I would guess that there are very few women who haven't heard of freezer cooking in some form or fashion. It's become a huge business in North America, with more families wanting home-cooked meals instead of eating on-the-go. Besides saving money (much cheaper to eat at home than out!), it can also be a huge time-saver. Another benefit is that you have better control over the types of foods your family is eating. Those are some of the main reasons freezer cooking has become important to my family.
It's become an essential part of our household! Even though I am a stay-at-home mom, having quick meals or prepared products in the freezer has helped me immensely. But when I first started to research freezer cooking I was overwhelmed. There are many, many books, recipes, and websites dedicated to freezer cooking and I just didn't know where to start. After a few false starts and bad recipes I discovered a few things.
- I don't want to cook thirty days worth of meals in one or two days
- I don't like recipes that have me cooking the whole meal, freezing it, and basically reheating leftovers
- I don't like a lot of convenience, canned items
- I don't like recipes that aren't really recipes
Problem #1: Cooking thirty days worth of meals in 1-2 days.The problem with cooking thirty days worth of meals in one or two days? It's A LOT of work! The shopping, the prep, the cooking, the cooling, the packaging. It's a huge effort. I did one session (cooking two weeks of meals in one day) and it was enough for me. Never again. The only way I would revisit this idea is if I were involved in a freezer cooking co-op where everyone pitched in and divided up the work. Otherwise, for my family, it's not worth the time and effort. And I also didn't save all that much money (one of the reasons I wanted to do some freezer cooking in the first place).
Problem #2: Reheated leftovers. Some freezer recipes have you prepping and cooking the whole meal/dish/casserole and then freezing it to pull out and reheat at a later date. To my mind, that's just frozen leftovers. Also, too much work. Now, that's not the case for all recipes. For example, you could prep a lasagna and then freeze before cooking. I wouldn't consider that reheated leftovers. But, there are some recipes that are fully cooked and then frozen. Those, I would consider reheated leftovers.
Problem #3: Too many canned, convenience items. Convenience items often cost more than making things from scratch. They are a time saver, and I use some convenience items, but I don't use many that are recommended in recipes for freezer cooking. As much as my husband loves his cream of whatever soups, I try to limit their use.
Problem #4: Silly recipes. A recipe that calls for dumping a bottle of barbecue sauce over a few pounds of chicken drumsticks and sticking it in the freezer is not actually a recipe.
Okay, so I had some pitfalls and terrible recipes, but I've learned a few freezing methods and tricks that have worked for us. In no particular order:
- Family favorites
- Cooking by main ingredient
- Buying things when they are on sale
- Small batches add up
- Double or triple batches
Favorite method #1: Favorite recipes. When you find a recipe that your family requests over and over, try freezing a small portion of it (either cooked or uncooked - this is one of those situations where you might actually like reheated leftovers!) and then thawing it out and cooking/reheating it. If the taste and texture are okay with you then you've just found a new freezer recipe!
Favorite method #2: Cooking by main ingredient. Instead of the once-a-month method, I've found that I prefer cooking by ingredient. When whole chickens come on sale, I buy a whole bunch of 'em. Some get cut up and turned into fried chicken (partially fried to be finished off in the oven on the day they will be served). Some get seasoned and or stuffed with lemons or herbs and tossed in the freezer (to be later roasted in the oven or crockpot with some fresh veggies).
Favorite method #3: Buying items on sale. This really goes along with method #2. My weekly shopping excursions are centered around sale items. When chickens are on sale, I make chicken freezer meals. When hamburger is on sale, I make hamburger freezer meals. This isn't exclusively used for meat, though. I do the same for vegetables. When carrots are super cheap in the fall, I buy a bunch, cut them up, blanch, drain, and flash freeze. I also do this for bread. When baguettes are on the day-old shelf (we live in Quebec, every supermarket has a section for day-old baguettes!) I buy an armful, cut them into thirds and toss them in some freezer bags. When I need one I thaw it on the counter, or if I want it hot and crunchy, toss it in the toaster oven.
Favorite method #4: Small batches add up. I don't do any mega-cooking sessions. Instead, I do things in small batches. Those sale items listed above - I don't do them all in one day. One week I might buy enough chickens to do four batches of fried chicken, a 10-lb bag of carrots to cut up, cook, and freeze, and four baguettes to freeze. The baguettes don't take any work, and the carrots and chickens I'll do on separate afternoons, spreading the work out a bit. Those little things add up. I try to pick between 2-5 things every two weeks (we do the bulk of our shopping every two weeks) to focus on. And within that framework, I don't pick 5 labor intensive things! Maybe 2 of the five will be more time/labor intensive, with the rest being quite minimal.
Favorite method #5: Make a double or triple batch. When you find recipes that you love and have tested their freezer worthiness - make double and triple batches! If you've got the mess out for one batch, you might as well get a few more batches ready for a minimal amount of added time and labor. When I make cookies, sometimes I'll do a double or triple batch and freeze the dough. Many cookie recipes are easily frozen. You can freeze the dough in a log, or if you have the space to freeze, flash freeze as little cookie balls, ready to be popped in the oven whenever you want fresh cookies (or a ball of frozen cookie dough!).
There you have it, a few pitfalls and a few favorites. When you venture into the world of freezer cooking, you can start your own list of failures and favorites. Let me know what you discover! Next week I'll share some of my favorite freezer cooking resources.