Having a stash of freezer meals on hand is a great way to save money on food costs and enjoy home cooked meals when you’re too tired to get yourself to the kitchen. While it might take some planning and effort, the benefits far outweigh the costs.
Believe it or not, you don’t need any fancy packaging machine or a deep freeze in order to make meals for the freezer. You don’t have to spend all day doing it, either. Preparing freezer meals simply involves a little know-how, some good containers or wraps, and a refrigerator with a freezer compartment.
The Simplicity of the Power Cooking Session
A power cooking session is a simple affair of making several batches at one time. You can do it in as little as an hour on a weeknight. That’s about as long as it takes me to prep six to eight dinners of marinated chicken or meat.
Let’s walk through a “power cooking session,” making many batches of a single recipe at one time. This will help you see how easy it is to cook in bulk.
Choose a recipe that you can easily make multiple batches of, like lasagna or marinated chicken breast. In this scenario, we’ll go for three batches. Create a grocery list, tripling the ingredients that you need to purchase. Add to that list the storage containers or wraps you will need, either baking dishes with lids or ziptop freezer bags. Go shopping.
Go through your recipe and prep ingredients for assembly. Chop onions, shred cheese, slice olives, mince garlic, and so on. Do this all at one time. It’s the mise-en-place method of having everything you need ready at your fingertips before you begin cooking.
(In a once-a-month cooking session where you’re making more than one recipe, you would prep all the ingredients for all the recipes at one time. This saves you time in the long run, helps you be organized, and makes sure you really do have everything you need before you get halfway through and find out you forgot something.)
Assemble the recipe according to the instructions in an assembly line fashion. If you’re making lasagnas, lay out all three pans and methodically go through each step three times before moving on. If you're making the marinated chicken, line up three bags, trim the chicken, divide it among the bags, mix the marinade and add it to the bags.
If the recipe is something that is cooked prior to freezing, cool it to room temperature and then chill it in the refrigerator. If not, then wrap, label, and freeze the dish right away.
See that was pretty easy, don’t you think?
We won’t eat all those meals in succession; we’ll spread them out over a month’s time. If you plan one power cooking session each week, you’ll have a well-stocked freezer at the end of a month with very little work or effort on your part. Why, that’s practically a self-filling freezer!
If you want to do try your hand at a more intensive freezer cooking session, try one of these cooking plans:
Other Tips for Freezing
Label well. Don’t be caught off guard by Mystery Meatloaf. Be sure to label each package with the date prepared, the name of the recipe, and preparation instructions so you don’t need to scramble for the recipe on the day of serving.
Never put hot food in the freezer. That is a recipe for food poisoning.
Chill the food completely before freezing. This will help it freeze quickly and therefore reduce its chances of forming large ice crystals and freezer burn.
Use it or lose it. While frozen food will keep indefinitely if kept under 0°F, very few home freezers keep such a steady temperature. Keep track of what you have and use it up, ideally within two to three months for best taste and texture.
If you’re not sure a favorite recipe freezes well, simply cool, label, and freeze a small portion of it the next time you make it. A week later, thaw and prepare for serving. If you like it, then you know you’ve got another winner to add to your freezer cooking repertoire.
Check out Jessica's book on freezer meals
→ Not Your Mother’s Make-Ahead and Freeze Cookbook
Visit Jessica's family cooking blog:
→ Good Cheap Eats
(Images: Jessica Fisher)