Where should you start? Should you just go shopping and start cooking?
Well, I’ve heard of people doing that, but I wouldn’t recommend it. You definitely want a plan, and before you can get down to the nitty gritty of a shopping list, you’ve got to decide what you’re making.
Here are my best tips for deciding what to make:
Start with what you know.
Make a list of the meals your family really likes. When cooking for the freezer, only choose from this list. If there is a new recipe you’d like to try, try it first, before spending time making multiple batches of it for the freezer.
Once you know that you like a meal, I’d still only freeze one batch, or one meal’s worth. It may be a wonderful meal but you may not like how it comes out after being frozen. Remember, a frozen meal will be different than just a left over meal because freezing can change the texture. So, don’t make 6 of something until you’ve tried it from frozen once.
What would bring you the most return on your investment?
Look at your “meals we like” list.
Of the meals on that list, which are best suited for the freezer?
- Some meals just don’t taste good after being frozen. Instead of wasting your time freezing those things, or trying to beat the system by finding a way to freeze them, start with what works. There are so many foods that freeze well. Don’t spend your time fighting with the ones that don’t.
- Some meals are just plain easy to make and you might as well make them fresh. Spend your freezer-cooking time doing the things that will really save you time during the week.
Decide on the best stopping point for each item.
Some dishes are fine to prepare all the way and then freeze. Others come out better if you just get them partially prepared and finish it at the time you want to serve it.
For example, when I make soup, I freeze the cooked meat and raw vegetables together in a freezer bag, but I don’t add the water or pasta until I’m ready to serve it. The whole soup tastes fresh but all I had to do was add water and noodles, and cook it for a few minutes. (If the soup has noodles of course. Also, even though potatoes can be tricky, I did find that when I make my veggie- beef soup, the little cubed potatoes come out just fine. Maybe because I don’t cook the soup before freezing it.)
I don’t grill chicken before freezing. But I do put a meals’s worth of chicken in a bag along with a sauce or a marinade. I just pop it out of the freezer and it marinates while it thaws. Then just throw it on the grill.
I also don’t freeze white beans, pasta-in most cases, or things with gravy. Luckily, potatoes don’t usually freeze well. Because who wants to peel and cut more than a meals’ worth of potatoes at one time? And I won’t use frozen green peppers and onions in a dish where they need to have their texture intact, like in fajitas, stir fry, or anything with browned onion.
If you get carried away and try to relieve yourself of cooking altogether during the week, you may be disappointed with some of your meals. Give yourself a bigger chance of success by serving your meals as close to fresh-made as possible. This means holding off on that last step for many foods. (Don’t bake the casserole, just assemble it, etc.)
What do you make often?
Remember, a benefit to freezer cooking is to do your “like tasks” all at once. So if there is something you find yourself doing over and over, consider doing it all at once instead of several times per week. Some idea might include:
- Ground beef–brown several pounds at once to use in recipes throughout the week
What do you have on hand?
Maybe you found a sale on cheese, zucchini, or carrots. You’ll want to get those shredded and frozen in meal- size portions while they’re still fresh. I use shredded carrots in soups, muffins, and quick breads. This is an example of a recipe helper. If I were making a quick carrot cake there’s no way I’m going to want to shred carrots, but if I’ve got them all shredded, carrot cake is no problem. Same thing with Zucchini bread; yummy, but no way I’m shredding zucchini before breakfast.
What do you not want to run out of?
Some items I like to make sure I always have include:
- Cookie dough shaped into balls, flash frozen, ready to bake as many or as few as we want. Only warm cookies served here!
- Refried beans
- Fresh ground whole wheat
- Garlic bread
Click this link to see a more complete list of what I keep in my freezer.
Some other questions worth answering when making your plan include:
- What do you feel like making?
Seriously. This is a big job, you’ve got to be excited about something on the list!
- What’s on sale?
I don’t think this us ultra- important because you can always stock up on sale items and just use them whenever the mood–or need–strikes. But if something perishable goes on sale, you might want to stock up and find ways to work it into your freezer plan. (See “What do you have on hand?” above.)
And a few more considerations:
When planning your list of what to make, try to choose some hands-on recipes and and some hands- off. You can get the hands-off recipe going (like bread dough or something for the Crock Pot) and then move on to your hands-on items.
I know you’re excited. But please don’t over plan. Remember to leave a margin for cleaning between recipes and when you’re done. Assess how much time you’ll have to cook and only choose the number of recipes you can easily do in that amount of time. You want this to be something that leaves you motivated to do it again… soon!