Stocking your Freezer for Simpler Days of Cooking

ImageWith our new baby girl coming soon (April 14) I have been thinking more about how nice it would be to store up freezer meals and foods to have available for those busy/tired days. By preparing meals two months or less in advance, you can assure a good-tasting, non-freezer burned dish.

So before we begin, might I share a few encouraging thoughts? At times I can find myself experiencing discouragement in the routine of life. With pregnancy, two little ones and dreary winter days, I’m feel tired and can’t keep up with my to do list. I feel a sense of despair when I haven’t accomplished what I should’ve in a day. At night, my mind runs like a film strip with the regrets of what I could’ve done better or should’ve done and never did. But I am so glad that my God is so unlike me. When I tune into His thoughts about me, I find that he doesn’t have the expectations I put on myself. He values me for who I am, not for what I accomplish.

Jesus gently chided Mary not to be worried or troubled by her to-do list. Oh, how I relate to Mary. I often struggle with being upset that I have so much to do in a day. I go to Jesus whining that my life isn’t satisfying and I need more help and I, I, I ….. Jesus’ gentle reply is similar to what He implied to Mary centuries ago. “Tara, Tara, you have your priorities mixed up. Seek me first…” My to-do list fades, and I realize the reward is not found in mastering my to-do list. The most important, lasting things in life – God, His Word and people should be my priority.

God is so gentle with me, the Biblical author Isaiah writes that God “gently leads those that have young.” (Isaiah 40:11) Thank you God for knowing me and understanding my season of life!

Back to cooking…. You may want to compile a few recipes and their ingredients and work on several meals in one day. You may also prefer to double a recipe here and there (feed one, freeze one) to accumulate your freezer stock.

My hope is to make your life a bit less crazy at meal time! Thanks to many blogs, I have provided a list of meals that seemed easiest and yummiest of all! Enjoy browsing and I hope you find something that works for you.

Freezer meals:

  1. Breakfast Burritos 
  2. 4 Casseroles + Soup
  3. 8 Slow Cooker Freezer Meals – very practical and includes helpful hints!
  4. Lasagna – Freeze your favorite lasagna recipe in disposable container. Be sure to seal the top tightly with layers of plastic wrap and aluminum foil.
  5. Chicken Pot Pies – freeze before baking

Foods to freeze to jump start meals:

1) Shredded chicken for any recipe calling for cooked chicken: a) store-bought rotisserie chicken – simply shred and freeze in 2-cup portions, b) raw whole chicken – place in stock pot, cover with water, throw in halved carrots, celery, onion, peppercorns, garlic and a few sprigs of fresh parsley and thyme if available. Simmer 1 hour and 15 minutes. Discard veggies, shred chicken, strain the broth. Freeze broth and chicken separately, or c) cook chicken breasts – 4-6 hours on high in crock pot with 2 cups broth. Throw cooked chicken breasts in your kitchen-aid with the paddle attachment, turn it on and instant shred! Love this trick!

2) Homemade pizza dough – prepare your favorite dough recipe, put unrisen dough ball into gallon freezer bag sprayed with cooking spray. To use: remove from freezer and place in fridge for 8 hours or more. Let come to room temperature before spreading onto pizza pan. I also like to cook up sausage and freeze so I can easily grab this to throw on top of our pizzas.

3) Waffles – double or triple a batch of waffles. We just use Bisquick’s waffle recipe. Allow cooked waffles to cool. Place in freezer bag. To prepare: throw frozen waffles into your toaster and enjoy!

4) Meatballs – Cook, cool and freeze. Throw into simmering spaghetti sauce to reheat. Or make meatball subs or sliders. Or just heat and eat. My kids love meatballs! (PS – for this recipe, I use 1 pound of sausage and 1 pound of ground beef – no veal.)

5) Cookie dough – freeze any drop-cookie dough you like – oatmeal, choc chip…. You can freeze an entire batch in individual containers, then just place in fridge for a day and the dough is thawed. Otherwise you can freeze them in cookie-sized balls to be baked directly in smaller portions. Good luck resisting the temptation of eating the cookie dough that innocently awaits you in the freezer!

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6) Burger patties – grilling season will soon arrive! Add 1 beaten egg, 3 T minced onion, 1 T seasoning salt and a few shakes of Worcestershire sauce to 2 lbs of ground beef. Mix by hand and shape into individual patties. Place in freezer bag separated by wax paper, freeze and impress your man by pulling these puppies out on the first nice day. Go ahead and grill them frozen! Insta-meal. For extra easy, bake frozen fries and heat up a can of baked beans. Add a pickle slice and remember that spring is near!

Well dear readers. Thank you for listening and I hope that you are blessed by some of these ideas.

Meal Planning

Cooking can become burdensome to anyone — even those who love to cook. You have to eat, you have to cook. And especially if you are on a budget, planning ahead is vital to not blowing your grocery budget.

In my ideal world, I would shop for my cooking utensils at Williams and Sonoma, and all my groceries would come from Whole Foods or Trader Joe. But, since we are missionaries not millionaires I opt for Walmart and Aldi for grocers. I also rely on  birthdays and Christmas for new cooking utensils. But can I just say that if you’d rather spend one hour shopping in Williams and Sonoma perusing copper pots and cutting boards, than in any other mall store . . . we are kindred spirits.

Another reality that puts a crunch on cooking is time. It seems unrealistic to spend hours cooking what is consumed in minutes. I’d love to always cook gourmet and try several new recipes each week, but realistically my life is much less hectic and my kids a lot happier if I plan the majority with simple, familiar recipes.

I like to organize and I love lists, so planning and making shopping lists is enjoyable and relaxing for me. Once a month I take inventory of the food I have in my cupboards, fridge and freezer. The “Inventory List” helps me know what frozen meats, dried noodles and other ingredients I have to work with. I make categories for meats, noodles/rice, canned, vegetables, fruits and so on. I then look at list and see what meals can be made from these ingredients. At that point I start a shopping list so I can write down additional supplies I will need to complete these meals.

I start a third list called my “Meal List.” These are the foods I make for the evening meal. I try to have at least 15 meals on the meal list. With leftovers and nights where we’re not home, this seems to be a good number to last 3-4 weeks. If there is a few new recipes I’d like to try, I throw them in. I then add any dry or frozen ingredients to my shopping list and make note of additional fresh ingredients I’ll  need for each recipe. I don’t purchase the fresh ingredients until the week of making the recipe to prevent spoilage or wasting food.

Here’s examples of the top 10 meals I make:

  1. spaghetti and meatballs + salad + bread
  2. meatloaf + potato wedges + vegie
  3. pad thai
  4. chicken and rice casserole
  5. homemade pizza + salad
  6. chicken tortilla soup
  7. chicken or beef tacos + chips and salsa
  8. chicken parmesan + rice + vegie
  9. beef stroganoff (crock pot) on noodles + vegie
  10. chicken quesadillas

In the winter I make more soups – chili, chicken noodle, beef stew. And in summer I grill meals – chicken, burgers, brats. Each cook will have their own top 10 list of familiar, relatively easy recipes. I rely on this list and alternate in other recipes we like and new recipes.

The next step is shopping. I look over the grocery ads for great deals, but dragging the kids around town to all the grocery stores to save a few bucks isn’t my idea of fun. I try to stick to one or two stores with the overall best deals to get all my ingredients.

So that’s what I do. What do you do? I’d love helpful hints for shopping, listing or planning. What’s your top 10?