{Minimal Effort} Freezer Cooking

One of my big goals for 2013 is to plan ahead and be more proactive and intentional with my time.  Those 24 hours go FAST and it is so easy to let them slip away if you let them.

I’ll be honest, when it comes to meals and cooking dinner for my family, I really struggle.  Not because I don’t want to do it or don’t like to cook–I really do–but usually because a.) we have a lot of activities in the late afternoon that cut into meal preparation time b.) after a full day of working & homeschooling & mommy-ing (and getting up at 4am), I am TIRED come 6 o’clock, and I honestly just don’t have the energy left to figure out what to make.

A couple years ago I tried doing a program called 30 Meals in One Day.  It worked out great–I spent a whole Saturday cooking, and ended up with 26 wonderful freezer meals that my family really enjoyed.  I have been wanting to do it again ever since, but I never seem to have a whole day free to devote just to cooking.  I am frankly in awe of people who can find a whole day every MONTH to do this.

But then a few weeks ago, during our Christmas break, I was assembling a vegetarian quiche for dinner and realized that I had enough ingredients for 2 instead of one.  I did a quick Google search and discovered that if you bake a quiche for half the time–20 minutes instead of 40–you can then cool it and freeze it, then easily bake it from frozen.

It was a revelation!

What if, on the nights I DO cook, I simply double whatever I am making and freeze the extra meal?  It wouldn’t really take any extra time and the payoff would be HUGE!

Bound and determined to fill my freezer and start the year feeling like I was at least a little bit on top of it, I started cooking like a mad woman.  I made a few big pots of soup and a huge batch of zucchini bread and a couple more quiches, always freezing the extra.  I then slow cooked 2 big pot roasts, serving one for dinner (with leftovers for lunches) and splitting the other 2 into disposable aluminum pans that can be simply thrown into the oven and baked for 3 hours at 300 degrees when needed.

It was when I was looking up advice on freezer cooking pot roasts that I stumbled across Janell’s handy little plan for preparing 5 freezer meals in an hour.  It basically just involved cutting up the meat and assembling all the ingredients into Ziploc bags, then freezing them.  Apparently you can then just dump the contents into the slow cooker and cook them right from frozen.  Who knew?

For simplicity’s sake, I decided to follow her plan to the letter–it even includes a printable shopping list!  The only changes I made was doubling up the recipes and making 10 meals instead of 5.  I also followed Jillee’s advice and put the actual ingredients into Crockpot liners so that I could just throw them right into the slow cooker.  (For the record, those liners don’t work all that great and I’m not sure I would bother with them again.  The cleanup is less, I’m just not sure it is worth the expense.)

It took me about 2 and a half hours from start to finish, and that included the hour or so spent going to the grocery store.  I bought a lot more meat then I am used to (my family is pretty excited about that) but the total for all the ingredients was still only about $80–not bad for 10 meaty dinners plus lots of leftovers for lunches.

Other than being slightly grossed out by having to cut up all that meat, it really wasn’t bad at all and the process went surprisingly fast, and before I knew it I had TEN meals sitting on my kitchen table all ready to freeze.  I felt so accomplished!

The next two weeks are going to be a bit crazy around here, with multiple writing deadlines, two conferences to attend, lots of Little House themed homeschooling projects to work on, and multiple out-of-town guests.  I cannot even begin to tell you how good it feels to have my freezer full of go-to meals.  I also can’t get over how little effort it really was doing just a little at a time.

At some point I will probably try cooking and freezing a few more recipes, such as  Vegetarian GoulashBlack & White Chili, and our favorite Winter Diet Soup.  For now I’m just going to bask in the comforting glow of having (for once) planned ahead.

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Have you ever done any freezer cooking?  If so, what are your favorite go-to freezer meal recipes?  Do you have any tips or tricks to share?

 

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{ 13 comments… add one }

  • Ruth January 14,

    Ruth,
    These ideas are fabulous. I am definitely going over to check out these slow cooker/freezer meals. What a comfort to know it is all prepared and ready to go.
    Thanks for the tips!

    Reply
    • Ruth January 14,

      Thanks Ruth….and you’re welcome! :-)

      Reply
  • Michelle January 14,

    This is something that I definitely want to do. I tried it once and I loved it! I need to stop being lazy and do try freezer cooking again.

    Reply
    • Ruth January 14,

      Michelle I was exactly the same way–I love the results but it always just seemed like so much effort to plan and organize. This way was SO much less stressful!

      Reply
  • Emily January 14,

    This is such a great idea! Freezer cooking has always intimidated me but I think I could actually do this. Thanks Ruth!!!

    Reply
    • Ruth January 14,

      You totally can! You’re welcome :-)

      Reply
  • Mothering From Scratch January 14,

    {Kathy} Cooking once and eating 2-3 times has been a habit of mine for years. I find that when I plan on using my freezer stash it diminishes quickly. If I use it only when “life happens” it’s better. These meals in the freezer are THE BEST for giving away to someone in need as well. I mostly use them for days when I just don’t feel like cooking, new moms, friends who get sick, or for unexpected company. Like you, I actually enjoy cooking.
    I realized this method was most useful for me from the perspective of “when I’m hot I’m hot, when I’m not — I’m really not.”

    Reply
    • Ruth January 14,

      That is me to a T Kathy!!!

      Reply
  • Kristi January 14,

    Loving this idea! I noticed from your pictures that it looks like you cut the chicken into bite size pieces – does this change the cooking time? I’m afraid that the chicken would dry out if cut so tiny!

    Reply
  • Laura Lyons January 14,

    I have a few of the books but never made the time. I do cook extra and freeze very often. My family loves left overs. We have a rule to eat left overs for lunch first. The most organized I have been was with e-meals for a year . I struggle with list and budgets and my husband and I completed Dave Ramsey ‘s plan years ago and he recommended e-meals. I will definitely check out the site you mention because an hour or too is manageable versus a complete day of cooking.

    Reply
  • Leah @Leah's Lit and Coffee January 14,

    Looks yummy! Freezer cooking is one of my favorite discoveries! It’s easy, affordable, and allows for you to free up some free time! I know I’d rather spend 5 hours on a Saturday cooking 10 meals than 1 hour each night for two weeks!

    If you’re looking for some recipes, I did post a few turkey-based and beef-based ones on my blog: http://www.leahslitandcoffee.blogspot.com/2012/08/stockpile-meals-freezer-meals.html

    Reply
  • Claire @ A Little Claireification January 15,

    We have been so sick (better now than during BEECH Retreat!) and just so thankful we have a freezer “stockpile” to pull from right now. Now I need to replenish so this is perfect timing.
    xo, Claire
    (and I L-O-V-E quiche, btw. great tip!)
    :)

    Reply
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