I don’t know what it’s like at your house, but around these parts, life is pretty busy. Each of us gets caught up in projects, books, movies, or games, and meal time tends to creep up on us. If I’ve been absorbed in something, I'll look at the clock in shock: Dinner time already?
My mind starts to wander toward the car keys and calculating how long it will take me to drive to In-N-Out Burger and back. If I’ve planned wisely, I can take a detour to my deep freeze instead.
As good as a Double-Double is, it’s better to feed my family home cooked meals. Cheaper, too. Freezer meals help me do that. And they can help you, too.
Who Can Benefit from Freezer Meals?
I’ve been a fan of bulk cooking for quite some time, since back before I had kids. A friend and I would get together once every month or two to cook up a storm. We’d spend a day in the kitchen dishing, both literally and figuratively. At the end of our time, we’d caught up on all our news and filled our freezers with home cooked meals to enjoy for weeks.
Once I became a mom, it’s became even more vital to have some dinners in reserve. It made the responsibilities of caring for my children so much easier – and tastier, too.
It's not just me. I know of folks who send their kids off to college with a load of frozen meals to help them save on expenses and eat well at the same time. One mom wrote to tell me that this is particularly important for her daughter with celiac disease who cannot risk eating in the cafeteria.
Those caring for an elderly parent will find freezer cooking to be a great way to provide good nutrition and favorite foods for Mom or Dad. Plus, making your own "TV dinners" means that you can package the food in just the right sizes for smaller appetites that the elderly tend to have.
Another friend is a young professional who wants to watch her money and her diet. She cooks up a bunch of different meals to package as single-serving, so she can come home for a quick and healthy meal any night of the week.
How Freezer Cooking Can Benefit You
Not only does this practice help us avoid take-out which is typically more expensive than home-cooked, but it also helps us keep our food costs in check overall. Since I’m cooking in bulk, I’m also buying in bulk which typically reduces my unit costs on most ingredients.
When my freezer is full, I have the emotional space to invite friends over for supper on the spur of the moment. Pulling a lasagna from the freezer gives me time to focus on the table setting, a fresh salad, home-baked bread, and a fancier dessert. Plus, my kitchen stays cleaner!
The same goes for sharing with others who might be celebrating a new baby, nursing an illness, or experiencing a loss of some kind. It’s so easy to take a meal to someone in need if I’ve prepped several meals ahead of time and frozen them.
Freezer meals give me down time. We take a family vacation at least once a year, renting a resort condo with a fully stocked kitchen. Taking freezer meals along makes it easier for our family to enjoy great food that fits our preferences and accommodates our daughter’s food allergies. It also ensures that the parents get a vacation in every sense of the word and helps keep our costs down, too.
Probably most importantly, the practice of freezer cooking allows me to simply take the night off cooking whenever I feel like it.
What You Can Freeze
Soups, stews, and casseroles are pretty standard fare for freezing. But, there’s a whole world of other items that do well under cold storage, like pasta sauces, meatballs, meatloaf, marinated meats and poultry, burritos, chilis, and meat or vegetable fillings for tacos. You can even package up a meal kit of sliced meat and vegetables prepped for cooking later for fajitas, stir-fries, and the like. Add bags of tortillas, beans, and cooked rice, and you’re ready to go.
Even foods that don’t seem freezer friendly can be tweaked slightly. Do some of the prep if you can’t do it all in advance. For instance in my book, Not Your Mother’s Make-Ahead and Freeze Cookbook, I’ve included several fish or shrimp stews and chowders. The dish is prepared just up to adding the seafood which can toughen if overcooked. Cool the chowder and freeze it next to a pack of salmon or shrimp. On serving day, you will reheat the chowder and add the seafood in the last stage of cooking. In this way, you save a ton of time, but you retain the integrity of the protein.
Having dessert in the freezer – other than a pint of gelato – is truly the icing on the cake when it comes to freezer cooking. I can’t tell you what a thrill it is to enjoy fresh apple pie all winter long. In the fall, I stock up on apples fresh from the tree and turn them into pies and applesauce. Into the deep freeze they go, so we can enjoy them for months to come.
How the Method Works
Preparing meals to make-ahead and freeze can be as simple as doubling tonight’s dinner and freezing one batch for a future date. Or it can be as complex as cooking enough meals and meal components to last a month or longer. It really depends on what your needs are and how much time you have on hand.
A weekly power session where you focus on one protein can be a great way to get a head start on filling your freezer. Stock up on boneless, skinless chicken breast that’s on sale. Slice, dice, and marinate your way to a handful of meals to store in the freezer for later. You’ll have taken advantage of sale pricing, gotten the cutting board dirty just once, and you’ll have provided yourself with a quantity of homemade convenience foods that perfectly suit your tastes and dietary needs.
Freezer meals can be a boon to any person, regardless of his season of life. It saves money, allows for flexibility in meal prep, and gives you space to enjoy more of your life.
What’s not to love?
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)