Ah, homeschooling. A wonderful way of life. I love it, I truly do.
But after a long day juggling school and laundry and phone calls and cleaning and all the other demands placed on a mom…well, I know it’s a personal shortcoming, but sometimes I just don’t feel like cooking dinner.
Eating out isn’t very practical or very healthy, so every month or two, I spend a few days in a cooking frenzy and make a bunch of meals for the freezer.
Now, when I talk about Freezer Cooking, I want to make it clear that I am not talking about cooking a 20 pound turkey and assembling a bunch of dry, flavorless, boring, tv dinners. I am only interested in making meals that taste as good out of the freezer as they do when made fresh. It’s a lot of work, after all. I’m not trying to waste a bunch of time and money on something no one wants to eat.
I used to have a big freezer in the garage, and I would stock that baby with three months’ worth of meals at a time. However, at this point, the only freezer we have is the comparatively small one that’s part of the refrigerator. So if you have previously dismissed Freezer Cooking because you think your freezer is too small, do not despair! You can still free yourself from two hours in the kitchen every night while at the same time magically giving your family delicious home-cooked meals.
Now that my freezer situation has changed, the way I freezer cook has changed. I’m now satisfied with enough meals to last 3 or 4 weeks, which just so happens to be a great goal for the first-time freezer cook.
Making a Plan Let’s start small, with enough meals to last your family a month. You need to decide how many meals a week you want to be able to grab from your freezer – three days a week? Five days a week? How often can you rotate your recipes? Will your family eat spaghetti once a week or once a month? A decent variety of food is important, or your family will stage a mutiny. On the other hand, the whole point of freezer cooking is to be more efficient in the kitchen and make several meals at once.
Deciding what to cook is obviously very subjective. Only you know your family and your lifestyle. Start by making a list of main dishes that you already eat and your family likes. If you come up with 10 options, you’ll be in great shape. Many of the recipes in your current repertoire probably freeze well, and you can dive right in, cooking larger quantities of food you already know.
For the sake of this discussion, let’s say you want to eat from the freezer five days a week for a month. That means you need to get 20 servings in the freezer (by “serving” I mean enough food to feed your whole family a meal – i.e. one pan of lasagna = one serving). Look at your meal idea list and identify any food your family is willing to eat once a week. Does your family grill every Friday? Have meatloaf every Sunday? If so, you have a good starting point.
Over the years, I’ve developed a big list of meal ideas and have collected an arsenal of cookbooks. Some things I make every time I stock the freezer, and other things I cook depending on the season. In the winter, we like soups and stews. In the summer, I prep meat for grilling or the crock pot. I try to balance recipes that are more work to assemble with recipes I can throw together with very little effort. I also try to provide a decent variety of food without having to buy ten thousand ingredients. I love finding foods that can be used in more than one way (like meatballs).
Over the next few months, I am going to be writing a series on Freezer Cooking. I will give you some of my favorite recipes, best tips, and planning suggestions. I am an avid and passionate freezer cook, and am happy to answer any questions you may have.
Just in case you don’t want to wait for the next installment for some actual suggestions, here are a few ideas to get started –
• Buy a large package of boneless, skinless chicken breasts and portion them into quart-sized freezer bags. Pour in some store-bought or homemade marinade and freeze. Either take them out and thaw in the fridge the night before, or (if you are like me and say, “oh right. dinner.” every afternoon at 4 o’clock), they’ll thaw in about 30 minutes in a bowl of cool water in the sink. These don’t take up a lot of room in the freezer, they are fast and easy to assemble, and they marinate as they thaw, giving you amazingly juicy grilled chicken. Make a salad or some corn on the cob, and you have a quick and easy summer dinner.
• Buy a large package of hamburger, mix it with some grated parmesan cheese and store-bought marinade, and portion it into gourmet burgers. Freeze these flat on an oiled cookie sheet, then store in freezer bags with a piece of waxed paper in between each patty. They don’t even have to be thawed first; just throw them on a low grill. You can customize these for every person in your family. I like Hawaiian marinade, my husband likes mesquite, and the kids prefer plain with cheese. I make a few pounds of each kind, then package one patty per person in each bag. Easy-peasy. (If you use cheddar or a melty cheese, it’ll be messy, so you might want to be sparing).
• Grilling not your thing? How about making several batches of your favorite meatloaf (here’s my favorite recipe)? Freeze in 2 pound portions in gallon-sized freezer bags. Meatloaf freezes GREAT. Thaw the night before in the refrigerator. I make meatloaf mix every time I stock my freezer because it is SO versatile. You can bake it as a traditional meatloaf; form it into meatballs and cook them million different ways; you can even throw a chunk of meatloaf mix into the crockpot with some tomato sauce or Ragu and have a surprisingly delicious meat sauce for spaghetti.
We can easily grill twice a week in the summer, so with enough chicken packets and pre-made hamburgers in the freezer, I’ll have accomplished a big part of my goal with very little effort. Throw in a couple of meatloaves and I’m halfway there.
Feel free to ask any questions in the comments! I will be back next month with more tips and recipes!
Deb is a knitting, cooking, home schooling mom. Who is way cooler than that sounds. Really. She blogs about all sorts of random and sometimes even mildly interesting things at Not Inadequate.