Last week I tackled the tough issue of working moms and healthy, frugal cooking. This week I have a few tips for all of you, working moms and at-home moms who love their sanity, about my favorite large appliance: the freezer.
Cooking in Advance: Using Your Freezer
There are a lot of websites and books out there devoted entirely to making freezer meals. I find that I don’t trust new recipes if I’m going to be making multiple meals out of them – it stinks to make a gi-normous batch of something that your family ends up disliking. I think it’s far better to look at your own favorite meals (or test drive the freezer cookbook recipes first) and figure out what can be frozen well. Use those website resources for ideas on how to freeze and store or how to manage your time for batch cooking. I often freeze:
- soups and stews
- meatballs and meatloaf
- casseroles (almost anything – pasta, potato, red sauce, cream sauce, etc) You might lose a little quality, but it’s still better than storebought, more nutritious and cheaper too.
UPDATE: Here’s a post highlighting 3 casseroles to make in one day, all using a homemade cream of chicken soup – recipe included.
- pizza dough and sauce
- biscuits, corn muffins or tortillas
- taco meat (meal on the table in 10 minutes!) and BBQ beef
- muffins and quick breads
- refried beans
- chicken nuggets
- rice (in 1/2 cup portions, each in a sandwich bag for quick stir fry)
- cut chicken or beef in a marinade (thaw two nights before cooking, and a George Foreman or outdoor grill delivers dinner in under half an hour). Also great for a quick stir fry.
- cooked, shredded chicken (from my stock) in 2 cup portions. This makes a quick addition to a fresh soup (sometimes with frozen broth, frozen in spaghetti sauce jars), casserole or easy wrap or burrito meal.
How to Freeze Extra Meals
- soup in quart or spaghetti sauce jars (sometimes plastic if I run out). Don’t forget to leave at least an inch of space for expansion. Broken jars are no fun.
- anything pick-up-able in freezer bags. If it’s really important that you can get them apart, freeze them on a cookie sheet first. Yesterday I cooked up some frozen chicken nuggets, and there was a huge chunk that I had to just put on the cookie sheet and wait until I could break them apart. No harm done.
- casseroles in glass casserole dishes with lids. Try to shoot for as little head room as possible so you don’t waste freezer space, and cover with a layer of tinfoil or freezer paper between the food and the lid to prevent freezer burn.
- quick breads in freezer paper.
- pizza sauce in salsa jars – just the right size!
- dough just goes in plastic bags
- You can freeze soups and even casseroles in freezer bags, which is very space economical. Try to freeze them really flat for easier storage, and thaw in the fridge with something under the bag (a plate or bowl) in case there’s a small hole in the bag. Nobody likes a puddle of goop in the fridge!
- If I was freezing something like veggie bean burritoes or a casserole with tortillas (enchiladas, for example), I would freeze the filling(s) separately and assemble them into the tortillas the night I bake it. Filled tortillas (at least with sauce) always get really soggy in the freezer.
- There are very few things that don’t work in the freezer, although potatoes not in a casserole are one that comes to mind. There aren’t really a lot of rules for freezer containers, either. Just experiment with what you already have, and remember that the more freezer approved layers you have between the food and the air, the better.
- See 10 Easy Prep Foods You’ll Always Find in my Freezer for information on freezing lots of other things.
- See Reheating Leftovers Quickly WithOUT Using the Microwave.
- Other ideas to add? Great meals you freeze? Things you would never freeze? Do share!
I Love My Freezer!
I’m a huge fan of cooking a double batch and freezing the extras. It’s like giving yourself a Christmas gift when you get to serve an easy meal that is totally ready to go in your freezer.
One last tip: Keep a list on the outside of your freezer of what you have in there, and label each bag/box/casserole dish to help you figure out what’s inside without a wild goose chase!
A great resource to share: Small Notebook’s Batch Cooking Tips
We’ll return to the subject of meal planning and saving time in the kitchen periodically. Please sign up for an email subscription or grab my reader feed so you don’t miss out on valuable information. If you leave a comment, click the box for “subscribe to comments” to see what other people (me included) have to say.
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