Freezer meals can be dishes made specifically for the freezer (as with Once-a-Week Cooking or Once-a-Month Cooking) or simply leftovers saved for another day. Whichever style you prefer, keeping your freezer well stocked, clean and organized can be a great way to save time and money. You could put these savings towards additional food storage, a rainy day fund, or necessities like health insurance.
Home made frozen meals are also healthier than prepackaged foods, since you control the ingredients. Mass produced foods are packed full of artificial preservatives, colors and additives which are not good for the body. With a well-stocked freezer, you'll be less tempted to grab fast food when you don't feel like cooking (or don't have time to cook).
Freezer Meals – What Stores Well?
Homemade soups are some of my favorite freezer foods, as many of them reheat well and taste even better after storage because the flavors have a chance to blend. I'll make up a large batch of soup, serve it for a day or two, and then place the rest in a pyrex bowl to freeze for later. I also keep bone broth on hand in the freezer to use as a base for soups and for cooking rice and other dishes. Meat in sauce such as Sloppy Joes or BBQ beef also store well. To remove frozen food from a container, place the container in warm (not hot) water until it thaws enough to loosen and pour into a cooking pot.
Casseroles are also excellent freezer fare, as the sauce helps to prevent freezer burn and adds moisture to the meal for reheating. Most quick breads and yeast breads also freeze well. You can even make up your own yeast dough and freeze it, ready to bake (as rolls or loaves of bread). Take the dough out and allow it to thaw in the pan, let rise and bake as normal.
There are many sites and posts dedicated to once a month freezer cooking, including Once a Month Mom, Favorite Freezer Foods and Feed the Freezer: Freezer Cooking Guide at Organized Home.
Below is a tasty recipe, perfect for making in advance, freezing and whipping out when you're short on time or on a night where you don't feel like cooking.
Freezable Ham and Pea Casserole Recipe (photo at top of post)
- 1.5 cups sliced baked ham
- 2 cups of cornbread
- 1 cup of peas
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
- 2 cups of milk
- 3 eggs plus one yolk
Heat the oven to 350 degrees and butter a 9-inch casserole dish. Next, tear the ham and cornbread into small chunks. Combine them in a bowl along with the peas and thyme. Tip the ingredients into the baking dish and mix well. Then beat the milk, eggs and yolk together and pour the liquid over the ham and pea mixture. Bake in the oven for around 40 to 45 minutes. Leave the dish to cool completely before wrapping in foil, freezer paper or plastic wrap and placing in the freezer.
Before cooking, allow the casserole to defrost in the fridge for several hours, then place in the oven until the dish is piping hot in the center. Serve with a salad and some homemade crusty bread.
How to Organize Your Freezer and Keep Foods Fresh
I'm sure most of us have found something buried in the freezer covered in ice and barely recognizable as food. Freezer meals won't save you any money if you have to throw them out! Proper storage and good organization is key to getting the most out of your freezer food storage (and food storage in general).
Don't put anything in your freezer without contents and date. You would be amazed how similar items look after a couple months of storage. I use a sharpie marker right on plastic baggies or freezer paper, and mark storage containers with a piece of masking tape that I mark with a sharpie.
Don't Store Hot Food
If you put an item in the freezer that is still steaming, you will end up with ice crystals lining your packaging instead of moisture where it belongs – in your food. Allow food to cool in the refrigerator before storing in the freezer.
Seal/Wrap Food Well
Want to prevent freezer burn? Wrap food well and skip the self-defrosting freezers. The Institute of Food Technologists explains:
“The best thing a consumer can do to keep the freezer from burning their food is to seal (or reseal) frozen food products properly and consume the food within the recommended amount of storage time,” according to Schmidt.
Freezer burn occurs when moisture is lost from the frozen food surface via sublimation — the transition of ice directly to the vapor phase — without going through the liquid phase. Sublimation occurs because the vapor pressure of ice at the surface of the food is greater than the vapor pressure of water in the air.
Two modern conveniences have inadvertently contributed to an increase in the dehydration aspects of freezer burn: self-defrosting (or frost free) freezers and individually quick frozen products. Self-defrosting freezers contain a heating coil that regularly melts the ice layer of the refrigeration coils, preventing frost accumulation in the freezer compartment. While this removes unwanted frost, it keeps the vapor pressure of the air inside the freezer compartment low, promoting sublimation from the food’s surface. Individually quick frozen products or those products that have multi-servings promote sublimation because of their large exposed surface area and because they lack the surplus ice associated with traditionally frozen ”block” products.
I prefer storage in freezer paper, vacuum sealed bags or pyrex, depending on the food item.
Store Like Foods Together
Organizing your food will allow you to quickly and easily locate the items you want. Place like items together, such as meats on the lowest shelf, veggies on the next shelf up, fruits on the next, and freezer meals on their own shelf. Use bins to hold like items together in an upright freezer. In a chest freezer, I store like items in plastic grocery bags (like a bag full of corn or applesauce). Keeping an inventory is great if you can make the time.
How to Clean Your Freezer
Keeping your freezer clean means it runs more efficiently and you have more room to store food because you don't have excess ice buildup or food that's gone bad. To defrost, empty the contents of the freezer into coolers (or another freezer), turn off the unit. Place old towels in the bottom of the freezer to catch falling ice that might damage the interior (and to prevent spills). Look for a drain tube at the front of the freezer, and direct this into a container (not all over the floor). The drainage tube is more common on upright models but may also appear on some chest freezers.
To speed defrosting, place basins of hot water in the freezer and close the door. Wait 5-10 minutes. The steam should loosen much of the ice. Mop up ice, water and debris. Repeat until all ice is clear. You can remove any bad odors by scrubbing the area down with a mixture of water and baking soda. To keep smells away, dispose of any spilled or freezer burned food on a weekly basis. Use a dish towel to dry the inside and outside of the freezer thoroughly. Dry and replace the drawers and shelves if you took them out to clean.