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Hi everyone! I'm here to start off an introductory post to one of the new topics I will be covering in the blog this year :) One of my most recent favorite topics- freezer cooking! I am LOVING it so far, it takes a little planning but is so worth it. This is a very long post so be forewarned :)
If you don't know what freezer meals are I'll give you a quick definition- although I am by no means an expert. For me, freezer meals are two fold. One way I do it is Crockpot Freezer Meals which is just chopping and mix raw meat and veggies in a bag and then the whole thing can be thrown in the crockpot and cook all day while I'm at work. Very easy but there are a lot of crappy crockpot freezer meal recipes floating around. The other way I do it is by cooking huge batches of things like lasanga, meatballs, meatloaf, chili, and other meals and freezing down dinner size portions. Almost anything can be frozen! And I've found that making triple or quadruple the recipe is hardly any more work and not much more money than just making it once. Ahhh efficiency!
I label everything with directions for cooking and then I can thaw my meal the night before and leave instructions for my nanny for getting cooking started (usually it just involves throwing it in the crockpot at a certain time), when I get home I put the finishing touches on the meal. Easy peasy.
Here's a view of my stocked freezer. When our refrigerator broke a few months ago I had to take out a line of credit to buy a new one and I happened to have enough left after the new fridge for a little freezer, which has been fantastic. It saves us a lot of time and money.
You'll see the second shelf is a little messy right now! Oops! I have the freezer broken up this way:
Shelf 1: Chicken
Shelf 2: Beef/Pork
Shelf 3: Casseroles
Bottom Drawer: frozen veggies/chicken stock that is required for the above meals
Door: Frozen chicken breast, shrimp, fish, steaks. Anything frozen in jars (chili, taco meat, etc)
Mixed in with whatever shelf has the most room I usually store miscellaneous items like twice baked potatoes.
So that's a quick tour of my freezer. I also have a little pantry cupboard right next to my freezer in the basement to store pantry items that go along with any of the meals. I try to buy everything I will need for each meal up front and store it away until it's time to make it, that way I'll always have what I need on hand for last minute meal decisions.
Here's a view of the inside (broth, sauce, coconut milk, saltines, rice, just pantry staples)
Most of my meals are stored in either gallon size Ziploc Freezer Bags, GLAD Ovensafe bakeware (highly reccomend this! Just make sure you put it on a sheet pan in the oven. But they're reusable as well!), and tupperware. I store all of this stuff together in my little freezer area of the basement.
These are the storage containers that I recommend for making these recipes. The OvenWare trays and Ball Freezer Jars are all reusable and the bags are heavy duty and freezer proof.
So now on to the meals themselves. How do I find my recipes? I use Pinterest a lot but have had hit or miss luck with some of the recipes (in particular the crockpot freezer meals). This is my Pinterest Freezer Meal Board. I went to a bunch of sites and compiled a list of my dream freezer inventory and then got started cooking. One of the best sites I found was this one.
Here is what my Freezer Inventory looks like today (yes I keep a detailed inventory! Must be the Quality Control Scientist in me :P). I keep track of what I put in, how much, the date, and whenever I remove something I list how many removed/remaining. I also have a column for "Out of Stock" so whenever something is gone I can remember to make some more. I keep a pen right next to the inventory so it's easy to remember to log things in or out.
So how do I have time to make all of these meals? or the money? Well, if I have a week where we don't need to buy a lot of food (like Charlie food or lunch food) I will put some money aside to make freezer meals. Honestly, they're typically not very expensive to make....mostly it's buying the protein, and everything else is usually on hand aside from veggies or cheese. I pick what meal I make based on what protein is on sale that week or what is at a good price. If I buy food to make two different types of freezer meal batches I'll usually spend an hour on Sunday making one batch (a batch to me is 3-4 meals) and I'll spend another hour or so during the week making the second meal. So your inventory grows very fast doing that. I would also recommend a membership to a large supply store (like BJs or Costco), this helps keep my pantry well stocked which makes assembling the meals quick and low cost each week. Plus its easier buying big trays of meat than 4 little trays. I usually go about once every 3 months because when I DO go it gets very pricey.
So that's my introduction to freezer meals. They've been great for my family- I have a long commute so when I get home I only have an hour or so before dinner and I'd rather spend that time playing with Charlie, cleaning, or doing other errands than cooking dinner. Plus less dishes :) Not to mention it saves a lot of money! Do you have any good freezer recipes to share?