A few years ago I started having trouble getting dinner on the table. My oldest child was getting involved in extra-curricular activities and my other two children were still very small. Between school pick-up, practices, and games I was having difficulty fitting in meal preparation and cooking time. We turned to eating out and premade/processed foods on a more regular basis. I realized that type of eating was quickly taking a toll on our health and our wallet. I started looking for a way to feed my family healthy, homemade food even on the nights when I was short on time. That is when I discovered freezer cooking and everything changed!
Now, I have homemade freezer meals available for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. On evenings when I am extra busy or tired, I pop the freezer meal in the oven and my family has a homemade meal. I do not cook a freezer meal every night but there are some weeks when it happens more often than not because we get busy certain times of the year. I have freezer meals for breakfast and lunch that work well for busy days when we need to eat quickly but still want something warm and healthy.
For anyone interested in freezer cooking, the most difficult part is getting started. There is so much information available that it can be completely overwhelming. Some of the questions you may ask yourself include: Do I start by finding recipes or learning about freezer cooking in general? Do I need to stock up on freezer storage containers? Should I buy a deep freeze to store all this food I plan on making? Should I buy a side of beef and freezer cook for the whole year?!
Before you go and spend a lot of money and time, read the following suggestions on getting started on the freezer cooking journey.
1. Start Small.
Cooking for one day and having a month worth of healthy, homemade meals sounds amazing. But, finding the recipes, shopping for a month worth of food and then preparing that food can be both overwhelming and exhausting. Do not try and do a whole month of cooking if you are freezer cooking for the first time! Find two or three recipes that look good to you and spend an afternoon preparing a double batch of each recipe. You will have four to six meals and you can see how your family likes each meal. If one of the recipes is a flop, you will not have a freezer full of something your family will not eat. If another recipe is a hit, put it on your new list of freezer meals the family loves.
2. Convert current favorites.
Think of all the meals your family currently loves. Can any of those meals be converted into freezer meals? Pasta, pot pies, certain soups and casseroles are all meals that freeze well. Next time you make one of those family favorites, double the recipe and freeze the extra. I like to make a lightened up version of my mom’s chicken pot pie. I always double the recipe and freeze one of the pot pies at the step right before baking. It does not take very much extra time or effort to double a recipe that you are already making. When you convert a meal that is already a family favorite, you know that it will be a keeper for the recipe list!
3. Cook with others.
Freezer cooking with friends or family can relieve part of the stress and add variety. Ask two or three friends if they have a favorite recipe that would work well as a freezer meal. Each person can prepare that one meal. For example, if there are four people participating I will buy the ingredients and prepare four chicken pot pies.
Each one of my friends will make four of her recipe. Then, we all swap and we each have four different freezer meals. This is a great way to add variety to your menu.
4. Use online resources.
There are countless recipes and websites online related to freezer cooking. One of my personal favorites is Once A Month Meals. They have a wealth of information about freezer cooking in general and a long list of recipes. There are many other websites available with freezer cooking tips and recipes. As you begin sifting through the online resources, remember step one-start small-and do not get discouraged or overwhelmed. You do not have to do everything at once. Start learning from others who have been making freezer meals for a while and you will be on your way to having a freezer full of home cooked meals.
5. Build your stockpile.
As I was looking through my freezer recently, I realized that there was not one premade item in my freezer that was not prepared by me. It was a proud moment because I felt good about my family eating anything that was in the freezer. There are no overly processed, sodium laden, prepackaged meals in our freezer. It has not always been that way. There was a time in the past when diet TV dinners and pre-packaged breakfast foods were on my shopping list every week. It took time for me to find a variety of foods that worked for my family. Now, I am proud of what I feed my family and I have a list of go-to foods that I make over and over. I also try new recipes on a consistent basis to add variety. Some of the new recipes succeed and some of them flop. I add the successes to our normal rotation and learn more about what does not work for our family from the failures.
It will take time and effort to build up a freezer list that works for you and your family, but freezer cooking is worth both the time and effort required. Your waistline and wallet will both be healthier when your freezer is stocked with homemade meals for those busy seasons of life.