September 18, 2013 by The Perfectly Imperfect One
Freezer Meals aka The Big Freeze
For a while now I have been playing around with the idea of doing freezer meals. I am not the biggest cook, and I have the hardest time trying to decide what we should have for dinner. We usually end up making a quick meal, sometimes without meat, for example spaghetti or noodles of some kind. Or even without a veggie. Especially when I cook, I tend to forget a side when I am cooking because I am usually so focused on the main part of the meal. Which is usually spaghetti when I am cooking, and usually with spaghetti, you should have a veggie as well as something like garlic bread.
I am not the best cook. Usually if I find a new recipe, I will try it once, write it down and blog about it. And I make sure dear hubby knows how to make it….then it becomes his meal! I don’t cook often either. Although I do have many really good recipes. Spaghetti Pie, Italian Sausage and Chicken Gumbo, Slow Cooker Pulled Pork Sandwiches, and Chicken Zucchini Bake, just to name a few.
So, back to freezer meals. I have been researching how to do prepare to take on this task. Things like, supplies, and recipes I might want to make. Recipes that people have already made into freezer meals, and they already know they work well. The problem I have is that everyone seems to be making the same 20 meals and freezing them, and most of those recipes don’t look all that appealing to me. As well as I don’t think my hubby and niece might not enjoy.
So, I decided on a few recipes….well actually I chose 14 recipes. Some of them are meat free, there were some chicken recipes, a pork recipe, a few beef recipes, as well as a roast. There were so soups, some Italian recipes, and some bigger meals.
First, I chose the recipes. Wrote them all down, and how many meals I can make out of them. Then I went through and added up the amount of each ingredient, like how much of one type of meat, and how much of each spice. For example, I went through and added up how many chicken breasts I would need in total, and how much dried basil or thyme for all of the recipes.
I labeled this list as a shopping list. Then once I had it organized by group—ie meats, dairy, spices, and veggies. Then I went shopping in my own pantry and spice cupboard. I crossed of or wrote down how many of everything I already had and how many of whatever I needed to buy.
Then I went through and made a new shopping list and labeled this one grocery shopping list. This list had only items I needed more of, or needed to complete the recipes. For example, I knew I needed beef tips and cream of mushroom soup, as well as lots of cans of tomatoes with green chiles.
I also made sure this grocery shopping list was divided into sections, like meats, dairy, canned items, and veggies. This way everything was grouped together and I wouldn’t have to run around the store because I group the items together by recipe, because that would be insane!
This really helped when I went to the grocery store because I got all the meat at once, all the veggies at once, and it everything else in the same areas of the store that I should be because then I wasn’t going back and forth through the store, which REALLY minimized my grocery shopping time.
I spent one afternoon making all these lists, and only about 1 ½ hours of shopping time and I ONLY bought what I was going to be using for The Big Freeze. When I got home, I put the meat and veggies in the fridge, no need to freeze them since I would be using them the next day and then freezing them. Then I left everything out that I would be using, like the cans of tomatoes with green chiles. No point in putting everything away since I would just have to haul it all out again the next day.
When I got up the next day, I made sure to eat a nice big meal before I began so I wouldn’t get weak and fall over from starvation. I didn’t start The Big Freeze project until after noon. The first thing I knew I needed to do was begin the preparation of the one meal I had to cook from start to finish before I could freeze it. This recipes is the Italian Sausage and Chicken Gumbo. This meal cannot be frozen unfinished, and once it is all assembled, it has to simmer for 2 ½ hours. So, I made the decision to make this our dinner for the night as well. Especially since it makes a lot of servings.
The plan was to get all the veggies chopped and the seasonings all separated into their portions for each recipes. The way I had planned to do this was to get that first long recipe started and then work on the rest while it was doing its thing.
Once this recipe was started, I grabbed all my gallon sized Ziploc freezer bags and my sharpie and my recipes. I began writing the date, the name of the meal, the cooking directions, what to serve it with and how long it will freeze for. I wrote it in that order from top to bottom.
Next, I went through all the seasonings and spices. I grabbed small bowls and each recipe and filled the bowl the dry ingredients for each recipe and placed the bowl on top of the recipe so I wouldn’t forget which bowl went with each recipe.
By this point, I was ready to begin preparing the veggies, chopping, slicing, and all that. Also, by this point I was already really tired of this project lol. But low and behold my beautiful mother and niece showed up. I was not expecting them to show up, but they came and my mom started chopping veggies and washing dishes so I could get a move on.
I recommend having a friend or family member help with this task. Even if it is just washing dishes because you will go through a lot of them and you will need to reuse them a lot. So having someone willing to take over some chopping or dish washing is the biggest help ever.
First, my mom chopped all the onions, and we were all tearing up while this was going on. We placed them all into separate bowls for each recipe. Then she did the red peppers, green peppers, the zucchini’s and everything else. I swear, I think I only chopped up the stuff that went into the first recipe and my wonderful mother did the rest. It was such a huge help!
By this point, I had been in the kitchen for about 5 hours or so, with only a few breaks here and there. But then it was time to start putting everything into their freezer bags, and their new little homes for the next while. Grabbing the meat, seasonings, veggies, and canned whatevers and putting them into their already labeled bags, mushing the seasonings into the meat and letting as much air out as possible, and zipping each bag up. Laying them as flat as possible (which isn’t all that easy when you actually try to do it with roasts and ever soups, especially since you worry about it leaking lol).
Then it was freezer time! I had already made room in both my freezers for The Big Freeze, but little did I know it was almost not enough room! Hubby was right, we do need a new standing freezer for the garage, because the kitchen freezer and the small deep freeze we have now is just really not enough room. I am thinking we do need a nice big one.
So, what I learned while doing this project….quite a bit actually. I learned that even though I wanted to turn 14 recipes into 28 meals, it doesn’t always turn out that way. I mean, a pot roast is only one meal, and the lasagna recipe cannot be split into smaller portions without adding more filling, so I only ended up with one lasagna instead of the two I was hoping for.
All in all, here is a list of the recipes I made and how many meals I ended up with. (Side note, there is just my husband and myself most of the time, but we do have my niece 3 nights a week, so some of the meals were easily split into two dinners, while others weren’t able to be split at all.)
The List (I will be adding links to the recipes once they are posted. As you can see, there are already a few links to the recipes I have already posted)
No Boil Manicotti-2 meals, Each meal feeds 3
Spaghetti Pie-2 meals, Each meal feeds 4
No Boil Lasagna-1 meal, Meal feeds 4
Italian Sausage and Chicken Gumbo-Makes 2 meals but could have made 3 meals, Each meal feeds 2-4
Slow Cooker Pot Roast-1 meal, Meal feeds 4
Slow Cooker Pulled Pork Sandwiches-1 meal, Meal feeds 4
Zesty Hamburger Soup -2 small meals, Each meal feeds 3
Chicken Fajitas-3 meals, Each meal feeds 3
Slow Cooker Pulled BBQ Chicken Sandwiches-1 meal-feeds 4
Beef Stew-2 small meals, Each meal feeds 3
Beef Stroganoff-2 small meals, Each meal feeds 3
Slow Cooker Chili-1 meal that feeds 4, or two small meals to feed 2
Slow Cooker Whole Chicken-1 meal, Meal feeds 4
Chicken Zucchini Bake-1 meal, Meal feeds 2
So as you can see, I ended up with 25 dinners, which isn’t too bad.
Now, being that it is the next day, and my meals have been in the freezer over night, I decided to check on them. Good thing I did too, because while the noodle dishes froze really well and are solidly frozen, the soups are not freezing as quickly. The pot roast and the pork butt are doing well. But I needed to rearrange the bags. The part of the bag that touched the side of the freezer is frozen, the stuff in the middle not quite as frozen. Good thing I checked and that I was able to rearrange them. I will check them again tonight and maybe rearrange again.
The thing to remember is that you have to start the freezing with everything laying flat so they freeze quicker because they are thin and then once they are solidly frozen, you can stand them up and save room and be able to quickly grabbed one out of the freezer and not have to pull every meal out if you want the one on the bottom. Anyway, I am not there yet, mine still need to freeze more.
Later, I will post the recipes with instructions on how to freeze them, how many each recipe will serve and how long it can freeze for.
Check back later for the recipes. And please let me know if you have tried freezer meals and how well they worked out for you.