10/19/09

Freezing meals and a cooking vacation



Two weeks ago, our ward Relief Society group hosted a class about freezer meals. Although I've frozen a few meals in the past, it was so inspirational to get together with others and see how they do it.

Last week I froze a big pan of enchiladas and enough barbecue pork for five meals. You see, I have this dream. It involves Christmas vacation and no cooking. Frozen pizzas, chicken nuggets, and take-out get old fast, and I get sick if I eat like that for more than a meal or two. So I'd like to fill up my freezer and give myself a little vacation. I actually love cooking, but it's kind of hard sometimes with Tiger Lily. Why do kids always need all your attention in the hour before dinnertime?

Anyway, I'm looking forward to having some meals on hand in case of illness, laziness, vacation, or whatever comes up. Here are some tips I picked up from the class and my own experience.
  • You don't have to have a huge cooking day, cooking 30 meals all at once to fill your freezer. You can just double whatever you're making for dinner and freeze it. It usually doesn't take much more trouble.
  • You don't have to have special freezer recipes, although obviously some meals freeze better than others. If you want to know how something freezes, just freeze a spoonful of it the next time you make it, wait a week, and see how it tastes.
  • 9" x 13" baking pans fit right into two-gallon zipper bags. Double-bag to avoid freezer burn, and cover the top of the pan with foil to keep the bags cleaner. I usually don't reuse bags, but I might consider it with these since they don't get too dirty and are a bit expensive.
  • 9" square or round baking pans fit into gallon zipper bags.
  • You can pick up cheap aluminum baking pans from the dollar store. These are especially great if you're taking a meal to someone—no dishes to return. They're also convenient so your pans aren't stuck in the freezer all the time. I actually reuse these: just toss them in the dishwasher. If they come with a plastic cover, I just toss it and use foil instead, since it doubles the amount of space used in the freezer.
  • Breads freeze well. Thaw on the countertop before unwrapping.
  • To freeze liquidy foods in bags, fill bags, let out all air before sealing, and freeze flat. This really helps maximize freezer space. If you're worried about leakage, leave the bag flat on the bottom of a pan until frozen.
Do you freeze meals? Any tips or recipes to share?

16 comments:

  1. Back in the day, I used to freeze lots of meals...mostly doing as you suggest here; doubling recipes and freezing half. I went through a period of time, when I did the once a month cooking. I loved having all of those meals at the ready. Absolutely LOVED it, but I hated that one marathon day... and I adore cooking. One thing do still do on a regular basis, is freeze cookie dough, pre-shaped. I can provide warm fresh cookies at any time.. even for unexpected guests. (Oh-so-impressive, lol)

    Right now, I have extremely limited freezer space- only the top of my fridge- and I like to have that free for produce that I get free or extremely cheap. I am hoping to get a smaller sized chest freezer some time soon though, so I'll be able to freeze more! I loved your tips on the different sized pans fitting into the various sized bags.

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  2. Yesterday was my big cooking and freezing meals day! It was fun, but there's always so many dishes.

    There was a coupon recently for the new ziplock vacuum seal kit- The coupon stated to buy refill bags for $3 and get a starter kit worth $10 for free.

    I have been inspired lately by your wheat grinding. I looked up wheat grinders on Amazon, and a book came up that was written by two lds ladies. It looked interesting, all about food preservation for emergencies.

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  3. HEre's the link to that book
    http://www.amazon.com/Emergency-Food-Storage-Survival-Handbook/dp/0761563679/ref=sr_1_10?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1255968678&sr=8-10

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  4. Last year I did freezer meals for our entire 8 day Christmas vacation, it was fabulous!

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  5. You should know that you were partly the inspiration behind the freezer night meeting. :) Debbie was so impressed when she heard that you had some freezer meals for when your baby came.

    And I have to say that I was equally impressed and I hope to have several meals in the freezer for when my baby comes.

    But I also think that these meals are so nice to have at other times as well. Thanks for writing down the tips you learned.

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  7. This. is what I should be doing. When you mentioned Christmas you caught all of my attention! Any high stress time with lots of people running around the house would lend itself to food I the freezer, but also I can understand the bit about laziness! lol Thanks for all the pan hints. I had never thought about slipping foil pans into a zip lock bag. great idea. These would also be great for times I am away and the Mr. and the tween are home alone! :-) The Mr. is a very good cook, (ya, and he likes to do it h ha,) but he is mucho busy with work and farm. so Mrs. M, thanks you very much for your post today.
    ♥ Mercy
    ........and you're right, we shall have snow...... poor robin.

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  8. I've been in a frozen dinner swap for over 2 years. I bagged keeping a blog about it a year ago but there are still recipes at www.frozendinnerswap.wordpress.com.

    I have 5 women in my group and we meet every other Friday. It has saved my life and brought so much peace into my home. Tonight we're having the minestrone soup. The recipe is on my old blog.

    Janelle

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  9. Oh, and we camp a lot. I always bring all of my freezer meals camping. It makes vacation so easy.

    And I always have a meal ready for a friend in need.

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  10. I only have tried on tim elike 8 years ago. I was overwhlemed with the whole marathon thing. But I like the idea of just make a double and freezing it and putting up leftover veggies to make a veggie soup.

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  11. I can't do a marathon day either. I like to pick one day a week where I will make something and double or triple it. I also like to rotate what kind of meal I make to freeze. One week poultry, the next beef, the next bread or muffins, the next soup etc.
    Also, I don't use dishes much. They take up too much space. I will flash freeze a casserole etc and when it is solid I take it out of the pan and double wrap it in saran wrap and then foil. Keeps the shape but takes less space. Just unwrap and pop back in the pan to thaw and bake.
    I was very hesitant to start doing freezer meals but love it now! (Of course I have not made any since my baby was born and my freezer has almost emptied out now.)
    Question for you: When you do cookies do you prefer to freeze the dough or bake and then freeze the cookies?

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  12. I wish I had more room in my freezer so I could freeze more meals. A couple things I really like to freeze are enchiladas, and chicken or ham pockets. We usually end up freezing some soup when we make a big batch, too.

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  13. One fast tip that doesn't take much time is seasoning and browning a lot of ground beef at one time. I browned seven pounds of Costco hamburger two days ago and then divided it into seven portions to freeze. While it isn't an entire meal, it sure handy to have around.

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  14. I love your ideas, and I need to start filling the freezer. I've realized that even working part time making dinner is hard when I have the boys to feed. If I could just have something in the crock pot or pop something in the oven when I get home, life would be easier. Maybe then I'd have a few minutes to do dishes and clean up the house... Maybe.

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  15. I don't have room in the freezer for containers, so I don't freeze entrees -- everything is in quart- or gallon-sized ziplocks to make dinner easy to prepare. I smoke 15 pounds of pork shoulder at a time, shred it or hack it into chunks, and that can be turned into any number of things. I cook dried beans and freeze them (in a flattened-out gallon ziplock makes it easy to keep them loose, like frozen blueberries), as well as cooked rice. Meatballs are a great freezer item -- spend two hours making a whole mess of them, assembly-line style, and then they're ready to simmer in sauce directly from the freezer. (There's a great Mexican-style meatball recipe at http://tiny.cc/RUIeq that was met with rave reviews; freeze both the meatballs and the sauce.)I always have cooked, shredded chicken on hand. And of course, soups and stews are in constant rotation; the chicken tortilla stew at verybestbaking.com is very popular in our house. Right now, in the middle of winter, my front porch is zero degrees so that works for getting a lot of stuff frozen solid quickly.

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  16. Great tips! I was unsure about freezing my soup in a bag, but it probably would saved me a bunch of space, lol. I'm obviously still learning, and could really benefit from a class!! Maybe I should suggest it to my relief society president.

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