How to Prepare Freezer Meals
Your family loves home-cooked meals, but with a busy life, who has time to cook a full dinner every night? Enter freezer cooking: an organized method to cook once and eat many times by stockpiling pre-prepared main meals and side dishes in the freezer.
Also known as once-a-month cooking or investment cooking, the concept of freezer cooking is simple. When you do cook, cook multiple portions and freeze extra servings.
Problem is, this method is a bit haphazard. Who hasn’t known the virtuous feeling of cooking up a big pot of baked beans and tucking a container or two deep in the bowels of Moby Dick, the great white freezer? Where, sad to say, it remains. Months later, a freezer clean-out yields an icy mountain of anonymous dribs and drabs of pre-cooked food. Without labels, planning or portion control, the cook-ahead effort goes to waste.
Use the following tips to fine-tune your freezer cooking skills and avoid mystery meals.
Plan Multiple Meals
Ground beef and Italian sausage on sale this week? By all means, buy extra for freezer meals but make it a plan. Two pounds of beef and a pound of sausage will make four meals for your family? Great! That’s what you buy, not a smidgen more. Too often, a weak “I’ll freeze the extra” leads to overbuying and waste.
Package the Freezer Meals First
Back to our hungry family, faced with a huge kettle of spaghetti sauce. Before you know it, a meat-loving teen has gutted the pot and put a serious dent in your meal forward-planning. To avoid this hazard, fill freezer containers before you serve the evening’s meal. You’ll have a tighter handle on portion control and there will be no more scant cups of sauce marooned inside the freezer.
Freeze Casseroles Before Cooking
A twice-cooked casserole is nobody’s friend. After dinner, who wants to scoop the leavings into freezer bags? Efficient freezer cooks build their lasagna in three single-meal containers and freeze two while the current evening’s dinner is in the oven.
Ill-assorted margarine tubs and gaping plastic containers are for amateurs and they won’t protect your frozen assets from spoilage and freezer burn. Invest in three or four same-sized oven-safe casserole dishes. Is it beef stew tonight? Spritz the dishes with pan spray, and line with a sheet of foil long enough to wrap completely around the food. Spray the foil, too, then ladle in the stew. Gently tuck the foil up over the food. Freeze overnight, and then release the foil from the dish. Wrap, label and freeze in freezer bags. To use, pop a foil-wrapped package into the casserole dish, thaw and reheat. Simple!
Label, Label, Label!
An efficient freezer cook has assembled labeling supplies before he or she begins. Tuck a slip of paper with the name of the dish, cooking directions, today’s date and a use-by date to tell you how long to freeze the item between the foil-wrapped package and freezer bag. Better, use a permanent marker pen to label freezer bags. Computer-savvy cooks can print computer address labels for easy labeling of frozen foods.
“Out of sight, out of mind” defeats many would-be freezer cooks. Introduce inventory control with a whiteboard. Adding three dinners’ worth of macaroni and cheese to your freezer hoard? Write ‘em in. Visiting family has you drawing heavily on your inventory? Erase each meal as you use it. A small magnet-mounted whiteboard can be placed on the freezer door to track frozen assets.
Houseworks © 2006, 2010 Dorling Kindersley Limited
Text copyright © 2006, 2010 Cynthia Townley Ewer