Introduction to Freezer Cooking

Freezer cooking is the process of preparing multiple meals in advance to be stored in the freezer until the future date when you plan to serve them, like this simple lemon chicken that my family devoured.  You can make one extra meal for the freezer or thirty, it’s up to you and your schedule, but the benefits of cooking in bulk are huge.  Making multiple meals will save you both time and money – and for my family of seven it’s become a real life (and sanity) saver!  It’s a wonderful feeling to be able to check the freezer inventory list and see a nice selection of prepared meals that can be ready with very little effort.

Whether you’re doubling a recipe with a plan to freeze the leftovers, or you intend to cook ahead for the next month, planning is the key to a successful freezer cooking day.  You’ll need to make a list of all the recipes that want to prepare, plus another list of all the ingredients that you’ll need.  Your next step is to compare the list with the items in your pantry or stockpile, and mark off the things that you already have.  If you’re new to freezer cooking, try starting out small so you don’t get overwhelmed.  For example, with five children under six running around our house, we rarely get many productive hours in a row so we like to plan half days where we make 12-15 meals at a time. 

To get ready for our freezer cooking days, I typically select seven entrée recipes, adjust the ingredients to feed our large family, then double each one so that we end up with fourteen meals.  I choose similar recipes, like all beef or all chicken meals, which really helps to speed up the process.  Visit these freezer cooking recipe sites for some inspiration on meals your family will enjoy, and start bookmarking or printing them so you’ll be ready for my next freezer cooking post on how to prep for the big day!

Friendly Freezer – bulk cooking Yahoo group.

Frozen Assets – cook for a day, eat for a month Yahoo group.

Make Ahead Meals – Yahoo group for make ahead, freezer and mega meals.

Organized Home Freezer Cookbook – freezer cooking recipes.

RecipeZaar – cooking on a budget, make ahead, and freezer cooking forum.

 

Freezer Storage Time Chart

According to the USDA, foods that have been frozen to at least 0 degrees fahrenheit will remain safe indefinitely, however the quality of the food is reduced over time.  The following chart lists the typical length of time that food can be stored in the freezer before its quality is compromised.

Item Months
Bacon and Sausage 1 to 2
Casseroles 2 to 3
Egg whites or egg substitutes 12
Frozen Dinners and Entrees 3 to 4
Gravy, meat or poultry 2 to 3
Ham, Hotdogs and Lunchmeats 1 to 2
Meat, uncooked roasts 4 to 12
Meat, uncooked steaks or chops 4 to 12
Meat, uncooked ground 3 to 4
Meat, cooked 2 to 3
Poultry, uncooked whole 12
Poultry, uncooked parts 9
Poultry, uncooked giblets 3 to 4
Poultry, cooked 4
Soups and Stews 2 to 3
Wild game, uncooked 8 to 12
 
 

Freezer Cooking Round Two

Since we started planning our menu in advance about a month and a half ago, we’ve really enjoyed a lot let stress every day around dinner time and we no longer look at each other and hope it’s the others’ night to cook.  In an effort to create healthier meals for low cost and to make dinner time even easier around here, we decided to try our hand at freezer cooking where you prepare a bunch of meals in advance so you can basically just thaw, heat and eat.  I had no idea how many folks there are out there who actually do once a month cooking (OAMC) and spend a whole day cooking enough meals for the month until I started researching recipes for easy to freeze meals.  Wow – I think that’d be awesome to have your whole month’s cooking done all at once, but that’s way too intimidating for me (at least right now) since I haven’t had a full day to devote to anything for at least five years 😉  BUT I figured that if we could just pick say seven freezer friendly meals that we could double and get put together easily, then we’d have a couple weeks worth of meals without too much trouble.  Two weeks ago we had a “beef cooking day” where we completed 19 meals in about 5-6 hours from $75 worth of meat.  Yesterday was our “chicken cooking day” and I’m thrilled that we ended up with 17 chicken meals in the freezer using the 30 pounds of meat that we purchased from Sam’s Club for $45.

Once again, I selected a bunch of recipes from the “Frugal Mom’s Guide to Once a Month Cooking” (I bought this e-book for $12.95 and I highly recommend it!) and I got the Stuffed Shells recipe (pictured above) from Make Ahead Meals for Busy Moms:

We’re having the Stuffed Shells on Monday night and I can’t wait – they look scrumptious don’t they?  The original recipe called for a Rotisserie chicken but I got two whole chickens reduced to 69 cents/lb at Sam’s and I cooked one in the crockpot yesterday and there was enough meat from one to cover all four dishes so I decided to just go ahead and freeze the other whole chicken for another day.  This round also took about five hours (not including our America’s Got Talent break) but actually turned out to be a lot less labor intensive than the last round.  We’ll definitely be doing it again in a few more weeks!

 

First Round of Freezer Cooking

We’re really lucky that my mom, mother-in-law and aunt all help us out a great deal with our five kids (4 year old BBGG quads and 5 year old son) but because we live in different neighboring cities it seems like we live in the car most days.  Since our meals tend to be eaten on the run, or we just sort of graze if the children are gone, dinnertime around here can be pretty disorganized and even stressful.  The quads will be starting pre-k this fall and with all of the kids in school I’m afraid that the running might get worse instead of better so we decided we’d better get organized and come up with a solution.

The first thing we did was a freezer inventory.  We have a large chest style freezer in the garage and at least a couple of times a week you could find me or my husband standing over with the lid open waiting for supper to just jump out.  We really had no idea what all was in there so we grabbed a couple of large cardboard boxes and emptied the freezer.  Of course we had to get rid of a few things that were old or freezer burned, but we made a list of everything else and put it back in the freezer.

The next step was to come up with a menu plan that would help use up the food in the freezer.  Amazingly, we’ve been able to eat for about three weeks without buying any meat (other than some lunchmeat) and the grocery bills have been lower than ever for the past month 😉  The BEST part though has been knowing in advance what’s on the menu for the day.  My husband was a little skeptical at first that we’d be able to stick to it but he’s really on board now that dinner time has become so much more relaxed around here.

I’d been reading about once a month cooking (OAMC) where people actually set aside one day a month to cook and freeze their meals for the whole month.  With our crazy schedules and exactly no “free” or “extra” time I was pretty intimidated at the thought of making 30 meals in one day so I decided to break it down and try to make it as easy as possible to get started with some freezer cooking because the thought of just taking supper out of the freezer and popping a homemade meal right into the oven sounds AWESOME to me.

The plan we came up with was to cook for half the month, then do it again in a couple of weeks.  We picked just eight beef recipes and doubled them in an effort to keep it simple for us beginners, and then we’ll pick chicken recipes for next time.  Here are the recipes we’ve been making today, most are from the “Frugal Mom’s Guide to Once a Month Cooking” (I bought this e-book for $12.95 and I highly recommend it!):

  • Cheddar Sliders
  • Hash Brown Casserole
  • Beef Manicotti
  • Beef Fajitas
  • Mongolian Beef
  • Italian Meatballs
  • BBQ Meatballs
  • Crock Pot Beef
  • Marinated Steak

We bought $75 worth of meat at Sam’s Club yesterday (7 lbs bottom round steak, 2 lbs eye round, 4 lbs stew meat, 18 lbs hamburger) and actually ended up with a few more meals than we’d planned.  We only needed 15 pounds of hamburger but the packages were six pounds each so we made extra meatballs – the kids are big fans of spaghetti and meatballs so that will work out great for us.  I’m super excited (and so not hungry!) now that we’ve got a freezer full of home cooked meals that are ready to go 🙂