In my recent post about having a bad day plan I included a suggestion to “stock the freezer through bulk cooking and eat simply” to get you through a rough period of time.
Bethany put in a request via the comments: “I’d love a post with tips for freezing meals. It sounds simple, but some how I can’t wrap my brain around what is okay to freeze, how to package it, how to reheat it, etc.” so I figured some of you may need some tips for stocking your freezer.
What are the benefits of stocking the freezer through bulk cooking?
Along with meal planning, stocking my freezer is one of the best ways I save time, money and energy. By planning and cooking once I make enough food to feed us 2-4 times depending on the recipe and type of food. I have only used the stove and/or oven once for the longer cooking session and then we use the microwave or the stove/oven for the much shorter reheating which saves on energy costs and is a greener way to cook.
What should you do before cooking?
1. Make sure you have enough room in your freezer before you start. You may find you get caught up in stocking the freezer and forget to schedule nights where you use your stash. Similar to scrapbookers who build up supplies, you do need to dip into the stock regularly.
2. Make sure you have supplies for freezing. Decide if you will use containers or freezer bags. If you use containers make sure they are freezer safe and note that square and rectangle containers or ziploc bags will use your freezer space most efficiently as there is no wasted space as with round ones. Plain white labels and a pen/sharpie are the easiest method for labelling I have found.
What types of food freeze well?
3. The best foods are those with a higher liquid content:
- pasta sauces including bolognaise, bechamel/cheese sauce, puttanesca
- casseroles including stroganoff, tagines, chilli
- most curries
- soups – can store in individual portions (lunches or single dinners) or bigger containers when planned for a family meal
- baked goods (especially good for lunch boxes) including muffins, pancakes, cookies, loaves/ tea cakes, bread dough (my husband loves to bake naan and flat breads and will put aside a portion of dough for next time to have quick access to fresh bread to accompany a curry)
- anything you expect to see in your supermarket freezer section including individual pizzas / leftover slices, Cornish pasties, quiches, vegetable side dishes
- cooked protein sources including sausages, roast chicken and other meats. You can use these to quickly create a dish or simply serve them with side dishes. There are many dishes that call for shredded chicken so you could stock your freezer with appropriate size bags of chicken to have at the ready. I often buy a rotisserie chicken at the supermarket and serve it once, then freeze kids’ portions of leftovers to make a quick dinner with mashed potato and veg.
4. Many people have trouble freezing rice based dishes, but I have found success by adding extra liquid at storage and reheating times. When you empty the pan into the container also swish it with some water to loosen any extra sauce and add that extra liquid to the dish about to be frozen, then add a little water to the dish at time of reheating.
5. To have meals ready for kids lunches and dinners think about portion size and set aside appropriate amounts for them. I bulk cook cheese sauce for macaroni and cheese and fill ice cube trays to freeze the sauce. I use 2-3 cubes per child to reheat. I do the same for a red sauce and have meatballs frozen in bags. I pull out the number of meatballs and defrost them. This solves the issue for me of 1 child liking cheese sauce and the other meatballs with no stress over short order cooking on the night. Everyone is happy and dinner is quick. If 3 of us are having something my 8yo won’t eat I simply make her mac and cheese and a side dish of the rejected food for her to try again.
What is the best way to defrost and reheat frozen meals?
6. If you plan ahead you can defrost overnight in the fridge (place on a plate to keep mess contained as dripping will occur). Otherwise you can microwave on defrost setting or set the dish in a large bowl of warm water until it loosens up.
7. For liquid/sauce dishes you can either reheat on the stovetop or in the microwave. Cooking times in a microwave will vary due to your microwave’s power level. For baked dishes like quiches, pasties, pies etc reheat in the oven as normal. Some dishes can be frozen uncooked and after defrosting you cook as per original instructions. For precooked dishes simply heat through to very hot at a slightly lower temperature than the recipe required to prevent overcooking and drying out the dish.
How do you keep track of what is in the freezer?
8. A good way to stay on top of this is to schedule the leftovers as you make them. You can make a note in your diary for 2-3 weeks after the cooking night reminding you to add the dish to that week’s meal plan. Since I plan a month at a time I often add it to my monthly template straight away.
9. I use a freezer inventory that I found years ago on the website Organized Home. As you build up an inventory it will help you to track the contents of your freezer. When you menu plan you can take 2 minutes to scan this list and jot down 1 or 2 per week to give yourself a night off cooking without the expense of takeaway / ordering in.
10. Make sure you label and date all containers and bags to avoid that awful “mystery dinner” experience we have all endured. You gear up for a nice chilli only to find it is a curry that you actually ate only 2 days prior. If you have a very large freezer, or a deep freeze, dating your items will become more important to ensure you are using the oldest foods first. I have yet to be blessed with a deep freeze so I simply label the name of the dish as I regularly use the frozen food (at least 1 day a week for mains and at least 4-5 days for kids lunches and dinners).
Do you currently bulk / batch cook and have a favourite tip or recipe to share?
Find your simple,