Getting Started With Freezer Meals
Alright, so you’re ready to dive into freezer meals – congratulations!!
The previous post talked a bit about the “why’s”, now let’s talk about the “how’s”. As I mentioned in the last post, there are a couple of different methods for doing freezer meals. Today, I’m going to share with you MY method.
First, a Little Background
I’ve tried various methods for doing freezer meals. From the big once-a-month-cooking marathons, to the commercial businesses where you go and prepare your meals in their kitchen, to just basics like keeping some extra browned ground beef in the freezer, and then pretty much everything in-between.
As a full-time working mom with a new baby, I was failing miserably at just about everything, including getting dinner on the table each night. There was only so much spare time and too many things that needed to be done. We were spending $100s each WEEK on groceries for just two adults and one tiny kiddo. It was always a chore to come home from a long day at work and a busy commute and then have to be in charge of getting dinner on the table. Half the time we didn’t have the ingredients for what we felt like eating, and the stuff we did have ingredients for we didn’t always feel like eating. Not good.
I began researching ideas on meal planning, saving time on dinners, etc. and I ran into a few articles about “once-a-month cooking”. The idea intrigued me – spend one day cooking enough meals for an entire month, then stash them in the freezer and pull them out when needed. I did more research, found some pre-made plans with recipes and instructions, and decided to jump right on in! I mean, what is not to love about spending one day cooking so that you don’t have to cook for the rest of the month, right?!?!
And it was awesome! It was also messy. And complicated. And physically demanding. But I tell you what, it was so amazing to have meals that were already prepared and required just a bit of reheating or baking once I came home from work. Many of the forums said that cooking this way would save me money, but I actually found that I spent MORE money doing this.
I did the once-a-month cooking thing off and on for a year or so. But what was supposed to take one day (cook for one day, eat for a whole month, is the supposed slogan) was, in reality, a three-day marathon event. One day to plan and create a shopping list, one day to go to the store and buy ingredients, and then one REALLY incredibly long day on my feet making all the meals. And when it was over, I was physically exhausted, my grocery budget was blown, and my kitchen was unrecognizable. Seriously, the mess sometimes took us another TWO WHOLE DAYS to clean up! There had to be a better way…
My Girlfriend’s Kitchen
About this time, a few freezer meal businesses started popping up across the country, where you could go to their establishment and they would provide the recipes, the prepared ingredients, and you put your meals together there in their kitchens, and then took your meals home with you to freeze. My husband’s coworker’s wife started a franchise of one of these businesses not far from us, and I have to tell you, it was HEAVEN SENT!!! I loved it! I got the benefit of freezer meals, without all the hassle of planning, shopping, prepping ingredients or cleaning up the mess! I could got one evening after work and make about 24 meals for not much more than I was already spending trying to do freezer meals on my own.
Unfortunately, food and leasing costs rose faster than the popularity of the commercial make-ahead dinner chains, and the business model was unsustainable without major price increases. And the rise in costs put a damper on the popularity of these companies. Although convenient, it got to the point that it was just too expensive for me to continue using.
Garlic Herb Mashed Potatoes, for the freezer
I floundered around for awhile after that. I didn’t have my local franchise store to go to, and the physical demands of doing a whole weekend of cooking and shopping were taking their toll. I believe I also had two kids by that time. I had the opportunity to quit my full-time job and stay home with my kids, which I gladly agreed to do. I figured that since I was no longer working, dinner wasn’t going to be so much of a problem anymore. So freezer meals sorta went by the wayside (for awhile).
As more kids came, and life got crazier (I was then working as an independent contractor while still trying to mom full-time), I found that I was again running into the same problems with getting dinner on the table. No time, no ingredients, no ideas, no energy to spend two hours in the kitchen making a meal, etc. So I went back to trying freezer meals, but my success was sporadic at best.
Around that time, I became frustrated with home much money we (read “I”) was spending on groceries each month. We were easily spending $200 each week, and my shopping list was ALWAYS full, even when I had just been to the store the day before. I would open the fridge or the pantry and just stare because it felt like we didn’t have anything to eat. Except that I had JUST BEEN TO THE STORE! So I took some time to really dig into finding ways to save money on groceries. Which led me to couponing. Which led to a radical change in the way I shopped. It was life-changing, and I do not use that term lightly. (I’ve been couponing for a little over 10 years now, and I will share more of that story, and all my tips and tricks, when I get a chance.)
Freezer Meals to the Rescue – Again
Believe it or not, freezer meals came back into the picture as I was researching additional ways to save money on my grocery budget. This time, I had enough of the pieces in place to really put the whole plan together and get it to work the way I had hoped from the very beginning that it would! I found a method that worked for me, that didn’t take all weekend, that didn’t exhaust me physically, and that allowed me to capitalize on couponing and finding great grocery deals whenever they came along.
So, What Do I Do, You Ask?
I pick a few recipes that are all centered on the same protein or main ingredient, and when that protein or main ingredient goes on sale, I buy a bunch and make up 10-15 freezer meals (usually 5-7 recipes, making two of each). It typically takes me 2-3 hours TOTAL, and that often includes the clean-up time. Sometimes my husband helps and we can crank out meals in no time flat!
As different main ingredients go on sale over the months, I add variety to my freezer meals. So it’s not all chicken meals, not all beef meals, etc.
I tailor my meal plans to what is on sale right then. I also do meals that involve ingredients that I keep in my food storage or pantry. They are items I can get on sale at rock-bottom prices and then just store a few extras to use as needed until the item goes on sale again.
I tend to do these mini-sessions whenever I have time, whenever a main protein or main ingredient is on sale, and/or whenever we have room in the freezer or are running low on meals. So sometimes I’ll do a little mini session once or twice a month; other times it might be 6-8 weeks between mini sessions. That’s the great thing about doing this on a smaller scale – it is much easy to tailor to my family’s needs. There are some meals I do regularly, and some that I only do occasionally. It all just depends on current needs.
So, Now What?
Well, let’s dive into some quick basics about freezing foods and physically preparing the meals! Then I’ll link you to several of the mini sessions that I have put together, including recipes, shopping lists, and instructions. They are a great way to start out with freezer meals! However, you do not have to do mini sessions. You can also just work one recipe at a time, fitting it in whenever you have time.
Freezing Basics and Safety
Will It Freeze? Or More Importantly, “Will I Want to Eat it After I Have Frozen It?”
Freezer Meals – The Equipment
Freezer Meal Mini Sessions – Intro to Freezer Meals (<–start with this one!)
Freezer Meal Mini Sessions – Chicken
Freezer Meal Mini Sessions – Beef
Freezer Meal Mini Sessions – Pork