The Story of the Freezer Meals

So, as you know I am a photographer, and this isn’t totally photography related.  But yet it relates to my busy schedule of being a small business owner combined with the hours of a photographer!  Being self employed, I don’t have a lot of time.  I don’t take the time to cook.  Because of this, my sisters and I started making freezer meals once a quarter (4 times a year!).  We are all working moms.  It started with this desire: We wanted to provide healthy meals for our family, and didn’t want to spend a lot of time in the kitchen after work to make that happen.  So began our adventures of preparing freezer meals.

As we started to post on social media about making freezer meals, we were slammed with questions about how we do it.  I decided to document it for others.  This is going to be long… so sit back and read it if you dare to embark on this adventure!  Following are the steps we take to create our freezer meals.

Preparations:

  1. Find two or three friends to work with you.  You don’t want more than four people in the kitchen! 

    Friends making freezer meals

    Find 2 or 3 friends to work with!

  2. Start a Pinterest board to collect ideas for recipes. (Or you can collect your recipes in a way that you see fit.  We find Pinterest great to use because we can collaborate on a board together where we can all see it, and it will directly link to the recipe.)  We use a lot of recipes from  skinyntaste.com.  We love healthy recipes and not a lot of processed or high sodium foods.  Here is an example of our beginning collections of our Pinterest board.  Here is another example.
  3. After you have a collection of recipes on your Pinterest board, you will need to finalize your selections.  Start narrowing down which ones you will actually make on cooking day. Typically we make 10 recipes.  We will make two Mexican, two Italian, two American, two Asian, and two batches of soup.   The soup has the option of either making it for a family dinner as one batch in a crock pot, or putting them in individual quart bags for single serving lunches.  We plan on 2 of each recipe for each person, yielding 20 meals per person.  (or 16 meals +32 individual soup lunches per person if doing the soup in individual bags.) 
  4. Once you figure out your 10 recipes, make your grocery list.  Write down the ingredients for each recipe then times it by the number of recipes you will make (two of each recipe times four people equals eight of each recipe). We have one person make the grocery list.  TIP: When buying meat for your recipes, remember this:   If the recipe is to be frozen with raw meat, you must purchase fresh meat in order to refreeze.   If you are cooking the meat in the recipe before you freeze it, you may purchase frozen meat, thaw it, cook it for your recipe, and then refreeze it.   You cannot use frozen meat, thaw it, then refreeze it without cooking it.  

    Handling meat freezer meals

    Make sure you don’t refreeze previously frozen meat that is still raw. You will need fresh meat for refreezing.

  5. Categorize the grocery list by each store you will be purchasing the items from and then separate into these categories:  Produce, Pantry, Refrigerator/Freezer, Fresh Meats. It makes it much easier at the store if this is all separated in advance.  TIP: Make a list of things that you might have in your pantry at home, such as salt, pepper, common spices, oil, etc. But, if you need a substantial amount you might as well purchase what you need to share for the meal making with your group. 
  6. Decide what container  you will be putting each recipe in to freeze it.  For crockpot recipes we typically freeze them in a  Ziploc 1 gallon Freezer Bag TIP: Double bag the recipe in case the first bag breaks or leaks.  You don’t want a mess.   A lot of the recipes will go in a 9 x 13 pan. We use Glad OvenWare Containers. We love these because we can reuse them over and over.  We definitely got our money’s worth out of them.  TIP: You can cook in the Glad OvenWare up to 400°, but the covers may not go in the oven.  When the recipe calls to be in the oven above 400°, you either have to use a different pan to freeze the meal in, or you have to transfer your meal from the GladWare pan into a different baking dish before you bake it.  If you are making individual serving size soups from your soup recipes, figure 8 to 10 Ziploc Quart Freezer Bags per recipe. If we need a smaller size pan (smaller than the GladWare pan) we use smaller Aluminum Foil Pans.  Make sure you add any container items or ziplock freezer bags you need to your grocery shopping list or order them from the links posted.  Before cooking day you will need to print recipes for working, and also the cooking instructions to be taped on each meal. Make sure you have the name of the recipe along with any cooking instructions or serving recommendations. You will tape the instructions with packaging tape to the top of your meals. TIP: If your meals are going into a Ziploc bag, you will put your meal in one Ziploc bag and then put it in a second Ziploc bag. Put the instruction sheet in between your two Ziploc bags.

    labeling freezer meals

    Have the recipe printed and ready to use on cooking day. Have the directions printed and ready to tape the cooking instructions on the cover of the pan, and also tape the sides of the container so the top doesn’t come off in the freezer.

The Day Before Cooking Day:

  1. The day before cooking day you will go to the grocery store and get all your groceries.  We usually tagteam this.  It is overwhelming for one person to do all the shopping, so it is more fun for two people to do it and split up the list and help each other at the store.  TIP: It is way easier to buy things that are convenient.  Examples are: if you are purchasing mushrooms and you need them sliced for your recipe buy sliced mushrooms instead of the whole mushrooms.  You can buy large bags of chopped onions instead of buying onions that you have to dice yourself.   Buy jarred minced garlic instead of fresh garlic bulbs.  Now is not the time to save a few dollars here and there by buying something less expensive. When you are going to be cooking for 10 hours you will thank me that you didn’t have to cut 100 onions, or chop 24 packages of mushrooms!  Anything that you can buy that will save you time make sure you do it! It is usually easier if one person purchases all the supplies. Then the total $$$ can be easily added up and divided between each person.  
  2. After grocery shopping, we try to do a few things to help prepare for  the day of cooking.  We typically split up a few meat prep items that can be done the day before, such as browning hamburger, cooking and shredding chicken for recipes.  Look through your recipes and see if there are any things like this that you can do the day before. TIP:  If you are cooking large amounts of meat, you need to cool it properly before you put in in the refrigerator for the night.  Here is an article about this if you need guidance.  

    Cooling meat freezer meals

    Cool the meat properly before refrigerating it to avoid bacteria growth.

  3. Gather all your supplies to take to cooking day.  Each person needs to take along the following items because you’ll be using a lot of them all day long… large mixing bowl’s, measuring cups, measuring spoons, rubber spatulas, large mixing spoons, crock pots,  sharp knives, large Dutch oven/soup pots, electric frying pans, any pantry items for recipes, boxes and bags to transport meals home in, sharpie pens to write on Ziploc bags, packaging tape, and pre-printed recipe instructions.  

Cooking Day:

  1. We usually start about 8:30 am.  Plan on it taking all day, we typically end somewhere around 5:00 – 6:00 PM. TIP: Dress comfortably, and wear comfortable shoes!  You will be on your feet all day!
  2. Start your soup recipes in the crockpot first. They will have to simmer for at least half a day, and then you need time for them to cool to be able to bag them. We typically let them simmer in the crock pots until noon, then let them cool before bagging them.   If you were doing a family meal, put them in one large gallon size Ziploc bag per recipe. If you are doing them as individual lunches, put them in the quart size Ziploc freezer bags. We find one and a half to one and three-quarter cups is a good amount of soup for a single serving.

    Freezer meals soups

    Start soups in the morning, then let them cool before bagging. (It was cold outside, so we set them outside!)

  3. Make sure you do the most labor-intensive recipes first, and end with the easy recipes. Recipes that take a lot of cooking, chopping, lots of ingredients, are better done in the morning while you’re fresh. Save the easy “throw everything in a Ziploc bag for the crockpot” type recipes for the end of the day when you’re tired and want to be done. 
  4. When working with three people, we typically each take one recipe at a time and make all six of them.  When working with four people, we typically work as a team, two people working on one recipe making all eight of them, and the other two people working on a second recipe making all 8 of them. It typically works best to make two or three batches of the recipe at a time, anymore than that makes it hard for mixing large quantities and fitting them into bowls. 

    Work on one recipe at a time to make all of that particular recipe.

  5. Either have something prepared in advance for lunch, or order delivery for lunch. We have a Jimmy John’s and a Panera Bread that deliver to us so we typically order delivery.   The last thing you want to do on a 10 hour cooking day is take the time to prepare a lunch.
  6. Lunchtime is our halfway point where we try to wash all the dishes and do a cleanup of our kitchen.
  7. Have a treat scheduled for the afternoon about 2:00-3:00 with things are starting to drag.  (We typically make cosmos!)  It can be any sort of reward that will give you energy to finish the rest of the day!
Afternoon treat while making freezer meals

Afternoon Treat!

 

A few Tips:

  1. We typically go to three grocery stores.  Gordon foods is a good place to get  bulk items.  It is a local food store that sells bulk items to school cafeterias, restaurants, etc. We typically get gallon size cans of canned goods, and large bags of chopped onions here. We get probably 80 to 85% of our groceries at Aldi.  Aldi  is a local discount off brand grocery store with great prices.  The things we can’t get from Aldi, we get from Meijer.
  2. If you are cooking in the summer be prepared for the heat in the kitchen! Having the oven and burners going all day heats up the kitchen, so make sure you dress accordingly!
  3. During winter months in the northern United States we can put our meals outside to cool/freeze when we’re done with them. In the spring and fall is typically cool enough that we can still put our meals outside while working. But in the summer we need somewhere to put all the meals as we complete them while working through the day. If you don’t have enough refrigerator or freezer space for everyone’s meals, take along coolers.
  4. Have a runner person handy throughout the day. We’ve been doing this for three years and we still have issues with groceries and cooking day. Either we figured the wrong amount while doing math for a recipe, or we forgot something off the list, or something never made it to the list, etc… it is really nice to have a friend, boyfriend/girlfriend, significant other, or spouse, to be able to run to the store once or twice throughout the day (or even three times) when you realize you didn’t buy enough peppers!
  5. Here is a great way to shred the chicken your your hand mixer.  
  6. If your family is smaller or the recipe makes a large batch, you can divide it differently.  Instead of doing 2 batches for one person, you can divide it into 3 for that one person.
The finished product making freezer meals

The finished product… and mess!

A few of our favorite recipes:

Skinny Enchiladas

Skinny Chicken Cordon Bleu

Slow Cooker Pulled Pork

Baked Parmesan

Stuffed Buffalo Chicken Breasts

Quinoa Fiesta Enchilada Bake

Orange Chicken

Enchilada Soup

Mongolian Beef

Mexican Chicken Stuffed Shells

Turkey Sausage Kale White Bean Soup

 

 

 

SaveSaveSaveSave

SaveSaveSaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSaveSaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSaveSaveSave

SaveSaveSaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSaveSaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSaveSaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSaveSaveSave