Wednesday, June 3, 2015

{Mastering Your Menus} Freezing Meals

Fact Finding Mission - Freezing Meals 

We have a guest blogger today!  Laura is here to give us some ideas on freezing meals to have or share later.   Thank you, Laura!!!

Hi, I’m Laura. My husband and I have been married 26 years and have 2 kids, now 21 and 17. In the past, I have enjoyed the blessing of freezing meals. It was especially nice when my kids were little. The main dish was ready – all I had to do was thaw and cook it - then add sides and maybe a roll. It is also nice to be able to have meals in the freezer for ministry. We are now in a church with many young couples (translates to lots of new babies), so there is always a need for a meal for a young family.

While I enjoy having main dishes in my freezer, I find the ‘true’ Once-a-Month plans to be very overwhelming! I have a couple Once-a-Month type cookbooks, so I studied them and simplified the idea into a workable plan for me and my family. I share this in hopes that it may be a blessing to you and will spark your own creativity in this area. 

Because we are a family of 4, we don’t eat a full 9x13 casserole at one sitting. So whenever I make something that calls for a 9x13, I make it in 2 8-inch square pans. We eat one that night and I freeze the other for another week (or for a ministry meal to a young couple/family).
2. The spaghetti sauce recipe I use makes about 12 cups. So we have spaghetti that night, then I make either Freezer Lasagna (no need to cook the noodles if you are freezing it, as the freezing/thawing process softens the noodles) and/or Baked Ziti (cook ziti while you eat) and/or Low Carb Spinach Lasagna or other recipe calling for spaghetti sauce. I can get 2 meals in the freezer that night!
3. Double a recipe, serve one for supper and freeze one.
4. Find recipes that make large quantities – such as Rice-stuffed Peppers – and freeze the extra servings.
One day/weekend, I will buy a bulk of meat (chicken breasts/ground beef/whole chickens – check sales). I will then assemble meals using that one type of meat. One weekend, I will assemble my recipes that freeze well using chicken breasts; another weekend, I will assemble recipes using ground beef; another weekend, I will cook up at least 2 whole chickens, debone/shred/chop and assemble those recipes (I do this in 2 days – cook and debone/shred/chop one day then assemble another day, but you don’t have to).
• An example of a day I have actually done using ground beef recipes (for 10 pounds of ground beef):
• Friday:
1. Select recipes. How much you do will depend on how much you can afford to spend on meat, how much freezer space you have, and how much time you have.
2. Make grocery list. Remember to have foil, freezer bags, and whatever other pans/foil pans you need to store the food/meal.
3. Think through the best order of proceeding on cooking day. Make notes to yourself. If others are helping, make notes about their tasks.
4. Decide if you are going to do all in one day, or do some prep work on Friday (such as chopping onions, browning ground beef).
5. Make labels and set them aside.
6.  Grocery shop.
7.  Put groceries away.
 If doing some prep work today, go ahead and do it.

• Saturday:
1. Chop up onion for all meals.
2.  Chop 1 small green pepper.
3. Chop green onion.
4.  Get peppers ready to be stuffed - cut off tops, remove seeds, cut in half. 
5.  Run a sink of hot soapy water for dirty dishes.
6.  Divide ground beef into 2 pounds, 3 pounds, 2 pounds, 3 pounds. If I had a larger skillet, I could brown more hamburger at once, but I have divided up that process because of that constraint.
7.  Meat Loaf (or meat balls):
   Remove 1 1/2 pounds from a 3 pound section. Make Meat Loaf in 
foil-lined pan without sauce. Remove. Label and freeze.
8.  While doing the next steps, cook noodles for Sour Cream Noodle Bake.
9.  Ground beef ready for other meals in the future:
Brown 3 pounds with diced onion. Drain. Divide into 3 quart-size freezer bags. Set on table/counter to cool before freezing in 3 quart bags. This browned ground beef is ready for when life happens, I can easily assemble something like Sloppy Joes or tacos (I usually keep hamburger buns and flour tortillas in the freezer for such emergencies).
10.  Sour Cream Noodle Bake:
• Brown 2 pounds ground beef. Drain. Mix in ingredients.
• Drain noodles. Mix in ingredients.
• Assemble. Label foil to cover. Set aside to cool before freezing.
11.   Green Chili Enchiladas:
• Brown 1 1/2 pounds of ground beef with onion. (Could brown with the 3 pounds and take out if you have a large enough skillet.) Drain.
• Add ingredients.
• Assemble.
• Prepare topping. Pour on top. Cover, label, and freeze.
12.   Rice-Stuffed Peppers: (last because the rice mixture cooks in skillet that I am doing all the browning of meat in)
• Brown ground beef with onion and green pepper. Drain. Mix in ingredients.
• Cook rice.
• Assemble. Let cool. Cover, label, and freeze.
13.   Wash dishes and clean up kitchen while dishes continue to cool.
14.   Cover and freeze dishes to enjoy later! Save out one Rice-Stuffed Peppers for supper tonight with some fruit.
 When done, I have 1 meat loaf, 3 bags of browned ground beef ready for other recipes, 1 lg. Sour Cream Noodle Bake (or 2 small ones if using the 8" pans), 1 lg. Green Chili Enchiladas (or 2); and several pans of Rice-Stuffed Peppers.

Here are a few more tips...

When preparing a frozen meal, it is best to take it out the night before and put in the refrigerator, then set out on counter the next morning to finish defrosting. Bake as normal. Sometimes I forget and don’t get them out until mid-morning. If they aren’t all the way defrosted, I add ½ - 1 hour cooking time depending upon how much more defrosting needs to occur. Even is a recipe says to bake it uncovered, if you are adding baking time because it isn’t totally defrosted, cover it until the last part of the baking time, else it may burn or dry out with the additional baking time. You could experiment with baking the dishes from the frozen state and adding 1 1/2+ hours to the baking time, but I have found that the meal tends to overcook on the edges before the center gets done.

Depending upon the type of meal being frozen, I use either plastic bags or casserole dishes. If the meal is layered (such as lasagna) or need to stay/hold together (enchiladas), then the meal needs to be frozen in a pan. If freezing soups, spaghetti sauce, sloppy joes, casseroles that are mixed together, you can freeze in plastic Ziploc bags or plastic containers. I cover casseroles with foil. If I am stacking, I double the foil so that the single layer doesn’t get torn and cause freezer burn to happen quicker.
Make sure to label foods, as when they are frozen, they take on a different look. 

I have labeled 2 ways:

Write the recipe name, cookbook name/abbr. & page number on masking tape so I know where to go when ready to heat/cook. 

Buy self-stick blank name tags from office supply store. Write recipe name and cooking directions on the tag. This is what I do when making a ministry meal. I don’t have to worry about a recipe card getting lost. (I had one woman call one time at 5pm wondering how to heat her meal.)


Thanks for stopping by today!  We'll continue on our journey in a couple of weeks!


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