Friday, January 25, 2013

Freeing Up Dinner Time with Freezer Meals

Picture take from
There's a slew of info on freezer meals floating on the web. Geez-o-pete--like A TON of info! Just type in Freezer meals as a Pinterest search and your computer may or may not break down from all of the recipes cluttering the screen. Just warning you.

Though I've never liked the thought of freezer meals...ugh, anything frozen and not fresh upsets my pallet, I have to admit freezer meals, WHEN MADE, are rather tasty, healthy (can be), and convenient. Life is busy. I don't have to tell you that. With Stephen being deployed, life seems to be a bit busier. It's difficult admitting I need help, and even more difficult to ask for help, but if I don't want to turn into a tyrannical-crazy-haired-lunatic mom, I need to just admit I cannot do it all, and do things that will lighten my load--even if that means embracing freezer meals. Hey, it works!

I've menu planned for years! It makes life easier, and you really do save money. CHA CHING!  I'm hoping to share some great info on menu planning soon. Stay tuned! Anyway, I just add freezer meals to our family menu on the days they would be most convenient ie. if Wednesdays are hectic, or I know we a school play Monday night, etc.   Most of these meals  can be split into two or even three meals (we eat less when Stephen is gone). I can use those meals for another night of the month, the next month, 3 months later,  or give those meals away to someone who just had a baby or another family going through a deployment. Freezer meals can bless your belly and bless others! Who knew a freezer meal could be so spiritual? lol.

Great blog on all things freezer meals, recipes included! Click here!

A great friend of mine, fellow Army Wife and Freezer Meal Guru (That's my title for her), Lindsey Carl  has some great tips on Freezer Cooking. Check out what she has to say below:

 Freezer Meal Cooking is not a one-size-fits all! There are many ways to freezer cook!

  • Double duty – easiest and most painless way to fill your freezer is to double tonight’s dinner and freeze the extra!
  • Short by Sweet – mini sessions are short cooking sessions focused on a certain protein or main ingredient. This is typically done once a week. 
  • “Once a Month” Cooking- with careful planning, 4-6 hours one day can result in a month’s work of meals, the key is to have a great cooking plan! The key is to at least tripling a recipe. It really doesn’t save you anytime if you make 1 of 12 different meals rather than 3 of 4 different meals!

Plan for success – Steps for a Successful Freezer Meal Session

  • Choose the Freezer Meal cooking method that works best for you and your family! If you are brand new, start small and grow to being a “once a month” mom. Start by doubling your recipes and gradually grow as you feel more confident.
  • Get organized! Every session begins with a plan, which includes a shopping list and a prep list.
    • Consolidate ingredients common to several recipes.  Be sure you know exactly what you need and where to find everything before you go shopping. 
    • For example, your grocery shopping list might look something like: 

                        Onions llll …meaning you need to buy 4 onions
                        Cheddar Cheese Illll ll …meaning you need enough for 7 cups of shredded cheese
                        Ground Beef lll …meaning you need 3 pounds of ground beef
                        Garlic l …meaning you need 1 head of garlic (I personally like minced garlic the best)

  • Go shopping! Take you list and buy your groceries!
  • Follow your prep list to chop dice, and otherwise organize your ingredients. 
    • Your master prep list might look like this:

                    — cook 4 cups beans
                    — cook & chop 6-8 cups chicken
                    — cook 1 cup rice
                    — shred blocks of cheddar cheese
                    — chop 3 onions
                    — chop 5 cloves of garlic
                    — make pizza dough
                    — thaw ground beef for meatloaf
                    — brown 4 lbs. ground beef
                    — boil noodles for lasagna

  • Label bags, assemble recipes, and freeze. 
    • Your master cook list might look something like this:

                      — Do all prep work
                     — Mix up pancake batter/butterhorns
                     — Make broccoli & double cheese calzones
                     — Make lasagnas
                     — Make chicken & red bean burritos & brown bag burritos
                     — Make white bean & chicken chili
                     — Make cheesburger meatloaf
                     —Make taco meat
                     — Make lemon chicken

***Helpful Tips for Packing and Freezing***

  • Freezer bags are key! Make sure you remove as much air as possible from the food in order to prevent ice crystals!
  • Glad Bakeware is awesome! It can be put in the freezer and oven!
  • Heat & Eat! Thaw entrees as you need weeknight meals. Once defrosted, you can quickly prepare home-cooked meals for your family – even on the busiest nights!

Common Questions

  • What if I have limited freezer space?
    • Choose recipes for dishes that are easily stored in plastic freezer bags tahter than making dishes. Freeze these entrees flat, and once they are frozen, line them up vertically like you would books on a bookshelf. 
    • Make only 1 or 2 recipes at a time
    • Pick recipes with lower yields. 
    • Consider trading with a friend to maximize variety while conserving freezer space
  • What can I freeze?
    • Short answer. A lot! There are countless recipes on Pinterest, cookbooks, and the web for freezer cooking, but most of your favorite meals can be frozen. Meatloaf, meatballs, hamburger patties, marinated meat & poultry, casseroles, lasagna, enchiladas, stews, soups, and chili to name a few!
  • What can’t you freeze?
    • Here are a few things better left unfrozen: uncooked potatoes, anything with mayonnaise (including dips, chicken salad, casseroles, etc.), lettuce greens, and other raw veggies, block & sliced cheese
  • Will my food taste funny? 
    • Often people worry that their frozen foods will have a funny taste or develop unsightly ice crystals. These problems are easily avoided if the food is cooled, packaged, and stored correctly. The cooler the food is before it goes in the freezer, the faster it will freeze and prevent the crystals, therefore putting your meal in the fridge before the freezer is always a good idea!

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