By Jami Balmet, Contributing Writer
I don’t know about you, but I just feel overwhelmed sometimes when it comes to making healthy meals for my family. After a long day of blogging, cleaning, housework, laundry, bills, and chasing down my very active twin boys, I just don’t have the energy (or the time) to put into making delicious and healthy meals from scratch every night. I know that real food and home cooked meals are the most nutritious way to bring up my kids, and family time around the dinner table is invaluable - but what do you do when you are exhausted and already feel overwhelmed with everything else you do?
Freezer cooking. These two simple words have transformed how I run my kitchen. I think my husband would agree the process has vastly improved the meals we eat! I began freezer cooking (or once a month cooking) before we had kids and we lived in a small apartment with a teeny tiny refrigerator and freezer. But I made it work (see how I used to do freezer cooking) and now that I have a larger refrigerator in my kitchen and a chest freezer, my love of once a month cooking has grown even more.
To give you a head start so you can jump right in to freezer cooking, I’m going to cover the basics (with some resources for digging in further) and a roundup of amazing freezer cooking recipes. Real food, healthy cooking has never been so easy!
The Basics of Freezer Cooking
Decide on a Method
When someone says that they do “freezer cooking” this can be done numerous ways. In fact, no two homemakers probably do freezer cooking exactly the same way. And as you will see, often we adapt multiple methods of freezer cooking. But here are a few of the basic methods for freezer cooking:
Cook Once for a Full Month – This is the method of freezer cooking that I first fell in love with. It’s the concept that you take one day and do all your grocery shopping for the month (or most) and do a full day of cooking 20 to 30 meals to last the entire month. This is a great option for those really busy times in our lives like when you are having a new baby!
Make Double Batches – As I’ve gotten more comfortable with what freezes well, I’ve started doing this more and more. When I’m making a lasagna for dinner, I just go ahead and make two. We enjoy one for dinner that night and the other one goes into the freezer for another day. This works great for those of us who have little kids running underfoot and a full day of cooking just sounds like torture. This way, you already have all the ingredients out and you just make a double batch.
Just Make the Staples - I’ve also adapted this method of freezer cooking and couldn’t survive without it! When I make dried beans in my crockpot, I will cook 2 or 3 big bags at a time. When it’s done, I divide the beans up into smaller bags and freeze them so I can pull soaked, homemade beans out whenever I need them! This also works well with rice, shredded chicken, beef for tacos and burritos, and more.
Hunt for the Deals
Shop smart, and you can find amazing deals on your food for freezing cooking. Once a year, my local natural foods store has organic, free-range chicken fryers for $5! So I go early and buy as many as I can get my hands on. Then I come home, shred all the chicken, and package them up into 2 cup packages and away they go in the freezer. This way we have frozen, shredded chicken ready for last minute meals. In the long run, it saves so much money.
I do the same thing with fresh produce. When peaches are in season we will buy them 100 pounds at a time. We wash them, cut them into quarters and freeze them for the long winter months. They go great in kefir smoothies. Then we have fresh, organic produce all year round for rock bottom prices.
Know Your Limit
Two months ago we moved into our first house. We got a great big refrigerator/freezer from my mom and bought a chest freezer for our mud room. Now I have ample room to buy food in bulk and freeze, freeze, freeze! But just three months ago, we lived in a small apartment and I was taller than our fridge … enough said. I didn’t have room to store 30 pounds of meat, 100 pounds of peaches, and a full month’s worth of meals.
So I had to be selective with that I froze. Some months that meant we cleared out the freezer and had 20 meals ready for that month. But other months it meant just having the staples like shredded chicken and beans stockpiled in our freezer. Start off slow and as you learn what your freezer can handle, you can dive in further.
Do Some Research
One of the beautiful things about the Internet is that so many other homemakers are willing to share their secrets and what they’ve learned. I’ve compiled a more thorough resource list for freezer cooking, but here are a few to get our started:
Once a Month Meals Whole Foods Menu – I tried out Once a Month Meals years ago, before they had a whole foods menu. I really like it, but at the end of the day I like to cook our family’s favorite dishes. If you are new to freezer cooking and want to give it a try, OAMM are an easy way to try it out. They give you a full month’s worth of menus planned out, printable recipes, and even your shopping list! I do know that part of their website is now a paid membership, but I think it can be worth it.
Money Saving Mom – Crystal Paine posted a mini series on freezer cooking and even has some free printables to help you plan your cooking. She also has an eBook on freezer cooking that you can get for free when signing up for her newsletter!
Life As Mom – In a great series that goes beyond just the basics of freezer cooking, Jessica Fisher covers shopping for freezer meals, cooking with kids, how to keep track of your meals, and more.
Intentional By Grace – Leigh Ann Dutton quickly covers the basics of freezer cooking and moves on to great topics such as organizing a freezer meal swap, yummy recipes and more.
Pinterest – Of course, this is my favorite resource! I’ve created a freezer cooking Pinterest board with all these resources, recipes, and much much more. Follow my Real Food Freezer Cooking board and start browsing Pinterest for awesome recipes.
65 Freezer Meal Recipes
*Please note: As with most recipes, I scan the ingredients before making it because often I’ll substitute whole wheat flour for white, honey or maple syrup for sugar, etc. So a few of these recipes below are not completely “real food,” but with a few tweaks I know they will turn out great!
Soups & Stews
Homemade Flour Tortillas (that you can freeze!!)
Homemade Yogurt in the Slow Cooker (that you can freeze!!)