The cycle is pretty much the same two to three nights a week in our house. I have an ambitious plan to make a nice, home-cooked meal and have it on the table when my husband gets home from work. Four or five o’clock rolls around and it’s time to start prepping, but with three unpredictable small kiddos, I just can’t always step away to get started. One of two things happens; either I make nothing and we do a fend-for-yourself night, or I start cooking after he gets home and we eat super late. Both of those scenarios stress me out.
I’ve pinned a bunch of freezer meal ideas on Pinterest, but I’ve never tried them, and I’m always worried I’ll make something in bulk and then not like it. I decided to jump into the freezer meal world and just start easy and simple. The older I get, the less fancy I try to be (should it be the other way around? Oops). I decided to pick three meals we already make and like, and start there.
Here are the things you need to think about when you plan to cook in bulk for the freezer:
- Space available to store food
- Containers/food storage items
- Time available to prep and make food
Once you’ve determined what you have to work with, pick a few meals you already cook and like. I have learned that starting small and easy makes new things less intimidating. I picked Beef Stew, Chicken Fried Rice and Chicken Pot Pie for my three meals. I think they freeze well and they also have a lot of crossover ingredients that make prep really easy (carrots, onions, etc). You save time and money when you can stretch ingredients over several meals.
First up, making a shopping list. Inventory what you already have and then create a list of what you need, including quantities.
I recommend prepping everything the day before you actually cook/assemble so that it doesn’t take up one big block of time. I cooked the chicken in the crock pot with chicken broth or water all day, then removed and shred for the chicken fried rice and chicken pot pie. I peeled and cut the carrots and onions, diced the celery and made rice in my rice cooker. I put everything in airtight containers in the fridge so that it was all ready to use the next day.
Once it was time to make the meals, I started with the one that would take the longest – the beef stew. I always sear my stew meat before throwing it in the crock pot. It gives the meat more flavor and locks everything in. I might become more adventurous in the future (and feel free to use your own recipe!) but I just took a beef stew seasoning packet from the store, threw the beef, carrots, onions and potatoes in the crock pot, mixed the seasoning packet with 3-4 cups of beef broth and poured over the food. I cook 8-10 hours on low to make sure the meat breaks down properly.
Once it was done, I ladled into 32oz freezer containers, label with the expiration date and put them in the freezer. Easy! When it’s time to call on this freezer meal, just pull it out of the freezer and put it in the fridge the night before you want to eat it, then about half an hour before dinner time, throw it in a pot on the stove with about ½ cup of water and cook until heated through. If you want to cook directly from the freezer, just give yourself more time on the stove.
Next up was the chicken fried rice. After years of watching hibachi chefs make this one, I just tried to replicate what they did. Cold rice, diced carrots and onions, a scrambled egg and some of that shredded chicken are all ready to go. I cook the vegetables on a hot griddle in a little butter first, then add the rice, chicken and egg right right in, mix everything together, sprinkle with garlic salt and a little pepper and then pour soy sauce over the mixture. Once it’s all done, I put them into those same 32oz containers and label with an expiration date. Done! Thaw in the fridge the day before and just heat up in a frying pan to kind of re-fry the rice.
Chicken pot pie is last. I use this recipe (link), pour them into disposable single serving foil bowls or mini meatloaf tins and cover with unbaked pie crust, cutting slits along the top for steam to escape. I cover them with foil and pop them into the freezer, again with the expiration date (for these, I also write “Bake for one hour at 400 degrees” so I don’t forget).
If you’re unsure how long food will last in the freezer, use this guide: http://www.foodsafety.gov/keep/charts/storagetimes.html
I always label with expiration dates instead of “made on” dates because it’s easier for me to know how long I can use food.
Don’t be afraid to experiment with recipes you love or try new recipes! Ask friends and family if they have any recommendations, too. You’ll be happy you have a full freezer on nights you don’t have the time to cook but want a home-cooked meal. Bon appetit!