A couple of months ago, I asked on the Springs Bargains Facebook page if any of you did freezer cooking and if it was really worth it. I got varied responses: everything from “Yes, it will change your life!” to “All I think about when I hear freezer cooking is yucky casseroles.”
I’ve done freezer cooking here and there, but other than a few pregnancies where I was particularly motivated, I’ve never made a concentrated effort to cook for the freezer. Recently, however, I realized that the draw of freezer cooking is not just being able to pull a meal out of the freezer whenever I didn’t have time, or didn’t feel like, cooking. It’s also that the dishes are already mostly done when I pull a meal from the freezer, which ends up saving even more time than just the time it takes to cook.
Initially, I considered setting aside one day per month to cook for the freezer, but decided I was kidding myself. It’s not realistic for me to set aside time to go get groceries for dozens of meals and then spend all day cooking and cleaning up. But, I’ve realized I can either prepare double portions of a meal at once and freeze half of it, or simultaneously cook a meal for the freezer while I fix supper.
Here’s some of the freezer cooking I’ve done recently:
- Cooking two meals at once
One night while cooking Skillet Penne and Sausage with Spinach (from an older version of this cookbook) for supper, I took the other half of the package of sausage and browned it with some onions for my Sausage Classico (a personal recipe with sausage, roasted peppers, and tomato sauce; served over pasta).
I also roasted peppers for the Classico in the oven, then peeled and sliced them after supper and put them in the Sausage Classico pan along with pureed tomatoes. I put that in the refrigerator.
- Finishing one meal while cooking one for the freezer
A couple of days later, I was rushed for supper so I pulled out the mostly-finished Sausage Classico and seasoned it, then simmered it for a bit while boiling pasta. I’d just been to Ranch Foods and for my monthly purchase of a 20-pound box of ground beef, so I made a double batch of Pioneer Woman’s Sloppy Joes while I was finishing supper and froze it.
I got dinner on the table in about 20 minutes and had two main dishes for the freezer!
- Preparing crockpot meals for the freezer
Recently I bought some chicken thighs on sale, so I prepared two meals worth of Abby’s Crockpot Lemon Artichoke Chicken and froze them. I followed the recipe to just before where you actually put it in the crockpot – so the chicken is actually still raw. I didn’t realize that I was out of lemon juice, so I had to put notes on the freezer bag to add 1/4 cup lemon juice.
- Muffin batter for the freezer
When I shared about how easy it is to freeze cookie dough for freshly-baked cookies on demand, Kris mentioned that you can also freeze muffin batter. I’ve tried this several times after hearing her suggestion, and it works fabulously. I’m not a fan of freezing already-baked muffins, but if I can freeze the batter and bake it fresh, I’m all for that.
So, last night, I whipped up a double batch of pumpkin muffins and froze them in paper-lined muffin tins. I’ll pop them straight into the oven over the next couple of weeks when we want fresh, hot muffins.
I’ll do a post about how to freeze muffin batter soon!
- Using up leftover beef by making burritos for the freezer
Yesterday, I also took some shredded beef (leftover from having roast beef earlier in the week) and mixed up about 13 burritos with tortillas that were near expiring in the refrigerator. There was still plenty of burrito mixture left over but I was out of tortillas, so I just froze the mixture.
- Raw meatballs for the freezer
At some point in the last week (I don’t remember when!), I used three pounds of my ground beef from Ranch Foods to make a couple of batches of porcupine meatballs (old family recipe). I froze the raw meatballs individually on parchment paper, then once they were well-frozen I put them in a bag and will just need to mix up the sauce when it’s time to cook.
My freezer cooking style
It’s not the marathon cooking session that I often think of when I hear about freezer cooking. Really, I didn’t even particularly plan these freezer cooking sessions; I just fit them in as I had time and had things on hand.
Did you notice that very few of what I fixed were actual complete meals? I’m mostly fixing meal components, often without even cooking them all the way, so they taste fresh when we eat them. We don’t eat any casseroles and I haven’t touched a can of cream soup in years, but I’m here to tell you that you can cook for the freezer no matter what your cooking style!
It’s amazing how much time can be saved even by just having your main dish in the freezer, even if you still have to fix side dishes or put the finishing touches on the main course.
What I want to work on
I’m making some progress on getting main dishes in the freezer, but I still need some help in the side dish department. I’m going to be trying the recipe for Potatoes Stuffed with Caramelized Onions and Dubliner Cheese from my friend Jessica’s new freezer cookbook, Not Your Mother’s Make-Ahead and Freeze cookbook.
I need to test freezing sliced carrots to see if it would work to slice them ahead of time, freeze, and then use them in a side dish (we currently love roasted carrots).
And, while I have a pile of apples on my counter, I’d also like to try her method of freezing whole pies (from the same cookbook).
Is it actually saving me time? What about money?
Freezer cooking is saving me time. To state it more appropriately, it’s making my time in the kitchen much less stressful. I do think that overall, it is a big time savings, but even if it wasn’t, the amount of stress that has been lifted by knowing that I have meals in the freezer has been huge. I’ve been able to get dinner on the table close to my target time of 6 PM, and that’s a big improvement for me.
Is it saving me money? Well, frankly, it’s a little hard to tell because prices are skyrocketing. However, what I have noticed is that when I have a main dish, or even part of a main dish, in the freezer, that frees up a lot of time for me to focus on getting filling, healthy sides prepared. I don’t forsee cutting out meat in our diet anytime soon, but we eat less of it when we have a big salad, a vegetable, and a starch. So, anything that gives me more time to fix side dishes decreases our meat consumption, which definitely decreases my spending (were it not for rising prices, of course).
What about you? Have you started freezer cooking yet?
Vintage freezer advertisement adapted from Flickr.