Easy Freezer Meals: Plus Tips And Recipes To Fill Your Freezer
Freezer meals are a busy woman’s best tool for combatting the meal time dilemma.
Have you ever done this? It’s 4:45pm and you’re staring into the fridge contemplating what to make for dinner. You close the door and walk away.
Minutes later you’re back, staring in the fridge, hoping for some new inspiration, but nothing has changed (please tell me I’m not the only one that has done this?).
Now it’s after 5:00 and you’re dreading the dinner hour, again.
Why does this happen more often than I’d like to admit? I feel unprepared, uninspired, tired and not wanting to cook and clean up, yet again.
There are a few choices we can make in this situation:
1. Find a quick go to meal (and hope we have the ingredients)
2. Order take out (we have a fantastic Thai restaurant in the neighborhood, but unfortunately, even if we go that route, we still have to wait at least a half hour)
3. Or hope nobody realizes its dinnertime and doesn’t ask (uh yeah, like that’s ever going to happen ;)
The first two options will work on occasion, but not on a daily basis.
So, what is the solution to beating the meal time headache?
Freezer meals my friend! Freezer meals are the answer.
What Are Freezer Meals
Freezer meals are meals or ingredients for a meal, prepared in advance, and frozen for later use, in order to make mealtimes easier.
Freezer meals are a life saver, especially for those busy days or weeks where you don’t have a lot of time to prepare meals, let alone prepare a full meal AND clean up.
Are freezer meals worth the effort? Ask anyone who does them routinely. The answer is YES!!
I have been preparing freezer meals for quite a few years now and there’s no going back.
The first time I prepped a whole bunch of freezer meals was when I was pregnant with my first child. I really didn’t want to worry about making meals once we were home from the hospital. I knew I was going to be tired, so I prepped 40 meals ahead of time.
I’m so glad I did, and I've been hooked ever since. I was able to rest and relax with my new baby and not have to do much for dinner other than pull a meal out of the freezer and throw together an easy salad.
13 years later and having the burden of making dinner off my shoulders at the beginning of the day or even weeks in advance is still such a huge help.
Freezer meals are especially handy for the days or weeks when things are insane around here.
I may not have time to cook, but if I write a freezer meal into the meal plan, I will be reminded to take the frozen meal out the night before.
The next day all I need to do is drop it in the slow cooker or pan to cook.
With freezer meals prepared, you won't find me staring into the fridge at 4:45 trying to figure out what to make for dinner.
The Benefits of Freezer Meals
· Saves your sanity around dinnertime
· It saves time…working smarter, not harder
· You have convenience food available and it’s healthy
· Food is already prepared ahead of time for those busy days
· Saves money…less takeout or convenience food, plus you tend to buy in bulk which saves money
· Enjoy a night off…or a whole month…of cooking dinner (if you’re up for it, you can do breakfast or lunch freezer meals as well)
· Allows for, spur of the moment, hospitality
· Your kitchen stays cleaner…make the mess once to prepare 15 (or more) meals and clean once
· You can cook when you want
Stocking your freezer with freezer meals is so worth it! While it may seem like a lot of work to start with, it really does save you time in the long run.
A great thing about freezer meals is that there are a few ways of making them and they all have the same outcome…a freezer stocked with meals.
The best one for you to do, depends on how you prefer to get that freezer of yours stocked and ready.
Four Ways To Stock Your Freezer With Homemade Freezer Meals
1. Double up (or even triple, quadruple, etc.) batch cooking
With double batch cooking, you are cooking double (or more) of the meal you are already making and then freezing the extras for later.
You will need to buy extra of the ingredients for the meal you’re already making to make sure you have enough to make extra to freeze.
2. Meal Co-op: multiple people swapping meals
A meal co-op takes some planning and coordinating but can be a great quick way to stock up and experience new recipes.
The idea is for each person in the group to make one recipe multiplied by the amount of people participating. Everyone gets to go home with a different meal made by each person. This is a great way to go home with multiple different dishes, but you only have to make one large batch of a recipe yourself.
3. Once a month cooking
A marathon cooking day takes a bit of planning. My personal preference is to knock it all off in 1 day of cooking, but it doesn’t always happen that way.
This takes time to plan and prepare in order for the day to go smoothly.
4. Freezer cooking in a couple hours
There is also the option to do a few quick and easy meals, or some other meal prep in a couple of hours.
With this way of cooking, it can be cooking multiple pounds of meat to freeze for later, or putting together some freezer meals that don’t require a lot of prep.
There are times where I will take a whole week to make freezer meals. This is partly because there is so much going on day-to-day that it can be hard to find one full day without interruptions to get a bunch of meals made…and because I will do a combination of #1, 3 and 4, plus multiple different types of meals for the freezer, such as breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Tips Before You Start Planning Your Freezer Meals
Those who fail to plan, plan to fail. This is an important part of the process! Don’t forget to take the time to plan out your freezer meals or you will end up having to run to the store multiple times.
1. Shop Your Cupboards
Before you start planning your freezer meals shop your cupboards, freezer and fridge and try using up ingredients you have. Do you have lots of diced tomatoes or canned beans? Create meals that use those ingredients.
2. Decide what type of meals you want to make (breakfast, lunch, dinners, casseroles, etc.)
3. Only plan what you like to eat and have already tried. Don’t try all new recipes only to discover you don’t like half of them.
4. Label EVERYTHING
Using large sticker labels, make sure to include what the recipe is, the date and the cooking instructions. Make sure to label BEFORE you put the food in the bag, otherwise it will make it hard for the label to stick because of condensation.
5. Be prepared
Prepare by making sure your kitchen is clean, you have room in the fridge for the groceries and room in the freezer for your meals.
6. Make sure you have the right containers for freezing your meals. The most common are, mason jars, foil pans (bonus-no dishes!), gallon size (or bigger) freezer bags.
7. When you shop, buy the freshest ingredients possible
8. Pick recipes that use similar ingredients and don’t pick recipes that require 25+ ingredients each (unless the majority of those are spices).
For example, I will do a couple from the chicken list and a couple from the cooked ground beef list. Most of them require many of the same ingredients as far as vegetables go.
Now it’s time to start planning...
Plan and Prep for a Freezer Meal Making Session
1. Make a list of 3-5 meals (you will make 2 - 4 meals of each recipe)
When you create your list of meals, keep in mind the ingredients you just discovered in your fridge or pantry that you can use.
One of my biggest mistakes when I first started making freezer meals was trying to make 15-20 meals 2 times each…. I was going for variety, but it was an overwhelming approach. Choosing 3-5 meals (multiplied by 2-4) will give you enough variety until your next freezer cooking session.
Here are some freezer meal recipe ideas:
Chicken Freezer Meal Ideas (no pre-cook):
Cooked Ground Beef Freezer Meal Ideas:
· When you make your freezer meals, you have the option to do all one kind of meat and then a few weeks later work on a different kind of meat. Or you can mix it up and do a bit of both each session. It really depends on how much time you have or how much stocking you need to do. If you have a freezer full of chicken meals already, go with beef the next time to give yourself some variety.
· Once you’ve decided on your recipes, print them off, photocopy or write them out and put them in a protective sleeve.
· Write out the ingredients and amounts for each recipe to later add up and transfer to a shopping list.
2. Create your shopping list (don’t forget sticker labels!)
When you shop, make sure to get the freshest ingredients available.
· Chop/cut/dice veggies (give each vegetable its own bowl according to how its prepared…all diced carrots together, grated carrot, diced celery, diced onion, all sliced onion, etc.)
· Pre-cook meat or grains needed
· Pre-label your containers
To be honest, with so many meals going at once and many of them requiring some of the same, plus a lot of different ingredients, I found this part a little confusing at first. I wasn’t sure what the best way to assemble the meals was, so I came up with a plan.
When assembling your meals into your containers, set out the containers you’re using for one meal at a time.
· Place the recipe in front of the containers
· Measure the vegetables, meat, spices, sauces and canned items, etc. evenly divided into each bag for that recipe. If it’s a meal in a pan, divide the ingredients evenly among the pans
· Seal and put away
· Work on one recipe at a time
· Do the same thing working your way through each recipe
Once your meals are assembled, freeze them flat and enjoy having a night off of cooking once in a while!!
Now for my least favorite part of making freezer meals…
6. Clean up
The great part about this is that you’ve just saved yourself a lot of clean up down the road. Prep once, clean once.
Here are a few things I’ve learned in my years of making freezer meals.
First, don’t try to plan, shop, prep, assemble and clean up all in one day. That is a huge amount to do in one day.
Instead try this:
Day 1 - The planning can be done weeks or days in advance
Day 2 - Shop, prep ingredients and labelling
Day 3 - Assemble and clean up
· Second, save the freezer meal plan you just created for the next time you do freezer meals. Keep all your shopping lists and recipes together, that way the next time you do your freezer meals you can take these out and use them again. You’ll save yourself time planning.
· Last, don’t forget to have fun with making freezer meals! Play music and do it with a friend or recruit your family to help you.
If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask!
So, what do you think? Are you excited to make some freezer meals?
I've included some freezer meal planning printables to help you with your planning and shopping.