Friday, August 10, 2012

Making Weekdays Work: Do It Once, Eat It Twice (Freezer Meals)


Freezer meals are essential when it comes to effective weekday prep. You can make them on the weekend, or do what I do- when you're cooking a meal make a double batch- one for now and one for later! Below you will find information on the containers I use, what can/can't be frozen, useful tips, and a list of recipes I have made and frozen successfully.

To get started, you need the right types of containers. Here's what I use:

Glad Ovenware- I use these for just about everything. I bought a huge pack of them on Amazon and have been using them ever since. They come in two sizes but this size has worked out perfectly for us. Best of all they go right from freezer to oven with no need to transfer the food.
Freezer bags- I use these for sauces. I ladle cooled sauce into the smaller sized bags and freeze them laying flat. I then stack multiple bags of sauce within one larger freezer bag.

Containers for soups or larger quantities of sauce. I really like the Ball brand containers, also available on Amazon:

Once you have your containers you are ready to go. When it comes to freezing your food the key to keeping it tasting well is to keep it airtight. I always let my food cool completely, cover it with foil, and then place the lid to the container over it. When I'm ready to cook I just remove the plastic lid of my Gladware and throw it in the oven! Voila! You don't even need to let your food defrost, you can cook it straight from frozen, you just need to add extra time on to account for that. Food can last in the freezer for up to 3-4 months, but check out this website for all of the information on freezer food safety.

So, you're probably wondering, what can and what can't be frozen? See the end of this post to links of some of my favorite foods to freeze!

What Can Be Frozen:

* Almost all pasta dishes can be frozen. Lasagnas, baked pastas, macaroni and cheese, etc. Be sure to cook your pasta al dente so it's not overcooked. If it's a baked dish like stuffed shells, baked ziti, etc., the key is to assemble it up to the step where it goes in the oven and then freeze it. You can also cook it completely and freeze, it just might make it drier when reheating.
* Many Mexican dishes like enchiladas and taquitos freeze great. Enchiladas follow the same rule as baked pasta (assemble and freeze before baking) but taquitos can be flash frozen (place individually on a cookie sheet in the freezer, allow to freeze, then throw the frozen ones into a freezer bag) so you can heat as many or as few as you want.
* Soup. Soup freezes great- just make sure the top isn't exposed to the air in the container- cover it with foil or plastic wrap.
* Crockpot meals. Most crockpot meals create way too much food for John and I so I freeze the leftovers. When I want to eat it I let it defrost in the fridge for 24 hours and then microwave individual portions.
* Meat can be frozen in a marinade so all you have to do is toss it in a baking dish and cook.
* Baked goods (even cookies!) freeze beautifully. I like to flash freeze and then throw them into a freezer bag.
* Casseroles/pot pies/dishes with flaky crust like crescent rolls also freeze beautifully.

So what DOESN'T freeze well?

*Delicate foods (cooked shrimp, risottos, etc.) aren't great reheated.
*Basically anything can be frozen- seriously. It's just a matter of the quality once it's reheated. Things that will separate or congeal can get gross, but often proper freezing and reheating can result in most foods being ok frozen.

Here are meals I have made and frozen with success. There are tons more, but these are some that worked really well:

Mexican:

Crockpot:

Soups:

Pastas:

Casseroles/ "things wrapped in dough":

Last minute tips:

*When reheating a freezer meal you have two options:
1- Allow it to defrost overnight in the fridge. 
2- Cook it frozen.
If you choose to let it defrost it will take the same amount of time the recipe calls for.
If you choose to cook it frozen, add at least 15 minutes on, but check it frequently! Often you'll need to cover it or the top will burn.

*If a food gets freezer burn it's still fine! Cook as usual. It will have extra moisture so it won't be the exact same but it doesn't harm the food/make it unsafe/etc. It's best to avoid freezer burn by covering the food with foil/plastic wrap before putting the lid on.

*You can freeze leftovers into small containers to use for lunches during the work week. 

If you have any questions about freezer meals or how to use your freezer to make the work week more effective let me know! 

2 comments:

  1. I'm a total freezing novice. Thanks :)

    ReplyDelete