Freezer Meals: Get Cookin'

Before I just go sharing with you all the recipes I have found (note: I'm not pretending to have invented any. I've just found success with some more than others) there are some tricks I've learned along the way that may help you. The biggest one I've alluded to but not yet clearly stated:

Don't just make one meal and freeze it. Make four or five and freeze them in individual servings or servings for two. If you're going to cook, make it count. 
 Personally, I find 3 or 4 recipes and double or triple them. Shop once, cook once and freeze many 2 person servings. (If you have more people you are preparing for, freeze in batches that work for you.)

  • Use Ziplock Freezer Bags. Quart size freezer bags are a good place to start for one-two person servings.

  • Label everything. Once it's frozen and the bag is frosted, the food all looks the same. Label with name, date, and cooking info. This also helps when if you are running late, call home and say "Pick something out, read instructions. You have to get dinner started." (Hypothetically.)

  • Don't put all your eggs in one basket. Diversify your recipe choices to include different methods of cooking. Although you're not starting from scratch after this point, some recipes are still faster to cook than others. You don't want to have all crock pot recipes and be expected to remember every morning to start cooking dinner while making breakfast.

  • Don't freeze that stir fry recipe WITH the veggies. Success is when: You freeze your meats/seafood and sauces together. Leave the other stuff out of it. I always heat up the entree and serve it with ready rice and steam-fresh veggies that I can just heat up separately... if you literally are making stir fry, add your veggies into your thawed and heated stir fry recipe as the last step.
If your recipe is a 'freezer meal' that you've found and it tells you to freeze everything together, edit that one out immediately - and any others with it. The person who wrote that doesn't know what they are doing... I've made this mistake.

  • Always have fillers on hand. As stated above, this method works best when you freeze your entree and not everything else. Keep rice, mashed potatoes, lettuce, etc. on hand along with your veggies to have available as a pairing for any recipe.

  • Don't overwhelm yourself. With big batches of cooking and several recipes, I recommend making your grocery list/grocery shopping at a separate time from the cooking. 

And now, the good stuff. Here are the recipes currently in my freezer. Here is also a picture of my freezer. 1 day, 6 hours and 45+ meals later, I'm all set for about 2 months. May you find success with these as well...

On Ice Now:
  • Salsa Chicken
  • Frozen packaged Halibut (with individual servings of seasoning ready to go)
  • Frozen packaged Salmon (with individual servings of seasoning ready to go)
  • Steak Marinade (Steak TBD)
  • BBQ Chicken 
  • Vegetable Lasagna
  • Peach Whiskey BBQ Chicken*
  • Salmon Cakes*
* These recipes I will save for my next post. This is PLENTY to get you started!

As stated above, I also have on hand at all times, either fruit or veggies (frozen or fresh) and Uncle Ben's 2 person serving Ready Rice because ... well, everything goes with rice.

How to get started: (How I get started)
  1. Gather the recipes you plan to use. Read all the ingredients, read all the instructions. Know what you are getting into. Often times you will find you are able to prepare a few meals at one time for maximum efficiency.
  2. Make a grocery list with all needed ingredients. Go through each recipe, make your grocery list. You will be duplicating some ingredients on your list with the various recipes. That's OK at this stage.
  3. Make a collated master grocery list. Take all the individual ingredients you have listed... group the ones you can. Whether it be according to food item, food type or section of the grocery store, this will help to make sure you don't miss anything while shopping and it will speed up the process for you.
Don't forget your freezer plastic bags!

And now the recipes! ...Starting with the easiest:

1. Salsa Chicken (15-20 minute re-heat time)- My all-time-go-to-no-fail-goes-with-everything number one choice. It's easy. Ready?...

Photo courtesy of Chocolate Therapy

  • Buy (boneless, skinless) chicken breast, as much as you want. Frozen or thawed, doesn't matter.
  • Put it in a crock pot with a whole jar of your salsa of choice, or the amount appropriate to cover your quantity of chicken.
  • (Optional) Add taco seasoning.
  • Cook in crock pot on high for 3-4 hrs. or low for 6-8 hrs.

If you are one who requires precise measurement, you can find this recipe formally listed here.

... Done. SO easy! Makes great tacos, great on rice alone, great in a taco salad.... LOVE, love, LOVE this one. You can serve it up right away or freeze it in smaller portions to have available whenever. 

To thaw and re-heat directly from freezer (on the fly):

  • Fill a pot with water, bring to a simmer on the stove. 
  • Place freezer bag (maybe double bag it at this point for good measure), place it in simmering pot.  Water doesn't have to cover the bag, but it should cover a majority.
  • Let it thaw and re-heat in the simmering water 15-25 min. depending on your amount. 
  • Take the bag out, place it on a towel, cut open the bag... serve the chicken. Careful! It will be hot!

2. Frozen Halibut and Salmon with Seasoning (Follow cooking time as instructed on product packaging) - Admittedly, I don't make these. I don't even eat seafood. But, my husband loves it and it all goes back to the 'make my life easier' goal. This also speaks to one my tips above in that it's another readily available option that happens to cook more quickly than some of the other recipes. It also balances out the meat options on the frozen menu.

The only thing I do to these is add a seasoning mix on top. I made a seasoning batch at one time, packaged it in little baggies with a serving per bag.

(4 Servings)
  • 1 Tbsp. brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp. ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
Combine in bowl, separate into four small bags to keep on hand. This, you do not have to freeze.
Recipe provided by CuisineTonight Fresh & Fabulous magazine (literally, found in the check out aisle at Lowes) #multitasking 

3. Steak Marinade (Re-heat time: TBD)- This is a similar situation to No.2. This exists in my freezer currently because I had a steak recipe with marinade and for whatever reason ending up with more marinade than steak. SO, to not waste it - I froze it! If I plan ahead, I will thaw it in the fridge ahead of time and just buy some steaks. If I am feeling more impromptu and buy steaks on a whim, I will thaw and heat my frozen, packaged marinade in a pot of simmering hot water on the stove... #shortcuts

Any marinade recipe would work for this but mine happens to be this one. Thanks! I love you! (True story.)

4. BBQ Chicken (30-45 min. Cook/re-heat time)- With it being summer, I wanted something adequate for an impromptu cook out. It is available on it's own (with rice and veggies) but I also plan to maybe grill some corn, buy a watermelon and host a cook out with half the fuss.

Photo courtesy of The Pioneer Woman blog

This recipe is courtesy of Pioneer Woman. I have it pinned on my .:EAT:. board, here.

To convert this into a freezer meal, read below before starting on the linked recipe.

  • STOP near the very last step. DO NOT put the chicken back in the oven at 350˚
  • Do dip all the chicken in the sauce, as instructed.
  • With tongs, place the coated chicken into freezer bags. (I do two per quart size freezer bag).
  • Place all chicken into bags before sealing them.
  • While your bags or open and ready, disperse among them the remainder of the sauce so your meat has extra marinade.
  • Make sure your bags are labeled with Name, Date, Cooking instructions.
  • Freeze
  • To re-heat/cook off the frozen chicken, place frozen chicken in a lightly greased, shallow baking pan. Cook at 350˚ for approx. 30-45 minutes, pending your serving quantity.
By not finishing the cooking previously, you are not OVER cooking the chicken when you pull it from the freezer.

4. Vegetable Lasagna. This recipe is one of Pioneer Woman's as well. Her style of cooking seems to go very well in our house, so I often grab recipes from her blog.

To be honest, I have not yet tried this recipe in particular. However, lasagnas freeze, thaw and cook really well so logistically it just comes down to what you feel like putting in it. And, as previously stated... the PW has a high success rate in our house, so I don't really question it. The recipe is now forever pinned on my .:EAT:. board. You can always reference, here.

To convert this to a freezer meals:
Prepare the lasagna in smaller containers. This is one recipe built in three tin containers found at the grocery store. Each is about the third of one full lasagna tin. With one recipe, this required no adjustments in measurements so it was an easy transition.

Before cooking the lasagna, cover it and wrap it for the freezer. Rather than cooking it immediately, write the cooking instructions on the containers to pull out at a later time.

NOTE: Adjust your timing with consideration that you will now be putting the lasagna in the oven as a frozen meal. This exact length of time is TBD but I started with doubling original cooking times instructed.

Also, cook lasagna has you would typically, with a foil tent. This particular packaging I purchased came with paper lids unbeknownst to me. I will be sure to switch them out before cooking so I don't burn the paper!

WHEeW! So that's it guys. That's where I will leave it for now. It's a great starting point. There are so many more recipes I've tried and have saved with notes and tweaks. I will be sure to post more in the future.

This is all worth it in the end, I promise. You do all this once, and for month(s) after, you can kick back and let your oven do the work.

Now, get cookin'!