the epic tale of freezer meals + shopping list
October 28, 2013 ByLast week, on an absolute whim, I decided it was time to try my hand at freezer meals. I figured if I could learn to declutter the rest of my day, it was time to simplify supper time. It happened innocently enough: I was making chicken & dressing for dinner and realized I’d made way too much for us for one meal. I thought “why not put half in the freezer?” I’d done it before with lasagna, so I knew it would mean the meal would hold a pan hostage for a few weeks, so I decided to pop over to the dollar store and buy some aluminum pans to put the second batch of dressing into so I would have a ready made meal without losing a pan.
The trip to the dollar store led to me finding 15 different kinds of pans, which got my wheels to turning… I could buy a few (I think I bought $10 worth at 3/$1) and stock up on meals of all different kinds. I left with my pans, went straight to the grocery store, bought up a ton of stuff that I knew I could normally cook with (like chicken breast, hamburger, veggies, etc.) and then went home and started a four hour cooking marathon that ended up with 28 meals in my freezer.
When I was finished, I mentioned it on Facebook, and there were lots of questions about what I made, recipe requests, and even tips for what I did. So I thought I’d write a post to share with you how I made 28 freezer meals in about 4 hours.
Before I get started, I’m going to tell you this post will be long…. very long. I could have easily broken this into a dozen or so smaller posts, but this is a DIY blog, not a freezer meals blog, so I figured my regular (non-freezer-meal-loving) readers will hang with me for one post – if I started posting all of this separately you might think I was nutso and quit reading. Please don’t. Come back tomorrow and we’ll talk about lighting or sewing or something, m’kay? And also, know I’m not a professional cook – I’m a southern mom who’s raised four children and they’ve grown up on eating this food. I stuck to the basic recipes that we have eaten for years – so I knew what my family would actually eat.
First, the tips (in no particular order):
1) Make sure your kitchen is clean to start. You don’t want to have to clean then cook, because you’re going to be washing dishes while cooking at a rapid fire pace. At least I was. I only have a few pots and pans, a few mixing bowls, a couple of whisks, etc. I don’t have a fully outfitted kitchen big enough for an army. On a regular basis I feed four people – so my kitchen reflects our needs.
2) Think about what you want to stock up on. I know we eat a lot of chicken meals, some with hamburger, and a lot of casserole type meals. You can start with what’s in your pantry and build from there. It’s a great way to make the most of what you have/
3) Clean your freezer. I only have the freezer on my side by side refrigerator. I have had a couple of different deep freezers in the past, but they never got used properly, so I got rid of them. I thoroughly cleaned out my freezer and found that once it was all cleaned up, not only did I have enough room for all those meals, I even had a leftover shelf to fill with my favorite ice cream (which I totally did.)
4) Stock up on freezer bags and aluminum pans. Those 3/$1 pans come in all shapes and sizes. I bought ones that hold about 2 pounds of food, because 4 people divided by 2 pounds is 8 ounces each. That’s plenty for the main dish for us. Buy good plastic baggies (I recommend Ziploc) in both gallon and quart size.
5) Wear comfortable shoes. I did it barefoot and my feet were killing me at the end of four hours.
6) Have help, if you can. I wish I had done it on a Sunday when my girls were home to help wash dishes, open cans, etc. I did the bulk of the work when they were at school, but by the last hour I had help and it made my life much easier.
7) Remember this isn’t a fairy tale. Half way through you’re going to start thinking “Why in the crap did I think this was a good idea?!?” Well, at least I did. When you’re up to your elbows in marinara and casseroles, putting stuff into pans over and over again, you’re going to question the whole mess. It’s worth it. Well, it was for me anyways.
8) Sharpies are your friend. You can mark every meal with the name and date, so if you have a straggler hanging around in your freezer 2 years later (which may or may not happen here), then you don’t have to wonder when it was made or what in the Sam Hill is in that dish. Plus, with the lids on, they’re all going to look the same. Sharpie it up, baby.
9) Prep in batches. Need onion for 4 recipes? Chop it all at once to make your life easier. Poach all your chicken in one pot (which will also give you some decent broth). Brown all of your hamburger together then divide it out for the different meals. If you’ve got to do a lot of it, do it all together.
10) Free pep talk. I think that’s all my tips, but wanted to throw in one more to just say if you really want to do this you TOTALLY can. Once again, I have a basic set of pots and pans plus one large stock pot, a couple of mixing bowls (one large, one medium), a few wooden spoons and some whisks. Plus ten is a good stopping point, which my OCD brain appreciates.
Now for the cooking segment….
I started by putting 5 packs of chicken breasts (15 pieces total) in a stock pot with water, to boil them all for the meals I needed. I used the biggest pot I had and boiled them all.
While the chicken was cooking, I used another pot and began to brown 12 pounds of ground beef (in a smaller stock pot.) Once all the ground beef was cooked, I drained it all and added 1/4 of it back to the pot to make my marinara.
Meat Marinara Recipe
3 pounds ground beef, cooked and strained
1 medium onion, diced finely
4 cloves of garlic, minced
4 large cans of crushed tomatoes
1 12 oz. can tomato paste
1 huge (the double size) jar of good store bought marinara
1 Tablespoon Italian seasoning
1 Tablespoon of balsamic vinegar
Salt to taste (1 1/2 Tablespoons or so)
Pepper to taste (3/4 of a tablespoon)
To the ground beef, add in the garlic and onions and let cook until onions are soft. Add in the rest of the ingredients and cook for 45 minutes or so on medium heat, until flavors are combined.