Freezer Meals

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Today (and by "today" I mean a few weeks ago, because that's when I started writing this) I am doing a freezer meal exchange with my sister in law, cousin & a friend. The four of us are preparing meals in our own homes and then getting together and trading them and heading home with 6 yummy meals ready to freeze then enjoy whenever we please. I have participated in a few of these and have always enjoyed them (and my husband is a huge fan too!).

Here are a few reasons I love them...

#1. Batch cooking rocks. It's pretty much just as easy to make 3 meals as it is to make 1..and the clean-up is virtually the same.

#2. Getting together with friends for any reason is fun.

#3. Food made by other people is just yummier.

#4. Meal planning is a lot easier when you have meals ready to go in your freezer.

Now, you wanna do it too, huh? I put together some resources and FAQ's to help you batch cook at home and maybe plan your own freezer meal exchange.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Q: What is batch cooking? 
A: Batch cooking is simply making several meals at once. It can be lots of different meals, or making one recipe multiple times. You can batch cook and have everything ready to go in the fridge, or you can freeze meals to be used at a later time. The best part of batch cooking is that it's very easy to double or triple a recipe and the clean up is virtually the same. And it makes meal planning super easy and day of prep is pretty much nothing...but you look like a rockstar!

Q: What is freezer cooking?
A: Freezer cooking is really just another term for batch cooking. Basically, you prep meals and have them ready to go in your freezer, so all you have to do is dive in your freezer and thaw/cook and you are done. Obviously, no cooking takes place IN your freezer (oh how I wish!)

Q: What kind of storage containers can I use for freezing?
A: If you are making a crock pot meal or marinading meat, I like to use a gallon freezer bag and freeze flat.  If you are making a casserole or something you will cook in the oven, go ahead and place it right in a disposable pan (great ones can be found at Dollar Tree and Sams/Costco) and place two pieces of foil over the casserole and freeze.

Side rant: IT MUST BE A FREEZER BAG....any old storage bag won't do, I found out the hard way. And a good quality bag is a must, refrain from getting anything from the dollar store unless you feel like cleaning your freezer. Always remember to write the name of the item and the date you made it. Even if you think you'll remember, write it down. You will appreciate this later! AND write on the bags before you put the food in...learned that one the hard way too!

Q: How long should the food stay in the freezer before using it?
A: There really is no minimum amount of time, because you could decide as you are putting the dish into the freezer, to pluck it out and cook it that night. There's no problem with that. There are general guidelines on the maximum time the dish should be in the freezer and that can be found here. I generally use 6 months as my personal rule of thumb...but I've heard of people keeping items in the freezer for up to a year with no problem. Properly sealing your food will keep it from freezer burn and make it last longer. You want the food completely cooled, if you put it in hot you have a food safety issue (see more below) and the steam captured in the bag or under the foil will freeze, and increase freezer burn. And you want the least amount of air around the food.

Q: How do I keep food safety in mind?
A: Never re-freeze any meat that has been fully thawed. My rule is that if it was previously frozen, it must be cooked before I will freeze it, then it's fine! I found many resources that said if the meat was thawed in the fridge, it's ok to refreeze, but it's just not something I practice. When I take a meal from the freezer, I either send it straight to my crockpot or the fridge to safely thaw. Some resources I found don't like to put meat straight from the freezer to crockpot in fear of bacteria, but I do it all the time and have no problems. This is a great resource for food safety and your crockpot. Be most careful with raw poultry! Bottom line is that you do want to keep food safety in mind so you don't make anyone puke...because you don't want to clean that up! Don't ever take hot food and put it in your freezer. It will warm up your freezer and you are putting yourself at risk. I let really hot stuff cool on the counter and then put it in the fridge for a bit then transfer to the freezer. This will also cut back on freezer burn issues I mentioned above!

Q: What kind of stuff can I freeze?
A: I use this blog as a guide for what I can freeze and can't freeze. What I have found is that dairy items like milk, cream, cream cheese, sour cream and yogurt don't freeze/thaw so well on their own, but when they are mixed into a sauce or dish...they do pretty good. You CAN freeze cream cheese, it's just going to be a little lumpy so I would only use it in a sauce and not try to put it on a bagel! And I just take issue with freezing milk, but if you want to, go ahead! Freezing yogurt and eating it frozen is a delish treat....however if you try to thaw it back out, I find it to be a little lumpy much like the cream cheese. I use cottage cheese & cream cheese in my spaghetti pie and it comes out fine. I also use sour cream in my enchiladas and they are fine too. It can be a little watery sometimes, but I've never experienced a problem. Cheese doesn't freeze well for me in block or slices, but shredded it ROCKS! If you have onions, green peppers or carrots that are going bad, chop them up and freeze in small bags. You can add them to just about anything. I have read that celery does well, but in my experience I have NEVER enjoyed frozen, then thawed, celery...it's just not my cup of tea. If it is in a meal (like the chicken pot pie we had tonight) it is fine, but frozen alone it's not so yumtastic.

Q: Where can I find recipes?
A: You can turn a lot of your favorites into freezer meals, it just takes some tweaking and usually takes me a couple tries to get it just right. However, there are some great resources for tried and true freezer meals.

* Pinterest has a million resources. Search for "Freezer Meals" and pin away. Or check out what I've pinned.

* Once a month mom is my FAVORITE free resource. Tons of great stuff for batch cooking and freezer meals. Their site alone could feed you for a year!

* 5 Dinners in 1 hour is a great resource for batch cooking a full week of meals in one hour. Quite a few of the meals can be frozen too! It is a subscription service, but I've done it for 3 months and like it a lot.

* Books: There are a ton of books on this subject....just google it or search on Amazon. Fix, Freeze, Feast is my favorite (I met one of the authors who was sweet enought donate the book to a silent auction I was planning...I've tried about half the recipes and never been disappointed. Sometimes I made a batch and altered the seasoning a little the next time I made it, to suit the tastes of our family, but that's pretty normal. You can check out her facebook page here or find the book on Amazon.)

**By the way... for the aforementioned freezer meal exchange, I am making Man Pleasin' Chicken and Mexi Chicken...two favorites 'round these parts.

Hope you found this helpful and Happy Batch Cooking!!!

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