Feel free to add your experiences, good freezer recipes, tips, etc - I've still got some room in my chest freezer for more! :)
With just about 5 weeks until D-Day, it was time to start on freezer meals. Before Oliver was born, I made an extra batch of spaghetti sauce, a couple meatloafs and some chicken noodle soup for the freezer. Just those couple extras helped after I'd given birth and didn't feel like cooking. This time around, I knew I wanted to do more and to take advantage of the chest freezer we got last year. I've had several people ask for pictures, recipes, and a general breakdown of what the process entails.
There are two ways to do freezer meals - one would be to make a larger batch of whatever meal you're making and freeze the extra. The other would be my preferred method - gearing up for a mass cook-a-thon. I was able to do several meals each night this week in only 2-3 hours each night. One night was beef, one was chicken, one was the random extras.
Total cost - including the foil and freezer bags - was $130. I'd originally estimated $125, but needed more foil and tortillas. That stash produced 35 dinners, 25 lunch chicken & rice wraps, and 40 breakfast burritos. That's a lot better than $15-20/meal for fast food every night I don't feel like cooking. That $3.00 is the main meal only & doesn't include veggies, sides, bread, etc. But since we do dry storage in bulk as well, the cost is still significantly lower than fast food, nevermind healthier. Another great thing for me was that I got everything at two stores - Costco & WalMart. Those two stores make everything possible in our house! :)
Something that seems like common sense, but is always good to keep in mind is your amount of freezer space. We have a decent sized chest freezer in our garage, but that also has to be able to hold our normal stock up of staples (chicken, beef, bread, tortillas, extra butter, etc). Our inside freezer holds our "regular grabs" (ice cream, butter, waffles, etc), so I don't want to bombard it with extra meals. Freeze smart - I used plastic freezer bags so that I could freeze the spaghetti sauce & chilis flat. Consequently, I can fit a lot more meals in the same space.
How about some recipes? Yes? OK!
Chicken & Black Bean Chili (made 4 - 4C bags)
4 chicken breasts - boiled & shredded
56oz tomato sauce
30oz black beans
2 onions - diced
4 stalks of celery
2 packets chili seasoning
Chop everything up, throw it in a pot/crock pot and let it simmer for an hour or two.
**I purposely didn't add more spice than what's in the mild chili seasoning due to the fact that I plan on nursing and didn't want to go overboard.**
Lazy Lasagna Chili (made 3 - 4C bags)
1C chopped zucchini
1/2C chopped onion
1-1/2lbs Italian sausage
3 garlic cloves, pressed
26oz jar spaghetti sauce
30oz beef broth
1-1/2C uncooked pasta (egg noodles, radiatore, ziti work well)
Chop zucchini & set aside (I cut it in slices and then cut the slices in half but I like bigger chunks). Cook sausage until no longer pink, add onions & garlic. Add spaghetti sauce, broth & water - bring to a boil. Stir in zucchini, cook 2-4 minutes until tender, add basil.
**Something I do differently when freezing - I don't add the noodles before bagging. When I reheat, I'll add the noodles, another cup or two of water and cook them in at that point.**
Mom's Spaghetti Sauce (made 5 - 4C bags)
120oz tomato sauce
24oz tomato paste
2lbs ground beef
6-8 cloves of garlic, pressed
3/4C chopped parsley
3/4C chopped basil
salt & pepper to taste
Brown beef, add garlic, basil, parsley, & oregano. Add tomatoes, water, sugar, salt & pepper. Cover and let simmer for 2+ hours.
**I highly recommend adding 4 small cans of chopped mushrooms to this recipe. Jeremy is very anti-mushroom, so I've had to get used to making it without the offensive ingredient. Also, this is more of a "eh...that looks like a good amount of ___" recipe.**
Chicken Spaghetti (2 - 8x8 casseroles)
4 chicken breasts - boiled & shredded
2 cans cream of mushroom soup
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 onion, diced
4oz jar of pimentos, diced
3C thin spaghetti, broken into small pieces
2C shredded cheese
1 tsp seasoned salt
1/8 tsp cayenne
salt & pepper to taste
Boil chicken, keep 2C of broth. Cook spaghetti in the remaining broth. In a large bowl, mix all the ingredients together. Mix in the saved chicken broth gradually. You want the mixture to be creamy, slightly soupy, but not drippy. Press into pans and top with more cheese. Wrap in foil.
Reheating - Thaw casserole. Remove foil & place back in baking dish. Cook at 350 for 45m.
**I found a great idea for freezing casseroles - line the 8x8 pan with foil, fill with casserole, and put in the freezer overnight to get some shape. The next day, you can pull out the foil insert & you'll be able to reuse the pan & save space in the freezer.**
Beef Enchiladas (4 batches of 4)
How you make enchiladas is really up to the family - I cooked up 2lbs of beef, added Target brand enchilada sauce (our favorite), and taco seasoning. I usually soak my tortillas in enchilada sauce, this time I coated the inside, added the beef, and rolled. When I reheat, I'll pour more sauce on the outside along with fresh cheese.
Reheating - Thaw. Remove foil, place in baking dish. Cook at 350 for 20m.
Pulled Pork Starter (4 bags)
6-8lb pork shoulder
2T brown sugar
2T chili powder
2T mustard powder
Mix spices together & massage into the meat. Wrap the meat in plastic wrap and let it rest in the fridge overnight - 2 days. Cook in the crock pot on low for 8-10 hours. Add 2C BBQ sauce for the last hour.
**I cut the 8lb shoulder into 2 chunks (mostly because my crock pot is small), seasoned them, and let them sit for a full day. I put the first chunk into the crock pot one night so that it could cook from 9p-6a. It came out and the other one went in before work the next morning (6a-5p). I shredded both that night and put it in bags. I didn't sauce it so that it stays a versitile starter for later.**
Meatloaf (4 loaf pans)
3lb ground beef
3lb group turkey
~3/4C bread crumbs
1C BBQ sauce
5T onion powder
6T Worchestire sauce
4T garlic salt
Mix all ingredients and form into loaf pans lined with foil. Cover with foil, bake at 350 for ~45 minutes. Uncover, coat with ketchup and let cook another 15 minutes. Let them cool, then pull out the foil "packages" and wrap in more foil.
Reheating - Thaw loaf. Remove foil, put back in loaf pan, cover in ketchup & cook at 350 for 20-30 minutes, until warmed through.
**I stole the idea of using beef & turkey from my sister-in-law. It makes a lean, juicy meatloaf, even after freezing. I also like to use stuffing & bread crumbs - you can use one or the other, if you prefer. Our family also prefers onion powder over chopped onions. We would have had 5 mini-meatloafs, but they smelled so good coming out of the oven that Jeremy couldn't resist.**
BBQ Chicken (Crock Pot) (2 bagged meals)
Everything for this recipe goes into the bag raw.
Chop the following ingredients & divide them between the 2 bags...
3 sweet potatoes, cubed
1 zucchini, chopped
1 onion, sliced
2 green bell peppers, sliced
1 red bell peper, sliced
4-5 chicken breasts, diced
In each bag, place...
8oz tomato paste
2T brown sugar
1T mustard powder
1 garlic clove
Close up the bags, mix a bit and voila!
Reheating - This can go in the crock pot while still frozen. Add about 3/4C water or chicken broth. Cook on low for about 8 hours.
Breakfast Burritos (40 mini burritos)
2 dozen eggs
60oz black beans, rinsed
1 bundle green onions, chopped
Scramble eggs with milk/water & cook. Add the black beans & green onions towards the end of cooking. Assemble in the tortillas with cheese & salsa. Wrap each burrito individually in foil or wax paper.
Reheating - remove from foil/wax paper, wrap in a paper towel. Heat for 2m on defrost, then 1m30s on high.
**As with most of these recipes, there is a lot of versitility with this recipe. You can add other veggies if your heart desires - onions, bell peppers, tomatoes, etc. I prefer to keep mine simple and small so that I am encouraged to add to my meal.**
Baked Ziti (2 - 8x8 casseroles)
1lb cottage cheese
2 eggs, beaten
3oz + 1-1/2C Parmesan cheese
1/2C onion, chopped
28oz tomato sauce
20oz Italian sausage/ground beef
5 garlic cloves, pressed
1T olive oil
15oz diced tomatoes
1/2C + 2T basil
1C whole milk
salt & pepper
Whisk cottage cheese, eggs, & 1C Parmesan together in a medium bowl; set aside. Bring a large pot of water to boil, cook pasta until it begins to soften but is not yet cooked through, 5-7m. Drain the pasta.
Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Cook meat until nearly browned. Add in the onion and garlic and continue to cook until the onion is softened and meat is completely browned. Add tomato sauce, diced tomatoes and oregano; simmer until thickened, about 10m. Off the heat, stir in 1/2C basil and the sugar, and season with salt and pepper.
In a small bowl stir together the cornstarch and milk. Transfer the mixture to the now-empty stockpot over medium heat. Bring to a simmer and cook until thickened, 3-4 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and add the cottage cheese mixture, 1-1/2C of the tomato sauce and 3/4C mozzarella. Stir to combine. Add the pasta and toss to coat thoroughly with the sauce.
Split the pasta into 2 foil-lined 8x8 baking dishes and spread the remaining tomato sauce evenly over the tops. Sprinkle the remaining cheeses over the tops.
Reheating- Thaw. Remove from foil & transfer back to an 8x8 baking dish. Cover with foil, bake at 350 for 30m. Remove foil & bake for an additional 30m.
There you have it - easy freezer meals for maternity leave! I plan on doing another batch at the end of my leave so that I have a stock of easy-grab meals for when I go back to work. Jeremy was impressed with the low price tag & high volume of food and says that he wants to do it every few months and save some good money & time for our family. And yes, he did help - watching Oliver and cleaning all my dishes made him the perfect helper!!