Saturday, May 15, 2010

Freezer Meals: The Preparations

When planning to stock my freezer with meals to enjoy after my son was born, I wanted to make it as easy as possible for my husband and myself to make meals effortlessly. Besides, since we'll most likely be sleep- and energy-deprived, who wants to spend all day in the kitchen prepping meals? I know many friends who automatically think freezer meals are limited to casseroles, soups, chilis, etc but why limit the possibilities to just a few kinds of dishes? Here's how I prepared my freezer with meals. Perhaps it will help you look at your freezer in a whole new light...

In my mind, I look at restaurants and how many of their menu items must be prepped at least to a certain degree so that your food arrives at the table within a short amount of time. Even aside from restaurants, if you take a walk down the freezer aisle of a supermarket, you'll notice frozen dinners that have been prepped ahead... and the vast options of frozen dinners seems to be growing everyday. Taking a cue from restaurants and convenience meal ideas, it wasn't hard at all to make freezer meals that taste as good as if you made it the same day. Here's how...
  • Decide how you want your meals to be prepared.
Meals can be made in various ways - baked, grilled, broiled, stovetop, microwave, slow cooker/crockpot, etc. Knowing this will help determine how you'll package the meals for the freezer and how much advance preparation you'll need to do before it goes into the freezer.

For the meals I prepared for my freezer, I chose to have them prepared either in a slow cooker/crockpot, baked in the oven, microwaved, grilled and also on the stovetop. Having meals prepared in a variety of ways keeps things fresh... because after while, if everything is microwaved or baked or grilled, etc, you'll lose interest in the meal.

  • Approach a recipe and prepare it up until the last steps.
Preparing freezer meals doesn't always mean you have to make a recipe completely, let it cool and freeze. Iin fact, it's just the opposite where there is either little to no cooking involved, depending on the recipe. When you look at a recipe, there will always be some kind of preparation before you actually cook it by stovetop, oven, grill, slow cooker/crockpot, etc. Take a recipe and just prepare it up until the point you cook to finish the dish. That means:

- For slowcooker/crockpot meals, gather all the ingredients that will need to go into the slowcooker/crockpot. If some of the ingredients need to be cooked first (ex: ground beef, chicken, etc), be sure to cook as directed and then combine with the remaining ingredients that will go into the slowcooker/crockpot. When you're ready to make your slowcooker/crockpot meal, all you'll need to do is defrost and throw it in the slowcooker/crockpot to finish cooking.

- For grilled meals, marinate and/or season meats and vegetables as directed in the recipe. When you're ready to grill, all you'll need to do is defrost and throw it on the grill to finish cooking.

- For baked meals, prepare the recipe up until the point where you have to bake it in the oven. Prepare the recipe in ovenproof, freezer safe containers (more on the containers in a bit...) When you're ready to bake, all you'll need to do is defrost and throw it in the oven to finish cooking.

- For stovetop meals, prepare the recipe up until the point where you cook it on the stovetop. When you're ready, all you'll need to do is defrost and finish cooking on the stovetop.

- For microwaved meals, you'll want to prepare the recipe completely as directed. Allow it to cool and then freeze so that when you're ready to enjoy it, it can be heated up.

  • Use the appropriate food storage containers for the freezer.
Not everyone has a big freezer to fill. One way to maximize the space you do have is to use the appropriate food storage containers. When freezing meals, your biggest enemy is air because it will cause freezer burn and that's never a good thing. I use a few types of food storage containers for my freezer meals...

- Glad Ovenware: These are the ideal storage containers for freezer meals that requires to be baked or microwaved. The beauty of these containers is that you can freeze your meals in them and pop them in your oven or microwave. Another thing is that they are dishwasher safe and reuseable! There are three 8x8 pans with lids to a package and averages about $5. Try finding them at your local supermarket, as well as Walmart & Target.

- Ziploc freezer bags (quart and gallon sized): Freezer bags are perfect for items that you plan on grilling, cooking on the stovetop, and preparing in your slow cooker/crockpot. You can place all the ingredients in the bag, label and store by taking out as much air as possible. Don't skimp and get cheaper brands. Ziploc has worked the best for me because the bags are a nice thickness and really seals up well. Other budget brands are too thin and have weak seals.

- Ball Plastic Freezer Jars: These are perfect containers for soup, chili, stews, sauces, ice cream, etc. I used these for the soups and sauces I've made and the containers are also microwave and dishwasher safe. I purchased mine from Walmart and averages about $4 for a pack of three 32oz jars. There are other sizes as well, but this is my preferred size to hold a nice batch of soup for a meal.

- Disposable Muffin Pans: I used these pans solely for muffins I made in advance. Having a disposable pan made it more convenient to freeze muffins in smaller batches and hold it's shape.

- Disposable Loaf & Bake Pans: I used these pans for a variety of dishes including lasagnas, casseroles, meatloaf, breads, etc. They're a perfect container to hold a meal enough for 2 people and are great to go from freezer to oven.

Stay tuned for the freezer meal recipes! With my baby boy coming home from the hospital tonight, we'll be enjoying all the freezer meals I've prepared starting Monday.