Think You’d Like to Try Freezer Cooking?
So, you’re kind of intrigued about the idea of freezer cooking, but you’d like more information? Here are some answers to some common questions. Although there are entire books and websites on the subject, it’s really a less complicated procedure than you might think. In the end, the idea is to save time and keep healthy food in your house. Whether you cook for a month’s worth of meals at a time or just double up on one recipe, give it a try! You’ll learn as you go and have great time doing it!
What Type of Planning Do I Need to Do?
If you’re going to do a big freezer cooking day, planning is your key to success. Gather your recipes and do an inventory of the ingredients you already have. Rewrite your recipes to reflect the number of servings you will be making. This is very important for buying the right amount of ingredients and keeping track of measurements on the day of cooking. Make your grocery list, including any freezer containers and sharpie pens you may need. For big freezer cooking sessions I usually grocery shop on Thursday, do minor prep like chopping vegetables, shredding cheese, and browning meats on Friday, and final assembly/freezing on Saturday.
Once you have the right materials for freezing items, you can do impromptu cooking sessions on any scale, big or small. Just double up on any meal, side dish, or snack and throw it in the freezer.
An important way to make sure your hard work keeps its value is to make a list of available foods and post it on your fridge. Note how many of each item is available and cross it off as you use it up. Keeping an inventory of prepared freezer meals ensures that your hard work pays off.
How Do I Choose My Recipes?
Before you commit to doubling up a recipe and putting it in your freezer, it’s a good idea to have tried the meal once before; it simplifies things when you are already familiar with the recipe. Go ahead and use recipes you would normally make for your family. If you’d like new recipes or more specific tips for using recipes with freezer cooking, search it on a website or invest in a freezer cook book. My favorites are Holly Clegg’s Trim & Terrific Freezer Friendly Meals and Nanci Slagle’s The Freezer Cooking Manual, A Month of Meals Made Easy. There are many out there. We have also accumulated a cookbook for the recipes done in our meal swap.
Can You Freeze Anything?
Most things freeze well, but there is a small list of items that you might like to avoid. Gravies thickened with cornstarch tend to separate when thawed. High water content vegetables like lettuce, cucumbers, and radishes do not freeze well. Pastas and rice should only be partially cooked before freezing, as they will get too mushy when thawed and re-cooked.
I think it’s helpful to consider if you’ve seen a similar food frozen in the freezer section at your grocery store. If Stouffer’s can freeze it, so can you. There are several good websites available that can help guide you with foods you may be uncertain about and strategies for freezing. Be sure to read a few different recipes to get an idea of ways to go about the process. See the resources at the end of this article.
What Kind of Containers do I Need?
The type of container you use for freezer cooking largely depends on what you are freezing. Gallon or quart sized freezer Ziplock bags work well for the majority of things. Soups, casseroles, muffins, breads, eggrolls, pasta, sauces, vegetables, etc. will all work well in a Ziplock bag. Some foods, such as muffins or stuffed chicken breasts, are best wrapped individually in plastic wrap before placing them in the Ziplock bag so they do not freeze together.
Depending on the portion size, you may want to use individual containers. Ziplock makes freezer friendly containers which work well for things like fruit cups or individual servings of soup. They come with lids and are reusable.
Tin pans will be necessary for foods, like lasagna or enchiladas, that you’d like to be able to take directly from the freezer to the oven. I really prefer to use the heavy duty matching lids to go with the tin pans. Some people simply cover the pan with tin foil, but in my experience, it always rips and can often lead to freezer burn.
If you know you’ll be repeating this process regularly, you can invest in some inexpensive cookware and freeze directly in it. Just make sure you have a good seal on your cover.
The last option is freezer paper. This can be used with some masking tape to cover dishes or wrap foods, just like the kind used in the meat department at a grocery store.
Regardless of what type of container you use, you will absolutely need sharpie pens for labeling! Always label your foods, as they tend to look different when coming out of the freezer weeks later.
How Do You Cook the Food Once it’s Frozen?
The freezer-to-table preparation really depends on where in the cooking process you stopped before freezing the food. For instance, if you were making meatballs and you cooked them before freezing them, you would only need to reheat before serving. However, if you only rolled the meatballs and then froze them raw, you would obviously need to cook them in the pan until thoroughly done before serving.
When I cook chili, sometimes I just dump all of the ingredients into a ziplock back and then slowly cook it for several hours on the stovetop after thawing. But other times I cook a double batch and freeze it after it’s already completely cooked. Then I can pull out a serving from the freezer, heat it on the stove or microwave until hot, and eat it immediately.
Breads and muffins simply need to be taken out and placed on the counter to thaw.
Reference some freezer cooking recipes to understand the choices in this process. The trick is to write the final preparation instructions on the bag or container so you or someone else is clear as to how to finish making the meal.
You do not need to reinvent the wheel. Many people have already kitchen tested hundreds of freezer friendly recipes. Take a look, do some reading, and see what looks easy and familiar to you. Before you know it, you and your family will be feeling very satisfied with a stocked freezer full of healthy, delicious food!
This post is part of the series: Freezer Cooking Tricks and Tips
Freezer Cooking is a great way to keep healthy, homemade foods available for your family even on the busiest of days. Although it’s easier than it looks, a little information can help set you up for success. Look here to find some helpful questions, answers, and resources.