Over the past month I've been sharing the planning process behind my big spring project: stocking my freezer with healthy meals before the arrival of my first baby in early June. Checking in every week has been hugely motivating, but the even bigger benefit of letting The Kitchn readers in on the process has been the wealth of helpful advice you've given me in the comments. Here are the 7 best reader tips for filling your freezer before the arrival of a new baby.
1. Start as soon as possible and consider recruiting help.
Get that freezer full as soon as you can. Those last few weeks can be crazy uncomfortable and being on your feet for too long can become borderline unbearable. — Funkerella
The one thing I recommend is to start early enough with the cooking. By the time I started to prepare the freezer meals, I was not in the mood for cooking anymore, so I ended up only making three dishes. The first few weeks were just kind of a blur of trying to get to eat. — austrianinchicago
My girlfriends are getting together this weekend to cook up a bunch of freezer meals and split them...it's one way to make sure you don't have 5 servings of the same thing in there. — tracylynn
2. Maximize space by storing food flat in freezer bags.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I originally planned to rely on glass containers, but comments from a couple readers convinced me that I would be able to store a lot more food in my small freezer by freezing it flat in freezer bags.
Your freezer is as small as mine. I would recommend forgoing jars and other containers, as they take up too much space for what you have in mind. I now freeze in freezer bags, which I fill and then lay flat in the freezer. When frozen you can stack up a nice pile, side by side, somewhat like a bunch of LPs. That way you have a lot of food in the freezer. — Goethe Girl
As someone who freezes a lot of food using the flat-Ziploc method (and it is really satisfying to have them all lined up in the freezer! and you can fit a lot of food in a small freezer that way), I just want to warn you that it can be difficult to extract frozen food from the Ziploc bag. I usually reheat in the bag just until thawed but still cold before transferring. If you want to avoid even that, I would suggest defrosting in the fridge. — Emma in Toronto
3. Keep track of what you made and when, and how to reheat it.
My advice is to keep a list on the outside of the freezer of what meals you have in there — it's so easy to forget things in the new baby haze!
— Thrift at Home
I wrote out portion sizes, reheat/prep instructions and serving suggestions (e.g. Serves 2. Reheat from frozen in oven at 350F. Serve with rice & green salad) along with what it was, so that family and friends could make dinner without any input from me. — TaraZA
DON'T FORGET TO LABEL. Dog food and chicken soup look the same frozen. — yellow coffee cup
4. Freeze food in smaller portions.
Smaller portions will reheat more quickly and will make it easier for my husband and me to eat at different times if needed.
Small portions are better than large ones. I rarely took the time to defrost a meal before cooking or reheating, so a smaller portion took less time.
— Smiley mama
I would also suggest keeping tin foil and/or freezer containers available for saving leftovers from friends and family. I was generously given many casseroles, chilies, soups, etc. in large quantities. Break them up into portions as soon as you can, otherwise it will go bad in the fridge.
5. If you plan on breastfeeding, don't rely too heavily on recipes with dairy and soy.
Breastfeeding moms often find that eating dairy products causes gas and discomfort for their babies — soy is another common culprit — so it's a good idea to have plenty of non-dairy, soy-free meals, just in case.
My one caution to you or others planning frozen meals is that if you plan to breastfeed, babies can be sensitive to things in your diet. I never really paid that much mind until my son came along. He's an extreme case, but many kiddos have milk/soy intolerances even if it's just in your diet.
I have three babies and all three couldn't tolerate any milk in my diet; my first in particular was extremely sensitive to any form of milk that I consumed. — Christirei
It is very common for breastfed babies to have problems with dairy in mom's diet. My sister and I both had to go on very strict dairy-free diets after our kids were born. She had a whole freezer full of dishes with cheese and butter and her husband takes them for lunch. — at12345
6. You can't have enough one-handed meals.
The more one handed, neat meals you can make, the better. Can't tell you how frustrating it is trying to get a few grains of rice or on a fork while holding the baby. Or how hard it is to twirl spaghetti and get it to your mouth without dropping hot marinara on your little ones head. — Smiley mama
Make sure you have a few things tucked in there that can be retrieved, heated and eaten with one hand — your other arm will be occupied for the foreseeable future! Things like individually packed muffins and waffles I could pop in the toaster to snack on were a lifesaver, especially when the breastfeeding hangry struck! — TaraZA
When I have a new baby on the way (I have four, and the last were twins), I try for: handheld, nothing that requires a fork and knife (using a fork while holding a baby is possible, but cutting with a knife isn't), and drinkable soups (from a mug, easier than using a spoon). — Lissla Lissar
7. Don't be too hard on yourself if you don't get as much done as planned.
Several readers mentioned that they had plenty of time for cooking, even with a newborn, and even found their time in the kitchen a relaxing escape from the demands of new parenthood.
I didn't miss having frozen foods — there was really no tiding over necessary....It actually felt good to cook — made me feel more grounded and happy. And our family doctor told me I had to get a baby swing and seat (I got a Baby Bjorn), and so it was never a problem to set them down. I've had a lot of friends who really stressed themselves out in the drive to prepare frozen meals before the arrival of a baby, and so just want to say, don't worry, if you don't manage to get it done, it will be fine too.
Thanks so much for following along with this project, and for all your words of encouragement along the way. Feel free to share any other advice in the comments!
(Image credits: Emma Christensen)