Freezer Cooking: 10 Tips for Getting Started
What Is Freezer Cooking?
The idea behind freezer cooking is simple. You prepare meals ahead of time and store them in your freezer to be eaten at a later date. People have been doing this for a long time, but there seems to have been a renewed interest in this concept in recent years. Many websites and books are devoted to the idea of "once a month cooking," and it's gained a lot of interest among people trying to reduce their grocery bill, eat healthier and reduce the amount of time they spend on meal preparation.
Having a freezer stocked with ready-to-cook meals that you've put together yourself can be a great time saver. It's also much healthier and cheaper than relying on frozen, heavily processed convenience foods. If you've been wanting to give freezer cooking a try but haven't yet taken the plunge, here are 10 tips to help get you started.
1. Make Room in Your Freezer
Before you get started with freezer cooking, you'll want to make sure that you have ample room in your freezer to store the meals you plan to prepare. Now is a great time to clean out and organize your freezer, whether you're planning to use a deep freezer in the garage or the normal freezer in your fridge.
2. Consider Your Family's Meal Preferences and Needs
Spend some time thinking about your family's lifestyle and what's currently working and not working with meal preparation in your household.
What are your biggest challenges? Do you find that you're struggling to put together a healthy meal most weeknights because there's not enough time between getting home from work and taking the kids to their sports and activities? Are you spending too much time and money picking up takeout meals for lunch or dinner? Do you enjoy coming home to meals made in your slow cooker, but are rarely organized enough to plan ahead for this? Freezer cooking can help with all of these challenges and more.
Make a list of your family's favourite foods and meals. Which ones could you make in large quantities and freeze? Think about what types of meals and foods would be most helpful to have available in your freezer. Baked goods for snacks or weekend brunch? Individual serving containers of soups or chili for lunches? Dinners that could be thrown in the slow cooker in the morning on hectic days? Full meals that someone else can heat up if you're away or working late?
Also, consider what cooking methods you are likely to use to heat up or cook the meals after they come out of the freezer. For instance, you may want to focus more on foods that can be cooked on the barbecue as you head into the summer months and rely more on comfort foods like stews and casseroles that will be cooked in the oven or slow cooker for the fall and winter.
3. Do Some Research
Now that you have a better idea of what types of meals you might want to stock up on, do some research. There are many websites, books and blogs devoted to this concept where you can find lots of tips and recipes suitable for the freezer. Search for the following topics:
- Freezer Cooking
- Freezer Meals
- Bulk Cooking
- Meal Planning
- Once a Month Cooking (OAMC)
4. Consider a Warehouse Membership
If you don't already have one, consider purchasing a membership at Costco or a similar warehouse store. Because you will likely be preparing several meals at once and freezing them right away, you can save money by buying bulk quantities of meats, vegetables and other ingredients without having to worry about the food going to waste.
It helps to know your prices when shopping at the warehouse stores. For instance, the meat isn't always much cheaper than what you would find at your grocery store. However, you can take advantage of sales when they do occur and make a variety of meals around that type of meat for your freezer. I've also found Costco to be a great place to stock up on freezer bags and containers.
5. Stock Up on Containers
Ensure you have an adequate quantity of containers to use for your freezer meals. If you don't think you have enough currently, purchase additional supplies before getting started.
- large and small freezer bags: These are the best choice for many foods to make the most efficient use of space in your freezer.
- glass casserole dishes or pans: With lids, these stackable containers are ideal for large-batch meals like shepherd's pie or lasagne
- single-serving containers: Small containers made of either plastic or glass are great for storing lunch or dinner for one.
6. Choose a Few Simple Recipes to Start With
Some people prepare a whole month's worth of meals in one day, but I don't suggest attempting this right away. You will likely end up exhausted and give up on the idea altogether. Start small, and build up to longer sessions. I suggest starting with a few simple recipes for your first time.
You may want to begin with some recipes that you're already familiar with, such as your favourite recipe for lasagna, shepherd's pie or chili. Make large quantities of them to freeze in whatever size of container is most appropriate for one meal for your family. This is a great way to begin stocking your freezer, and you know it's food your family will enjoy.
Or, if you know a certain type of meat is on sale this week, you could plan to buy that and make several different recipes with it for the freezer. For instance, several weeks ago, Costco had large porkloins on for $5 off their regular price. I purchased three of them, at a cost of $8 to $10 each. I then cut each porkloin into several sections. Then I cut sliced some sections into boneless pork chops, cubed some for stew, sliced some for stir fries, and left others as is to cook as pork roasts or for pulled pork in the slow cooker. I mixed up a few different sauces and marinades, chopped some vegetables up and packaged everything up into large freezer bags. I ended up with meat prepped for a dozen meals for less than $30 and a couple of hours work. You can easily do something similar with other meat that might be on sale such as chicken, ground beef or flank steak.
7. Stock Up on Spices
Take an inventory of what spices you currently have. Look through the recipes you've gathered up that you would like to try to see if there's any spices you are missing.
I highly recommend purchasing the spices you need at a bulk food store to save money. You can purchase smaller quantities of spices you don't use very often, and this will help keep your costs down and help prevent the spices going to waste if they are stored in your cupboard for too long.
8. Develop a Tracking System
Once you start stockpiling your freezer, you'll want to be able to keep track of what's in there so you don't forget about it. Plan how you will keep track of your freezer inventory now.
A good tracking system will help with meal planning and future shopping trips, as well as ensure that your freezer meals are used up in an appropriate amount of time. It helps keeps you organized, prevents food wastage and will save you time and money.
There are various freezer inventory templates available online and in many of the freezer cooking books, or you can easily develop your own system.
Some people keep their freezer inventory list close to their freezer, but I've found it most helpful to keep mine in the kitchen, so I can refer to it for meal planning and when I'm making a shopping list. I keep mine taped to the inside of my pantry door so I never have to worry about losing it.
9. Plan Your Shopping Trip
If you've decided that you're going to try preparing many meals in one day, you'll want to plan out your shopping trip carefully.
So you're not too tired to cook when you get home from shopping, you may want to plan a couple of trips. You can shop for spices, dry goods, pantry items, and foods that keep well like garlic, onions and lemon juice earlier in the week and then you'll just have to pick up the fresh ingredients like the meats and vegetables on the big day.
Once you know what recipes you want to make, decide which store(s) you will need to go to. It's a good idea to check out the store flyers to see which meats are on special before you go.
10. Schedule a Meal Prep/Cooking Day
The last thing to do is pick a day for your first freezer cooking day. Many of the recipes you will likely be making may not actually be cooked prior to freezing, so it might be more appropriate to call it your meal preparation day.
Although not necessary, you may want to try to get someone to help you with cutting the vegetables and other tasks if you're making more than a couple of different recipes. If you have an older child, you may be able to recruit them to help you with some of the prep work. Or you could invite a friend over to keep you company, and share some of the prep work in exchange for a few meals for their freezer.
Try to pick a day where you won't be rushed or tired. The idea of freezer cooking is to make your life easier, and if you view it as something negative you likely won't stick with it for long.
Freezer cooking can be a great way to save money on your grocery bill, free up valuable time and help you and your family eat healthier meals on a regular basis. Be warned though—it can be a little addictive!