Hey friends!! We are doing a week full of freezer meals! New ones and recommending a few old! I am so excited about this series because I've decided to adopt freezing meals as my new thing. I've had so many friends swear by it, making entire days out of prepping and preparing meals for a months worth. One girl friend was even apart of a freezer meal club that met regularly and exchanged meals (brilliant).The whole thing always seemed so intimidating to me and time consuming until recently. I was talking with a friend who said she just makes regular meals and doubles or triples them. Freezes the extra and she has a couple of meals on hand. Now that is something I can handle and when I took the time to think about it, I was already doing that. Tripling batches of waffles, making extra meatballs, or saving roasts.
Now I've decided to make more complete meals out of it. I'm pregnant with my 4th and honestly some days are just plain crazy. Other days I feel sick and food sounds revolting to me, but I still have little mouths to feed and a budget to keep. My answer is freezer meals. Freezer meals are a great way to save time, money and provide home cooked dinners on busy days. There are a few things that will make your dinners more successful and so we are starting out the week with some tips to help you execute your delicious freezer meals.
It all Starts with Good Packaging:
First and foremost! If you are going to freeze something you have to prepare it for long exposures to cold tempuratures. Well duh, yes this is obvious but important. Here are a few things that prepare your meal for frosty months.
- Freezer Safe - If you are storing a soup, meat, or anything else in ziplock bag make sure you buy the "Freezer Safe" bags. These bags are thicker and help to protect the food better. It is well worth the extra pennies to protect your meal!
- Room Temp- Cool your food off to room temp before freezing. If you stick something hot in the freezer, the food will give off extra moisture as it cools. This results in ice crystals forming and faster freezer burn.
- Packaged Tightly- Another way to help avoid freezer burn and ice crystals forming is to package tightly. If you are using a plastic bag then take out as much of the air as possible. Casseroles and meals like enchiladas can be frozen in the tin foil dishes. These are great but hard to seal, one trick is to wrap saran wrap tightly around the entire dish. Keep it air tight and you will be good.
- Be Flexible- Plastic bags, plastic containers and foil containers are the optimal freezing containers because the have some flexibility to them. Food and liquids tend to expand as they freeze. In plastic containers you want to leave about ½ inch of space in between the lid for expansion.
- Label that Baby- This my seem like your mothers business, but more often then not stuff gets forgotten about. When you come around to finding it you will want to know what that mass is and if it's safe to eat! Was that chicken or turkey and last thanksgiving or a few weeks ago?!
Meals that Do and Don't Freeze Well:
So this is a topic that is up for some debate. What you think is well might not be what another thinks as well. Freezing can alter flavors and textures- and you might be ok with those alteration but you might not. This is what we have learned.
- Rice- No... so in general meals that are mainly rice, just don't freeze well. The rice tends to reheat dry and flavors change. However if you make a soup or casserole with a little rice inside, it will probably be fine. Some thing like a Chicken Fried Rice really should just be fresh.
- Pasta - Sometimes. Pasta's like cooked spaghetti tend to reheat to mush. If you are making a dish that requires pre-cooking the pasta, leave the pastas a little short of al dente. This gives the noodles some room to cook and soften more. A meal like manicotti or lasagna can be prepared ahead of time, leaving the noodles uncooked and then baked will turn out great. The key is to have plenty of moisture! If the recipe calls for broth or sauce, add more than if you were going to cook it fresh or bake with precooked noodles. Otherwise you might end up with dry or crunchy noodles. So moral of the story, precooked pastas tend to turn to mush and uncooked pasta needs a lot of sauce!
- Meats - Yes! Meats freeze great. Next time your cooking up a roast double or trip the recipe and portion it out in to zip locks. Works great! A rule of thumb is if your freezing whole meats like steaks or chicken breast (even cut up) you can freeze with the meal raw. If your recipe calls for ground meats such as ground beef or turkey, those are best pre-cooked before putting in the meal and freezing.
- Veggies- Sometimes...In general veggies to best when they are frozen in something, like in a casserole or in a soup. Alone they might wilt when reheated. If you must freeze veggies alone, one trick is to wash, dry completely and toss with a little oil to coat. This helps prevent them from sticking together in a ball. Veggies like carrots, squash, cucumbers and lettuce just don't do so hot. They are full of water and enzymes that. even while freezing, wilt the vegetable. The way to get around this is blanching the veggies before freezing, but that's for another post.
- Soups & Casseroles - Yes! These are the freezer meal goddess. They pretty much all work great and can be thrown in the crockpot or oven easily. Keep the casserole saucy and it will be delicious.
Thawing and Reheating:
- Thaw in Advance- One of the hardest things about freezer meals is remembering to set it out in advance! When you have a platter of enchiladas that have been frozen for a few months, that thing is a brick. It needs time to thaw, otherwise the inside will be cold and you will have a brown crisp crust. Typically 12-24 hours in advance is plenty.
- Give it a Stir- Meats can be thawed quickly in the microwave. When defrosting you want to stir it every so often so that the inside gets a chance to thaw and the outside doesn't get cooked or dry.
- In the Oven- If you must reheat something straight out of the freezer, it can be done. But it's going to take a few hours. You might end up with a nicely browned outside by the time the middle is ready. If the dish is thawed, then cook as normal! The oven tends to dry out meals as well, so make sure those stuffed shells have plenty of sauce!
- In the Crockpot- The crockpot is much more forgiving if the meal is still frozen. You might have to leave it on high to thaw then cook, but the moisture won't be drained as much. Otherwise if the meal is thawed, then just add to the pot on low and head about your day!
Freezer meals can be incredibly time saving and make you feel like super mom. I hope these tips don't scare you off, just give you a guide of how to be successful. Also don't feel like you have to be the freezer Queen all in one day. Next time your making enchiladas, double it and save the second batch. Bake them up in a few weeks and you will end up loving it!
Have you made freezer meals or having any tips to offer? Leave us a comment-we are always looking for more ideas!
P.S. Here is a great resource for food safety: Freezing and Food Safety by the USDA
Yes!! Mary I loved your comment. Products like Seal a Meal and FoodSaver are a step up from the "freezer safe" Ziplocks. If you really want to preserve your food and flavor those are the way to go! They will last long in the freezer as well. I don't store ziplock foods for more than 3 months. Where I know meat and various things do well in those bags for so much longer!
Part of the reason is that those bags are much thicker to protect the food, and the way that they are vacuum sealed removes extra air. The food doesn't freezer burn or lose flavor when stored properly. I would think the only draw back is the cost, for those making a freezing meals and using them within a month or 2 the cost of those bags might add up. Otherwise they are amazing!
And your right, it is always a challenge to reheat frozen foods and knowing when they heated throughly with our scorching the outside. I like to reheat in short increments and give things a stir. Helps to spread the heat.
Thanks again for your comment!
Mary Wagner says
I found that seal a meal is absolutely the best way to freeze and preserve the flavor and taste of foods. Last thanksgiving se froze the left overs and to
My surprise the leftovers tasted like I had just made them. We reheated them
In the seal a meal bags in boiling water so there were no pans to wash. The
Only problem I had was not knowing if I had the food in long enough to be hot. I know it takes a little longer right from the freezer. If the food isn't not
Enough when I open the bag I put the food in a bowl and heat it a little longer in the microwave. What is your thoughts?