Why is dinner time so hard? I don’t know why I seem to have so many problems with planning dinner. I mean its not really an optional activity, the kids want to eat every day. Sometimes it feels like its every minute of every day. But yet, come dinner time there I am standing in the kitchen with no clue what to make for dinner.
Have you ever been there? Standing in the kitchen thinking “Ugh! It’s 4pm, almost time for dinner. What am I going to make?” And you still have one more kid to pick up from soccer. Plus the PTA meeting is tonight. And you have been up since 5am working on that new project at work.
I see you momma. You are working hard, and life is crazy. Between all those activities and work and keeping the house semi-decent, there just isn’t time for it all. So, what to do about dinner? Well, I guess you can just drive through those golden arches again, right?
But what if there was a different way? A better alternative that didn’t leave you feeling super guilty? And super broke? And super bloated?
Ok, maybe that last one is just me? Anyone else?
Back to dinner. And my alternative to help you tackle dinner, keep your sanity, and possibly help your wallet and waistline. All at the same time. Sounds too good to be true?
Well, it does take some work and prep on your part. But when it comes to having dinner ready to go and just pop in the oven at 4 (or better yet in the crockpot before you leave for the morning) – then freezer meal recipes are the way to go.
Batch cooking recipes for freezing
All the productivity gurus tell us to batch our work to save us time and increase our efficiency. So why not use this technique in the kitchen as well?
The idea of batching isn’t new, everyone from Michael Hyatt to David Allen are touting it as the answer to getting more work done and increase productivity.
The basic idea is that when you complete a task it requires some sort of set up time and some sort of clean up time. This is obviously true in the kitchen. If you are going to cut up enough chicken for 5 enchiladas you might as well cut enough for 10 and freezer half.
Freezer meals for a month
There are two different ways you can attempt to make enough freezer meals for a month. The simplest way is to batch your freezer cooking one at a time. For example, if you are making a cheeseburger casserole, you will double your recipe. Then, right before it is time to bake, you put half in the freezer and put half in the oven. Keep it simple, right?
The other way you can truly tackle freezer cooking is to make a marathon of it. You can spend an entire day making a dozen dinners that you will freeze and save for later.
This is especially helpful if you are expecting a particularly busy month at work. If you know you won’t have time to think about dinner at home, this is the way to go. The other classic example is if you or a loved one is expecting a baby soon, freezer cooking can be a lifesaver.
How to do this without losing your mind
Ok, so you have decided you want to attempt the marathon session described above? You want to make a dozen meals in one day and freeze them all. Just the idea of it can be overwhelming. It can cause even the most extreme “type-A” moms running for the hills. So what can you do if you are not one of those type A moms with their beautiful lists?
Take a deep breath momma, you got this. Let’s tackle this together. The best tip I have found when trying this method is to not go too crazy with the meals that you pick.
You know those Pinterest moms who say they did 30 unique meals in one day and now don’t have to cook for a month? Well, I bet you anything they promptly ordered pizza after that – because that sounds like an insane feat.
That is why I like to make no more than a dozen meals in my marathon cooking. So, I will pick out 3-4 dishes and make 3-4 meals of each – hence 12 total. This just keeps it so much simpler than trying to figure out 30 unique meals and all the ingredients, chopping, prepping, ugh! This will keep your ingredient list shorter and make the prep time much easier.
To get some ideas on some of the meals my family likes you can check out this article here.
Do you cook freezer meals before freezing?
Short answer here is that it depends. Some meals I will brown the meat before adding in the veggies and sauce, others I won’t bother. There are a few basic tips that I have found in my quest for using freezer cooking without getting totally overwhelmed.
First, casseroles are the easiest to make ahead and then freeze. For pretty much any casserole, follow the recipe exactly all the way until the step where you put it in the oven to cook. Then simply freeze it until the time you want to use it. Then the day before I will grab it from the freezer and and pop it into the fridge to thaw.
One fun hack I learned in my internet research as I was first learning about batch cooking is that when it comes time to start dinner that night. You can actually put the casserole dish straight into the cold oven and turn it on.
If you forgot to get the casserole out soon enough to fully thaw, it will continue to thaw as the oven heats up! If you didn’t thaw it all the way, just add a few extra minutes (anywhere from 10-30 depending on how hot your oven cooks and your altitude, etc.).
Voila! Problem solved! Pour that glass of vino momma, you deserve it!
What dishes freeze well?
Most dishes freeze well. The obvious choices are casseroles and soups. I will also make ahead certain ingredients like browning ground beef. When ground beef goes on sale I will buy the biggest package I can find and break it up into batches right when I get home.
Grab an onion and cook up the ground beef with chopped onions 1-2lbs at a time. Then put into freezer bags and freeze. This makes dinner time an absolute breeze. Thaw the meat the day before and throw it into spaghetti, tacos, magic pasta. There are so many great ways to use this trick, I hope you try it, because this one hack has helped me so much.
Really, there isn’t much I won’t put in the freezer. However, I have made some mistakes though. So, let’s talk about those!
First, uncooked potatoes. Gross. Freezing them actually doesn’t technically ruin them…according to my Google search after my disaster. But they looked so gross, my hubby flat out said “throw them out.” Which was so heartbreaking after all that work to batch cook them weeks earlier. So just trust me on this one. If you are making a stew or something just wait to cut and add the potatoes on the day you are cooking it.
Interestingly enough, sweet potatoes freeze just fine while white potatoes are the ones you shouldn’t freeze. Another weird one is that lettuce is a no-no for the freezer, but kale is just fine – go figure. Some others to be aware of are mayonnaise, yogurt, and cream cheese, just add them on the day you want to cook as well. Again, apparently the outlier in this group is sour cream, which according to The Pioneer Woman, her sour cream casserole is perfect for freezing!
Here’s a weird tip I used when I was first starting. I just checked out the freezer section of my grocery store. What does Stoffers sell? Casseroles and lasagna were an obvious start. So that’s where I started. Enchiladas were another one that I saw and we love. So I made an insanely huge batch and froze them in those throw away metal cooking dishes.
Seriously, why bother re-inventing the wheel or stressing out about the details.? Follow the pros and you can’t go wrong.
So there you have it, all my tips on how to use freezer meal recipes to keep the overwhelm of life from taking over. I hope they help you as much as they have helped me over the years. And really, the best thing that has helped me is to just get started and learn along the way.
So, start small by simply doubling a few dinners and start increasing the stock in your freezer. Then throw in a Sunday of making a dozen dinners with 3 or 4 recipes and continue to grow your beautiful freezer bounty. In no time you will find a freezer full of easy to make dinners to help out on those crazy nights.
You got this momma! I know you can do it!