|Tip 1: Baby carrots are already cleaned and cut.|
Tip 2: Make an extra bag of each meal for yourself.
What are Freezer Meals?
Freezer Meals are meals that have already been prepped and are sitting in your freezer ready to be eaten. They could be raw ingredients ready to be dumped in a pot or slow cooker or they can be completely cooked and just require a reheating.
Step 1: Get Friends
I was way too intimidated to do freezer cooking by myself. In fact it seemed like all the planning that was required would take more time than making the meals and I don't have a lot of time. I asked a group of friends and found that several friends were also in need of this type of meal help. Plus it is the winter and we are all bored of our own cooking.
Step 2: Decide on some standards
We had a few chats in a Facebook message forum to get on the same page about a few things:
- This was an experiment so we acknowledged that there will be a learning curve!
- As soon as we decided to do this, we started eating from our freezers to clean out the current contents. The date was set for our meal exchange three weeks later so we could plan to have freezer space in time.
- There were 5 of us so we each decided to make two types of meals so at the end of the exchange we would go home with 10 different meals. This means that each person made each of two meals 5 times.
- We would each make one vegetarian and one meat meal.
- Meals were dairy free and gluten free to accommodate everyone's needs.
- We would try to make it a one-dish meal.
- Raw ingredients to be dropped into a pot or slow cooker were fine with everyone. Pre-cooked food was also okay.
- Zip-loc type gallon bags would be mostly used and pre-frozen laying down.
- We agreed to "try" to use organic but at a minimum stay away from the EWG's Dirty Dozen. I did appreciate that no one labeled the ingredients with organic. I appreciate this because if there was a economic difference, it was not visible. We exchanged and were equals.
Step 3: Finalize Recipes
A Google-Doc was created that we could all go to and post our recipes.
Step 4: Grocery Shopping
Since I knew in advance what I was making, I planned around a great sale ($4.50/lb for organic grass fed ground beef!). We had been eating a lot of food from our freezer the previous weeks so the economics of buying 10 extra meals worth of food sort of balanced out. To not waste time making separate a shopping trip I added the ingredients (including the quantity) to my regular weekly shopping list.
Step 5: Cooking Day
These are the steps that we found most efficient:
- Ditch the kids and set aside 2.5 hours of solid work time. We all have very young kids and it was much easier to not have them around. There are other cooking projects to do with kids.
- Use a permanent marker to write the name of your dish on the Ziploc bags and the cooking instructions.
- Get out all ingredients and put them on a pile for each meal (the floor works).
- Start Meal #1: Wash all produce.
- Prep produce so that it needs only a final chop.
- Setup your Zip-loc bags by folding over the top. Then place your hands in side the bag and make the bottom a rectangle that stands up. The folded top will help it stay in this position. Now you can put your five bags for meal #1 standing next to each other.
- Go down the recipe one ingredient at a time. Add the first ingredient to all bags then the second and so on. Chop as you go. Some people like to do the final chop earlier in the process but then I cannot tell how much 1 onion or 1 pepper is.
- Squeeze out as much air as possible from the Zip-loc bags, close them and lay them down in your freezer. They should nicely stack on top of each other.
- Repeat steps 5-8 for meal #2.
- We found that the food needed at least two days to freeze solid.
Step 6: Enjoy Not Cooking!
After you meet with your friends and exchange your pre-frozen meals, you will have 10 pre-made healthy whole-foods meals in your freezer! My friends had different uses for their meals. Two ladies wanted to just not cook for the next 10 nights. One lady was saving the meals for after her new baby arrives. I am saving my meals so I can get a break from cooking on the weekends.
So here it is. The truth. This seemed like a lot of work before I did it. I spent years reading about moms homeschooling 5 kids and making 30 freezer meals in one morning. Getting friends to do it with me and only needing the mental space for preparing 2 meals made it much easier. I also enjoyed the idea of getting to eat other people's cooking since I am so bored with my own food.
Everyone was excited about the project except during the cutting stage. ALL of us starting thinking "I am never doing this again" but it is just like giving birth or running a marathon in that the toughest part is only a small part of the whole picture. When we exchanged meals it felt like Christmas and we all promised to do this again. Maybe next time I can convince them to do it with 15-20 meals!!!
Check out my tips on getting organized with your meal planning here.