How My Freezer Cooking Strategy Helps me Save Time in the Kitchen Plus 5 Benefits of Freezer Cooking and Prepping Meals Ahead
Freezer Cooking is a subject I’ve wanted to discuss here on the blog for a while now. By no means I’m I an expert on the subject of freezer cooking, I’m just a mom trying to figure out the best ways to maximize time in the kitchen in a way that suits our family. I do however find that meal prepping in the general sense really helps us save time in the kitchen and encourages us to eat more at home.
My Eating Background
I grew up in a home where everything was freshly cooked on the day off (most times). Whatever mom made was what we ate – I mean, everything was just freshly cooked from scratch. Keep in mind that I grew up in the Caribbean so that might be a difference between the super busy schedules here in the U.S. Our family’s diet was based heavily on plants but it didn’t mean that we didn’t eat any meat. In fact, meat was included with all our meals but the sides were veggie heavy such as, an assortment of sweet potatoes, cooked green bananas, white yams, etc. Soups containing peas, beans, and vegetables were also a huge part of our diet. And whenever we ate rice, you can bet it had some kind of peas or beans mixed in (rice and peas) or a veggie served as a side dish. But I don’t remember freezer cooking happening. Although occasionally, we’d have left-over meat or poultry that we’d eat the following day or a couple days after.
Now that I have my own home, I try to find ways to maximize the time in the kitchen. I have learned to “freezer cook” some dishes to help me to just that. Here are my 5 main reasons why I do it.
5 Main Reasons Why I “Freezer Cook”
- Saves me time in the kitchen – Considering my eating background and upbringings, my taste has not adjusted to having freezer meals on a regular basis.. But as a homemaker, I’ve seen how doing a couple make ahead dishes help the family and me on busy days. I’m not always consistent with freezer cooking but when I do, I can tell the difference with how much less time I spend in the kitchen as opposed to when I don’t freezer prep meals.
- Helps us to avoid ordering take-out on busy evenings – There are days when things get busier than usual or when we are out and about late (for whatever reasons) and cooking a meal just seems like one more thing to add to the list. But we still have to eat and having the most time consuming part of a meal already cooked and in the freezer is really helpful on those days. I can just pull it out from the freezer, heat it up, add a quick side or two and serve.
- It helps us save money – Avoiding the spontaneous take-out on busy days saves us money. Instead of ordering high-priced food, we eat what we already have prepared.
- It helps us to be self-controlled and make better food choices – When you prep food at home, you most-likely will prep what you want to eat and what you feel is better for your diet. When you order out spontaneously, anything goes. You may have to settle for less or for whatever is available. Is that restaurant down the street already closed for the night? Well let’s just order pizza and call it a meal. You get where I’m going with this example?
- It helps to prevent meal-time anxiety and helps me feel organized in the kitchen – In general, having a meal or two prepped ahead makes me feel organized when it comes to cooking. It also decreases the anxiety that comes along with cooking dinner on busy days.
How I “Freezer Cook”
My style of Freezer Cooking is not the typical casseroles and meals-in-a-bag type of freezer cooking that you see around the web. My family is all about eating foods as fresh as they can be even with a little prep ahead. I take a lighter approach when it comes to freezer cooking and like to call it more of a make-ahead set of foods rather than the usual Freezer Cooking style. So instead of cooking full meals and freezing them, I’ll prep the most time consuming part of a meal and freeze that. For instance, if I have BBQ chicken on the menu, sometimes I’ll cook and freeze the chicken ahead (more on that below). Then I’ll add sides such as corn on the cob and a salad for a full dinner. There’s only about 2 full meals I ever freezer cook and that’s chili and an occasional lasagna. Seriously.
I Don’t Always Have a Day Set-Apart to Freezer Prep Meals
Also, I don’t always have a “Freezer Cooking” Day. I’ve seen others having a freezer-cooking day or a day where they get together with friends and cook and I think all of that sounds great. But I kind of freezer cook as needed. I used to try mostly at the beginning of the month when we do a larger grocery buy or sometimes on Saturdays when things were less busy. If we were busy on a Saturday then I would move it to Monday. But I didn’t have a special day of the month that was considered “freezer cooking” day. Now I prep some stuff whenever I get some time to do so and have everything I need on hand.
I have to admit though, when the kids were a bit younger, it seemed to be a little easier to dedicate a little time to do this while they played. We didn’t have much school or outdoor commitments to tend to now I just cook when I have a large chunk of “free” time. It took about 2 hrs every time.
Why My Strategy Works for Us
- As mentioned before, we love our food as freshly cooked as possible so freezing just the most time-consuming part of the meal seems to be a huge help none-the-less.
- Not all members of the family love to eat food that’s mixed up – it will do us no good to cook a ton of one pot dishes and freeze them.
- I only freezer cook what I know our family will actually eat – I don’t just take time to cook a bunch of stuff, throw them in the freezer and pull them out at meal times.
- We don’t usually have a lot of forgotten meals in the freezer. Prepping just a few dishes keeps us from having stuff in the freezer that we forget about since we prefer to eat freshly cooked. But if your family is super busy and having a ton of freezer meals work best for you, then that’s OK!
- With young children at home, I can’t always commit to long hours of freezer cooking a ton of meals at one time. Prepping in part is a good fit for now.
What I Freezer Cook & Make Ahead
Here is a further breakdown of what I cook for the freezer, keeping in mind that we’re all about eating meals as fresh as we can. Also, I’m a stay-at-home mom with currently homeschooled kids so I don’t usually do lunch prep and not much breakfast prep (just some). I just kind of wing it for these. I’m kidding – I usually have a menu plan🙂
For the Freezer
- Homemade meatballs (uncooked for the freezer)
- Cooked ground beef for chili, taco, lasagna
- On occasion, homemade hamburger patties
- BBQ chicken or Grilled chicken
- An occasional lasagna
- An occasional chili
- Freezer Corn on the cob (blanched) – Uncooked
- Freezer Green beans (blanched) – Uncooked
- Muffins, croissant rolls, dinner rolls, Homemade pizza
Freezer Homemade Meatballs – Whenever meatballs is on the menu or if I think we might like to have it sometime, I mix and roll them ahead. They’re then placed on a parchment-lined baking sheet and frozen in single file. Once they are firm enough, they’re then placed in a freezer bag to continue freezing. No need to defrost before cooking since they can be cooked frozen easily. For cooking, I usually put the frozen meatballs in the slow cooker with pasta sauce and then make some pasta and a side salad.
Freezer Homemade Hamburgers – Not a very popular food at our house but when we buy a giant bag of ground beef, some of it is used to make some hamburger patti ahead. I prep and freeze them the same way the meatballs are prepped. And this is another food that can go from the freezer to the grill or a pot without first defrosting.
Baked BBQ Chicken – Most of the chicken I prep ahead is either baked or grilled (when my husband does grilling). The chicken is baked and frozen, defrosted overnight and then BBQ sauce is added to it before heating it up in the oven. It’s delish!
Note: The BBQ sauce could be added to the chicken during baking but more BBQ sauce will have to be added during heating up or else it will be too dry. This photo below is an example of how I prep baked BBQ chicken for the freezer. The top one is how I baked it. The photo on the left shows it in a freezer bowl and the one on the right, shows it after it was heated up. It’s an evening shot but you can see how it looks. I added BBQ sauce during the heating up process.
Green Beans and Corn on the Cob – We buy both fresh and frozen green beans and corn. When they are in a surplus in the stores, we take large bags of them home. The kids love to snack on them uncooked.
Prepping Green Beans and corn ahead of time
- cut of both ends and the little thread things from the beans
- blanch them in hot water, then put in cold water
- remove and let them cool on a towel
- place them in a freezer bag for the freezer
The beans will stay nice and firm when you are ready to cook them. If you don’t blanch them they will lose some of their firmness in the freezer.
Stir Fry Bag – I don’t always do stir-fry bags but cutting veggies for stir-fries really does save the time when it comes to cooking.
And this is what will go with the veggies. I decided not to cook the meat ahead since it doesn’t take long to cook. Figured it would probably take more time to defrost and reheat it if I cooked it ahead. After all, it will take just as long to cook the veggies
Dried Foods for Breakfast or Snacks
Homemade Muffins – Making ahead some breakfast or snack foods are also great for the freezer. Muffins are super easy to reheat. Add some fruit, milk or 100% juice for a healthy breakfast.
Homemade Croissant Rolls – Our little son (now 5) started eating and loving croissant rolls when he was between the ages of 3 to 4. I’d make a big batch, freeze them and just popped a couple in the oven when I served it for breakfast or for a little snack. They can totally be reheated in the microwave but we prefer an oven crisp taste:) I use this recipe here from Taste of Home (and omit the sugar). To reheat in the oven, set it for 350 degrees then heat on a baking sheet for 5-6 minutes. Perfect!
Defrosting and Heating up Freezer Foods
You can defrost frozen foods in the refrigerator overnight or in the microwave on the day it’s needed. The main three main ways to heat up freezer foods or meals that were prepped ahead are by using:
- A microwave
- A Conventional oven
- A Toaster oven
Personally, I like to heat up our food in the oven. The oven as opposed to the microwave?? Wouldn’t the microwave be the fastest option? Yes, it will but it’s a matter of personal preference. I didn’t grow up using a microwave so I always prefer a more conventional taste. I don’t own a toaster oven but I know you can cook, defrost, and heat up food in them.
You can remove the frozen food from the freezer, defrost it in the microwave, and heat it up right away. The disadvantage with the oven is that I have to remember to defrost the food in the freezer overnight. Then it will take another 20 minutes on low setting to heat up for something like chicken. But I don’t mind it, as long as I remember to start early.
So what’s the point of prepping ahead if heating them up will take several hours? That’s a good question. Freezing the food means I don’t have to go through the process of chopping veggies, seasoning and cooking poultry, etc. if we are out and about and would get home a little later.
Do you freezer cook? What are some of your favorite family meals to make ahead and freeze? If you don’t cook anything for the freezer and find yourself scrambling on busy days, you might consider the benefits of having a meal or two prepped ahead. It will help you avoid some of that dinner dilemma especially when you get super busy.
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Check out my post here on 10 Reasons Why You Should Start Meal Planning