How to Make Freezer Meals…this is a post I’ve been meaning to write forever!
I’m a big fan of the freezer meals and make them often. Back in the day when my mom was working we would meet at her house once a month and between my sister, my mom, and I we would make enough freezer meals to feed an army. (Or at least 3 families, several times a week, for a month.) And I’ve been lucky enough to have the chance to teach a few mini classes on making freezer meals..but for some reason I’ve never thought about writing my freezer meal love up into a post…until today!
So here it goes…
WHY MAKE FREEZER MEALS?
There are quite a few reasons why I personally like to make freezer meals but my top 5 reasons are:
#1. They make for easy go-to meals on crazy days…when unexpected things happen and suddenly it’s 6:00 and everyone is starving.
#2. They help me save money…for example on days when I’ve just plain run out of time instead of running to grab a pizza or something else for my family I can just pull out a freezer meal (which is also healthier than my drive thru options) OR instead of running back to the grocery store for the third time in a week and wandering the aisles in search of dinner I can just peruse the freezer and select something without spending anything extra!
#3. Speaking of saving money…when items like hamburger or chicken go on sale I can stock up and make meals then which helps keep dinner costs down.
#4. It cuts down on meal prep time. Once you start creating freezer meals you start to see that it doesn’t take any longer to make two meals instead of one…one for now and one to freeze for later. And when that later comes all you have to do is open the freezer….it’s a beautiful thing.
#5. With a freezer stocked with meal options I always have a dinner on hand in case a friend or neighbor would benefit from a spur of the moment meal.
WHAT MEALS FREEZE WELL?
I’m sure there are entire blogs and books dedicated to this topic but here is a list of meals that I have frozen and have always worked well for me:
*Homemade Spaghetti Sauce *Pulled Pork (BBQ for sandwiches or Green Chili for southwestern style salads) *Taco Meat *Fajitas (just the meat and veggies…not the shells and toppings) *Lasagna *Meatloaf *Split Pea Soup *Chili *Taco Soup *Tamales *Shepherd’s Pie *Homemade Waffles *Meatballs *Sloppy Joes *French Toast *Chicken Cacciatore (just the chicken and sauce) *Homemade Pizza Sauce *Ham and Bean Soup *Chicken Pot Pies *Grilled Chicken Breasts (great for thawing, chopping and adding to salads, soups, panini’s etc.)
WHAT DOES NOT FREEZE WELL?
This is a list of what I have personally found to freeze poorly….others may argue…but I will never freeze the following:
#1. White Potatoes…they discolor…and get a funky texture…so if I am making something like Shepherd’s Pie that calls for mashed potatoes I use instant instead…that sounds crazy but they don’t discolor or change textures.
#2. Mayonnaise. It separates.
#3. Lettuce. It wilts, sogs up, get’s transparent…and there is no saving it…same for cabbage, cilantro, etc…
#4. Eggs in the Shell. They crack open.
#5. Cream Sauces. They separate and I think they taste funky after….but this is one others argue…so you may want to try this…I have and wish I hadn’t but others they think I’m crazy….
#6. Mac and Cheese. Noodles in general don’t survive the freezing and reheating well…often choosing to just fall apart on reentry….mix that with the separating of the cheesy cream sauce and it’s a recipe for disaster.
#7. Flour and cooked tortillas. Sog city. UNLESS…you freeze the flour tortillas separately…without wrapping them around that burrito or enchilada…in that case, if they are alone in their own container, they will freeze beautifully.
#8. Any food in cans. Why am I even putting this on the list? Because I have been asked about it more than once. Don’t put cans of food in the freezer. Ever. It will bulge or explode and the food inside will be contaminated….so if that is something that is tempting to you, try to resist the urge. Just keep the cans on the shelf. Or pour the contents of the can into a different freezer safe container and then freeze until your hearts content.
WHAT DO I STORE MY FREEZER MEALS IN?
You don’t need anything fancy or specialized to store your freezer meals in. Here are my favorite choices:
#1. Plastic Storage Bags. They are inexpensive and will stack flat in your freezer.
#2. Disposable Plastic Containers. You can buy them in packs of 3 at the Dollar Store and they are a perfect size for individual portions.
#3. Foil Baking Trays. These are fantastic and the ones at my Dollar Store come with lids! These baking trays can go right in the oven and be recycled at the end of your meal!
#4. Glass containers. I don’t use these but am hoping to get a set for Christmas. There are some sets that are BPA free and safe for use in the dishwasher, microwave, and oven. Plus they come with air tight lids. In my dream world my freezer would be stocked with these….but right now it’s a Ziplock Bag paradise…
#5. Seal-a-Meal bags. I do have a seal a meal vacuum bagger…and it’s awesome…and I love it…but I only pull it out when sealing things like raw meat that might be in the freezer for awhile.
CAN FREEZER MEALS GO BAD?
Yes and No. Here are the facts:
*Freezing food at 0 degrees F inactivates bacteria, yeasts and molds but only slows enzymes. So while it won’t “go bad” the quality will lessen over time.
*While freezing at 0 degrees F inactivates the bacteria, yeasts, and molds they are all reactivated when thawed…which means your food is not invincible after freezing so follow safe heating, cooking, and storing procedures.
*Exposure to air will damage your frozen food. Remove as much air as possible from containers or wrap as tightly as possible.
*What is “freezer burn”? Freezer burn happens when areas on a food item has dried out, usually leaving leathery spots that have a greyish appearance. Freezer burn does not make an item unsafe to eat. However, it is recommended, if only for your taste buds sake, to cut away areas of freezer burn before reheating.
TIPS FOR COOKING FREEZER MEALS:
There are a few tricks that I have discovered over the years. Here are a few of my favorites:
*On nights when I am cooking something like homemade spaghetti sauce or meatloaf I will often double the batch or make two. It really doesn’t take much more time and it doesn’t dirty a single extra dish. Then when I am done I have meal for that night and one to freeze for later.
*You can freeze your giant last harvest of homegrown tomatoes simply by blanching them, removing the skin, and throwing them into a plastic bag with a little salt. (I do this every year and then use the tomatoes in spaghetti sauce, chili, soups, etc.)
*When I cook several different freezer meals at once I try to use all the same meat and similar ingredients. That way I can cook the meat all together at once and divide it out into the proper containers. (For example I might buy hamburger and then make taco soup, chili, lasagna, and sloppy joes…which all require the same meat and diced tomatoes.)
*Often instead of saving leftovers in the fridge I will divide them into individual containers and freeze them to use as lunches for myself or my husband.
TIPS FOR FREEZING FREEZER MEALS:
*Let your food cool before placing it in the freezer….there are like 75 reasons you should do this…but just trust me…cool it down and then put it in the freezer.
*If you are freezing food items in ziplock bags….especially soups…lay them flat on a tray in the freezer to freeze. That way you will get a nice flat little food pocket that stacks and stores wonderfully. If you don’t do that your baggie full of soup will freeze in what ever shape you plunked it down in the freezer as.
*If you are freezing items like uncooked hamburger patties…freeze them separately first and then put them together in one container. This will keep them from freezing together and becoming a test of strength to separate.
*Never stack packages of items to be frozen on top of one another. That food in the middle will take hours and hours to freeze…which will allow it time to begin to spoil or begin to grow bacteria or just get plain old nasty.
*Don’t load too many items into one container that will be opened over and over again exposing the food inside to possible freezer burn. Try to portion items into the quantity and container that will be used in one use.
*You can freeze marinated, uncooked meats! (I hate marinating meats…it’s a process..so when I marinate meat I do quite a bit so I can freeze it.) Just marinate the meat in your fridge for the appropriate time but then when it is ready to be cooked throw it in the freezer! And later…when you want some marinated meat you will have it all ready to be cooked up.
OTHER HELPFUL INFORMATION:
*Label all of your freezer meals with the date and what it is. (You think you will be able to remember when or what it is…but trust me you won’t.) I always just use a sharpie.
*When thawing a freezer meal do NOT thaw it on the counter, your porch, or window sill. Thaw your meals instead either in the fridge, in cold water, or in the microwave.
*You don’t need to thaw you meals before cooking…most can go straight from the freezer to the oven, pan, or crock pot. (Which is what I usually do.) Just remember if you go straight from the freezer to the oven that it is going to take longer to cook and I would recommend setting the oven at a lower temperature to begin with and then bumping up the temperature back to it’s normal setting for that item.
*You can refreeze a freezer meal…but I don’t…especially if the meal was made with meat that had been frozen before becoming a freezer meal. I feel like after the meal has survived one stint in the freezer it has done it’s duty and needs to just be eaten…at dinner then lunch leftovers and then anything that remains the dog gets to enjoy.
So there you have it. My shpeel on how to make freezer meals.
I love them. They save money, time, and sometimes my sanity.
Plus, depending on what you choose to make, they are healthy and easy to assemble.
So what’s not to love???