Today I have a guest post for you from one of my coaching students, Abby. Enjoy!
As someone who works from home, I know I should at least start dinner around then if I want a decent meal by 6 p.m., but I usually need to finish a project, send an email, run an errand, etc.
A handful of dishes usually rest in my sink, begging me to wash them so I can start dinner prep in my tiny kitchen.
[Editor’s note: Wow, is Abby talking about her house or mine? Sounds just like me!]
I look at my meal plan to see what I planned to make that night and am disappointed by the option. Suddenly, going out for burgers starts to sound really appealing.
The dinnertime crazies are difficult to overcome, but I recently found a simple option that is helping me conquer them: freezer cooking.
Although freezer cooking is something I’ve done since I started living on my own in 2011, I have honed the practice and seen its numerous advantages over the past year as I’ve been cooking for two and working from home.
What is Freezer Cooking?
Freezer cooking is a method of meal planning where entrees, sides and/or desserts are prepared in multiples and stored in the freezer for use throughout the month. There are two general approaches to freezer cooking, both with their own advantages.
The first approach to freezer cooking is simply doubling or tripling recipes you make throughout the course of your normal week and freezing the extra portions.
For example, suppose you have plans to serve homemade spaghetti one night for dinner. Double or triple your normal recipe, portion it after you’re finished preparing it and freeze accordingly. The pros of this method are that it doesn’t require a lot of planning or time and you probably don’t need to clean out your freezer to store your new meals.
Another approach to freezer cooking is to prepare multiple meals over the course of a single day. This method requires additional planning because you need to decide what meals you want to make, create a shopping list, ensure your have enough space in your freezer for the finished meals and devote an entire day to cooking.
Although it requires considerable work that day, the payoff of using this approach is immense. After executing your detailed plan and cooking all day, you will have a freezer full of dinners that you can enjoy the entire month.
Personally, I’ve found a combination of the two approaches works for me. About every other month, I cook several meals at one time to enjoy over the upcoming weeks. Then, throughout the course of my normal cooking, I may double or triple a meal here and there to put in my freezer. The key is to figure out your cooking rhythm and make it work for you.
Click Here to get a delicious Santa Fe Chicken recipe!
Why Freezer Cook?
Why should you try freezer cooking if it takes so much time, work and planning? In my four years of freezer cooking, I’ve found three big advantages of freezer cooking.
- Freezer cooking saves me money. Because of freezer cooking, I can capitalize on sales and plan 10-15 meals at one time based off the best deals. Freezer cooking also gives me a good reason to buy ingredients in bulk, which usually brings down the overall price vs buying in smaller quantities.
- Freezer cooking curbs my incentive to eat out. When I know I have something in my freezer that just needs to be thrown in the oven when I get home, it’s hard to find a good excuse to order pizza. This saves me money and makes me eat healthier.
- Finally (and unsurprisingly!) freezer cooking has minimized my stress. Knowing I have a dinner ready-to-go on that day when I don’t feel like cooking or don’t know what to make brings peace of mind and reduces last minute grocery store runs.
Freezer Cooking Basics
Regardless of what freezer cooking method you decide to take, there are three primary steps you need to prepare for.
- Plan. Decide if you want to do a full-blown day of cooking, or just make a few extra meals throughout the course of a few weeks while you follow your normal cooking routine. Research recipes that work well by checking out books from the library and Google searching freezer meals. Identify your dinner “trouble spots” and consider planning your freezer meals around those. Maybe you’re the type who always needs to to bring a dessert to an event, but never has the time or desire to make one? Consider making a couple of pounds of cookie dough and freezing it. Maybe your family is trying to eat healthier but is finding it hard? Keep an eye out for healthy recipes in your research.
- Prep. Buy and organize all ingredients. Make sure you watch for sales and look for opportunities to buy in bulk. If I’m doing a big cooking day, I like to prep all the meat in advance (i.e., brown the beef, cook and shred the chicken, etc…) so the day goes faster. You may also need bags, disposable pans, aluminum foil and a sharpie to store your meals. Don’t forget to clean out your freezer to make sure there’s room for your new meals after all your hard work.
- Share the work. See if there’s a friend or two would be interested in joining you. You want to make sure your cooking buddies have similar tastes, cooking styles and shopping habits as yourself (i.e., she’s good if you buy generic black beans instead of organic ones) to help planning and prep work go well. If you can find someone who enjoys the same foods you do, cooking with a friend can be a lot of fun and make the work go by quickly in addition to sharing the grocery costs.
Freezer cooking has not only minimized the stress that dinner can bring, it’s also helped me stay on budget for groceries and eat healthier. If you want to work on battling the dinnertime crazies with freezer cooking, start small by doubling or tripling a recipe you’re going to make this week and stashing it away in your freezer. Then on that day when nothing goes as planned and 5 p.m. is here before you know it, open up your freezer, pull out that meal and smile because dinner will be ready shortly.
Have you ever tried freezer cooking?
Click Here to get a delicious Santa Fe Chicken recipe!
Abigail Murrish is a freelance agricultural and food writer passionate about encouraging people to know their food and eat well. Abigail lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, with her husband, and blogs at abigailmurrish.com.