Prep School: Freezer Cooking

Freezer cooking isn’t a new concept, chances are you’ve heated up a frozen pizza or meal at some point. But have you ever thought about preparing your own? Your freezer is more than a storage space for ice cubes, it’s an extension of your pantry, and having a freezer meal on hand can be a dinner time game changer. A little bit of time spent on setting up meals on one day can save you loads of time down the road.

There’s three types of meal planning we are going to cover. Freezer ready meals that need to be cooked on another day, meals that are already cooked but portioned for grab-and-go lunches, and pre-cooked and frozen meal components. With your freezer full meals and meal parts, you can keep your fridge full of fresh vegetables so you can easily whip up sides to pair with them.

Oven

Preparing a recipe until its ready to bake then freezing it leaves one step to go when you’re ready to cook it: turn on the oven. This kind of prep can be done for all sorts of meals like casseroles, lasagna, enchiladas, even some side dishes and desserts. We tried it out on Pumpkin Mac & Cheese.

Supplies needed: freezer-safe glass or metal baking containers (or disposable tin or paper ones), tin foil, marker (or tape and pen)

Prepare the recipe. For multi-layered items like lasagna, have everything chopped, cooked, and ready to go. We decided to freeze the mac & cheese in the container we were going to cook it in.

Lay two long pieces of tin foil over each other, making sure to push it into the container edges. If you are using a disposable container, skip this step.

Fill the container. Wrap the foil over the food tightly and on it write the name of the recipe and cooking instructions. Freeze. (We did add the toppings before freezing, just forgot to take a pic!)

Once it is frozen solid, you can remove it from the container and store it flat by itself. To cook it, we unwrapped it, put it back into the container and covered tightly with foil.

Served it with a dark green salad it was a comfy meal on a rainy fall afternoon.

Slow Cooker

A slow cooker is a safe, reliable way to set up a meal in the morning and have it ready by the time everyone walks in the door in the evening. We prepared two slow cooker recipes, Cuban Style Pork & Sweet Potatoes and Greek Chicken and Rice. Each one took about 15 minutes to put together, the longest amount of time was spent on chopping the vegetables!

Supplies needed: gallon-size freezer bags, marker (or tape and pen), slow cooker

Put a bag in a bowl to prevent it from tipping over then add all ingredients.

Write the name of the recipe, date, and cooking instructions on the bag.

Press out all of the air and freeze! Lay them flat and stack them to save some space, or freeze them upright. If you freeze them flat you will need to defrost them a bit to get them to fit into the slow cooker. This can be done in the microwave or by running it under cool water for a few minutes.

Cuban Pork served with brown rice (we didn’t have cilantro, but it was still delicious).

Pre-Portioned

Portioned meals are a no-brainer for grabbing lunch before heading to work, but freezing a larger portion for a reheated dinner is a smart move, too. Soups and stews are easy, but you can also wrap single servings of foods like lasagna, pizza, and these Meatloaf Muffins.

Supplies needed: Reusable single serve containers, bags or tin foil, tape, marker or pen

Make the recipe. Cool completely.

Portion each serving into a meal size. We wanted these for easy lunches, so put 2 muffins in a bag, but you can easily store these in packs of 4, 6, etc.

These will begin to defrost in your lunch bag in the fridge, but they reheat well in the microwave. We paired them with a simple salad.

Meal Components

This is exactly what it sounds like – cooking and portioning foods you know you will use in future recipes. Some popular protein items are:

  • Ground meat: Cook it, drain the fat, allow to cool, then portion it in 1-2 cup sealed bags for using in chili, tacos, pasta.
  • Cooked chicken, pork or beef: When it goes on sale, stock up and bake with a little bit of salt and pepper. Cool, then slice and freeze it in sealed baggies. Use on salad, in stir frys, add to soups or sandwiches.
  • Beans: If you make them from dry or open a can, saving a few cups will be useful as a simple side. Try Bean Filling for Tacos or Burritos.

 

Written by Adriene Worthington, RDN, LDN