Where to begin??? Freezer meals have been a “thing” for me for a little over a year now. There’s a lot to learn, so if it feels overwhelming, that’s probably because it IS! Learning something new is always a lot at first, but little by little, you’ll learn what works best for you. SO, just stick with me and keep at it!! Here are some tips/tricks that I’ve learned and some of my favorite recipes to help you get started.
First, you should know that this is more money upfront, but I have found that it saves me money in the long run since I’m not having to buy meat or food to make meals…which also makes my grocery trips lighter since I am just going for things like fruit, veggies, milk, etc.
I’ll say that there are 2 ways I’d recommend starting…
- With FRIENDS 🙂 I recently just hosted my first freezer meal party (more to come, especially now that I know how interested people are in this). A week before the party, I asked my 2 friends to send me a recipe that they wanted to make. Once I got their recipes, I printed off copies for each of us and made a grocery list. Obviously, since there were 3 of us I tripled the ingredients, checked what ingredients I already had, then the next day we went shopping together! We then came back to my house and we decided to each make all of the meals so we could have the experience of what it was like to make each one…I’ve found that some freezer meals just take way too long to make, so I make them once, and ditch the recipe 🙂 The cool thing about this is that instead of leaving with 3 of the one recipe we each chose, we each got to go home with one of each of the recipes which helped us try new ones with might not have tried before! Pros to this option are that obviously it’s more fun and you can try new/various recipes…Cons are that you don’t make as many freezer meals, but I think it’s a great option to start and not feel overwhelmed!
- On your own! If you want to do more meals, then I’d suggest doing it on your own. If you’ve never done freezer meals before then I’d honestly say to choose 2 or 3 recipes and make 2 or 4 batches of each to start with. Freezer meal cooking can definitely feel overwhelming and become time-consuming quickly depending on how labor-intensive the recipes you chose are…more on that later though 🙂 When I do freezer meals, I first look for recipes. I usually just go to google and type in “Healthy freezer meals”…I open up a bunch of tabs and try to find a variety of chicken, turkey, pork, and beef recipes. Once I find a few I like, I print the recipes, make a grocery list, then depending on how much I need of each item I’ll either add it to Kroger click list OR my Sam’s club click list. I’ve found this to be helpful because 1) I only have to go pick my groceries up rather than having to shop twice and 2) I don’t have huge quantities of things I only need a little bit of! After I get the groceries, I come home and clear my dining room table. I lay out the recipes and I either put a large freezer baggie (add this to your click list too if you don’t have them on hand) OR I put out an aluminum freezer meal pan (also add this if you don’t have them they are a lifesaver because you can prep the meal in the pan, cook in the pan, AND throw it out when you’re done, so NO DISHES!!! Hallelujah! Lol), then I sort the groceries into their recipes so I can visually see each recipe, what ingredients go with it, and what dish/baggie it will be placed into. Pros to this option are that you will have more meals. Cons are that it’s more work and can feel more stressful, so make sure you have PLENTY of time OR choose fewer recipes (like 1-2 and make more of each recipe rather than make a few batches of many recipes).
Now for some tips I’ve learned!
- Like I mentioned earlier, I like to print the recipes and get out good old-fashioned paper and pencil to make a grocery list. It’s easier to get a count of things like onions, bell peppers, etc. and to then make a click list/decide if you need an ingredient in bulk or not. Yes, you have to go to 2 grocery stores, BUT all you have to do is pick it up! Then when you get home, you can sort the ingredients back out into their individual recipes.
- Use aluminum pans and be sure to cover then with tin foil and their lids before placing them in the freezer. I always write the name of the recipes and directions for how to cook the recipe on the foil or on the ziploc baggie so that I can easily know how to cook the meal. You can buy aluminum pans at Sam’s club, but a mistake I recently made was getting the pans without lids…this makes it harder to stack the meals because the aluminum foil caves in! So, don’t be like me. Buy the aluminum pans with lids 🙂
- The easiest type of freezer meals to make and to cook are called dump meals. I know, a really lovely name! Haha. They are like what they sound like, you literally dump all the ingredients into the bag and it involves very little prep. When you’re ready to cook these, you thaw the meal, then dump it into your crockpot and you’re done! I’ll list some of my favorite dump meals later on in the post!
- Use crock pot liners!!! Then you don’t have to spend time soaking and scrubbing your crock pot! You can buy these in bulk at Sam’s club.
- Once you make your meals and put them in Ziploc baggies, lay them FLAT in the freezer at first. You want to do this because then once they freeze, you can more easily store them by standing them up! This will save you a lot of space in your freezer and help with organization!
- Another note on storage, if you find that you really like this and it’s helpful to you, you might want to invest in a deep freezer. Ed and I got one and it is now completely full outside! I have a section for beef meals, turkey meals, and chicken meals that are all stacked up. In our inside freezer, I have pork meals and other misc. meals! We find that organizing by protein makes it easier to meal plan for the week and get a variety of different meals.
- As far as prep goes, I’ve learned that it’s easiest if you’re doing many meals to cook the ones that use the same meat at the same time. So for example, last time I cooked mexican turkey soup and turkey quinoa casserole so what I did after I sorted out all of the ingredients was I first started to cook the meat (I just learned a new way I”ll explain next!!!) and as the meat cooked, I prepped the rest of the ingredients by chopping and cuttings lots of onions, peppers, etc., opening lots of cans, draining juices, washing corn, etc. so that when the meat was done, all I had left to do was add the turkey meat to the Ziploc bag or to the aluminum pan.
- As far as cooking meat goes, I have a gigantic dutch oven that I used to use to cook lots of meat at once…now I just use my crockpot because you can, as they say, set it and forget it 🙂 The other nice thing about using the crock pot to cook meat is that if you start by getting the meat going, you can prep all the other ingredients and have it ready to go while the meat cooks! I find that this makes it go a little quicker 🙂
- Chicken=Bake in the oven or grill out if you need chicken breasts, Cook chicken in the crock pot if you need shredded chicken, or buy a rotisserie chicken if you don’t want to have to wait/cook chicken yourself you can buy a rotisserie chicken and quickly pull the meat off!
- Turkey & Beef=Cook in a skillet OR cook in the crock pot. I cooked 4 lbs of turkey in my crockpot (with a handy dandy crock pot liner) and it took a few hours to I was able to prep all the bags/casserole dishes and just add the turkey once it was finished cooking. I made the mistake of trying to cook 10 lbs of beef in my bigger crockpot at once time (I know, silly) so I ended up having to get out a skillet to finish browning it which wasn’t a huge deal, BUT I’d say only do up to 4, maybe 5 max lbs of meat in the crock pot at a time. It cooks usually for 2-3 hours on low or 4-6 on high. I used a thermometer to check it and it was a lot easier to drain all the meat at once using a strainer and letting it go into a bowl before I put it in a jar!
- As you assemble the Ziploc meals, there is a handy tool you can use so that you don’t accidentally drop of let your Ziploc bag fall over (it happens a lot more quickly than you’d think and is quite frustrating!) They make these holders that will hold your baggies upright so they don’t fall over and create any messes. This makes it a lot easier to double or quadruple a recipe at once as well as you just drop the ingredients in each bag, then onto the next one!
Now, onto the good stuff!!!! Here are some of my favorite recipes 🙂
Dump Meals: These are meals that when you prep, you literally dump all of the ingredients into the bag. When you’re ready to cook it, you thaw it in the fridge (I usually do this 2 days before I want to cook it), then dump it into your crock pot and typically cook it on low for 6 to 8 hours or on high for 4 to 6 hours. I’ve found that cooking it on high tends to make the meat dry, but also cooking it on low for 8 hours does that same! So it’s all a toss-up and a learning curve! These are the easiest meals to start with if you’re new to this! The ones below are some of Ed and I’s favorites…The peanut chicken satay is the newest one we’ve tried and is sooo good!! We have it on top of brown rice with naan bread and it is to die for!
Easiest Ones to Start with…(Require no chopping!)
“Level 2” Dump Meals (Require a little more chopping)
Casseroles: These are nice because they’re often a whole meal that require no sides or extra cooking once you are done making them…they do require a little more time/effort to make though!
- Chicken Pesto Tortellini Bake
- Chicken Enchiladas
- Beef Enchiladas
- Broccoli Chicken Casserole
- Chicken Parmesan
- Buffalo Chicken Casserole
- Turkey Quinoa Casserole
Just for Fun: Ed and I love these little pizzas because we can individualize them and they help us out on nights when I forget to thaw a meal or we are in a time crunch! We make a bunch ahead of time and have an aluminum pan of “Kassie’s” pizzas and a pan of “Ed’s” pizzas 🙂
What I love about freezer meals is that I always get to come home to a meal already cooked AND I rarely have to do dishes and try to scrub casserole out of a dish…because honestly who wants to do that after a long work day! I hope this helps you get started!! If you have tips or questions or want to be a part of the next freezer meal “party” I have, comment or reach out! If you have other good recipes, drop them below!! Happy freezer meal-ing…that’s a thing now 🙂