Making Freezer Meals Saves Time and Money
When making a meal for dinner, when the pots and pans will already be dirty, the recipe can be doubled or tripled to make extra meals for the freezer. At cooking time it will take a little bit more time to make the additional meals, but when the frozen meal is pulled from the freezer time will be saved because you won’t have all the pots and pans to clean up and there will be less time spent cleaning the kitchen.
Ingredients can be purchased in large amounts when they are on sale. You can also buy ingredients in bulk at wholesale warehouse stores such as Sam’s Club, Costco or BJ’s. Ingredients can be cheaper in Bulk sections at stores such as Windco.
I watch for Spices, Dehydrated or Freeze Dried ingredients to go on sale and buy them at these locations:
- The LDS Home Storage Center never has a sale on their products because they are already priced to low. To find a location near you or to order online https://providentliving.lds.org/self-reliance/home-storage-centers Items I buy the most are dehydrated onion and diced carrots, rice, oatmeal, potato pearls, powdered milk, beans, and apple slices.
- Augason Farms brand can be found at Walmart or Windco or you can order online http://www.augasonfarms.com/ I love the Morning Moo brand of non-fat dry milk, I buy powdered eggs here, freeze dried and dehydrated fruits and vegetables such as diced potatoes and green pepper flakes.
- San Francisco Herb sfherb.com/
- Firehouse Pantry Firehouse Pantry
- My Spicer myspicer.com
- Honeyville locations or to order online http://honeyville.com/ (this is the only place that I have found shredded dehydrated carrots and I love them. I also use a lot of their freeze dried ingredients)
- Emergency Essentials locations or to order online http://beprepared.com/ They cost a little bit more and I only buy sale items but they have a good selection.
Pick the Right Freezer Recipe
Freezing a meal changes the consistency of the ingredients so you want to find a good recipe that has been tried or tested for the freezer. If the recipe is new to you just make one recipe for the freezer the first time you make it so you’ll know if it’s a good recipe when the meal is heated.
Some of my favorite Freezer Cookbooks are:
30 Day Gourmet’s Big Book of Freezer Cooking 30 day Gourmet’s Big Book of Freezer Cooking
Holly Clegg’s Trim & Terrific Freezer Friendly Meals Holly Clegg’s Trim & Terrific Freezer Friendly Meal Holly also has a blog http://thehealthycookingblog.com/
Make sure the vegetables and fruits are prepared properly to be frozen. A good place to learn about blanching is at the Utah State Extension Service website. http://extension.usu.edu/foodpreservation/htm/freeze-foods
You can click on a link that will give you a PDF printable file with all of the blanching times of each the fruit and vegetable. If you want to save time by avoiding this process you can use Dehydrated or Freeze Dried ingredients or you can buy vegetables from the grocery store that are already frozen. The only vegetables that can be frozen without blanching or cooking are diced onion and tomatoes, so if you see a recipe that uses more fresh vegetables than those two, and they don’t give instructions to cook or blanch the vegetable, then don’t use that recipe.
You can save a lot of money if you buy dehydrated vegetables but personally I don’t like all of the dehydrated vegetables because it seems like some of them won’t hydrate soft enough, not even in the slow cooker. I usually buy Freeze Dried Celery and Mushroom instead but these cost about the same as using fresh vegetables. The advantage of using Freeze Dried celery and mushrooms is to save time. You can also use canned mushrooms and tomatoes. When I use canned items I leave them in the can and add them at cooking time so that if I lose my freezer food (to some unfortunate accident or tragedy) those items will be safe in my food storage.
Packaging Freezer Meals
Label the container:
Write the cooking instructions on the container with a sharpie marker or print instructions and tape them on the container with a good brand of clear shipping tape. ( l look for brands that are waterproof).
Short Freezer Life:
Some freezer recipes encourage you to freeze individual meals or pieces of food without wrapping them first but storing food this way will give you a very short freezer life because it will start to form ice crystals on the individual pieces. An example of this is when the recipes has you cook meatballs, freeze them individually then package the meatballs in a freezer bag. The problem is that you won’t be able to remove all the air from the bag and the ice crystals continue to grow, filling the air pockets.
Long Freezer Life:
The proper way to store a freezer meal is to fill the container or bag and make sure there isn’t any air in the package. Foil pans need to be full. Freezer bags need all of the air pushed out before sealing them. To continue the Meatball example the best way to freeze them is to put them in a freezer recipe for the sauce that you want to serve the meatballs with and then the sauce will fill the air pockets and there won’t be freezer burn in the package. The freezer food has an indefinite freezer life as long as there isn’t any ice crystals.
Another way to properly package a freezer meal is to use the FoodSaver or Seal a Meal. If the meal has a lot of liquid in the recipe the liquid can get sucked out of the package as the machine removes the air so I find the best way to package the meal is to freeze the recipe in a pan lined with parchment paper, remove the meal after it has been frozen (you might need to heat the pan a little bit in the oven to help you remove it from the pan), and then place the frozen food in the special plastic bag that is designed to be used with these types of machines. The parchment paper will help keep ice crystals off the meal and then the machine removes 99% of the air so these meals have a very long freezer life. A loaf size pan works well for 2-3 servings and an 8 x 8 pan can be used for 5-6 servings.
At cooking time, remove the meal from the FoodSaver bag and place it back in the pan that it was originally frozen in. Let the meal thaw overnight and all the next day and then cook the meal.
Tip: When I cut the plastic bag for the FoodSaver, I cut them a little bit larger because I reuse the bags. Start with a little bit extra plastic so that when you cut the seal off the bag at cooking time you will still have a decent size bag to use next time. I prefer to tape the instructions on the bag because the marker instructions will be permanently on the bag. You can also wash and reuse quart and gallon sized freezer bags.
As a side note: if you are going to purchase a FoodSaver make sure it comes with a hose attachment. I use my foodsaver to vaccum pack and seal canning jars more than I use it for freezer meals.
Make Ahead of Time for a Large Meal
Using freezer recipes will help free up time on big cooking days like Thanksgiving or Christmas. 1) You can make extras a couple of days before the meal and then leftovers can be frozen. 2) you can make the recipe months ahead of time, freeze it and then the day before the meal thaw the recipe. My favorite recipes to make ahead of time are: Mashed potatoes, I make when potatoes are abundant in the fall and cheaper, and I warm them in a slow cooker on the holiday. Make Ahead Cherry Salad, This is easy enough to make the day before the meal and then freeze leftover salad.
Freezer Recipe are Great to Use at Harvest Time.
In the Fall, at Harvest time, I have a collection of freezer recipes that I use. In fact, I place extra butternut squash so that I can make soup to freeze and I make pumpkin cake rolls with butternut squash instead of pumpkin. I also love the Freezer Apple Crisp recipe so I plan around this time of the year and during the summer I start to empty my freezer so that I will be prepare with extra room for freezer recipes in the fall.
Links to our Freezer Recipes