Save Time by Freezing Pre-Cooked Ingredients

posted by Andrea | 04/17/2013

If you ever stop by our house and open up our deep freezer, it will most likely be quite full (even more full than the picture above.)

And although I do have several fully prepared meals stacked on the shelves, I have even more containers of partially prepared foods and stand-alone ingredients like cooked meats, shredded cheese, homemade broth, chopped and frozen veggies, etc. etc.

I’ve found that by keeping pre-cooked and pre-portioned ingredients ready and waiting in the freezer, I save SO much time in the kitchen during my daily dinner prep — especially if our schedules change at the last minute and I need to quickly make something other than my previously planned menu.

For example, when I make chili or tacos, I might cook up 5-7 pounds of ground beef or ground turkey and then portion it out into 2-cup containers. That way, the next time I make tacos, soup, pasta sauce, or anything else that requires ground beef, I don’t have to cook the beef (or wash the extra pan).

Or, I’ll roast an entire turkey just for Dave and me, and then freeze the extra cooked/shredded turkey (and broth) in 2-cup containers for soups, stews, potpie, etc.

Last year, I was even able to get 7 full dinners out of one ham — and I still had some left over for the freezer!

I recently blogged about how I only cook 2-3 meals a week — mainly because of all the freezer cooking I do. However, the more I thought about it, I realized that I rely on my freezer almost EVERY night.

It might be ground sausage for my Savory Sausage Pasta Bake, chopped peppers and onions for omelettes, my Mexican base mixture for quesadillas, shredded chicken for Chicken Pot Pie, chopped spinach for a quiche, or even frozen berries for our favorite smoothies.

Yes, I still have to do some of the prep work and it’s not quite as fast as pulling an entire meal out of the freezer, but I still save a significant amount of time each week by having these pre-cooked, pre-portioned ingredients ready and waiting.

You can read more about my favorite freezable foods in this post.

 

Not only does having this pre-cooked, pre-portioned food in the freezer save me time (and I love saving time!), it also makes it a lot harder to “bail” on dinner and opt for fast food instead. I know there is always something I can defrost to quickly get dinner on the table — even if I do wait until the last minute :)

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, these are the containers I use (and have used for YEARS) to freeze 2-cup portions of cooked meat, broth, veggies, etc.

What are your favorite foods to cook ahead and freeze?

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Filed under: FoodFreezer Cooking

 
 

33 comments

  1. Organize365

    04/17/2013

    I so have to start doing this! I rely on fast food way too much!

    :)
    Lisa

    [Reply]

  2. Dianne Berenbrock

    04/17/2013

    I am 61 years old and have been doing this pre work for the freezer for years. We live on a lake so in the summer this works great for when we get company that we had not planned on or we just at the last minute put together a party. I love my freezer and would not know what to do without it. So happy to see that you do too.

    [Reply]

  3. Jennifer

    04/17/2013

    I do the same with chicken – roast one and then freeze the meat in portions and make and freeze broth. Where we live, the options for organic, free-range etc. are better with whole chickens, too, so the meat is better quality.

    I also make my own breadcrumbs and freeze them. I snatch the ends of new loaves of bread and stash them in the fridge until I have a collection (they get stale but don’t go moldy in the fridge), and then whiz them up into crumbs in a batch and freeze them.

    I also keep a container in the freezer of discarded vegetable bits left from when I chop vegetables: the ends of carrots, onions, celery, even the peels, etc. Every time I chop vegetables I pull out the container and toss the extra bits in. After a few weeks I have enough scraps to make stock, either vegetable stock or to add when I make chicken stock. I like being able to make stock without actually buying any new vegetables for the purpose!

    One new thing I’m trying is chopping/pureeing mushrooms and freezing them in small portions. I used chopped mushrooms to add to meat loaf or meatball mixtures to extend the meat, but it’s cheaper to buy mushrooms in bulk, more than we’d eat in one meal – and we don’t like mushrooms cooked any other way! So this time I pureed them and froze spoonfuls in a muffin tray; when they were frozen they slid out and I put them all in a bag to store. Ideally, next time I need some mushroom to stretch my ground beef, I can just thaw one or two portions!

    [Reply]

    Shannon F Reply:

    I love the scrap veggie idea. I love making my own store bought is not only expensive but isn’t very good.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Great ideas Jennifer — thanks for sharing!

    [Reply]

  4. Molly Smith

    04/17/2013

    How often do you defrost your freezer, it is very neat & clean? And do you have some way of tracking what is in your freezer (I cannot recall everything in my freezer by memory)? And do you organize your freezer in a certain way?

    Thanks.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    I usually defrost our deep freezer once a year (in the fall). I do my best to keep everything labeled (usually just with a permanent marker) so I can quickly see and grab whatever I need. And I guess I just always know what’s in our freezer because I’m constantly opening the freezer to grab what I need or to restock. I look in our freezer daily (if not more) so I just tend to remember what’s inside. I think you’ll find that as you develop your own freezer-cooking method, it becomes easier and easier to remember what you have on hand.

    [Reply]

    Molly Reply:

    Thank you.

    [Reply]

    debi korfker Reply:

    I have used a dry erase marker on the outside of mine- and just wiped off the item as I used it! keeps your inventory at eye level without opening the freezer! :)

    [Reply]

  5. Julia

    04/17/2013

    I do this too. I too have a combination of some meals and lots of ready-to-go ingredients in my freezers. I don’t currently have good freezer containers like yours but I actually like to freeze my homemade broth in ice cube trays and then transfer the frozen broth cubes to a freezer bag. It makes it so easy to add ‘just a bit’ of broth to a dish when cooking. I also wash, chop and freeze fresh herbs to use later in dishes because i don’t usually use them all up in time. When used in a dish the frozen texture isn’t an issue, even when using frozen cilantro in guacamole. Yuuuummy! :)

    [Reply]

  6. Heidi

    04/17/2013

    Andrea this has made such a difference in my life!

    Last year when I found your blog I started organizing and cleaning differently to free up time and keep a tidy house for my two babies, so much better! But the freezer meals is what has REALLY made an impact on both my stress level and grocery bill — both much lower!

    Ladies out there, it really works to help keep dinner low stress and the cost down. Take a couple weeks and build up a freezer stockpile and you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner.

    Thanks for the great tips!!!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Heidi — and you’re welcome! I hate taking more time then necessary for ANYTHING — especially in the kitchen — so I’m glad my tips have been helpful for you too :)

    [Reply]

  7. Emily

    04/17/2013

    What are the containers that you use?

    [Reply]

    Debby Reply:

    Thanks Emily, I was going to ask the same thing. I really want to get better at freezer meals and freezer prep items. This way I can have my family start something when I am the late person at work.

    [Reply]

    Candis Reply:

    She has it linked above – click on “these are the containers I use” anything that is in blue letters on a post will take to the website or post it is related to. Hope that helps.

    [Reply]

    Candis Reply:

    See below :-)

    [Reply]

  8. Amanda

    04/17/2013

    I do many similar things

    1. we get veggies in season, and then dice/chop/etc. and blanch (if needed) and freeze. Then all fall/winter I have the best tasting veggies that we did ourselves. We just recently finished up all the sweet corn I had frozen. It was still as yummy as it was back in Aug/Sept.

    2. I make my own chicken stock and then freeze it in 1 qt bags. We’ll roast a chicken and I’ll use it in various recipes and then keep the carcase and scraps for stock. Way better than anything you’ll buy at the store (and the last time I roasted a chicken I still had stock, so there’s a frozen carcase waiting to be turned into stock in my freezer)

    3. Spaghetti sauce – I make a HUGE stock pot full of sauce (again, usually in the summer because I can use a lot of fresh, in season ingredients), portion it out and freeze it. Then on Spaghetti night (or when using a dish calling for sauce), I can pull out a bag, defrost and go. We just ran out of this too. Since tomatoes aren’t in season, I’m going to be making a smaller batch next week to get us through until tomatoes are back here in the midwest.

    In addition we do things like making larger batches of soups or entrees and freezing them. Cooking a few lbs of ground beef/turkey (like you mentioned) to freeze and using them in whatever. Anything I can do to make weeknight dinners take less time to prep, I’m all for. It may take a little more time in prep, but my time savings on the back end is worth it. In the summer, my husband knows that after my trips to the farmers market, he’s going to be on daddy duty for an hour or 2 so that I can prep all of our stuff :)

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Wow — those are some great ideas Amanda! I currently do #2 and #3 and I USED to do #1 when we had a garden. We’ve been so busy with inside projects the past couple summers that we didn’t have time for a garden… however, we’re hoping to put one in this year or next year!

    [Reply]

    Amanda Reply:

    We’re in the process of starting a garden, but beyond herbs we haven’t done much yet. I just make it a point to go to farmers markets, or buy from the Amish (we live not far from several large Amish communities, and my best friend’s house is right in the middle of it, so it’s easy for us to do). It’s less expensive when we buy in season! Last summer we also did a CSA (essentially like a co-op supporting local organic farmers), so we used some of our take away from that in some of our freezer prep (essentially most of what we wouldn’t/couldn’t eat right away).

    [Reply]

  9. Lauren @ Rustic Honey

    04/17/2013

    I just recently posted about making and freezing caramelized onions. I hate how it always stinks up our house and takes FOREVER to make dinner when caramelizing onions. I am now making and freezing them ahead of time. Super time-saver! I also love freezing fresh ingredients for casseroles and crock-pot meals!

    [Reply]

  10. Georgia Gal

    04/17/2013

    I will freeze breads, cakes, chocolate, extra veggies, etc. It’s amazing how many foods you can safely freeze and reuse.

    I just wrote an article yesterday on Clever and Creative Kitchen Tips. I have some tips included about freezing foods. If you would like to check it out here is the link
    http://georgialgal1984.hubpages.com/hub/The-Best-Kitchen-Tips-And-Tricks

    Hope you have a wonderful day~

    [Reply]

  11. Maria

    04/17/2013

    I need to do this! I work full time, go to school full time and am a single mom with a 15 year old (who currently has a broken arm and can’t help with much). We end up eating fast food way too often. My question is: how do you keep the food from getting freezer burn?

    [Reply]

    Amanda Reply:

    First, I use freezer ziplocs (make sure they’re freezer and not storage bags), then for many ingredients, I don’t make/buy more than I can use in 3-6mo (there are a few things like spaghetti sauce that I will let stay longer, but no more than a year) As long as it is well sealed, I rarely have a problem.

    [Reply]

  12. Jenny C.

    04/17/2013

    Andrea, tell me more about the containers and why you like them. I need to invest in all new plastic containers for food storage, etc. and wondered why these are your favorites. Thanks so much!

    [Reply]

  13. Tara

    04/17/2013

    I have to admit I kinda hate when you post about your freezer meals and your super efficient cooking methods. But only because I haven’t gotten myself into that kind of a routine . . . YET! BTW I LOVE those freezer containers too! Here in Oregon I buy them at WinCo grocers. They are super affordable and really great size and shape for freezers.

    I’ve been following your blog for about a year and my home organization has improved so drastically thanks very much in part to your inspiration. Keeping up with the house is so much easier and I’ve also learned to prioritize and stop fretting over whether my kitchen floor is spotless etc when I’ve got kids and a grandma to care for. My goal for 2013 was to get my home working for me rather than against me. It’s been going awesome, but there is some methodical work that still needs to be done to touch up rough edges in creating my new organizational processes. In other words, I want to focus on that until I’ve ironed it out pretty well.

    My goal for 2014 will be to get into a routine for food preparation. I’d love to think it’ll happen before that, but I’m trying to keep my goals reasonable for a gal with my situation. I’m also really working on offering myself grace about this stuff in the meantime.

    Keep posting this stuff! I need it to be the thorn in my side so that I’ll be ready to tackle it when the time is right. And by that time I’ll have soaked in all your great advice on how to do it. :-)

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Oh Tara — I’m definitely not trying to make you feel inferior! I just know that freezer cooking is a great way to simplify — and it’s one of the most “requested” topics from readers!

    I like your idea of taking baby steps and not putting too much on your plate in terms of your yearly goals. However, keep in mind that your routines, organizational processes, and goals will continually change on a weekly, monthly, and yearly basis. So even if you do “iron it out pretty well” (as you said) there’s a pretty good chance something will change and you’ll have to get that iron out again :)

    My point is… don’t worry too much about achieving a perfect system that works flawlessly — just keep plugging along, making progress and striving for “better”. Maybe you can’t do as much freezer cooking as I do right now, but maybe instead, you could start by just freezing one ingredient or staple you use every day (like chopped onions or ground beef).

    I’ll definitely keep posting… and you definitely keep offering yourself grace (it sounds like you have a lot on your plate right now).
    Also, based on your comments, I think you’ll really like tomorrow’s post :)

    [Reply]

  14. Kristen @ Joyfullythriving

    04/17/2013

    I have the same freezer as you, and stock it very similar. It’s almost always full – especially with shredded cheese, chocolate chips, and baked goods. Meal preparation is so much easier thanks to my freezer. It was my favorite wedding gift from my parents and siblings!

    [Reply]

  15. Cammy@Serentipity

    04/17/2013

    This is a happy coincidence! Last night I made up containers of plain browned ground beef. I usually go ahead and make it into taco filling or chili or some other sauce, but after I had some success freezing plain shredded chicken, I decided to try it plain. I like knowing I can go with whatever the mood is when I’m ready to use it.

    [Reply]

  16. Ree Klein

    04/18/2013

    Hi Andrea, it’s embarrassing to admit, but I’m just now starting to get the hang of precooking more ingredients than I need and freezing the remainder. I recently discovered you could freeze cooked noodles (why I didn’t assume that earlier is beyond me since you can buy frozen pasta dinners at the store!).

    Anyway, I really enjoy your site; you provide a great service!

    Ree

    [Reply]

  17. jackie Brown

    04/18/2013

    Awesome, can’t wait to dive into your site; just found you through msm as the assistant, clicked on the link and here you are!

    [Reply]

  18. Sara

    04/29/2013

    Andrea, you have so inspired me that I have been batch cooking for two weeks and my freezer is now jam packed! I honestly can’t fit a single more thing in it but I don’t think I will need to buy much food this month, which is great. We have your enchiladas in there…did a big batch and ate some (delicious) and froze the rest.

    I am planning to make two chicken oies this week and freeze one but I don’t have space!

    :-)

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Awesome! Think how much time (and grocery money) you’ll save this next month!
    Now the trick is to menu plan around what you have in the freezer, but still cook at least one double batch of food each week so your freezer never gets fully depleted.

    [Reply]

  19. Val

    06/01/2013

    I love freezer cooking and during the summer it comes even more handy. Weeks may be hectic and then we want to run out of town camping. I can grab meals out of the freezer to heat up in any number of ways.

    My go to freezer staples are spaghetti sauce, chili, chicken encilantrada recipe I tweaked and various shredded meats depending on what sales I found.

    [Reply]

Leave a comment

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.