Freezer Cooking 101

Alright - I realize many (most) of you could really care less about my obsession and love of freezer cooking. If you are part of that group, feel free to pass right on by this post. It's going to be looong. With lots of boring details. I promise, I won't be offended. There are a few, however, who have asked me about it so I figured I would compile all the information in one place rather than typing it out multiple times. Yah?

Okay. Here we go:

So, hi. I love freezer cooking. I first found out about the idea sometime last year probably and was immediately intrigued and itimidated. My neighbor (who by the way is like wonder woman and can do everything. Seriously - the woman cans her own meat, freezer cooks, sewed her own cloth diaper AND just gave birth to twins. And that is just where the list starts. Kristin - you are wonderful) introduced it to me and taught me the ropes, so she deserves the credit for a lot of this information. If you are in the same boat, and the thought of cooking a bunch of meals all in one day freaks you out - don't. It's not anywhere near as bad as you think. Plus it saves me money so hopefully it can for you too. I spend between 120-150 on groceries each month, depending on the types of meals that I make. Let me walk you through what I do, and I promise you will have it down in no time. 

It all starts with a meal list. Sit down and write out all the meals you want to make. I usually write down between 12-15 meals, which by making two of each meal, will give me enough meals for the month. Don't freak out about "if it's a 'freezer meal' or not", because most meals can be made into one. Here is a sample list of one of my months worth of meals:

1. Fajitas
2. Chicken broccoli casserole
3. White chicken chili
4. Spaghetti
5. Sloppy Joes
6. Stir fry
7. Mango salsa chicken
8. Roasted oven potatoes & veggies
9. Stuffed shells
10. Broccoli Mac & Cheese
11. Cheesy chicken & rice
12. Turkey taco lettuce wraps
13. Baja quesadillas
14. Rumbi bowls
15. Potato bar

Get the idea? Now, not all of these can be made up entirely and frozen, but I'll get to that in a min. Okay, so you have your list - now go down the line and write a "C" for chicken, a "B" for beef, "P" for pork (you see a pattern yet?) "V" for vegetarian, etc. Then write next to it how much of that meat you will need for 2 meals. For example, with the spaghetti, I do 1 pound of ground turkey for two meals. So 1/2 a pound each. I shred up carrots and a zucchini and cook with with the meat and onion to beef it up a little and make the meat go farther. That way I save money on the most expensive part of the meal and also make it healthier. Anyways- back to the point, write out next to each meal how much meat you will need. That way you can tally up exactly how many chicken breasts/pounds of meat/etc. you will need when you go shopping. I buy my chicken breasts at Costco and I really think it's the best way to go. I get a 10 pound bag for 20 bucks and that lasts me the month. The other meat, it just depends where I get it. If I see meat on sale for a great price, I will stock up and then plan some of my meals around it. But the chicken pretty much always comes from Costco. 

After that is done, start making your shopping list. You already have your meat out of the way so that's taken care of. Just go down the list of meals and write down exactly how much of everything you need to make each meal twice. On months when I really need the total to be around $100.00 (that's not including the chicken at costco), I will plan meals that I know I already have some of the ingredients for, or meals that I know will make enough to have it more than twice. After a couple times of doing the shopping part of it, you get pretty used to knowing which meals you can splurge with and which ones are the "scraping by" meals :)

Then you are set to go shopping. Make sure you plan on doing your "shopping day" and "cooking day" on different days. Believe me. If you don't, you will hate your life and everyone around you. Which in turn will make everyone around you hate you too. Take cash with you and add stuff up on a calculator as you go. That way you know you won't go over your budget, and also if you see you are getting close to your budget, you can cut a meal or two at the last minute. 

Holy - all the information and I haven't even talked about the actual cooking part. Sheesh, I told you this would be long.

Alright so it's cooking day. If you have kids, maybe try and plan cooking day for a Saturday when your husband or someone can watch the kids for a while so you can have the kitchen (and your limbs) all to yourself. I start out making quick list of which meals i will make in which order, and which meals I can make at the same time. I cut up all the veggies at the same time, cook pasta's all at once, etc. then I start cooking all of the meat. You can even do this the night before if you want to cut down on time on your actual cooking day. Whichever works better for your sanity and schedule. I cook all the meat, and then shred/divide it up into how much each meal will need. Then I just start going down the list and putting together all the meals. If you are making something like enchiladas, you can either buy a disposable tin pan or just put them in one of your baking pans in the freezer (I like disposable ones so that my pans are taken up all month in the freezer in case I need them). If it's something like a casserole, fajita mixture, stir fry, etc, I just put it in a zip lock to save on freezer space. Then the day before or day of cooking that meal, I put it in the fridge to defrost, and then cook it however directed. If it's in a pan straight from the freezer, you can just stick it straight in the over. You will just need to increase the time it will take to cook.

Like I said earlier, not all of my meals are completely freezable. In fact, a few usually aren't freezable at all. Like "potato bar" and "oven roasted potatoes and veggies." I like having things for days during the month when I feel like cooking (because I actually really enjoy it). And only having to make up a full meal a couple times a month really isn't a big deal. Some of the meals are only partially freezable. Turkey taco lettuce wraps, fajitas, and baja quesadillas are some examples. For those meals, I make up what I can freeze on cooking day, and finish then rest on the day we eat that meal. With the fajitas and quesadillas I make up the meat/veggie/sauce mixture, freeze that, and then on the day we eat it I will make up the tortillas and the rest of the stuff to serve it with. With the lettuce wraps I make up the meat, freeze it in a ziplock and then re-heat it the day of, and get out the fresh lettuce and toppings. Does that make sense? Really, a lot of meals can be tweaked to be made into freezer meals, you just have to plan ahead for it. 

this isn't my freezer, but it's similar to what my less-organized freezer ends up looking like by the end.

Expect your cooking day to wear you out. Its like 4-6 hours of cooking and by the end you will be so ready to be done. Make that an "eat out" night for your sanity. Or keep out one of your meals you just made up. Either way you are not going to want to bother with cooking. But guess what? You won't have to worry about it for the rest of the month. The best way I have found to plan out when you eat what is to write it out on a white board calendar in my kitchen. That way I know tomorrow what we are eating and what I need to get defrosting. And since we are having two of each meal I can space it out so that we have enough time in between so we don't get sick of it. Another bonus to all of this is that you won't have produce that sits in your fridge for a month and rots! (Please don't tell me I am the only one who this happens to...) You won't have to worry about it because its already made up and frozen in your freezer. 

A few extra random tips:

*make your husband do the dishes when you are done. There is going to be a MOUNTAIN of them.

*If one full day of cooking is too much to handle, split it into 2 or 3 days. I have also, some months, only cooked one meal a day and doubled it each time to freeze for a second meal. The only problem with that is I always have produce that goes bad, or we accidentally eat something that was needed for a different meal and we have to buy more. 

*to save even more money, plan your meals around produce/meat/whatever is on sale if you have the time to find out. 

Did you make it to the end? If you did, you deserve an award. Freak, that was a lot of details. I think that's everything though.. Or rather that's everything I can think of right now. I will update it if I think of anything else. And if any of you have questions, feel free to leave a comment or shoot me an email and I will do my best to help.

edit: I just found this post that gives great ideas for freezer cooking week-to-week if you work or have a very busy schedule. Check it out!


Leslie said...

can you really have a grocery budget for $100 for the whole month? If so i need to follow you around because ours is $500 and we use it all! Now I feel like a total failer haha

Lesa said...

I would love to try this, but Chris thinks freezer meals would be gross... maybe you can convince him otherwise....

The Pluims said...

Wow!! That is awesome I need to do this. They are so helpful on those busy days when you don't have time to cook. Do you basically just make whatever and then freeze it or do you use recipes that are specifically for freezer. Hope that you are doing well!

Dani & Jake said...

Lesa - Haha what makes him think they will be gross?? They taste exactly the same. I promise - Jake is a picky eater, and if he hasn't said something about them tasting different or gross than I don't know if anyone would! Maybe start out with like 3 meals and see if he likes them or not. What are some of your favorite or go to meals?

Katy- We are doing good! I saw that your story is going to be published, that is SO awesome! I do some meals that are freezer meals but then i tweak other meals I want to make into working for the freezer. If you aren't sure if something freezes good try googling it! I always find what Im looking for that way lol

Nicole said...

whooaa. dude. this is literally genius. i am really impressed. totally need to do this for us. needneedneed.


Tiffany @ Blabbering Thoughts said...

Holy crap I am jealous!

Sara Bosler Castro said...

Brilliant! My husband would love this. And it's perfect for those many many days I'm not in the mood to cook.

Thanks for commenting on my blog and letting me know you're there! I'm so glad you stop by and read my silly posts. You've got such a cute family and I can't wait to read more about what you're up to :)

Lesa said...

I think maybe he thinks they'd taste warmed up (you know, that weird, warmed up meat taste) or that they'd be mushy or something... but maybe I could try some shredded chicken enchiladas or something. We all love those, so maybe if I make them, freeze them and then just have them sometime no one will notice. hehe