I was pretty excited about our full size freezer that our family received as a gift last Christmas. But I’m even more excited now that it’s being put fully to use and is stocked and ready to help make life a bit easier
once Sally makes her entrance into this world now that Sally is here! I’m going to share with you my real-world, real-Mom tips for putting your own freezer to use and stocking it with delicious, varied meals your family will love. We don’t follow any strict meal plans or diets here- that’s just the honest truth. We use canned goods, convenience foods, and other “packaged” items to help make dinner time easier. Of course, on the flip side we do use a ton of fresh veggies and meat when prepping our meals, and we do make quite a lot from scratch. But I have no problem excepting the short cuts when they are available. So here goes!
How do I shop?
- Buy proteins in bulk from Costco (Sam’s Club or BJ’s is fine too of course but I really am a Costco girl!) – this means salmon, stew meat, chicken breasts, ground beef, and pork tenderloins. I think the prices are fair at worst and best at, well, best.
- Buy “big ticket” veggies in bulk from Costco – for me, the things I use MOST and are worth buying in bulk are carrots, potatoes (sweet or russet), yellow onions and frozen peas
- Stock up on “stocks” when they are on sale. Keep your eyes pealed for your favorite brand of chicken, veggie or beef broth to go on sale, then stock up on cans or boxes you can keep on your pantry shelves. Then when the freezer meal cooking bug strikes, you always have liquid ready and waiting. In the same regard, I keep a container of chicken and beef boillion cubes on hand so I can whip up my own stock if I do find myself out of the liquid. Happens all the time.
- In the same regard, stock up on your favorite jarred pasta sauces, ethnic sauces, and beans/other canned goods when they are on sale. Most of these ingredients are really versitile so even if you aren’t quite sure when you are going to use them or how, I promise they can make it into a freezer meal somewhere.
- Make sure you are prepared with purchased pans and ziplock bags BEFORE you start. I am lucky to have a TON of cook and bakeware in my kitchen. I can easily afford to freeze quite a few casseroles and pies in actual glass or ceramic bakeware. But be sure not to put ALL of your bakeware into the freezer or you’ll be up the creek without a paddle when you actually need a clean, empty dish for cooking, haha. Instead, purchase aluminum foil baking pans, pie plates, and ziplock bags. Bonus? Clean up is a breeze when you can just toss the pan in the trash.
- Make detailed lists of the recipes you plan to make BEFORE you shop. Group your ingredients into “like” sections (veggies, protein, seasonings, liquid etc.) and THEN go to the store to tackle your list. There is nothing worse than getting home to start cooking and realizing you forgot something!
So you’ve got your ingredients in order. Now what?
How do I approach cooking the meals?
- I DON’T super-marathon cook. I can’t. I get anxiety over huge messes and time periods that require an “s” on the end of the word hour. Instead, I tackle freezer meals one “protein” at a time, or one cooking method at a time. (All chicken, all crockpot, all casserole etc.)
- I prep no-cook crockpot meals on the same day. This always involves chopping veggies, adding protein, liquid and seasonings, and placing them all in ziplock bags. NO cooking on this day, whatsoever.
- I make chicken and eggplant parmesan on the same day because of the breading and frying processes.
- I make meatballs, meatloaf and chili on the same day to use huge packages of ground beef.
- And I make quiche and chicken pot pie on the same day because of the pie crust.
- I also enlist help! When my Mom is in town, we cook together. Knocking out tasks like portioning and rolling meatballs, frying batches of eggplant, and chopping up veggies. Many hands make light work. Even if your Mom can’t help, enlist a friend- even if they simply sit with you and chat while you prep. All the work of cooking doesn’t feel like work when you are spending that time with a friend!
- Freeze any kind of meal or sauce that goes in a ziplock bag by laying them as FLAT as possible on a cookie sheet until frozen through. Then you can either stack up the flat frozen bags or line them up side by side in your freezer to save tons of space.
- Host a freezer meal swap! This is so easy and fun and allows for trying new recipes! Gather up about 5 friends who want to make meals. Each person choses a different meal, then makes 5 of THE SAME MEAL (or however many people are participating, make that number of meals) then meet at someone’s house with a cooler, and swap meals. You’ll end up with 5 DIFFERENT meals to throw in your freezer and you only had to do the work of a single meal.
- I DON’T reinvent the wheel. There are so many great resources available for freezer cooking. Reading through them will help give you a good foundation and prepare you for creating your own recipes too. Which brings me to…
- Obviously pinterest is awesome. This board is where I keep track of recipes I want to try to freeze: Freezer Meals To Make
- My cousin’s freezer meal/crockpot recipe cookbooks: New Leaf Wellness Cookbooks
- Six Sisters Stuff blog: Freezer Meals
- FAMILY RECIPES – once you have the basics of freezer cooking down, you can really modify and use the recipes you already know and love.
And then, maybe the most helpful, an actual list of what I now have on hand. Most of these are prepped and cooked freezer meals- that means they can go RIGHT from the freezer to the oven, or raw going RIGHT from the freezer to the crockpot. And yes, you read that correctly. I rarely think far enough ahead to thaw meals in the fridge overnight so I do one of two things: 1) Run warm water over the crockpot ziplock bags until I can squish up the ingredients a bit and dump them into the crock pot or 2) lower the oven temperature a bit and increase the baking time. Both methods are super forgiving and AWESOME for Mom’s like me who literally need to grab something from the freezer an hour before dinner (or in the morning for crockpot meals).
What is actually IN my freezer?
- 3 Eggplant Parmesans – this is my favorite freezer recipe ever. My Mom makes it all the time and it’s my go-to gift meal for friends with new babies. It gets RAVE reviews and there are rarely leftovers. Find the recipe here.
- 3 Chicken Parmesans
- 2 Baked Tortellini Casseroles – I made up this recipe with frozen tortellini, ricotta cheese, mozzarella cheese, parmesan cheese, spinach, and plenty of vodka sauce (make sure there is enough liquid if you try something like this as the pasta has to have something to cook in once placed in the oven)
- 3 Chicken Pot Pies – you can find my favorite recipe here. This recipe is also great.
- 3 Crockpot Chicken Tikka Massala and Naan – we love this recipe too. I beef up purchased Indian sauce (from Whole Foods) with coconut milk, fresh Thai chilis, sweet potatoes, cauliflower, onions and carrots. So amazing!
- 3 Roasted Tomato Soup – we used tons of garden tomatoes for freezing soup this year. I love the recipe from this book: The Comfort Table
- 3 Roasted Carrot Soup – I added cauliflower to the recipe also found in the book linked above ^
- 4 Beef Pot Roast – my fave is pretty simple: stew meat, cream of mushroom soup, french onion soup mix, 1 can of beef broth, cubed red potatoes, chopped onion, and plenty of carrots. I usually throw in garlic for good measure.
- 4 Baked Chicken Fajita Meals with Cheese and Tortillas – another oven favorite. You prep this by combining sliced raw chicken, sliced peppers, and sliced onions with a bit of olive oil and fajita seasoning. It all bakes in the oven for awesome flavor. I freeze this particular meal with it’s own pouch of frozen mexican cheese and frozen pack of fajita tortillas. If you’ve got a can of black beans in the pantry and some rice to make on the stove you have a really well rounded dinner with barely any effort at all.
- 5 batches of Homemade Basil Pesto – super great way to preserve a TON of basil if you have garden overflow. I make a classic italian pesto with basil, pine nuts, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. I often make versions with walnuts, arugula, jalapeno or spinach. Really easy to play with pesto recipes!
- 2 Tomato Soup Risotto Meals – another awesome experiment. I turned a fresh, chunky tomato soup onto an awesome risotto by adding Arborio rice to a big pot of bubbling soup. This rice thickened up the soup really nicely and made the most delicious and comforting meal you can imagine. Froze these with packages of ciabatta bread that I can toast into nice croutons when I am ready to serve.
- 2 Lasagna – classic. Can’t go wrong. I love having lasagna on hand because it’s a great last minute meal that you can pull out for unexpected guests. Always plenty to go around.
- 3 different Quiche – find a a good ratio for quiche filling (hello pinterest!) and doctor it up to your family’s tastes. Here are my favorite combinations: spinach, goat cheese, sun dried tomato. Ham, cheddar, bacon. Asparagus, gruyere. Mushroom, onion, swiss. Sausage and mozzarella. The combinations are endless! Bake the whole thing ahead of time THEN freeze. This is one recipe I would recommend thawing before baking if you can. That way it simply has to reheat in the oven.
- 5 dozen Meatballs – fully bake, then freeze. Defrost in the microwave a bit and add to your favorite sauce. We love pulling out meatballs and sauce for meatball sandwiches, not just spaghetti!
- 3 Spinach and Cheese Stuffed Meatloaf – split your favorite meatloaf in half and add a layer of frozen chopped spinach (thawed and drained well) and a layer of cheese. Press the raw meatloaf back together sealing the filling inside and freeze wrapped in plastic wrap and then placed in a ziplock bag. This is one of my FAVORITE meals to pull from the freezer.
- 4 dozen Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Balls – this is the only recipe allowed in this house.
- 4 dozen peanut butter kiss cookie dough balls. (If you don’t have it already – the following is a MUST HAVE cookie book for any kitchen. Must. Have. Betty Crocker’s Cooky Book (Facsimile Edition) (Betty Crocker Cooking)
- 4 dozen Spinach Ball Appetizers
- 4 dozen Crab Roll Appetizers
- Large bag of individually packaged Salmon Fillets – I wish more family’s new about these fillets! There probably doesn’t exist a quicker meal, at least in my experience. I thaw the salmon by running it under room temperature water. Remove from package and pat very dry with paper towels. Place on a baking stone and coat all sides in BBQ sauce, OR spread a bit of olive oil, minced garlic and lemon juice on each fillet. BROIL for 8-11 minutes of until firm to your liking. It’s as simple as that. Only 8 minutes to perfectly cooked, delicious fish!
- Large bag of Spinach and Cheese Ravioli – I serve this with jarred sauce occasionally but love it with my homemade frozen pesto!
- A few boxes of Mrs. T’s Pierogies – cook according to package directions with freshly sautéed onions and mushrooms.
- Garlic Breads, Buns, Rolls, and English Muffins – all awesome to have on hand. Easily thawed, and very versatile.
- Frozen Pizzas – everyone has their favorites. I like any “margherita” variety. They are usually fresh and light and pair excellently with a big salad.
- 3 loaves Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bread – recipe here.
*still going to make and add*
- Bacon, Egg and Gouda breakfast sandwiches – we LOVE these from Starbucks but recently discovered they are delivered to every Starbucks location frozen, and shrink wrapped… I don’t know if we were devastated or pleased- at least we can make our own!
- Cilantro Lime Chicken Chili and Cornbread Muffins
- Italian Wedding Soup – my cousin’s is the best!
- Crockpot Bourbon Chicken
- Crockpot asian meals (TBD)
That is a heck of a lot of food to choose from once baby is here and I don’t feel like going to the grocery store for dinner. Most meals will get us enough leftovers for lunch the next day AND we’re excited that the girls are eating so many more foods these days. They will eat probably 75% of what’s listed above supplementing with frozen peas, chicken nuggets, pasta with red sauce, bagels with cream cheese, and pizza. I also love the list above because there are so many DIFFERENT dinner options. Not all soups, not all crock pot, not all red meat, not all chicken. We can eat a meal that FEELS different each night but still came out of the freezer! Awesome. Hope you gained a bit of insight into how I went about prepping my freezer before our third baby arrives. Feel free to leave your own tips and advice in the comments. I love learning new freezer cooking tips and hearing what works for other Mama’s!
**If I didn’t link a recipe and you really want it, please let me know in the comments and I’ll write them out! Two toddlers and a newborn make my super detailed blogging a thing of the past 😉