Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Adventures in Making #FreezerMeals, Part 2

Two weekends ago, I started stocking our freezer with meals for post-baby consumption. I didn't do this with Hannah, but wanted to make things a little easier on myself this time around, so I took to the Internet and came up with a plan. It was largely inspired by Kelly of New Leaf Wellness and her fab cookbooks. I intended to get all the meals made in one fell swoop, but that didn't happen for various reasons so I chipped away at the freezer meal prep across these last two weeks. Here's what my freezer looks like right now:

I know there's room for more, but this will surely last us quite some time. In the summer months, Jason tends to take over by cooking dinner on the grill, which I love. So I'm sure we'll have many a-meal that way, too. To prep for that, I'm going to start picking up whatever grill-worthy items are on sale and freezing a few so we can avoid making too many last-minute trips to the store for brats and burger meat. And I'll also watch the sales for healthy sides, like these frozen steam-in-bag rice concoctions:

Sans gunk, they make a really nice addition to any meal. I've also got a few boil-in-bag brown rice packets that will be good for the meatballs and the teriyaki chicken. So, I'm stocking up in a way that makes sense without going overboard. I'm not trying to eliminate the cooking process because that would be boring. I'm just trying to take the edge off when the afternoons get away from me those first few weeks, as I'm sure they will. 

Some thoughts on making freezer meals:

1) Do your research.
Planning ahead really, truly makes this whole process a successful one. Figure out what you want to make, how much of it you want to make, and make a list accordingly. If you walk into the store as an organized cook, you'll be much better off in the end. And don't forget to shop your own kitchen first so you don't spend money on ingredients that you already have.

2) Dedicate your shopping trip to freezer meals.
Save the weekly gets for another trip. That way, you can budget better...and you can stay on-task with the freezer meals and not get distracted by what's for dinner. Because, let's be honest, it's virtually impossible to keep those grocery carts organized and/or separated. And then suddenly, you've spent way more than you budgeted for.

3) Get a chopper. 
When you prep a bunch of meals at once, all signs point to putting your knife to a cutting board at a frequent rate. Some people love this, I get tired of it. (I'm not the quickest of cutters, to be honest.) So if you can, pick up a chopper like this:

They're generally not that expensive, but will seriously trim your time in the kitchen. And you'll use it again, I promise. It seems like cheating to those of you that take pride in your culinary skills, I'm sure, but seriously...they're the best. You can find the above at Bed, Bath & Beyond (or on Amazon). I've also had the Vidalia Chop Wizard, which gets the job done but has broken on me twice. I think the Sharper Image version show above will last longer...seems to be better constructed (and offers an awesome slice option, which the Vidalia does not).

4) Do whatever you can to remove as much air as possible from the freezer bags.
This is key to keeping your freezer meals good for quite some time. But it's a hard process if you don't have a machine that does it for you. Just be sure to do your best. Fold, squeeze, refold and re-squeeze. You'll make it happen. And then, make sure everything lies flat in your freezer for better use of storage space. 

5) If you can't dedicate a day to making freezer meals, make them a part of your daily meal prep. 
For example, when I made the lasagna roll-ups, I ended up having three extra that didn't fit into the pan. Rather than freeze them, I threw them in the oven and we ate them for dinner. If you know that this is the way you'll have to go about it, plan ahead and buy extra ingredients. Freeze one, eat one!

6) If you can, freeze things individually wrapped. 
Obviously this won't work with casseroles and slow cooker meals, but I've always wrapped our frozen burritos individually. And Kelly suggested the same with her calzones (that I can't wait to eat). Because then, you can pull one out for lunch.And they won't stick together. Or fall apart when you're putting them in the freezer bag.

I'm sure there are puh-lenty of tips I can add to this list, most of which Kelly covers in her cookbook. Just remember this: Almost any recipe (translation: family favorite) can be converted to a freezer meal. So make what sounds good, what your family loves, and what your family can afford. Because those three things combine into a delicious meal every time.

Question: What is your favorite cooking gadget...one that you don't really need, but can't live without?

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