Food can be one of the highest monthly expenses for many families, and with good reason. Whether you’re 90% or 10% real food, food costs money—so it makes sense to be thoughtful and plan what you are going to eat to help avoid food waste (i.e money down the drain).
Time is also a commodity that I know I just can’t get enough of these days! Whether you’re a parent with kids in activities, have a full-time job, or find yourself getting busier and busier (even with the help of technology and such), being efficient with your time is always a good goal. So today I’m excited to talk about a cooking method that can help you save time and money: make-ahead real food FREEZER MEALS that are both tasty and healthy!
What is Freezer Cooking?
Freezer cooking is simply making and freezing meals, or freezing prepped ingredients for a meal, in order to make that crazy dinner hour easier. It’s usually done in bulk so that you have a few meals stashed away at a time. Or you can simply double a recipe you’re already making, enjoy one immediately, and freeze the leftovers for later that you can defrost/reheat on a busy weeknight.
There are resources out there that have loads of info on freezer cooking, and we love how our friends at Once a Month Meals constantly inspire us to cook this way (freezer meals are their thing!). Their page is a great resource for all types of freezer meal options (from allergy-friendly to keto to super quick and more).
Do Freezer Meals Save You Money?
I think you know the answer to this is YES! Here are some ways freezer meals are good for your bank account:
- Eating out is expensive.
Even if you research nearby deals and discounts on takeout or local restaurants, the fact of the matter is it’s hard to beat how economical it is to eat at home. We all have nights where we don’t feel like cooking, and having a ready-to-go prepared meal in your freezer reduces the temptation of drive-thru’s or take out!
- You can shop the sales.
It’s no secret that meat can be the most expensive part of the meal. We believe in eating meat in moderation and making sure it’s quality meat (we love our farmer’s market and also the mail-order meat from Butcher Box, which helps you know your up-front costs to build meals off of). Alternatively, you can stock up on meat from your local store when it’s on sale and cook/freeze a meal when it’s cheapest.
- Less waste.
By having a plan and preparing freezer meals, you can decide which ingredients (and how much of each) you need upfront. Throwing unused ingredients away is like throwing money down the drain!
- Save time with slow cooker meals.
Either freeze bags of slow cooker ingredients or cook in advance and freeze the prepared meal. Oh, how we love letting the crockpot do all the work for you! Just think of what you could do with all that extra time you’re not slaving away at the stove. :)
Freezer Meal FAQ’s
- Which foods can be frozen?
Many cooked foods can easily be frozen, including meat, soups, pasta, rice, casseroles, broths, and sauces. Many cooked vegetables and raw fruits freeze well also. We often will freeze in-season fruits, such as blueberries, or cooked vegetables to enjoy throughout the year when they are not in season. Also, foods such as flour, nuts, and seeds store very well in the freezer.
Prepared foods such as burgers (meat or veggie), breakfast burritos, waffles, pancakes, and even sandwiches are great prepared ahead of time and then frozen.
- Are there any foods that don’t freeze well?
Lettuce, cucumber, and other raw veggies are some foods that aren’t recommended for your freezer. Also, raw potatoes, eggs and egg-based sauces (think mayonnaise) don’t do well in the freezer either.
- How long can freezer meals last?
The majority of freezer meals can last anywhere from 3-6 months depending on the ingredients used, the type of freezer that you have, and how well they are wrapped/sealed. This being said, if you’re like us, you’ll be anxious to reap the benefits of all your work, and they’ll never make it that long!
What are the best containers for freezer meals?
- Glass containers
Jars and glass containers such as Pyrex are a favorite when freezing meals. Reheating is a cinch, and the containers and lids rarely stain or get faulty. If using jars, be sure to leave enough headspace to avoid cracking.
- Stainless steel containers
If you do a decent amount of freezer cooking, these are a worthwhile investment as the lifespan is long. The downside is that you’ll need to defrost on the counter as the metal cannot be put in the microwave.
- Silicone bags
Somewhat of a new player to freezer meal storage, silicone bags alleviate the worries about plastic but are also versatile enough to go from freezer to microwave or even hot water. Their easy cleanup (and waste-free aspect!) is an added bonus.
- Gallon-sized freezer bags
Not everyone is a fan of plastic, but freezer bags are great for storing just about any foods in the freezer. This includes soups, stews, broth-based foods, marinades, and more. Tip: Store large freezer bags on their sides in the freezer to maximize space and thaw in a container to minimize spills/leaks.
- Disposable aluminum pans
Find these at your local grocery store or even a kitchen supply store and package up casseroles, such as lasagna or enchiladas. These are ideal when gifting a freezer meal or making large quantities that need to be stored, and aside from the waste aspect, are disposable and easy to use.
Foil, paper, or plastic can help store foods in the freezer. They’re best for topping casseroles or wrapping meat, fish, or bread. Obviously, these pieces may be in contact with your food.
Do freezer meals need to be thawed?
Meats will need to be thawed for ideally 24 hours in the fridge before using, even though some ignore this recommendation and say it’s fine. In addition, slow cooker freezer meal ingredients stored in freezer bags will need to be thawed as the large square won’t fit in the oval of the slow cooker :). Foods such as some baked goods needn’t be thawed before enjoying.
Can I put frozen meat in the Crock-Pot or Instant Pot?
As mentioned above, it’s not recommended to cook frozen meat, chicken breasts (or other parts of a chicken) frozen, rather they should be defrosted prior to cooking. This applies to the Crock Pot¹ and Instant Pot. The best place to thaw freezer meals is in the refrigerator.
Here are six of our real food favorites that can easily be turned into freezer meals:
Recipe: Slow Cooker Green Salsa Chicken
To Freeze: Add the chicken, spices, beans, corn, and salsa to a freezer-friendly baggie or container. Seal and freeze in fridge freezer up to 6 months, or in deep freezer up to 12 months. Thaw and slow cook as directed.
Recipe: Bolognese Sauce
To Freeze: Brown the ground beef and chop the veggies, then add to container or baggie with tomato sauce and spices. Seal and freeze in fridge freezer up to 6 months, or in deep freezer up to 12 months. Thaw and reheat in a skillet, and serve with pasta.
Recipe: Slow Cooker Moroccan Chicken
To Freeze: Add the chicken, onion, chickpeas, broth, and spices to baggie or container. Seal and freeze in fridge freezer up to 6 months, or in deep freezer up to 12 months. Thaw and slow cook as directed.
Recipes: Slow Cooker Flank Steak Fajitas
To Freeze: Add the flank steak, peppers, onion, garlic, jalapeno, spices, and soy sauce to baggie or container. Seal and freeze in fridge freezer up to 6 months, or in deep freezer up to 12 months. Thaw and slow cook as directed. Assemble fajitas on whole-wheat tortillas and add favorite toppings.
Recipe: Best Slow Cooker Pulled Pork
To Freeze: Add the pork roast, onion, honey, vinegar, and spices to baggie or container. Seal and freeze in fridge freezer up to 6 months, or in deep freezer up to 12 months. Thaw and slow cook as directed. Shred and strain meat, and serve with favorite BBQ side dishes.
Recipe: Slow Cooker Steak Chili
To Freeze: Add stew beef, tomatoes, beans, onion, and spices to baggie or container. Seal and freeze in fridge freezer up to 6 months, or in deep freezer up to 12 months. Thaw and slow cook as directed, and then add preferred toppings.
Benefits of Freezer Meals
As you can see, there are so many benefits to prepping freezer meals. Talk about getting organized (and saving time and money)! With just a little prep work and one solid day of cooking, you can be set for weeks. Have you tried freezer cooking yet?
1 – https://www.fsis.usda.gov/food-safety/safe-food-handling-and-preparation/food-safety-basics/slow-cookers-and-food-safety