Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Freezer Cooking/Make-Ahead-Meals

You know I am always trying to find ways to shave my grocery budget. I'm sure many of you have heard of freezer cooking and have followed various blogs out there promoting the subject. I wanted to share my experience with freezer cooking or make-ahead-meals. Who hasn't had some extra meals in the freezer (i.e. leftovers, extra meals for when the new baby arrives, etc.)? Isn't it great, when 5:00 rolls around faster than you expected, and dinner plans hadn't crossed your mind yet, to be able to grab a meal from the freezer (rather than ordering out). If you have had one or two meals on hand in the past and enjoyed it, why not make it a regular thing? I really believe anyone can take advantage of this method of meal planning and prepping and reap the benefits of saving time and money in the long run (and the joy of being able to bless others). It really doesn't have to be that difficult or time consuming if you have some resources on hand, a little bit of time, and some creativity (I love to experiment with recipes). Oh, and I guess freezer space is important!

I was inspired to do more make-ahead-meals after reading about it over the past year on several blogs and then getting some tips from some local friends. I have been purposefully making meals for my freezer for about three months now and am loving it. Unfortunately, I am not like some of the moms out there who dedicate a whole day or two and make their meals for an entire month. That is great that they can accomplish that. I don't have anyone in the area to take care of my kids for that length of time and I don't want to use the time my husband is home to be locked in the kitchen while he watches the boys.

So what do I do to fill my freezer with yummy meals? When I make a certain freezer friendly meal (and I have enough ingredients on hand) I go ahead and double, triple, and even quadruple the recipe. We eat the given meal that particular evening and then I freeze all the other meals. Or, if I am using some similar ingredients (i.e. ground beef or turkey, celery, onions, garlic), I will go ahead and make two different meals at the same time, freezing the one we didn't eat. I did this with two recipes from the Deceptively Delicious cookbook that had some of the same ingredients. If I'm spending time 30-60 minutes in the kitchen, I want to be as productive as possible. For example, if a recipe calls for sauteed garlic and onions (and some times celery) and some sort of ground meat, I can double or triple this and make a baked pasta dish along with my Turkey Meatloaf (I usually always yield two of these). If I am going to go ahead and clean, chop, steam, and puree veggies, I might as well do a whole bunch at a time. This helps me make more meals and use up the ingredients that may get wasted. Any its easier to have all the supplies out once, make one mess, and get a lot of veggie prep work out of the way. For example, I buy a huge bag of broccoli from Costco. I might as well, steam a whole pot, and then use some for 2-3 batches of a chicken and broccoli casserole or broccoli quiche and then purree the rest (to be frozen), so I don't end up wasting it. If I am going to make pizza dough, why not triple it!

I'm the type of person who has a pretty stocked up refrigerator, freezer, and pantry since I do a lot of bulk shopping. This really helps when I want to pull off my freezer cooking times. You may or may not have that same experience. I'm sharing what works for me.

As of last week, I had about 15 main dishes in my freezer, about 45 Energy Bars, 2 batches of cookies, some muffins, a loaf of pumpkin chocolate chip bread, and a ton of veggie purees stocked up for future recipes (I do a lot of recipes from the Deceptively Delicious and Sneaky Chef cookbooks) and for baby food. That's a great feeling. If I were to get ill, I know my family would be set for awhile. Yes, you do need extra freezer space. I am thankful, we have an extra freezer in our in-law suite that is not being used by anyone other than me right now. I seem to be using the meals as needed since I am naturally program to "cook a meal every night." Though, I am trying to plan to use 1-2 a week along with my regular cooking that then adds more to my stock-pile. It has been so nice having the option, when my "meal-plan" falls through on a particular day. For example, this past Saturday, was a very busy day (I had to work and it was my birthday) and when dinner time rolled around we ended up just pulling out one of my meals. It was a huge blessing. We were tempted to pack up the kids and go out (at 6:30), but instead, decided we would stay in, eat a nice meal together, enjoy my birthday cake, and then go out on Mother's Day (to a place I had a coupon for!)

Benefits or Make-Ahead-Meals:
1. Saving money in the long run--not tempted to order out if I am having a tough day, using up ingredients that may get wasted, stock up on staple ingredients when they are on sale, don't have to buy baby food
2. Saving time--I don't have to cook every night.
3. Eating well--my meals are wholesome and healthy, not a lot of prepackaged stuff.
4. Bless others--I have been able to provide meals to others last minute who had a need, makes hospitality even easier
5. Desserts-Its fun having some goodies in the freezer for after-meal-treats
6. Purees-I have a lot more veggie options at my finger tips
7. I love having pizza night and not ordering out, especially on caregroup nights! I host a meetings twice a month and cooking is usually not on my to-do list that day, so having my yummy pizza dough ready makes dinner a snap!
8. Don't have as many messes in my kitchen to clean up on a daily basis.


Meals that have worked well in my freezer (several of these recipes are from the Deceptively Delicious cookbook and the Sneaky Chef cookbook--these links aren't for the recipes, just info on the cookbooks):
3. Spaghetti sauce
4. Bolognese sauce (DD)
5. Turkey meatloaf (DD) (any kind of meatloaf for that matter)
6. Pulled Pork
7. Turkey burgers (DD)
8. Chicken and veggie Primavera (found this recipe in the AllYou magazine)
9. Chicken Tetrazinni
10. Quiche (various types-this is new for me (to freeze), they are in the freezer now, but we haven't tasted them yet)
11. Sloppy Joes (DD)
12. Chocolate chip cookies (I make them ahead of time and freeze them--other people freeze the dough) (Sneaky Chef recipe)
13. Muffins and breads freeze very well
14. Whole wheat pancakes (Sneaky Chef recipe)
15. Chili
16. Baked Ziti/Lasagna

Ok, that's enough for now. I think I will do Part #2 of this series at another time and go over some more "how-to" tips.

Happy cooking! Do you do freezer cooking? Do you have any ideas/tips to share about freezer cooking/make-ahead-meals? What about recipe ideas?!? Please leave a comment. Also, please let me know if you have any questions

3 comments:

  1. Thanks for this post Maura! I would love more info. I just started thinking about this recently as I made a meal to freeze for my friend who had surgery. I had never made a meal to freeze before and didn't known the logistics...like are you supposed to cook it first? and do you just take it out of the freezer and cook or reheat in the oven? I ended up making the Sneaky Baked Ziti and cooked it for the initial 30 minutes and then froze it. (I love that recipe!) That is my only experience so I'd love more tips or links to the other blogs you've been reading that may have more info! You always impress me with all that you do :-) I love this blog by the way and miss being your neighbor!

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  2. Laura--Thanks for your comments and questions. I will get back to you soon. I hope to write another post about this stuff within the week. Stay tuned! Miss you too!

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  3. Hi Maura!
    Here from the FG website and looking around! Can't wait to read more :) In the meantime, what are your ABSOLUTE favorite meals to freeze? Thanks so much for taking the time to answer my question both on the FG website on here :) -Bonnie

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