Thursday, September 23, 2010

Freezer Meals

When I was pregnant with "L" I decided I was going to make as many meals ahead as possible. When I got to looking up "freezer meals" online I was amazed at the variety and simplicity of it! In the last month or two of my pregnancy I was able to make and freeze about 18 meals in total. It was a God send after she was born! With many a sleepless night dealing with a very high needs baby by myself when Zach went back to working (he works nights), the premade meals made things so much easier! I still use freezer meals now on at least a once a week basis. They are quick, easy and save me from breaking down and ordering pizza!
So, a tutorial on what a freezer meal is, how to make them, ideas on what to make, how to freeze them, how to thaw them, and how to cook them. :o) This could be a long one!

A freezer meal is:
This is fairly simple to answer. A freezer meal is a meal in the freezer. Got it? :o) Ok, maybe a little more in depth. Freezer meals can be casseroles, enchiladas, lasagna, premade pizza dough, precooked meat, freezer marinades, meat loaves, soups, pot pies and even breads/rolls/biscuits.

How to make, freeze, thaw and cook the different types of freezer meals:

  • Casseroles: This week, make a casserole but double the recipe. Put the second batch in a disposable foil pan and place in the freezer. Uncooked! Now you have a freezer meal. This can be done with casseroles, lasagna, stuffed shells, mac and cheese, meat loaves, pot pies and enchiladas. You can buy foil pans for really cheap that have plastic covers that stack nicely in a freezer. Write on the lid of the container the bake temperature, time and any special instructions (Ie: add 1 cup shredded cheese to the top the last 5 minutes of bake time.) Also write on the lid what goes good with the casserole (Ie: for baked spaghetti: serve with green beans, salad, sliced peaches, and garlic bread.) To cook: allow the casserole to thaw for about 24 hours in the refrigerator. Bake at the time and temperature on the lid and serve!

  • Pizza dough: make a double batch of pizza dough (I love my bread machine!) Roll out your pizza crusts, poke holes in the bottom with a fork and bake for 10 minutes at 350 degrees. Place baked crusts on a flat surface to cool then place in a zip top baggie or wrap in plastic wrap and place in the freezer. I like to do these in personal sized pizzas so we can have a few different types of toppings (meat lovers, peppers and onions, tomato basil mozzarella.) When you are ready to make them, pull the crusts out, unwrap and allow to thaw on your baking sheet for 10-15 minutes while your oven is preheating. Place on your toppings of choice including cheese. Put in a 350 degree oven for 10-15 minutes till the cheese is melted and the crust is golden brown. These have been a lifesaver more than once for us! Times when we get home from being gone all day and there is nothing in the house to eat that is quick. Within a half an hour I can have hot pizza with a side salad and maybe some green beans ready to go.

  • Precooked meats are nice too. When I have a recipe that calls for diced cooked chicken, I always cook twice the amount. Pull out what you don't need for that recipe and throw it into zip top baggies in 1-2 cup amounts for later use. These are nice for salads! Also, breakfast sausage is a great cook ahead meat. Buy the bulk ground sausage (cheaper than the premade patties) and cook it all up in patties like you normally would for breakfast. Just cook double or however much you bought. Lay the cooked patties on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper and place in the freezer for a few hours. Now you have precooked sausage patties for breakfast. In a hurry one morning, pop a couple in the microwave while your eggs are cooking. Or place on a biscuit/bagel with some cheese for an "egg McWhatever" to go. Also, when you buy a package of bacon, split it up into serving sizes to fit your family (3 slices per person in the family kinda deal) and freeze these uncooked like you do the cooked patties. Then when you need bacon you are only thawing out the amount needed!

  • Freezer marinades are a nice one. Buy a big bag of chicken breasts or a family sized package of beef cut however you like it when they are on sale. I have been told you can do this with tofu as well. (Hi Andi!) Divide the meat into zip top baggies in the portions you need for your family (4 people in your family, 4 chicken breasts in the baggie.) Pour in your favorite marinade. This can be store bought or homemade. Then place in the freezer. When you are ready to use them, put the baggie in a large bowl in the refrigerator for a few days to thaw. As the meat thaws it will marinade by itself. Cook as you normally would!

  • Soups: Make a big pot of chili or veggie soup, pull out half and freeze in a large container or zip top baggie. Or freeze in individual portions for a quick meal. Simply thaw and reheat on the stove!

  • Breads/rolls/biscuits: Make up your bread/rolls as usual. Allow to rise for the final time. Then bake for about 3/4 of the time you usually do. You are looking to get them to the point of being baked completely but not browned. Allow to cool completely and then place in a freezer bag. When you want to use them, allow them to thaw and then bake for the last 1/4 amount of time. You now have "Brown and Serve" bread just like from the store! Biscuits can be done like for the bread or they can be mixed up, cut out and then frozen unbaked. Allow them to thaw most of the way and then bake as usual, though you may need to increase the time a bit.

  • Other ideas: 1:)Have a favorite crock pot recipe? Mix up a double batch of the ingredients next time you make it. Freeze one half of the uncooked ingredients for later use. Just like those expensive store bought ones. 2) Next time you have a meal that calls for diced onion, cut up a couple extra while you have the knife and cutting board out. Place in snack size freezer bags and use when you are in a hurry. 3) Buy bell peppers when they are on sale/in season. Wash, core and slice/dice them, place on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper and freeze over night. Next time you want a pepper omelet in the morning, pull out a hand full, toss in the microwave for 30 seconds or so and then add them in. Or if you have a recipe that calls for one pepper pull out a big handful (a large handful of sliced peppers for me is about equivalent to 1 whole pepper). 4) Short breads (muffins, banana nut bread, Amish friendship bread, ect.- those that do not use yeast but do use baking soda/powder) can be frozen after baking. These freeze wonderfully! Bake a big batch of your favorite muffins and then freeze the extra. In the morning, simply pull one out, warm it up in the oven or microwave, butter and enjoy! Bake a big batch of banana nut bread when "too old" bananas go on sale for $.20 a pound. Freeze the extra loaves. Thaw for a few hours and you have "fresh" bread that tastes as good as the day you made it. Honestly, freezer zucchini bread in the middle of winter has always tasted better to me than fresh baked.

I hope this gives you some helpful tips on how to make make ahead meals. Making meals from scratch can be a time consuming, tiring, and labor intensive process, but by doing a little thinking ahead, a little extra work here and there, and spending a few extra minutes at each meal, you can make it much easier and tastier!