Every time I post about freezer cooking, I get several people asking questions about it, so I decided to do a whole post on the topic. I’m certainly no expert; I think I’ve done three, maybe four months of freezer cooking. But I can tell you how I do it, and what I’ve learned.
One of the things that makes freezer cooking work for our family is that we don’t mind eating mostly the same foods all the time. I try to shake it up some, but my cooking days usually include many of the same recipes over and over. If your family craves variety, freezer cooking my way may not work for you.
Another thing I should mention right from the get-go, is you do not need a giant freezer if you want to do a freezer cook. All I have is the freezer on top of my fridge, and it’s the smallest fridge they had at the Home Depot. So if I can do it, so can you.
So. Here we go. My step-by-step guide to freezer cooking.
1. Plan Your Meals
I don’t usually do a day-by-day menu when I freezer cook, but you will of course need to know what meals you are going to be cooking. I always double pretty much every recipe. Two meals for the time of one– you can’t beat that. Unless your family craves variety, and can’t deal with having the same meal twice a month. If so, again, I’m not sure how you’re going to do a freezer cook that wouldn’t drive you completely crazy.
My most recent freezer cooking meal plan looked like this:
2x barbecue chicken
2x sloppy joes
2x chicken shell pasta
white chicken chili (this was a new recipe I had never made before, so I didn’t double it. It made enough for two meals anyway)
2x taco meat
2x peanut butter granola
english muffin pizzas
This gave me enough for fourteen dinners and several breakfasts and lunches. I also figure that we will want to do things like grill, have pizza, etc., and those will make up the remainder of our meals.
2. Gather Your Recipes
In order to make the shopping list you need recipes. And because I love you so much I’m going to include every. single. recipe. that I used on my most recent freezer cooking day. Each recipe should make enough to fill two freezer bags. If your family is smaller than mine or doesn’t eat like starving racehorses at dinnertime, you might want to divide the meals up even more. Use your best judgment. All these foods make great leftovers. 🙂
Barbecue Chicken for Sandwiches
adapted from allrecipes.com
4-5 chicken breasts
one bouillon cube
one cup water
two 18-oz bottles of barbecue sauce (I use Sweet Baby Ray’s)
1 1/2 cups Italian salad dressing
3/4 cups brown sugar
6 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
cook the chicken along with the water and bouillon cube in a slow cooker on low until done. While the chicken is cooking, mix up remaining ingredients and refrigerate. Shred chicken. Mix chicken and sauce and place in two gallon-sized freezer bags. Freeze flat. To serve, thaw and heat. Serve on buns or baked potatoes. (Don’t use regular white hamburger buns; you want something more substantial or they’ll just fall apart.)
from Hillbilly Housewife
4 pounds ground beef or ground turkey
1 onion, finely chopped
15-ounce can tomato sauce
1 cup ketchup
1-2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 teaspoons chili powder (I always use mild)
brown meat and onion and drain. Mix up all ingredients and place in two or three gallon-sized freezer bags. Freeze flat. To serve, thaw and heat.
Chicken Shell Pasta
2 whole chicken breasts (more if you like)
2 packages shell pasta
2 cans cream of chicken soup
2 cups cheddar cheese
1-2 cups chopped broccoli, optional
cook and shred chicken breasts. Cook shell pasta according to package directions and drain well. Mix up all ingredients. Place in two gallon-sized freezer bags and freeze flat. To serve, thaw and spread into greased 1.5 quart baking dish. Top with a sprinkling of cheese. Bake at 400 degrees until hot through.
adapted from the Betty Crocker Cookbook
4 pounds fresh ground beef or turkey (don’t thaw meat and then refreeze it without cooking it first!)
2 cups milk
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoons dried sage
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground mustard
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped, or 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
2 large eggs
1 cup bread crumbs
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 cup ketchup or barbecue sauce (I *never* make mine w/ ketchup or BBQ sauce. This is a really moist meatloaf and I just don’t think it needs it)
Mix all ingredients except ketchup/BBQ sauce. Line two pans of your preferred shape with foil. I usually just use a square or rectangular baking dish rather than a loaf pan because they cook faster that way and also they fit better in my freezer that way. You can also use disposable pans, obviously. Divide the mixture between the two pans and spread flat. Cover loosely with foil and freeze. Once they are completely frozen, remove from pans and wrap tightly with foil or place in a freezer bag. To prepare: thaw completely in your refrigerator. I’d take them out at least 24 hours in advance. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees until juices run clear, about an hour to an hour and a half.
from the Betty Crocker Cookbook
2 pounds ground beef or turkey
1 cup dry bread crumbs
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4-1/2 cup chopped onion
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Mix all ingredients. Shape mixture into forty 1 1/2-inch meatballs and place in two 9×13 pans (ungreased if using beef, greased if using turkey). Bake uncovered 20-25 minutes or until no longer pink in center and juices run clear. Remove from pans to a cookie sheet and place in freezer until partially frozen. Transfer to freezer bags and allow to freeze completely. To serve: thaw and heat.
White Chicken Chili
from a message board. This is the recipe as written. At the end I will share my recommendations for this recipe.
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 cooked chopped boneless chicken breast halves
3 (14.5 oz) cans chicken broth
2 (4 oz) cans green chile peppers, chopped
2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons oregano
1 ½ teaspoons cayenne pepper
5 (14.5 oz) cans great Northern beans, undrained
Saute onions and garlic. Label freezer bags, mix all and freeze. To serve, simmer 30 minutes. If desired, serve with shredded Monterey Jack cheese.
My recommendations/observations: This is very brothy. I wouldn’t use nearly the amount of liquid called for. I just used water + a bouillon cube for the broth. Next time I will just toss the bouillon cubes in the freezer bag and leave the liquid out until I’m ready to prepare it, then add the water when I cook it. This makes soup much easier to freeze. I only used 1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper and it definitely had a kick to it. If your family doesn’t like spicy food, this might not be their favorite meal. It was really good with cheese and sour cream on top.
Slow Cooker Taco Meat
I’ve seen this recipe all over the internet so I don’t know who should be credited with it.
4 whole chicken breasts
2 jars of salsa
2 cups of frozen corn, or two cans of corn
2 cans of black beans, undrained
Put the chicken breasts in the crockpot and dump everything else on top. If your slow cooker is too small for all this, like mine is, just put one jar of salsa, one cup of corn, and one can of beans in. Cook on low 6-8 hours till done. Shred the chicken, add the remaining ingredients if needed, and divide into freezer bags and freeze. To serve: thaw and heat. Serve in taco shells with your preferred toppings. My family likes to eat it on chips with cheese and sour cream. It’s super good and so easy.
Peanut Butter Granola
from Hillbilly Housewife
obviously this isn’t a freezer recipe, but I usually make it on freezer cooking day just to stock my cupboards. I doubled the recipe a week ago and it’s almost completely gone already. My family loves it. This makes a double recipe.
1/2 stick of butter or margarine
2/3 cup peanut butter
2/3 cup honey
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 cups rolled oats
1 cup raisins, optional
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Melt margarine and peanut butter in a pan. Add honey, vanilla, and salt, and heat till smooth and hot. Stir in oats till thoroughly mixed. Spread out in a layer on an ungreased cookie sheet (I line it with foil b/c I think it’s easier to break up at the end that way) and bake for 10 minutes. Allow to cool completely. Once it’s cool, break it up into chunks, add raisins if desired, and transfer to a container. My husband eats this with bananas and milk like cereal. It’s also really good on yogurt. And it’s great just plain.
As you can see, we eat a lot of chicken. It’s just super easy to prepare. There are lots of other great recipes out there though, if you google freezer recipes, once a month cooking, etc. I also have other things like hamburgers, pot roast, etc. in my freezer to give some variety. I also have made this enchilada recipe in the past as well as this recipe for muffins. Sometimes I make this tomato sauce on freezer cooking day, too. It’s super good and easy. The internet is full of great stuff, so you shouldn’t have any trouble coming up with some great recipes for your own cooking day. Now that you have your recipes, it’s time to . . .
3. Make Your Shopping List and Go Shopping
I am not a couponer and I am not good about shopping the sales. If that’s how you shop, you’re going to have to adjust your freezer cooking to accommodate that. You might want to check out Money Saving Mom, because I know she does both coupon/stockpile shopping and freezer cooking. I will say that freezer cooking saves us a lot of money, because we don’t have that last-minute oh-my-word-it’s-6:00-and-there’s-nothing-for-dinner thing. Anyway, I assume you know how to make a shopping list.
4. Make a Cooking Plan
Don’t just go in the kitchen and start flinging food around. I’ve found that if I make a plan I really don’t spend a ridiculous amount of time in the kitchen. My so-called cooking day this time around started on Tuesday and didn’t really end till Saturday, just because of how my schedule was last week. But my original plan called for me to start on Tuesday afternoon and be done by Wednesday evening.
Remember as you plan to plan something for dinner the night you do your cooking. I know it sounds stupid, but the first time I did a freezer cook I had a freezer full of food and nothing ready to eat that night. And I was exhausted. So it pays to think about it ahead of time.
Here’s the plan I made for myself last week:
Cook chicken batch #1 in crockpot (currently cooking)
Brown ground turkey and onion; drain
Make barbecue sauce
Mix up sloppy joes and freeze
Make dinner for tonight (white chili and some kind of bread; maybe biscuits)
make meatballs; bake and flash freeze
remove chicken from crockpot; shred; mix with bbq sauce and freeze
cook chicken batch #2 in crockpot overnight
cook shell pasta
remove chicken from crockpot; shred
put chicken taco meat in crockpot and cook all day
mix up chicken shell pasta and freeze
make meatloaves and freeze
make Engish muffin pizzas
Now I will pretty much guarantee you that your cooking day will not go exactly like your plan says it should. But if you have it all written out nice and tidy, you have something to refer back to when you’re in the middle of a huge kitchen mess. It also helps to break it into chunks. If you’re going to do it all in one day, I find it helpful to break it up by cleanings. As in, first I’m going to brown this, make this sauce, chop these, and then clean up. Next I’m going to . . . etc. It really helps to break it up like that.
So. You have a menu. You have recipes. You have food. You have a plan. Now put your apron on and get into the kitchen; it’s time to . . .
5. Cook Like a Maniac!
Take that plan and run with it. A couple notes:
The best way I have found to cook chicken that you need for things like casseroles, etc., is to put it in your slow cooker with some water and a bouillon cube and cook it on low for 6-8 hours. I always start my cooking day off the night before with a crock pot full of chicken. In the morning it’s ready for me to shred it, and it pretty much falls apart when you do it this way. Then I just fill the crock pot up again and let more chicken cook all day long. It’s awesome.
I almost never actually finish my freezer cooking day on time. This time around, I didn’t get the meatloaves assembled till Saturday night. So instead of freezing them both, I froze one and dumped the rest of the meat into the crock pot on top of some baby carrots. We put it in on Sunday morning and let it cook on low till we got home from church and had it for Sunday lunch. Easy and good. A confession: I never did get the English muffin pizzas made. We had some for lunch on Thursday and used up more than half the English muffins, so I decided why bother. 🙂
As you can see, I also do a few things that aren’t really freezer cooking. I hard boil some eggs, chop up chicken to be used in salads and scrambled eggs, and make granola. I figure as long as I’m in the kitchen all day I might as well do some of that stuff too. And honestly, I never dice the ham myself. I give my boys scissors and the ham and let them get it done for me. Then I flash freeze it, dump it into a freezer bag, and pull out what I need when I need it.
6. Enjoy the Fruits of Your Labor
Now just don’t forget to pull stuff out of your freezer to thaw in the morning or the night before, and dinner will be ready in a snap!
I hope this is useful to you! It better be; I’ve been typing for about sixteen hours! 😉