Saturday, May 15, 2010

Freezer Meals: The Preparations

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When planning to stock my freezer with meals to enjoy after my son was born, I wanted to make it as easy as possible for my husband and myself to make meals effortlessly. Besides, since we'll most likely be sleep- and energy-deprived, who wants to spend all day in the kitchen prepping meals? I know many friends who automatically think freezer meals are limited to casseroles, soups, chilis, etc but why limit the possibilities to just a few kinds of dishes? Here's how I prepared my freezer with meals. Perhaps it will help you look at your freezer in a whole new light...

In my mind, I look at restaurants and how many of their menu items must be prepped at least to a certain degree so that your food arrives at the table within a short amount of time. Even aside from restaurants, if you take a walk down the freezer aisle of a supermarket, you'll notice frozen dinners that have been prepped ahead... and the vast options of frozen dinners seems to be growing everyday. Taking a cue from restaurants and convenience meal ideas, it wasn't hard at all to make freezer meals that taste as good as if you made it the same day. Here's how...
  • Decide how you want your meals to be prepared.
Meals can be made in various ways - baked, grilled, broiled, stovetop, microwave, slow cooker/crockpot, etc. Knowing this will help determine how you'll package the meals for the freezer and how much advance preparation you'll need to do before it goes into the freezer.

For the meals I prepared for my freezer, I chose to have them prepared either in a slow cooker/crockpot, baked in the oven, microwaved, grilled and also on the stovetop. Having meals prepared in a variety of ways keeps things fresh... because after while, if everything is microwaved or baked or grilled, etc, you'll lose interest in the meal.

  • Approach a recipe and prepare it up until the last steps.
Preparing freezer meals doesn't always mean you have to make a recipe completely, let it cool and freeze. Iin fact, it's just the opposite where there is either little to no cooking involved, depending on the recipe. When you look at a recipe, there will always be some kind of preparation before you actually cook it by stovetop, oven, grill, slow cooker/crockpot, etc. Take a recipe and just prepare it up until the point you cook to finish the dish. That means:

- For slowcooker/crockpot meals, gather all the ingredients that will need to go into the slowcooker/crockpot. If some of the ingredients need to be cooked first (ex: ground beef, chicken, etc), be sure to cook as directed and then combine with the remaining ingredients that will go into the slowcooker/crockpot. When you're ready to make your slowcooker/crockpot meal, all you'll need to do is defrost and throw it in the slowcooker/crockpot to finish cooking.

- For grilled meals, marinate and/or season meats and vegetables as directed in the recipe. When you're ready to grill, all you'll need to do is defrost and throw it on the grill to finish cooking.

- For baked meals, prepare the recipe up until the point where you have to bake it in the oven. Prepare the recipe in ovenproof, freezer safe containers (more on the containers in a bit...) When you're ready to bake, all you'll need to do is defrost and throw it in the oven to finish cooking.

- For stovetop meals, prepare the recipe up until the point where you cook it on the stovetop. When you're ready, all you'll need to do is defrost and finish cooking on the stovetop.

- For microwaved meals, you'll want to prepare the recipe completely as directed. Allow it to cool and then freeze so that when you're ready to enjoy it, it can be heated up.

  • Use the appropriate food storage containers for the freezer.
Not everyone has a big freezer to fill. One way to maximize the space you do have is to use the appropriate food storage containers. When freezing meals, your biggest enemy is air because it will cause freezer burn and that's never a good thing. I use a few types of food storage containers for my freezer meals...

- Glad Ovenware: These are the ideal storage containers for freezer meals that requires to be baked or microwaved. The beauty of these containers is that you can freeze your meals in them and pop them in your oven or microwave. Another thing is that they are dishwasher safe and reuseable! There are three 8x8 pans with lids to a package and averages about $5. Try finding them at your local supermarket, as well as Walmart & Target.

- Ziploc freezer bags (quart and gallon sized): Freezer bags are perfect for items that you plan on grilling, cooking on the stovetop, and preparing in your slow cooker/crockpot. You can place all the ingredients in the bag, label and store by taking out as much air as possible. Don't skimp and get cheaper brands. Ziploc has worked the best for me because the bags are a nice thickness and really seals up well. Other budget brands are too thin and have weak seals.

- Ball Plastic Freezer Jars: These are perfect containers for soup, chili, stews, sauces, ice cream, etc. I used these for the soups and sauces I've made and the containers are also microwave and dishwasher safe. I purchased mine from Walmart and averages about $4 for a pack of three 32oz jars. There are other sizes as well, but this is my preferred size to hold a nice batch of soup for a meal.

- Disposable Muffin Pans: I used these pans solely for muffins I made in advance. Having a disposable pan made it more convenient to freeze muffins in smaller batches and hold it's shape.

- Disposable Loaf & Bake Pans: I used these pans for a variety of dishes including lasagnas, casseroles, meatloaf, breads, etc. They're a perfect container to hold a meal enough for 2 people and are great to go from freezer to oven.


Stay tuned for the freezer meal recipes! With my baby boy coming home from the hospital tonight, we'll be enjoying all the freezer meals I've prepared starting Monday.

31 comments:

☺lani☺ said...

Thanks for the idea!

Jennifer said...

Love the ideas and congrats on your new baby boy! Enjoy motherhood!

Molly Jean said...

So glad to hear Joel is home! And thanks for the tips on the Glad OvenWare... I hadn't seen those before!

Angel said...

What a great blog post! I will definitely be trying the Glad Ovenware containers. We don't have a big freezer right now, but this is still a great guide.

Joel is adorable, by the way!

Amy and Jeff said...

This is great!! Thank you for the run-down of how you did all of this. It is a great reference.

Suki said...

I came across your blog when a picture of your freezer came across my Pinterest. It looked sooo amazing and I can remember when I had my daughter and wished I had had a freezer big enough to do something like that. While my freezer is bigger now, it's not as big as yours. ANYWAYS. I LOVE this post. It really gave me the know-how, tools, and confidence to get my butt in gear to start freezing food. I especially appreciate that you listed out the containers that you recommend. I haven't had much luck with finding good freezer containers (um, I've only tried maybe two different kinds!) and I'm super excited to try this out. THANK YOU!

Julie said...

You rock! Amazing, now I just need to set aside some time to use a few of the recipes!!!

Alison said...

I love this post and I wish that I could get my freezer that neat!!! I found a post awhile back about marinating the chicken before freezing it and I love it. It really helps with meal planning and preparation. I would like to point out that I prefer the Ziploc or Hefty with the zipper. It is much easier to get out the air but I might also not be great with the regular close :) I am going to have to try some of the other recipes and containers. Thanks tons for the tips!

Anonymous said...

I love this post. I stumbled upon in while browsing Pinterest! I do have a question for you... How do you freeze muffins, cinnamon rolls, etc? Do you freeze the batter or do you freeze it after they have baked?

Joelen said...

Anonymous - thank you for your comment! In terms of freezing muffins, cinnamon rolls, etc, I bake them completely, cool and then wrap to safely freeze. When I want to enjoy them, I take out what I need and let them come up to room temperature before toasting or warming up in the oven. Hope this helps!

Jan said...

another tip for freezing cinnamon rolls. I bake them almost completely- but take them out of the oven before they are browned. Freeze them and take them out the day you want to eat them.. Bake 5 minutes or so until golden brown and frost. They will taste just like you made them that day!

Joelen Tan said...

Jan, what a great tip! Thanks so much for sharing & I'll have to try this next time I bake up a batch :)

Brad & Kate said...

Quick question- I notice that with the foil pans there are no specific lids. What do you do to avoid freezer burn using these foil containers? Do you just cover with aluminum foil?

Joelen Tan said...

Hi Brad & Kate! Thanks for your question - there are a few places I found foil pans with lids and I used those. To prevent freezer burn, I wrap the filled container with plastic wrap and then again with foil on top before topping with the lid. If you can't find foil containers with lids, you can still wrap with plastic wrap and foil - it works just as well. Hope this helps!

Anonymous said...

That is the most beautiful freezer I've ever seen. It's the Shangra-La of freezers.

Christy said...

Love this! Thank you for the tips! I also would have loved to have a freezer full of meals right after each of my children were born! Now that they are 3 and 1...I would STILL love to have a freezer full of meals! I am planning on trying this ASAP! Thanks again!

Martha Yim said...

I love your post. I have only used Pyrex for my freezer dishes because it can go in the oven as well and I am not a fan of plastic. On your muffins what do you put the pan in to keep the air out in the freezer?

Anonymous said...

Good Morning! What an amazing idea! I just stumbled on this! Do you use a specific recipe book for your freezer meals? Thanks for sharing!
Christine

sodalo said...

Thank you!!! I have seen so many "freezer" meal sites - but most of them have recipes I cant stand... they turn to mush ... I ONLY freeze soups and stuff that are kind of meant to be mush. I have just started trying to simply freeze my own recipes - I love your tips and hints and many of your recipes...

Now I just have to figure out where/when I can get meat on sale so I can buy in bulk and freeze up!

sports handicapping services said...

hello I love the site thanks for the idea

Stephanie Swan said...

Just thought I would add a comment about freezer burn. I put a piece of plastic wrap on the food, making sure it touches it so there is no air in between the food and plastic wrap. The freezer burn builds up on the plastic wrap instead of touching your food. My grandma has always done this with ice cream because she didn't eat it very fast and was tired of it going to waste because of freezer burn. Since she taught me how to cook, I have always done it and have never had problem with freezer burn. Just a tip :)

Anonymous said...

I used to go to Costco and buy the large pkg of ground beef. I would chop about 5 onions and brown all of it with the onions. Drain, cool and then put in aprox 1 pound portions in freezer bags. Ready for crock pot chili or spaghetti sauce by opening a few cans and adding spices. A real time saver.

Jen said...

Thanks for sharing! I just started freezer cooking. I was wondering what kind of containers where the best.

Sandra said...

With only 2 weeks to go beofre baby #2 arrives, I'm so greatful that I bookmarked this almost 2.5 years ago! LOL! Thanks Joan!

Sha Misty said...

When you want to freeze meatloaf, is it the same concept which is prepare it all the way up but not bake it? What about spaghetti? I understand how to freeze the sauce, meatballs, but what about the noodles?

Joelen Tan said...

Shan - for meatloaf you can either prep and freeze or bake and freeze. For spaghetti noodles, you can par boil them until barely aldente and then when you're ready to heat up, add them to boiling water to warm through and finish cooking. Hope this helps!

Manang said...

Joelen, just want to add some tips too. When frozen, some of those goodies can be taken out of the container and just wrapped in cling-wrap, then place in vacuum bags (like Reynold's) to avoid freezer burn. Take out as needed, reheat in a non-plastic container (like ceramic or glass) to lessen the chance of plastic material leaching into food. Suction the air out again from the vacuum bag and put back in the freezer.

Anonymous said...

Joelen, I'm so glad to "run into you". :) I would like to begin this food storage process because I'm finding daily prepping and cooking to be difficult with two, active boys. I was wondering though, roughly how long do prepped foods keep? Thanks!

wifeonthemend said...

I hope you don't mind, but I am going to use and abuse you. Well, your page that is. We use to have a make-n-take dinner preparation place here, and it flopped :( It was expensive but well worth it for us. No more frozen pizzas and fast food for us!!!

Rena Taber said...

I know that I am going to say the same thing everyone has said to you before but....it never gets old hearing how appreciated you are does it?? Thank you soo much! We have been going all summer and only have 1 week free before foot ball starts! I am so Grateful to have come across your pinterest!! You are a God Send!!!

Rena Taber said...

I know that I am going to say the same thing everyone has said to you before but....it never gets old hearing how appreciated you are does it?? Thank you soo much! We have been going all summer and only have 1 week free before foot ball starts! I am so Grateful to have come across your pinterest!! You are a God Send!!!

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