How to Become a Freezer Meal Pro to Save Money
Save money and time by becoming a freezer meal pro. Here’s how to plan freezer meals for your family!
Who else hates the dreaded “what’s for dinner” conversation? At the end of a busy day, trying to decide what to have for our evening meals can be draining enough, much less having to do all the coking and cleaning up too. Wouldn’t it be great if you could have meals planned out and ready to go, so all you have to do is warm them up?
Over the next few weeks here at Two Kids and a Coupon we are going to share lots of ways to save time and money in the new year. One of our favorites is freezer cooking to build up a supply of meals on hand to make meal times easier. As a parent of two teens, we are constantly on the go and this way of making meals minimizes mess, and keeps some of your favorite meals on hand. In addition to saving time, it can save on your budget. Buying in bulk is cheaper when you’re meal planning, and having meals on hand when you’re having a tough month financially, can help you make it through when money is tight. Here are some tips on how to get started with this type of meal planning.
Why do Freezer Cooking?
Preparing freezer meals ahead of time is a great way to serve your family home-cooked meals even when you are short on time or groceries. Many cook this way to save both time and money. These methods can even help your overall health by incorporating fresh ingredients into your meals regularly. You can easily go from frozen to table with this approach to meal planning.
Freezing also gives you the opportunity to buy in bulk, which saves you an average of 15-25% on your grocery bill. Shopping at your local farmers market or produce stands is beneficial so you can buy ingredients that are in season, which usually means they are cheaper because there is more supply than demand.
Freezer cooking with basic meal planning can also help you avoid eating out because it provides a quick solution to dinner when you’re too tired or busy to cook after work. It also gives you more freedom with your schedule. You can work late, chauffeur kids around, or spend time outside without worrying about what you are going to eat because your meals are already planned and prepared. All you have to do is put them in the oven or slow cooker!
How to Become a Freezer Meal Pro
Having a well-stocked freezer is important for any food storage plan, not just freezer cooking. A full freezer will not only provide your meals, it helps the freezer run more efficiently.
Here are some general tips for developing a freezer cooking system that works for you:
1) Write down what you plan to cook each week. This way you can create a shopping list to use during your trip to the store or grocery delivery. It is also helpful to have a pantry inventory system, so you don’t buy things you already have in stock.
2) Divide your cooking into categories, such as casseroles, soups and stews, meats, vegetables, etc. You will want to cook in batches that work for your family’s needs. Try to get in the habit of cooking similar meals at the same time so you are not constantly having to reorganize your freezer.
3) Label all of your freezer containers before you fill them with food. Use a permanent marker or labels, and include a list ingredients, cooking instructions, and date prepared on each package because you may lose track otherwise. A printable freezer list or spreadsheet can also help you track your freezer inventory.
4) Most of your meal prep will take place in the kitchen. If you don’t have enough counter space, consider investing in a small folding table to add more workspace on your meal prep day. It will be worth it so you can spread out chopping vegetables and assembling meals.
5) Have your utensils, cutting boards, and pots and pans ready. This way you have everything you need to use before you start cooking. Then, clean as you go to avoid a big mess at the end of your prep session.
6) You may want to cook with a friend or family member so you finish as quickly as possible. The more people involved in the process, the faster it will go. Plus, it’s always more fun to cook with other people!
7) Once the freezer is stocked with meals, record your meal plan for the week (or month) ahead. Write down the dinners for each day of the week so you have a plan in place and the whole family knows what is for dinner. This also serves as a reminder to take a meal out the day before to thaw.
8) If you’re new to this type of cooking, challenge yourself to try one recipe at first. Then use that as a guideline for the next couple of recipes you are going to prepare. As time passes, you will see your confidence grow and your meals take shape. If you want to try it out on a small scale, when you are making a meal that can be frozen, consider making a second one to freeze. I do this with meatloaf, casseroles, lasagna and more. It’s no more work to make two than it is to make one, and that way you have a second one for another day.
What do You Need for Freezer Meal Planning?
To become a freezer meal pro, you’ll need to invest in some basic equipment before you are ready to get started. Here are some of the things you will want to get started and make your freezer meal planning easier.
- Freezer-safe storage containers, such as freezer Ziploc bags, freezer containers or heavy-duty foil. Look for these items online or at your local super store. Make sure that whatever you choose is meant to be used in the freezer.
- Labels for your containers. You can buy pre-printed labels or create your own using a computer program and adhesive paper, which you can find at any office supply store.
- A permanent marker for labeling purposes.
- Freezer bag racks/stands for pouring sauces, soups and stews.
- The right size cookware/ bakeware for each meal, which may be a Pyrex 9 x 12 baking dish, a slow cooker, etc. depending on the recipe.
Getting Started on Freezer Meal Planning
The process of freezer cooking starts with preparing all of your ingredients for the recipes you want to make, including any meat you will need. After this has been completed, the actual cooking begins with one dish at a time. You’ll need to work quickly so you don’t lose too much heat. This is why you ideally will want to prepare the items that take longer to cook first, such as meat and potatoes.
After you have finished cooking each dish, let it cool to room temperature before packaging it up for freezing by following these steps and you’ll be a freezer meal pro in no time.
- Decide whether you are packaging meals in individual servings or as a whole. For example, a whole casserole can fit into a gallon zipper freezer bag. These can then be frozen in a flat rectangle which makes for storage. Instead of baggies, you may want to use microwave-safe containers to package smaller portions of soups or stews.
- Place your containers in a completely level spot in your freezer, making sure there is plenty of room for air to circulate around them. Don’t stack anything on top of them until they have been frozen solid, which can take 24 hours or more depending on the size of each container.
- To be extra careful, place bagged meals on a cookie sheet or other container to catch leaks until they are fully frozen. For wet foods like sauces and soups, double-bagging with zipper freezer bags is recommended.
- Label and date each freezer meal with a permanent marker or pre-printed labels. Be sure to note the cook time and temperature.
- Check your freezer periodically to make sure that it is staying at a consistently cold temperature. There is nothing more frustrating than losing a week’s (or month’s) worth of meals to a power outage or freezer door left open! You’ll also want to note dates of meals and be sure use older meals in a timely manner so that they do not go to waste.
Tips for Freezer Meal Planning
- Always use a permanent marker to label freezer items so the information doesn’t fade or smudge over time.
- Let your freezer run at a normal temperature to avoid wasting electricity or accidentally defrosting your meals.
- Always thaw frozen items in the refrigerator instead of on the counter to avoid bacteria growth.
- Don’t overcook your food, especially meats and vegetables, because they will lose flavor when you reheat them.
- For best results, use freezer meals within three months of preparation.
Day to day life can get hectic. With work, school, sports and family activities, it can sometimes be a challenge to find time to cook. Freezer cooking can make meals easier on busy days. Meal planning and prepping on the weekend takes a little time, but your work will pay off. You will be able to take advantage of having pre-made meals in your freezer that are delicious and nutritious.
Looking to save more money in the new year? Here’s how to save money at the grocery store.
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