Did you know that you can cook once and eat all week, or even all month? That’s right, it’s called Freezer Cooking and a lot of busy people do it to help them eat healthier at home, save time, and even save money. Freezer cooking consists of making several meals at once, freezing them to reheat and eat at a later time. Traditional cooking means coming home after a long day at work and maybe even your child’s baseball game and still cook dinner and clean up prior to taking time to relax.
Imagine instead that all you have to do is pop in one of your premade frozen dinners. A dinner that you made yourself that you know the exact ingredients, unlike commercial frozen dinners these dinners are prepared by you and do not have all the preservatives that “TV Dinners” have. Even better, a child or a husband can quickly put the dinners in the oven prior to you getting home, make a quick side salad and some rolls and you have a dinner fit for a family.
The Benefits of Freezer Cooking
It may seem a little overwhelming to think about cooking for your freezer, but the truth is, there are a lot of benefits to doing so. You’ll save time, money, and eat better than you normally do. Plus, you’ll seem like an amazing person when last minute guests arrive and you put a full dinner on the table without breaking a sweat.
This is true in manufacturing and it’s true in cooking dinner too. It takes just as much time to make one enchilada casserole as it does to make two or four. It just takes bigger pans and containers. The time you save by spending one day cooking will be paid back to you each day that you don’t have to cook a full meal.
Due to the fact that you’ll be purchasing in bulk you’ll save money. Not going to the grocery store as often as you did before will keep you from picking up those impulse buys. When you do freezer cooking, you limit your grocery store trips to the day before you prepare the food and you shop with a list. This automatically means money savings.
Better Nutrition for Your Family
You know and I know that when we get too busy we tend to go through the drive-thru. We know it’s not healthy, but we’re hungry, the kids are hungry, and we’re exhausted. But, imagine you have food at home that you can easily reheat and serve that is healthy. No preservatives, actual food unlike that fast food burger. Many people find that with freezer cooking they lose weight because they are skipping the drive thru.
Delight Last Minute Guests
How many times have people shown up at your home unexpectedly? It happens, especially if you have children. Plus, you probably enjoy having company over, but it always seems like just too much work. Now, you can relax a bit because you don’t need to do more than heat up a delicious entre, make a nice salad, and pour some wine to look like the most amazing host on the planet.
What Freezes Well and What Doesn’t?
It’s important to understand what freezes well and what doesn’t when embarking on a freezer cooking plan. Keep in mind when you choose meals to freeze, that freezing changes the texture of some foods. For instance high moisture fresh foods don’t really freeze well if you plan to eat them in raw form later. For instance, you can’t freeze a raw chef salad and expect it to taste like a fresh chef salad after freezing. But you can freeze chopped tomatoes to use in a sauce later.
Do Not Freeze These Items (or freeze with caution)
Apples – Basil – Celery – Cheese – Chives – Cottage Cheese – Cream Cheese – Crumb Toppings – Cucumbers – Custard – Eggs in the Shells
Fried Food – Frosting – Grapefruit – Grapes – Lemons – Lettuce – Limes – Mayonnaise – Onions – Oranges – Parsley – Pasta – Peppers
Potatoes – Radishes – Rice – Salad Dressing – Salad Greens – Sauces – Sour Cream – Sprouts – Watermelon – Yogurt
Some of the above items can be frozen if you know what you’re doing and understand what changes freezing will make to it.
Cheese — You can actually freeze cheese as long as you understand the texture will change. It will be crumbly, (shred it first) and you can’t eat it as is, but you can use it in a casserole as a topping. So, if you put cheese on top of a casserole that you’re going to pop into the oven to reheat anyway it’s fine. But if you plan to slice it for a sandwich, you probably don’t want to freeze your cheese.
Fried Food — You can freeze fried food as long as you wrap it right, and then reheat it correctly. For something like fried chicken be sure to cool it down while draining off the extra fat, then wrap with freezer paper and then put it inside an air tight container. To reheat, put in the oven frozen after unwrapping on a greased pan.
Grapes — Everyone knows you can freeze grapes if you plan to eat them frozen. A nice treat and tastes like dessert.
Onions & Peppers — You can chop these and freeze them to use in recipes. Chop and let them dry on a paper towel first to drain off extra moisture. Spread them on a cookie sheet and freeze for about an hour before putting them into airtight freezer bags.
Tomatoes — You can chop them and freeze into serving sizes or recipe sizes in airtight containers. You can only use them for sauces after freezing or in a soup or stew where texture isn’t as important.
Oranges & Citrus — You cannot freeze the fruit but you can freeze the zest. Zest onto a paper towel, and let dry out a bit, then freeze in one layer on a pan for about an hour. Pour into a airtight container to use in recipes.
Rice &Potatoes — They freeze fine in casseroles and dishes, but it does change their texture a bit. You cannot freeze them raw; you must precook and then freeze.
Pasta – While many places have pasta on the ‘no freeze’ list, you can freeze cooked or frozen pasta. It is recommended that you freeze pasta for some dishes uncooked because it will cook during the reheating and you don’t want to overcook it. But, you need to use prepared dried pasta and not freshly made pasta that isn’t dried.
The important thing is to remember to prepare the dishes correctly for storage and to reheat them properly. You have to be sure that your freezer is the right temperature, (under 0°F) and in good repair and that you consider the moisture content of anything that you plan to freeze. Moisture expands when it freezes.
Tips for Freezer Cooking Success
When you decide to try freezer cooking for the first time it’s important to learn from people who have experienced failure before you. There are some tried and true tips to make sure you have a successful freezer cooking experience that you should follow.
It’s important to get prepared for your cooking session if you’re going to cook several freezer meals at once. Even if you are just doubling your nightly meal to “feed the freezer” you want to get everything prepared, make sure you have all the ingredients, the storage containers, and everything set up in an assembly line to make it easier.
This isn’t the time to wear your good clothing or pearls and certainly not uncomfortable shoes. In fact, you probably should wear a good pair of shoes that are meant for standing for long periods of time to make it easier on your feet and back. If you can invest in a comfortable standing mat for your kitchen floor all the better. Have a snack before you start to avoid snacking as you cook.
Shop with a List
You definitely do not want to shop for a freezer cooking session without a list. It’s a good idea to plan out everything that you do, and a shopping list is a must for successful freezer cooking. You need to know exactly how much and what to buy so that your recipes turn out perfect each time.
Cook What You Like
Most families actually rotate the same 8 to 10 dishes, and rarely try anything new. It’s important to understand what you and your family like and work within that parameter to truly be successful with freezer cooking. Try only one or two new things in any give month and you’ll be a lot happier with the outcome.
Before you start, make sure you begin with a clean kitchen and an organized workspace. Get out the pans and supplies that you need in advance and set them out like you work in a factory so that they’re at the ready. The same goes for measuring cups. It helps if you have several sets of measuring cups so that you don’t have to wash anything while you’re cooking. Stick dirty things in the dishwasher as you go to keep your area neat.
Packaging & Labeling
The best packaging material are either freezer bags that you use a press to seal, or Ziploc® bags. You can freeze these flat for stacking so more will fit into your freezer. Of course, you must label everything because you really won’t know what it is after it freezes. Plus it’s good to know the date you put it in as some things don’t last forever. In fact, most things last about 4 months with a few lasting up to a year.
Handling Food Safely
When you are preparing everything it’s imperative that you are very careful about cleanliness and handling all the food safely. Cool down items before you put them in the freezer, first on the counter, and then in the fridge and finally move it to the freezer. To thaw items, start in the fridge the day before. Remember to not mix utensils when handling raw meat, especially poultry. Wash your hands a lot in hot soapy water. Use a thermometer to ensure proper internal cooking temperatures. You can read more about the Core Four Practices of safe food handling at fightback.org.
Preparation, organization, and safe handling of food will ensure that your freezer cooking session is a success. Don’t try to skip any of the steps because you will invariably end up forgetting something important and you won’t even know it until you thaw it out to eat later. Keeping a checklist nearby to mark off each step will be very helpful.
Tools To Make Freezer Cooking Easy
To be super successful with freezer cooking it’s important to make sure that you have the necessary accruements. Some of these things you likely already have, some you’ll have to purchase in order to make freezer cooking work out for you.
The Right Freezer — A chest freezer is really the best type of freezer in terms of keeping the food the right temperature. The freezer over your fridge probably isn’t enough for once a month cooking, although you could likely use that freezer for freezing lunch meals. Invest in a good chest freezer (or two) and you’ll be able to freeze enough food for an entire month of meals. Most freezers can easily be stored in the garage or laundry room. Buy the best model that you can afford.
Big Giant Bowls — When you are preparing food in bulk, you’ll need to invest in some large bowls. You can use glass, stainless, or even plastic. Tupperware has some really great large mixing bowls with lids that are perfect for mixing ingredients in and making dough for bread and rolls in too. But any large mixing bowls will do. Shoot for at least a 32 cup mixing bowl.
Big Giant Pots — You need to have plenty of large pots to cook large amounts of items in like a large 82 quart stainless stockpot. If you have more than one large pot that will be very good. A 16qt might work for you too depending on how large your family is.
Wooden Utensils — You want to invest in a few sets of wooden utensils for stirring, like a long wooden spoon to reach inside your giant stock pot. Even though you may not be using non-stick cookware when you cook in bulk, using wooden utensils is great for any type of pan.
2 or 3 sets of Measuring Cups & Spoons — You don’t want to have to wash things while you’re cooking to start over. Instead, just invest in a few different sets of measuring cups and spoons so that you’ll always have them on hand.
Freezer Bags — Many people use Ziploc® bags for freezer cooking and some people prefer to use the Seal-A-Meal Vacuum sealing system. The first time you do it, use Ziploc® and if you like it, then invest in the Seal-a-Meal. You will also be freezing some items in the cooking pan, and plastic freezer/microwave safe cookware.
Glass Baking Pans — Believe it or not you can freeze and bake in glass baking pans. Purchase the kind that comes with the plastic lid for freezing. Be sure to read all directions because you can’t just pop it right from the oven to the freezer or vice versa without a problem.
Ceramic Bakeware — The great thing about ceramic is that it’s not bad for you. You probably hear a lot about how bad plastic is for you, and how bad aluminum is for you, well, there is nothing bad about ceramic bakeware which can go from freezer to oven and vice versa relatively easily.
Silicon Muffin Cups — These are flexible and stick-free. They’re great for freezing broth or soup in handy serving sizes. You just pop the broth out and into freezer bags for later use.
Sharpie — You need to label everything and a sharpie really does work the best for writing directly on the bags. If you don’t want to write directly on something then buy some masking tape, write on that, and stick it to the dish.
Disposable Baking Pans — There will be times that you want to take a dish out of your freezer and donate it to a friend, or take it to a potluck. It’s so much easier if you’re not worried about getting the dish back.
Stainless Jelly Roll Pan or Two (or three) — This is going to come in very handy for many things. Don’t buy the kind with nonstick on it. You want the kind without because you’re going to sometimes put it in the freezer and freezing anything with a non-stick coating will ruin it.
Great Chopping Knife — Don’t skimp on the quality of your knives. You want to be able to cut veggies and everything for your dishes easily and quickly without having bad knives. To pick a good knife you want a good 8 inch Chef’s Knife. You might try out some knives at a kitchen store because it also matters how it feels to you in your hand.
Note: Keeping your knives in good working order also depends on the type of cutting boards you use. Avoid glass and ceramic.
2 Large Slow Cookers — This is very handy. Use one for a dish and a second one for dinner the night you’re cooking all that food for the freezer. It’ll make your life a lot easier and whatever’s cooking in there will smell great.
Ice Cube Trays — Great for freezing left over broth and stock to use in recipes later.
Aluminum Foil — Some people aren’t a fan of foil, and you certain don’t have to use it but it can help keep your pans clean, and make storing things easier in some cases.
Parchment Paper — When freezing items with meat it’s good to have some parchment paper between the plastic and the foil to soak up moisture and keep things from sticking.
Dry-Erase Board & Marker — When you put something in your freezer, you should write on the dry erase board what you put in there, and mark it off as you remove it. This way you will always know what’s inside.
2 or 3 Large Wire Mesh Colanders — You’ll need to use these to drain things and the mesh kind are easier since very little other than water can go through, plus, if there happens to be grease it won’t melt like a plastic colander.
Mandolin – Great to use if you want pretty slices that are uniform such as with an apple pie or potato au gratin casserole.
Large Food Processor — Great for cutting up and mixing batches of food fast.
Large Professional Grade Blender — Awesome for making breakfast dishes from frozen fruit. No need to spend too much money. As you can see from this blender test on Youtube.com, the less expensive Kitchen Aid works just fine.
2 Cutting Boards — Get one for meat, and one for everything else. You still want to keep them washed off during the process, but this will keep you from accidentally mixing during the cooking process. Wood and bamboo cutting boards are easier on your knives but they do get germy faster so be sure to bleach them after use. Plastic cutting boards are the next best thing. Avoid glass and ceramic. They are super hard on knives and can actually shatter after a lot of use.
2 or 3 Aprons — You want to have something clean to wipe your hands on instead of your clothes. Plus, it’s fun to put on an apron and get into the mood to have a few hours of professional level cooking.
3 to 5 Dish Towels & Cloths — Again, you want to be able to wipe down things easier as you go. You can use paper towels too but if you’re worried about the environment get some of these really nice kitchen towels that don’t shed onto your food, or pick up lint. You can also make some out of the same material used for diapers and baby burping cloths.
Comfortable Shoes — You will be standing for a long time so you want to be sure that you have comfortable shoes. Being barefoot is not really a good option because you might drop something on your foot and hurt yourself. A lot of people really swear by Crocs for standing for long periods of time.
Comfort Mat — Even if you do get the shoes, this comfort mat is going to help. Put it beside the counter or island or sink and you won’t mind doing all those dishes. Your feet will feel good and because of that so will your back. No one minds all the hard work if they are comfortable.
Some of these items, as you can tell, are extras to make your life easier and more comfortable, but some are real necessities for freezer cooking. Take the time to ensure that you have what you truly need before giving freezer cooking a try. You’re going to be so much happier with the results when you do it right.
Freezer Cooking One Week Menu Plan
The following is a sample menu for one week that you can enjoy if you start freezer cooking. Imagine being able to come home to these delicious meals even when you are too tired to cook. You’ll just put them in the oven to reheat while you go take a shower to wash off the day’s hard work. Come back to the kitchen and throw together a quick salad, pop in some rolls and set the table. You and your family will be able to enjoy a wonderful dinner together without all the stress involved.
Sunday — Chicken Quesadillas & Green Salad
Monday — Chicken Pot Pie & Cucumber Salad
Tuesday — Hearty Chili & Corn Bread
Wednesday — Chicken Penne & Collard Greens
Thursday — Chicken Enchiladas & Mexican Rice
Friday — Meaty Lasagna & Italian Salad with Garlic Bread
Saturday — Baked Mac & Cheese & Sliced Tomatoes Salad
Now, Go Get Started
By creating a plan of action, and ensuring that you take it one step at a time, you can be successful with freezer cooking. You’ll save time, save money, and be able to feed your family more nutritional means than going through the drive thru. Give it a try and you’ll see that, finally, the family dinner will be enjoyable again.