The following post is from Kate of Modern Alternative Mama:
It’s taken me a long time to get on the freezer cooking bandwagon. I’ve been trying it off and on for over five years, in fact. But the thing is — a lot of freezer cooking just doesn’t work for me. Here are my major gripes:
- I don’t like to pull pre-cooked meals out and reheat them: I want something fresh.
- I don’t want partially-cooked meals either; I will probably get sick of it before it’s gone.
- I don’t like the texture of certain foods when frozen (especially potatoes).
- I don’t see that it’s all that hard to brown some meat when I need it, or do other basic prep.
- I like to cook!
Still, life has only gotten busier over the last few years. We’re about to welcome baby #4 (just a week or two now!), and the other three are five and under. Add to that homeschooling and running a business and you’ve got limited time. Despite the reasons above, I have been determined to find a way to make freezer cooking work for me.
I think I’ve finally figured out how, and you can too:
1. Figure out what you really eat.
A lot of people seem to freeze things like pasta sauces, pre-made burritos, casseroles, etc. We just don’t eat a lot of that sort of thing. My kids don’t really care for soups or stews, either (although my husband and I love them). A lot of the typical “freezer cooking recipes” simply were not going to work for us.
Instead, we like to eat pizza (you can freeze the components separately or you can make pizzas and freeze before baking; we’ve done both), meatloaf, smoothies, and things like this. (Try these pizza balls for even faster meals!)
Most dinners can be pulled together quickly regardless (how long does it take to grill a chicken breast and steam some veggies?), so I don’t bother to do any freezer cooking for those. For our lunches though, I do, because we often need something on the table now. Knowing what we realistically will eat has helped me plan.
2. Figure out what takes so long.
I’m all about convenience if it doesn’t change the taste or texture and if I have freedom with the stuff (see the point below!). I know if I’m making chili, it’s the soaking and cooking of beans that takes awhile. Or any soup, making stock. Or with sandwiches, soaking and baking the bread or buns. I intend to cut down on prep time by doing some of these things ahead of time.
I can brown meat in 5 minutes so that is not on my list of items to do ahead of time, and neither is quickly chopping a few veggies or anything else that goes quickly. Maybe I could save a bit more time, but it’s not worth it to me.
3. Freeze ingredients/meal components.
This is my favorite thing ever. While I don’t like to freeze cooked meat or certain other things, there are a lot of items I do freeze. I freezer pre-soaked and cooked beans, many bread products (pitas, waffles, English muffins, tortillas, buns), fruit (for smoothies or snacks), shredded cheese, stock, chicken nuggets, etc.
I freeze what I use a lot of. Then, I can quickly pull out components to make a meal “fresh” in 10 – 30 minutes, which significantly cuts down on my time in the kitchen, the last-minute panic (since I can pull meals together fast), and still gives me the fun of “cooking fresh.”
4. Expand to the pantry and fridge.
Why stop with just the freezer? I often keep cut, fresh fruit in the fridge for quick snacks or part of a meal. I also keep stock in the fridge (if you put it in glass when it’s still hot and put a lid on it, then store in the coldest part of your fridge, it will last a few weeks at least if you don’t open it). I like to mix up spices (like taco seasoning) and keep that in the pantry. Some people like to do baking mixes or granola or other such items. And I have a whole bunch of canned items….
5. Try out canning.
Some people prefer the freezer because the cooking required before freezing is minimal compared to canning. But others don’t like the texture out of the freezer (like me) or don’t have the freezer space to put everything. For that reason, canning can be awesome. I can applesauce, apple pie filling, peaches, pears, tomato sauce, tomato soup, salsa, and sometimes a few other items. Those are the ones we eat the most.
For Christmas I got a pressure canner, and I’ve been canning jars of soup. These will be awesome when we need lunch “right now” after baby comes, and there’s no defrosting required. In fact, we could even eat it straight out of the jar if we wanted! Canning is a great way to get some homemade convenience foods stored in your pantry.
6. Pair with fresh.
It’s so easy to have a fresh meal if you pair a freezer or pantry item with something fresh. We’ll use the taco seasoning I made to quickly season ground beef and serve it with “lettuce sticks” (the center of the romaine leaf; the kids think this is fun), some sliced or grated cheese, and whatever fruit is lying around. I often have cucumbers, grape tomatoes, carrots, celery, bananas, apples, pears, etc. So, I grab one or two of these and stick it next to whatever else I’m making and call it lunch. For myself, I might make a quick salad. It’s easy and delicious!
7. Sometimes, cook fresh.
If you have the time and inclination, don’t pull something out of the freezer. Take the time to cook the meal from scratch. I’m not up for it most days now (unless it’s quick), but sometimes I feel inspired to “create” and enjoy! On these days I go ahead and take the time to cook and really enjoy what I am doing.
For days I need something a bit quicker, I have a repertoire of easy fresh-cooked meals that I use. I’ll make pork chops and rice (which simply bakes in the oven), chicken and stuffing (again, it just bakes), Italian chicken and mashed potatoes, roast chicken (it takes awhile to cook but it doesn’t need any attention), scrambled hamburger, etc. All of these (except the roast chicken) can be on the table in about 30 minutes.
8. Try 0ther time-saving tips.
I have a roaster oven that is constantly on my counter. It stays filled with bones and water to make stock all the time. I always have fresh stock ready to go when I need it. Or, if I’m making baked potatoes for dinner, I might make a few extra to turn into baked potato soup the next day (it’s super fast if the potatoes are cooked already).
If I’m making soup for my husband to take to work for lunch, I might make a double batch and can the rest. It doesn’t have to be freezer cooking or even pantry staples; there are lots of little ways to save time. You could even exchange meals with friends if you’re all into it.
Using these ideas, I have managed to make freezer cooking work for me. I’ll never have “big freezer cooking days” where I make up a ton of meals at once. I’ll never freeze soups and casseroles. I’ll never even freeze most of the meals I serve! But I’ve found ways to save myself some time and still cook fresh, as I prefer.
Do you do freezer cooking? How do you make it work for you?
|Kate is a wife and mommy to 3 and is passionate about God, health and food. She has written 7 cookbooks and is planning to release more in 2012. When she’s not blogging, she’s in the kitchen, sewing, or home schooling her children. You can find her at Modern Alternative Mama or contributing to Keeper of the Home.