I was a teenager the first time I tried out freezer cooking. I set a goal to make a month’s-worth of meals for my family (I grew up in a family of six). I dusted off the Once-a-Month Meals cookbook that lived on the bookshelf with other rarely opened cookbooks and dove right in.
I was excited about doing such a big project as a teen. Since my mom taught piano lessons in our home after school right up until dinner time, I knew my project would be of service. How convenient it would be to have meals for our family organized and prepared ahead of time!
After reading through the recipes and compiling a detailed shopping list, I rummaged through the cupboards and food storage, then got all the other ingredients at the store with my mom.
The only thing I remember about the preparation is that it was a lot of work. I spent an entire Saturday working in the kitchen and I was exhausted (and still not even finished).
While I was excited about the meals I had made, the long tedious hours in the kitchen made me wonder if I really had saved any time or money.
I wouldn’t say that I had a bad experience making freezer meals, but considering that decades passed before I attempted any similar feat, it’s safe to say that it was more than a little overwhelming.
I didn’t avoid freezer cooking altogether. There are lots of ways I use my freezer to save time, money, and sanity when it comes to meal time. I cook beans in bulk and freeze them. I brown and freeze ground beef when I buy it in bulk (and stretch it with veggies). I even make pie crust in bulk and freeze it.
It was just making entire freezer meals that I avoided for years, decades even.
But isn’t freezer cooking a frugal dream?
Many people were surprised to hear that I wasn’t into the freezer cooking craze, as it can be a great way to save money. Freezer cooking forces you to meal plan well in advance. Even on busy nights where unexpected craziness might otherwise land you in the drive-thru lane, you have a simple, frugal solution when there’s a homemade meal at your fingertips in the freezer. When your meal planning, shopping, and meal prep is done all at once, you don’t have to make those quick trips to the store throughout the week. You also buy the exact ingredients you need so you don’t have food going to waste.
So what were my reasons for not embracing the freezer meal craze? It wasn’t just laziness or overwhelm that kept me from making freezer meals.
Let me explain…
Here are my 5 main problems with the freezer cooking
Time. My experience with having freezer cooking consume an entire weekend doesn’t seem to be unique. I’ve seen others post and tell tales of cooking for an entire weekend straight so they wouldn’t have to do anything for the next month. While that sounds fantastic, it also doesn’t sound very feasible for me right now. What do I do with my four little ones while I’m spending every waking hour in the kitchen all weekend?
Organization. Honestly the thought of organizing and shopping for a month’s worth of specific meals that I’ve never made before overwhelms me.
Meat. The majority of freezer cooking plans I see are meat-based. We save tons of money by stretching our meat. We don’t eat meat every day of the week like most Americans, so many of the freezer meal plans out there wouldn’t work as an everyday solution. Also, our oldest has stopped eating meat altogether, which means we’re even more careful about having less meat and having a meat-free option.
Space. We have a deep freeze and plenty of space by most people’s standards, but we are always filling it with garden produce, markdown dairy or meat, and bulk baking. My issue is with filling your freezer with foods that would otherwise be fine on the shelf. I don’t like the idea of opening up a bunch of canned foods (which have a nice shelf life) and putting them in a bag and putting them in the freezer, making them susceptible to power outages and space constraints of the freezer.
Meal size. I wouldn’t say my family of six is large, but it’s bigger than the standard two adults and two kids that many meal plans go by. We also eat a lot. I look at gallon-size freezer bags and I think “There is no way that will feed my family.”
If you have had some of these qualms with freezer cooking, then you’ll be excited to know that I’ve found a method that addresses these real issues that I’ve been facing!
The strategy that’s working for me
There are lots of different freezer meal plans and strategies out there that I’m sure are great. I recently discovered MyFreezeEasy meal plans by the $5 dinner mom and they got me really excited to give freezer meals another try. Better yet, they have actually helped me get over all my previous issues with freezer cooking.
Let me give a quick explanation of what MyFreezEasy is and then I’ll show you how it solved my freezer meal issues and actually got me really, really excited about jumping on the freezer cooking bandwagon.
The basic version of MyFreezEasy gives you access to 8 different meal plans with new recipes each month. There is a traditional plan, gluten-free plan, slow cooker plan, clean eats plan, all chicken plan, just to name a few. You get access to ALL 8 meal plans each month.
Each meal plan includes five recipes (you make two of each one), shopping lists, prep and assembly instructions, and labels for your freezer bags or trays.
You get a complete assembly video of the traditional meal plan each month so you can actually do your prep right along with Erin Chase. You also get highlight videos of all eight of the plans, so you can get specific tips and tricks for that set of recipes.
Premium members get all the benefits of the basic membership, but you can also adjust the serving sizes for the meals, look through the recipes and create your own meal plan from all of the recipes available using a brand new drag-and-drop desktop app. You’ll also be able to save your favorite recipes so that you can easily find them for future meal plans.
Overcoming my personal issues with freezer meals
After years of being anti-freezer-cooking, I now realize how wonderful it can be. Originally I was just going to give it a try for the sake of giving it a try, but in the process I fell in love with it. There’s just something magical about being able to pull dinner out of the freezer and not have to think about what you’re going to have that night.
I was thrilled to get over my freezer cooking issues thanks to the MyFreezEasy method. Let me show you what I mean:
Time— The MyFreezEasy plans are designed to make 10 meals in about an hour (though it takes a little longer for me because I do the 8-serving version of the recipes, which means twice as much chopping as the 4-serving version). The recipes don’t require loads of “prep” cooking. The bulk of the prep work is chopping up vegetables (which actually goes along really well with what my kids have learned in the Kids Cook Real Food course).
Organization— Each plan comes with a shopping list that can be organized by meal or grocery store section. The prep session is clearly laid out in a logical order. Each month even has a step-by-step video of the entire process! You can prepare your freezer meals right along with Erin. She shares her tips as she goes through the prepping step-by-step, but she doesn’t care if you’re still in your jammies and your hair isn’t done.
Meat— The plans are sorted by meat type, cooking method, or dietary preference. This makes it really handy to find vegetarian dishes! Also, since we are accustomed to eating less meat, I don’t put in quite as much as the recipes call for. If you have allergies or other dietary preferences, it’s easy to find meals that will work for you, too.
Space— There are some canned ingredients in the MyFreezEasy meal plans, which bugged me at first, before actually using the plans. While I don’t usually buy many canned goods, I have found they are a huge time-saver for assembling freezer meals. Since I’m only making 10 meals at a time, I’m not so worried that I’m converting shelf-stable food storage into electricity-dependent food storage. Making only 10 meals at a time also means they don’t take up as much space as if you were trying to store meals for an entire month.
Meal Size— When you are choosing and compiling your personalized freezer meal plan with the premium version, you can choose the number of servings you want. You don’t need to think in doubles or do a mental “time and a half” when you’re shopping of preparing the recipes. You can choose 2, 4, 6, or 8 servings.
Making freezer cooking fun and guilt-free
If you ask my kids, they will tell you that assembling freezer meals is fun. My three older kids are usually eager to help in the prepping process, which is a huge win. I have fun with it too! I really feel a sense of accomplishment when I’m done and I get giddy just thinking about how much more calm and less stressful future dinner hours will be thanks to all of our preparation.
I also had a change in mentality using this freezer meal planning system. Before, my idea was that freezer meals (I received some from friends as gifts when I had a new baby) were there just as a back-up plan when other plans fell through or schedules went awry. I would really have to weigh my choices. Do I really want to use up one of my freezer meals now or save it for another time? I would almost feel guilty if I used them.
Now my thinking has shifted to knowing that I put these ten meals in the freezer to use over the next two weeks. They aren’t a back-up plan, they are THE plan. I did the work ahead of time so that I wouldn’t have to do it now. It’s such a refreshing change to pull out freezer meals and not feel guilty about using them on an everyday basis.
If you are interested in getting started with freezer cooking, look into MyFreezEasy. You might just get as excited about freezer meals as I am. You can also get some great tips about freezer cooking in general in this free freezer cooking workshop.
Have you tried freezer cooking?
- What kinds of freezer meals do you like to make?
- What do you love or hate about freezer cooking?
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I’ve spent a lot of time over the last several years doing freezer cooking. I’ve settled on what is sometimes called “batch” cooking which is where you pick 1-3 recipes, for example, and you make those on a weekend. It means extra time spent in the kitchen but it isn’t a long drawn out day into evening marathon. I choose things that have similar ingredients – like lasagna, stuffed shells and manicotti – so I’m not ending up with a partial container of ricotta to try and use up. Or I’ll do a few Mexican theme recipes, something like that.
I’ve experimented with a LOT of different recipes. Many have been successful, many have not. I’m also limited on recipes I can try because of their ingredients conflicting with my husband’s dietary restrictions. Anything acidic or spicy is out. But over the years I’ve build up a pretty decent list of recipes I would make again.
In the fall months I’ll do batch cooking every, or every other weekend, for a couple of months. Usually in Sept and Oct – then I use those meals during the busy holiday season of Nov and Dec. I even gave a frozen homemade lasagna to my BIL for Christmas this past year and he loved it!
I put up batches of raw cookie dough and baked cookies during the same timeframe as well which saves a lot of time in December! AND I also do a lot of appetizer type recipes then too, which we use for entertaining over the season.
The rest of the year I do tend to do more of the meal component approach to freezing, or perhaps raw meats in marinades intended for the grill.
I’ll never stop freezer cooking, but it does ebb and flow 🙂
I’ve used various freezer cooking methods over the last 15 years. I find that what typically works best for me is to make extra of a freezer friendly meal when I make it for dinner. For instance, I make a triple batch of spaghetti sauce, serve it for dinner that night, and freeze the rest in 5 meal size portions. I also find that I tend to freeze meal components, instead of full meals…like the spaghetti sauce. By doing this once or twice a week, I can keep a steady stream of meals available in the freezer (with variety) that only take about 20 minutes of hands-on cooking time on the serving night. If we are coming up on a busy season and I know I won’t even have time for that, then I’ll spend 2-3 hours one day making a few different meals (large batches of each) and freeze 15-20 meals at a time. This works best with my family’s favorite recipes that are quick to pull together, so that we don’t mind eating them weekly for a month or so during sports season, etc.
I like freezing meal components too. It makes for quick meals when the “hard” part is already done. And fewer dishes to wash too!
I’ve tried the freezer cooking a few times, even took a few classes, in the end I just didn’t like it. Instead to save time, I will cook beans, ground beef, stew meat, cubed chicken, etc… And freeze them in portion sizes. However, I will double a few recipes like lasagna, enchiladas, cinnamon rolls and freeze them for later use.
Yes! I love having frozen cinnamon rolls in the freezer that can thaw in the fridge and go in the oven in the morning! Makes me with I had some in the freezer now!
I homeschooled when my 7 children were growing up. Time was always short. I loved having freezer meals for those hectic days. I didn’t follow any plan. If ground beef was on sale, I would make some ground beef recipes. If there wasn’t any time for making several, not necessarily a month’s worth of meals, I might just double a recipe. Eat one and freeze one. We had a huge garden so I froze and canned fruit and vegetables. I think its whatever works for you and your situation. My kids are all grown now and I live alone but work 2 jobs. Each weekend, I cook for the week. I try to freeze a 1 or 2 size serving for those weeks when the time or the budget don’t allow grocery shopping or cooking time.
Those are some great tips Lynn! Thanks for sharing!
I think I am more like how you described yourself to be. We use our freezer for storing reduced meats, veggies, several bread items when I get them on sale, and frozen milk. The only time I have found freezer meals to be beneficial for me is when we go on vacation. I take 3 or 4 frozen meals and my crockpot with me, even when camping if there is a power outlet! Dump the frozen chunk of food in the crock in the morning and you have a meal ready by evening that your family can serve themselves so you don’t get stuck cooking everything. I do sometimes make twice as much of something then freeze half for another meal. I love going to the freezer and having a previously prepared meal ready to just heat and eat. It’s also good to have a freezer meal already prepared in case someone you know just gets out of the hospital or has a baby.
Yes! Freezer meals are great to share with someone who just had a baby or is sick. And that’s awesome that you take them on vacation with your crock pot! Perfect!
If I have a recipe that uses canned goods, I don’t open the can and freeze the contents. I just write, “Add one can diced tomatoes” or something like that on the freezer bag. Also, I don’t use any special freezer recipes. Most of my recipes can be frozen or can be adapted to be frozen. For instance, if I’m going to make Impossible Cheeseburger Pie, I’ll precook all my ground beef and onions and shred all my cheese. The homemade bisquick is already in a container in the refrigerator. So I’ll package the beef and cheese together, write the remaining directions on the bag, and have only five minutes of “prep” on the day I want it. Maybe this isn’t the same as precooking the entire dish, but it is enough to keep me away from fast food!
That’s a great idea Jen! Having a quick prep meal is nice, especially if it’s easy enough to keep you away from fast food!
That’s the kind of stuff that I do too!
I also Carmelize tons of onions and bell peppers ahead of time, while they are on sale, then freeze in small zipper bags for a fast punch of flavor.
We save our orange and lemon peels and then chop the whole thing in the food processor. We freeze it for use as zest. It is so cheap/easy to pull a few tablespoons from the freezer rather than buying fruit just for the zest. And more nutritious because you eat the whole peel.
We food process ginger and freeze that the same way.
We have a big family (9) and we each eat a lot too. The gallon sized bag works well for the main course. Then we add rice and salad or another veggie etc…
I don’t do freezer cooking either. It is just too exhausting. I always cook extra for leftovers. i have a couple of store bought frozen stir fry meals in the freezer for emergencies. I plan and shop weekly and have found that is the best system for us.
My initial experience was exhaustion too, but this time it wasn’t. Maybe it’s because we just did ten meals instead of an entire month. Stir fry is a great “emergency” meal!
I used to do freezer cooking. It was nice to have a meal ready to pop into the oven or crockpot. Now that our diet consists of mostly fresh fruit and vegetables freezer cooking no longer works for us. That service would have been nice to have when I was freezer cooking.
We eat lots of fresh too. I like to make a salad or serve something from the garden to go along with our main dish.