DIY Custom Freezer Cooking Plan

by Ivory Soap

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My friend Missy and I were pouring over freezer cooking plans in an effort to give us some short cuts in feeding our nine picky kids and hubbies.  We found that NOTHING fit our families.  Between the two of us, we have so many dietary restrictions and husband diets and *sensory* kids…well it was a failure.

See, I’ve done freezer cooking before.  LOTS of freezer meals, but I found that they languished in the freezer because they weren’t really how we eat.  If it wasn’t something we were EXCITED about, we just ate our usual thing and all of that work went to waste.

As I’ve said before, I really believe organizing is it’s own habit.  Organize for the person you already are, not the person you wish you were.  Missy and I didn’t want to put in a bunch of effort on food that we would dread using.  So, we generated an I WOULD USE THE MESS OUT OF _____ list.  We didn’t plan a bunch of untried, healthier, gourmet, or organic upgraded food.

The fastest way to generate your own list is to ask yourself, “If I were my butler, what would I keep on hand for me?”  My imaginary butler has lived with me for years, and he knows that regardless of what new kick I get on, there are some fallback foods that will never leave the repertoire.  He knows that PMS, holidays, and periodic case of the I DON’T WANNAS will derail all my good intentions.  It always does.

So, my Jeeves would have ground beef already cooked for me in bags.  He knows thawing stops me from cooking.  He’ll have mountains of oatmeal and grits already frozen in muffin tins shapes for the kids to reheat in the morning.  God bless him!  Also, he would have a few weeks worth of grown-up lunch batches of stew-ish things. Those work best in big bags that we eat on all week.  Individual serving don’t work.  Jeeves knows that.  Conversely, the child foods work best in individual serving sizes.  A bag of nuggets with the whole grain bun included, ready to heat and eat.

But in case your imaginary Jeeves isn’t as forthcoming with your lifelong habits as mine is, you can follow the left-brained method below:

1.  Think about the things you make all the time.  Your too-lazy-to-drive-to-Little Caesars recipes.  Tacos?  Burgers?  Chicken nugget sandwiches?  Write them down.

2.  What meals do you find yourself relying on convenience foods for?  Missy and I don’t want to cook breakfast.  We want to drink coffee and stare at pinterest until we’re ready to be human.  That means lots of boxed items full of chemical non-ingredients.  Think about your own life and write that stuff down.  Do you rely on prepackaged snacks?  Pre-packaged dinners on a certain night of the week?  Write that down.

3.  Now, ask yourself which of those things have steps or versions you could REALISTICALLY shortcut with homemade stuff from your freezer.  I say realistically, because I *could* precook burgers, but we really like burgers off the grill.  That means, if I cook a bunch of burgers, I will unconsciously avoid them for months, choosing to grill out of Saturdays as usual.  We like freshly cooked dinners.  We don’t care about reheated lunches and breakfast, but dinner doesn’t work for us from the freezer.  But precooked ground beef in baggies?  I would use THE MESS out of that!  That’s the reaction you are looking for.

Either way I go, in the end, my list ends up like this:

I would use the mess out of….

  • cooked ground beef with onions already in it for use in many recipes
  • cooked crumbled breakfast sausage for use in several recipes
  • cooked oatmeal with raisins (not the instant packets, my kids only like the factory version of those)
  • cooked grits
  • individual soft tacos or burritos for kid lunches (I don’t know the diff, truly)
  • bags of chopped onions and pressed garlic
  • bags of pre-chopped nuts and frozen fruit with unsweetened coconut
  • bags of pre-made PB playdoh balls
  • my favorite meatloaf, cooked in muffin wrappers
  • crockpot stuffed cabbage for grown-up lunches
  • a few bags of pre-assembled ingredients for crockpot meals (see this link for a bunch of ideas)
  • bean soup for Mama lunches
  • chicken stock cubes

Things that we eat that are homemade that cannot be precooked because we don’t like the reheated version…all things poultry and eggs.  We all hate the flavor of reheated ground turkey or cooked chicken.  We hate the texture of post-freezer eggs.  Blech.  My only defense in chicken meals is to buy the big bags of tenderloins from Costco.  They cost less than the breasts from Aldi.

Things that we love that cannot be faked well by me….the *natural* potstickers and spring rolls from costco, whole grain chicken nuggets, and their heat and eat madras lentils.

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Heather Who Needs a Cape? January 10, 2013 at 11:04 am

Thanks for linking to us! And agree – I would use a LOT of already browned but frozen beef – what a great idea!

Erica January 10, 2013 at 9:40 pm

My favorite homemade “convenience” food is the bierrock. This is an old Russian-German recipe, and is basically the original hotpocket. Made bread/roll dough. In the meantime, cook 1/2 to 1 lb ground meat with a couple cups cabbage, well salted and peppered (and a dash of hot sauce). Once it is cooked soft and the dough has risen, roll out the dough like for cinnamon rolls, but cut into about 3-4″ squares. Center onto it a spoonful of filling, pinch closed and bake. Eat with ketchup. You can also do a pizza filling with sauce, cheese, and pepperoni. I make heaps of these at the beginning of the semester and put them in the freezer for those busy clinical days when there’s no time to cook and very little time to eat.

Katie January 11, 2013 at 8:47 am

I love ground beef recipes, but we are trying to add more days of the week where we eat vegetarian or chicken, then we’ll eat some type of red meat or pork one night a week. Does anyone have a tried and true veggie dish that freezes well? And have you tried different fillings for the awesome looking bierrock recipe? Hot pockets would be great to make ahead!

Erin January 11, 2013 at 8:55 am

Something I do regularly that saves me a bunch of time and goes along with the pre-cooked hamburger idea is to purchase Costco rotusserie chickens and pick all the meat off, then freeze in ziplocs. The meat tastes great, is precooked and seasoned, and surprisingly it stays tender in the freezer. I use it in soups, casseroles and salads all the time!

Jamie at Prepared to Eat January 11, 2013 at 8:59 am

This is brilliant in its simplicity! Back when I was pregnant with our now 3 year old, I made a bunch of freezer meals to cover my exhausted/morning sickness/etc days. Turns out DH refused to eat many of the things I cooked and they got pitched much later as science experiments. :/ Cook for who you are, not who you wish you were, gosh that’s a good one! 🙂

Carmen January 12, 2013 at 9:54 am

I live alone but I do like to eat freshly made by my favorite cook (me, pat in back). My very favorite meal is chicken thigh with skin, roasted with all kinds of root vegetable. (I know, but I eat just one at a time.) I buy fresh thighs bulk when they are on sale and wrap them individually. To defrost I nuke them for 1 1/2 minutes on one side and 1 minute the second side at half strengh. They come out same as fresh. I start the chicken in the oven, while I peel the vegetables (except the potatoes) and cut them into similar sizes. I spray them with olive oil and dust them with Italian seasoning. Them I just go about my life waiting for the toaster oven to signal they are ready. Actual work time is about 15 minutes or less. I also like stir fry so when I get meats, I take a portion and cut it into stir fry size and freeze them in serving size. They defrost at half strengh in just seconds per side. I grow vegetables which I freeze without blanching, with few exceptions. I defrost those in the pan. Since they are not blanched they don’t get mushy.

Jo January 12, 2013 at 11:01 am

I like how practical your advice is. When I cook up a batch of ground beef for the freezer I throw about 10 lbs in a roasting pan, cover, and roast in the oven until it’s cooked. You can throw in onions, celery, chopped peppers, etc as you like. When the meat is done, break it up with a potato masher and freeze in meal sized portions. The liquid that forms in the bottom of the pan can be frozen and used in soups, etc.
The other precooked frozen beef items I find I use often are large-muffin sized meatloaves, and dozens of meatballs. I form the meatballs and place on baking sheets then roast in the oven until done. Cool, bag, and use as needed.

Cynthia January 12, 2013 at 12:02 pm

I buy bone in chicken breasts when they r on sale (this weeks price .99) and stew all of them in my roaster, let them cool, and debone and but in freezer bags. Use them for soup, tacos, enchiallas, etc.

Maria Ehlers January 12, 2013 at 11:34 pm

My family likes sweet or hot peppers and onions in almost everything, but we all hate to chop. So we chop big batches and freeze on non-stick sheets, then pour them into recycled Parmesan cheese containers and keep them in the freezer. Its easy to grab them and shake out the amount we need into the pan. I also do big batches of crock-pot beans with no seasoning, and freeze them in 2-cup portions in zip lock bags laid flat. I do the same with brown rice, and batches of vegetarian refried beans. All of these things are easy to grab for quick stir-fries, pilafs, and burritos.
But my favorite new xmas present is the cube-shaped silicon ice cube trays that I told my teen to buy me when we spotted them at Target. They are fantastic for 2-tablespoon cubes of broths, juices, etc.

Rebecca Smith January 17, 2013 at 2:33 pm

These are all such wonderful ideas, My husband and I are an older blended family, in other words all the children are out of the house..we started attending a wonderful church about 6 months ago and we are finding ourselves very busy with the church activities that we didn’t participate in before, so sometimes dinners are hurried and quick, these ideas are going to be put to good use. Thank you Ladies, all of you.

Tammy August 25, 2013 at 9:14 pm

Thanks for a great post! You are so right about making food for who you are now (which for me means less muffin baking. Cleaned out the freezer and found 3 bags of muffins from months ago. Oops)

To Katie about vegetarian meals: my tried and true is to soak, slow cook, drain and freeze black beans (or chickpeas). Then pour into a freezer ziplock bag. Lay it flat to spread out the beans and freeze. Once frozen you can hit the bag on the counter and get it to break up into mostly bean sized pieces.

I use these instead of canned beans. Way cheaper, tastier and no BPA (except perhaps the freezer bag? I’m going to live in denial about that). I simply reheat in microwave on low power.

I love tossing the cooked black beans with salt and lemon juice, then putting a cup of the cooked beans over a salad– add cheese, avocado and chipotle powder and that is our favorite salad dinner.

The cooked and frozen chickpeas can also go on salad once thawed. I also use these to make an italian chickepa/onion soup that is delicious and still pretty fast (approx 20 minutes).

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