Thank you to Malia Russell for this guest post.
Freezer cooking is one of my very favorite ways to prepare meals for our family. When I have a large variety of yummy meals already prepared and ready to go with just a little reheating, I am much more likely to enjoy having healthy, homemade meals every night rather than resorting to carry-out, eating out, or picking up quick-but-unhealthy foods. Freezer cooking can also be very economical, because you are able to buy things like meat or veggies in large (and often cheaper) quantities and you can learn to make the most of leftovers.
The basics of freezer cooking are very simple: choose foods that freeze well and store them properly. If you are not sure if a food freezes well, you can try freezing a small portion after a meal and thawing it a few days later to see if it freezes well. You can also quickly do an Internet search to easily find lists of foods that freeze well or use a freezer-cooking book that offers a large variety of meals and recipes. Once you have some experience with freezer cooking, you will have confidence to branch out and try new things.
There are many ways to do this:
Plan to double your dinners. For this method, I choose two or three weeks’ worth of dinners that can be easily doubled. For example, if you are making a pot pie, make two. Eat one and freeze one. Be smart and remove the part you plan to freeze before sending it to the table. Experience has shown me that if you put the double portion on the table, often that double portion will be consumed, even if there are plenty of additional side dishes on the table. When planning your grocery budget, don’t forget that you are actually making two weeks’ meals.
Freeze parts of meals. Prepare parts of meals ahead of time for the freezer. For example, you can prepare taco meat or the filling for burritos ahead of time and have those ingredients on hand for preparing a quick and easy meal.
Freeze extras. Rather than planning and freezing whole meals or parts of meals, make creative use of leftovers. For example, we purchased freezable divided plates, one for each family member. If you have a serving leftover of any food, you simply put it onto one of those plates and freeze it. Fill up each divided plate as you have leftovers. These plates can then be used, once they are filled, for lunches or a “mystery meal” night where everyone selects a pre-frozen meal and reheats it. Using this plan, if you have a single serving of meat or veggies left over, you do not have to worry about how to incorporate it in a meal or throw it away.
Freeze excess garden items. Often, folks will share extra zucchini or tomatoes and other vegetables when their gardens get overzealous. I will often make zucchini bread at this time of year and freeze lots of loaves for later use. I have also simply shredded the zucchini if I did not have time to bake bread. Freeze it in two-cup portions, so that it will be perfect for baking bread when you need it. Tomatoes can be made into tomato sauce or diced to use later in soups or chili.
Plan a large freezer cooking day. Spend some time planning several meals that you can cook and freeze. When embarking on a large cooking day, I have found it is most efficient and helpful to choose no more than four recipes and make multiples of those recipes. Package them in the size of freezer bags that will hold a complete meal for your family. Quadrupling a recipe usually yields about thirty-two meals’ worth of the chosen dish, so when you plan your budget, you will be using the better part of your grocery budget for the entire month. If you plan to use this method, it tends to make for a long day, but in the end you will have prepared a large number of meals that will last your family for weeks.
Enjoy freezer cooking for your family, and be sure to include the children in the fun. They will get a kick out of eating meals that they helped prepare.
Copyright 2012, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the September 2012 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine. Read the magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com or read it on the go and download the free apps at www.TOSApps.com to read the magazine on your mobile devices.
Image: Amy Stephenson