Why I Have ZERO Meals In My Freezer!

posted by Andrea | 01/12/2017
Print pageEmail page

Freezer cooking has been a crucial part of my efforts to simplify my life (and our family mealtimes) for over 10 years now. I have saved myself countless hours in the kitchen, thousands of dollars at the grocery store, and bucket loads of stress due to planning ahead and having ready-made meals in the freezer ALL THE TIME.

However, for the past 6-9 months, I’ve noticed that I rarely feel the need for fully prepared freezer meals anymore. Instead, I prefer to pull already-prepared ingredients out of the freezer to make meals during nap time or after the kids go to bed.

Aside from some leftover soup, we currently have ZERO full meals in our deep freezer right now, and I am no longer putting meals in our freezer on a weekly basis. (Yes, even I’m pretty shocked by this realization).

Double and triple batches of our favorite meals were my saving grace for many years when I worked outside the home, and then when I had infants in the house. However, since so many of the meals we eat now are SUPER SIMPLE and can be oven-ready within 15 minutes or less, it really doesn’t save me all that much time to have them ready to go in the freezer (and it was starting to take up a lot of freezer space!)

Instead, I freeze 2-cup portions of already cooked meats, already sliced or shredded cheeses, already cooked rice, already chopped onions, celery, peppers, carrots, and even potatoes.

This helps cut down on any wasted produce and it makes it SO simple to quickly throw together a casserole, soup, stew, tacos, quesadillas, etc.

Here are some ideas of how I freeze pre-portioned ingredients:

MEAT:

Ground beef (or turkey) –– fry up 3-4 pounds at a time and divide it up into 1 c. and 2 c. portions in zip-top bags or small storage containers

Taco meat — once ground beef or ground turkey is already cooked, I’ll often make a few pounds of it into taco meat for tacos, quesadillas, or any of our other favorite Mexican meals. I freeze this in 1 c. or 2 c. portions.

Ground sausage — fry up sausage patties or crumbled sausage, drain, divide, and freeze

Turkey or Chicken — roast a whole turkey or boil several chicken breasts, chop or shred it (here’s a great tip for shredding it) and divide it up into 2 c. portions.

Grilled steak and chicken — chop into bite-size pieces and freeze in 2 c. portions (we use this for fajitas, quesadillas, or salads).

Pork chops — divide into packages of 4 -6 pork chops and freeze (sometimes I will also marinate it before freezing)

Ham — I cook a whole spiral ham 3 times a year. I slice some of the leftovers and cube the rest. I freeze it per pound.

Uncooked ground beef — I do keep some UNCOOKED ground beef in the freezer to use for hamburger patties or meatloaf. However, I will often make and season the meatloaf and hamburger patties before I freeze the meat.

FRUITS and VEGGIES:

Berries — I wash, hull, and slice (if necessary) berries, flash freeze them on cookie sheets, and then dump into plastic freezer bags. This way, I can simply grab out a handful if I need them for smoothies, or measure out the appropriate amount if I’m using them for muffins or other baked goods.

Apples –– I used my apples slicer, peeler, corer to peel and thinly slice apples that are past their prime and freeze them for bread, pie, or smoothies.

Bananas — I peel them and freeze them in containers of 4 bananas as this is what many of my baking recipes call for.

Peppers, onions, carrots, celery — If any veggies are starting to wilt, I chop them up and toss them in bags I have for each in the freezer. I keep them all separate so I can easily measure out what I need for various recipes.

Potatoes — I cube my potatoes into small chunks if they are going bad. Then I use them in omelets or to make fried potatoes.

Other — there are SOOOOOOO many other fruits and veggies you can freeze (really, almost all of it outside of lettuce!)

BAKED GOODS and GRAINS:

Already baked — I regularly put already baked cookies, brownies, muffins, cupcakes, and other treats in the freezer for later. This way, we can enjoy a variety of desserts at all times without worrying about them going stale after a few days in the pantry. I have several food storage containers that are designated for baked goods and I simply refill them with items from the freezer as we empty them out during the week.

Dough –– cookie dough is really the only “dough” or “batter” I will freeze (and I just freeze it in one lump, not individual balls). Everything else gets baked before I freeze it.

Nuts and chocolate — I put all my nuts and chocolate in the freezer to prolong the shelf life.

Breads — I freeze store bought and homemade bread, rolls, bagels, English muffins, and even tortillas (especially if I get a good deal and buy a bunch). I literally just stick them in the freezer straight from the grocery store and have never had issues with freezer burn.

Rice — I frequently make rice in our rice cooker as the kids love rice with lunch. And since I have the rice cooker on anyway, I often make a couple extra cups of cooked rice for the freezer. I mainly use this rice in casseroles and soups (not to eat plain) so if the texture changes at all, no one seems to notice!

DAIRY:

Butter — I think I have 6 pounds of butter in my freezers right now — sometimes it gets closer to 10 pounds if it’s really on sale 🙂 So yes, you can easily freeze butter!

Cheese — I put all my pre-shredded cheese in the door of our upright freezer. It’s a very easy way to keep things organized and makes it easy for me to find anything I need/want. One thing to note though — if you freeze block cheese, it will usually be quite crumbly after you defrost it. I slice or cube all my cheese BEFORE putting it in the freezer and then it’s just fine after I defrost it.

Yogurt — I always have frozen gogurts in the fridge for a quick snack for the kids. Dave and I also freeze regular yogurt as a “frozen yogurt treat” every now and then!

Other — besides butter, cheese, and yogurt I don’t freeze any other dairy because I personally don’t love the texture. Plus, we go through it SO fast that there really isn’t a need to freeze any of it at our house! That said, you can definitely freeze milk, cream cheese, cottage cheese, and even sour cream if you don’t mind a slight change in texture.

.

I could probably keep going, but I think you get the idea.

The amount of time and energy I spend in the kitchen is currently at an all-time LOW thanks to keeping my freezer continually stocked with pre-portioned, pre-cooked ingredients that are ready to go for quick weeknight meals.

My “System”

I don’t have a super strict routine or method to keep the freezer stocked with pre-cooked ingredients… sometimes I just cook and/or portion out a bunch of meat the same day I get home from the grocery store, sometimes I need to cook meat for something (like having friends over to grill) so we grill up extra meat at that time.

There are other times when I simply decide to roast a whole turkey in the middle of June so we can use that meat for casseroles throughout the summer.

I try to keep things fairly organized in the freezer too (but again, I don’t go crazy). I usually use masking tape and a Sharpie to label my containers (these are the containers I use most).

I organize our freezer as follows: 

  • Cheese, butter, and fruit in the door of the deep freezer (I also keep a bunch of fruit and veggies in the freezer in our kitchen)
  • Pre-portioned meat in the bottom drawer
  • Steak, pork chops, roasts, and larger cuts of meat on the bottom shelf
  • Frozen veggies and any meals or soup on the middle shelf
  • Baked goods and breads on the top shelf (right now, I have a full turkey on the top shelf because that’s where it fit!)

After 9 years of stocking my freezer with fully prepared meals, it’s still an adjustment for me to realize there are no full meals in my freezer. But since our family eats such simple meals, I honestly think I’m saving myself even more time by filling our freezer with pre-portioned, pre-cooked ingredients instead of full meals!

Who knows, in another year or so, that might change again — but this is what’s working for us right now.

Want more freezer cooking posts?

How do you best utilize YOUR freezer?

top photo source

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Filed under: FoodFreezer Cooking

 
 

Leave a comment

26 comments

  1. Angela

    01/12/2017

    Super great tips! I’m going to work on implementing some of your freezer organizing ideas – we have two small deep freezes and they are so hard to organize – I think an upright would be more functional. My dad is a beef farmer so we usually have quite a bit of meat on hand, which is great, but I need to figure out a way to organize it so that I can access everything! I also like to freeze balls of cookie dough so I can make a few when we have company. It was a lifesaver when we added onto our house a few years ago and we had contractors around for a couple of weeks – I served them warm, fresh cookies every morning and they loved it! They never knew my little secret of the frozen dough! : )

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Angela!
    I’m sure your contractors absolutely LOVED coming to your house!!

    [Reply]

  2. Kelly

    01/12/2017

    I have learned, from your blog I think, to do the cooked meat thing. I am inspired by a few of these ideas, too!

    Two things you didn’t mention (or maybe I missed it) are…
    -cooked bacon… This is especially helpful for bacon in small amounts, like a topping for baked potatoes, etc.
    – balls of cookie dough… I know you said you don’t do this. We love having balls of cookie dough for individual fresh baked cookies at night after the kids are in bed. 🙂 we typically just make 4 or 6 for my husband and me (2 or 3 each). Yum!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Yes, I cook bacon in larger quantities, but I don’t freeze it. I just keep it in the fridge because it lasts for a LONG time (and we eat it plenty fast!)
    That said, I DO freeze uncooked bacon.

    [Reply]

  3. Chris K in Wisconsin

    01/12/2017

    I don’t know if anyone else mentioned using a Food Saver which vacuum packs as an option, but we use ours all of the time. You can make the bags whatever size you need, they are heavy duty so they do NOT leak, and freezer burn isn’t an issue. You can stack your bags of stock or soup or chili, etc. with no fear of a mess. Although I think my favorite part is the no freezer burn. There are never ice crystals on any of the food. We also use it to re-seal our chip and pretzel, even choc chips and coconut etc. bags, so they are sealed completely and no spills can occur in the pantry. Bags of chopped lettuce and spinach, carrots, etc. can also be sealed. We have had ours for about 8 years now and even though there are only 2 of us in our empty nest, we use it almost daily. The newer ones have less of a footprint on the counter as they are sort of “hinged”, and can be stood up against the back of the counter, and you un-hinge it to lay it down when you need to use it. I’ve also used it to seal bags of small crafting items which could fall and spill if not sealed well. So many uses!!!!

    [Reply]

    Rhonda (in Wisconsin) Reply:

    I also use a FoodSaver, but not for the many uses which you’ve listed here. Thanks for the tips!

    [Reply]

  4. Mary

    01/12/2017

    My mom used to buy 40 lb blocks of cheese from WI…she’d cut it into 1-2 lb blocks, wrap them individually and freeze. To keep it from crumbling when sliced she’d defrost it in the fridge for a week or 2 and it worked perfectly!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    WOW! That’s a lot of cheese!
    Good to know about defrosting it in the fridge!

    [Reply]

    Patti Reply:

    If you defrost cheese at room temperature, you can avoid the crumbling. And you don’t have to wait a week or 2 to use it. Just be sure to keep watch on it and get it into the fridge while it is still cool. An 8 oz block takes about an hour to an hour and a half at 73 degrees room temp.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    good to know — thanks Patti!

    [Reply]

  5. Susie

    01/12/2017

    Interesting that you do it this way. I have been doing it this way for years and I often thought I should put a couple meals together before I have this baby but it’s simple for me to get a meal together if I have the ingredients. I usually just by bags of frozen berries and veggies, they seem to work better then buying them fresh, unless I get a really good deal or for free.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    haha!! I definitely always had a stash of fully prepared meals in my freezer before all 3 of my babies were born, but right now (with no tiny babies on crazy schedules) I find it’s easier to simply have frozen ingredients instead.

    I don’t think there’s a “right way” or a “wrong way” it’s just whatever works best for you. That said, it might not be a bad idea to have a couple fully-prepared meals ready for when the baby arrives!

    [Reply]

  6. Patty

    01/12/2017

    Great post!

    [Reply]

  7. Jo

    01/12/2017

    I must say, I really like this approach of having a freezer stocked with ‘ingredients’, and not whole meals. Saves time by simply bagging a single cut food item instead of combining many, and lets you be more creative with what you want to make/cook by having options, and also saves some food from being thrown out by simply freezing it for later! Thanks for this post!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Yes Jo — we salvage a lot of produce this way — which makes me feel good too!

    [Reply]

  8. Carrie Willard

    01/12/2017

    I never got into freezer cooking. You would think I would since I have 7 homeschooling kids, two blogs, etc – but I don’t.

    What DOES make my life much easier? I buy frozen bags of chopped veggies. Chopped onions, chopped bell peppers, mirepoix, etc… so simple!!! And I eat more veggies as a result. Fajita blend with eggs for breakfast, seasoning blend (carrot/green pepper/onion/celery) with all manner of things.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    yes! I would think you would be into freezer cooking! I still think there might be times in my life when I’ll go back to freezing full meals, but right now, the already prepared ingredients seem to be the most time-saving for me!

    [Reply]

  9. Beatriz

    01/12/2017

    Quick question, how do you flash freeze? I did that in the lab but I don’t think you have liquid nitrogen in your house, that’s how we did it in the lab. Perhaps a post on different methods of flash freezing for future reference?

    I’m thinking of doing what you do, trying to improve my habits but not going to lie I’m not good at this adulting thing.

    [Reply]

    Becky Reply:

    I use the term “flash freeze” when I put small pieces of something on a cookie sheet and put it in our upright freezer (deep freeze). It freezes way faster than in the regular freezer and, because it is spread out on the cookie sheet, you can bag them up and just use them in whatever portion you need (like 1/2 cup or 10 strawberries). That way, you don’t just have a lump of chicken or a giant ball of strawberries.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    yes, exactly. I’m not sure if it’s the exact correct terminology — but that’s the word I use 🙂

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    I just put a single layer if fruits or veggies on a cookie tray, freeze them, and then transfer them into a plastic bag or food storage container. No liquid nitrogen needed 🙂

    [Reply]

  10. Jen

    01/12/2017

    I do the same–freeze ingredients with the occasional fully prepared meal. I usually buy chicken breast when it’s on sale, cook it in the crock pot, and then shred some with my mixer and dice some for other uses.

    I’m wondering if you notice a difference between freezing things in freezer bags vs the plastic containers? I have been considering getting some containers, but I feel like they would take up a lot more room. I don’t notice a problem with the freezer bags, but sometimes I feel like containers might be better (for stock, broth, etc). Do you think one is better than the other?

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    I almost always use containers for anything liquid these days (I’ve had a few too many instances where the bags leak all over the place when I defrost them!)
    The containers I use are really cheap, really stackable, and specifically for the freezer. They take up very little room in my food storage drawer, especially since they are almost always “in use” with frozen foods inside 🙂

    That said, if the bags work for you, don’t knock a good thing!

    [Reply]

    Rhonda Reply:

    I don’t know how it compares economically, but I love my FoodSaver machine to vacuum and heat seal. I don’t use it for everything, but if I am doing larger batches of frozen sweet corn or spaghetti sauce in the summer, I do use it, since I can make the bags the size I need – and if it’s going to be frozen for 6+ months, it helps protect against freezer burn.

    [Reply]

    Rhonda Reply:

    Also, when you defrost the FoodSaver bags (if you seal it properly), there’s not a risk of leaking.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks for sharing Rhonda!

    [Reply]