with sauce, thaw and reheat in microwave, serve with egg noodles.
Ham and Beans – (favorite recipe) I do this in the crock pot all day with just great northern beans and a nice, meaty ham hock, following these great instructions. Then freeze in ziplocks, thaw and reheat on stove. Serve with cornbread.
Pulled Pork – (favorite recipe) Another crock pot wonder. Cook forever, shred and freeze. Use for sandwiches, burritos or carnitas tacos.
Empanadas – (I don’t put in jalapenos, ’cause we’re not so big on spicy here, nor is that easy for me when nursing.) Form the pies, freeze individually, wrap in plastic and then in freezer bags. Bake from frozen according to recipe instructions.
Chicken Broccoli Rice Casserole – Freeze flat in gallon ziplock bags. Thaw overnight (or for 8 hours) in the refrigerator. Dump into a greased casserole dish (each bag will fill an 8×8-inch pan; two bags will fill a 9×13-inch pan). Sprinkle with additional shredded cheese, if desired. Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes, or until heated through and bubbly
Mac and Cheese – (or favorite recipe for baked mac and cheese) Freeze in foil pans before baking, thaw slightly, bake at 350 until bubbly and hot through.
Spaghetti Sauce – (favorite recipe) Freeze in ziploc bags. Thaw, reheat on the stove at dinner time. Serve with pasta.
Chicken or Turkey Tetrazzini – Freeze in foil pans before baking. Thaw overnight in refrigerator. Bake, covered with foil, at 400 degrees, until center is warm, about 30 minutes. Uncover, and bake until top is browned, about 20 minutes.
Butternut Bisque – freeze in containers or ziplocks, thaw, reheat in microwave or on stove.
Chicken or Turkey Pot Pie – Freeze in foil pans before baking. Bake at 375 for 1-1.5 hours from frozen.
Chicken Curry Pot Pie – Freeze in foil pans before baking. Bake at 375 for 1-1.5 hours from frozen.
Pasta Fagioli Soup – Freeze in containers or ziplocks. Thaw, reheat on stove. Serve with biscuits or bread.
Baked French Toast – Freeze in foil pans before baking, thaw, and bake according to recipe directions.
Blanch veggies in a pot of salted water. Cool, freeze in family size portions in ziplocs.
Here are some ideas for easy meals:
- Add to sauteed shrimp and serve over rice noodles.
- Add to marinaded chicken strips and serve over rice.
- Add to sauteed beef or pork strips and wrap into a tortilla for a quick veggie-lovers fajita.
- Toss with pasta, top with cheese and bake for a vegetarian casserole.
- Toss with lemon zest and melted butter and serve as a side dish to supper.
- Stir-fry with tofu and serve up with rice.
- Muffins – (favorite recipes) whole wheat apple muffins, pumpkin muffins, banana muffins, chocolate chip banana muffins, etc. Bake and freeze.
- Breakfast Sandwiches – Thaw in fridge over night. Reheat in 350˚ oven for 5-10 minutes or until cheese is melted.
- Pizza Dough – pre-bake shells and keep in the freezer for quick thaw, toss on some sauce and cheese and bake at 450 until done.
- Pizza Roll-ups – use pizza dough recipe for bread dough. Bake, then freeze (don’t overbake!). Thaw, reheat covered with foil in the oven. Serve with pizza sauce for dipping.
- Cinnamon Rolls – freeze before baking, thaw overnight, rise, then bake according to recipe instructions.
- Cookie Dough – (favorite recipes) oatmeal, chocolate chip, peanut butter, gingersnap, etc. Scoop dough into balls, freeze. Bake from frozen.
Items I buy prepared and put in the freezer/fridge/pantry to have on hand:
- Frozen Waffles – giant box from Costco, Kirkland Signature brand
- Frozen Pizzas – when they go on sale at our local grocery store, I stock up on 10-20.
- Sausage – we really like the Jones Natural sausage links.
- Eggs – two 7.5 dozen boxes from…Costco. Cheap, fast protein.
- Bread – freeze extra loaves
- Frozen fruit – for smoothies and snacks
- Pancake mix – we really like the multi-grain mix from Trader Joe’s
- Peanut butter and jelly. I’m really glad my kids don’t mind eating pb&J sandwiches so often. 🙂
- Favorite chips/snacks/cold cereal.
I hope this little post can help you jump start a future Freezer Meal day for you and yours. Whether you’re expecting a baby, needing to recover from a planned surgery, or just want to make meal time a little less hectic for around a month, happy cooking!