How to Make Your Own Convenience Food (for your freezer!)

Some people call it freezer cooking, some call it batch cooking. I call it making your own convenience food! Let’s face it, it IS convenient to pull out a pre-made frozen pizza and pop it into the oven for dinner. Now is it healthy for you? Not so much. But with a little upfront work you can have the best of both worlds!

According to the interwebs this is how convenience food is defined…

con·ven·ience food
noun
a food, typically a complete meal, that has been pre-prepared commercially and so requires little cooking by the consumer.

If we allow food companies to do the preparing for us they’re going to use unwanted additives and other highly processed ingredients we would not cook with at home. Not to mention they’ll likely add way too much salt, sugar and fat as well. So today I want to share some ideas on how to easily eliminate the commercial aspect of all this so you can still have the convenience!

How to make your own convenience food on 100 Days of Real Food

How to Make & Freeze Your Own Homemade Convenience Food

Step 1: Prepare It.

Either double a recipe you’re making for breakfast or dinner (soups, waffles, chicken, etc.) or multi-task by cooking an extra recipe when you’re already in the kitchen preparing a meal. For example, start a batch (or better yet, a double batch) of muffins for the freezer while you’re making or cleaning up after dinner.

Step 2: Freeze It.

  • Soups: Chili, Stews and a Variety of Soups
    Freeze the finished dish in individual portions using small jelly jars*, small Tupperware containers, or even freezer-safe bags (once the food has cooled). Larger portions could also be frozen in larger containers, but it will take longer to defrost, and you’ll need to eat it all within a few days. *Note: If using glass jars leave room at the top for the soup to expand!
  • Breads: Waffles, Pancakes, Sandwich Bread and Muffins
    Either freeze in one layer on a baking sheet and then transfer to a freezer-safe bag/container or freeze right in a bag/container by separating the layers of food with pieces of wax paper to prevent sticking. With certain foods (like muffins and scones) I find that I don’t even need the wax paper, but it is helpful when it comes to waffles and pancakes.
  • Sauces: Spaghetti, Applesauce, Pesto and More
    Freeze in small jars or bags (similar to the soups above) or in ice cube trays, then transfer frozen cubes to a bigger bag. This helps if you want to defrost small portions at a time, and usually with sauces like pesto a little bit goes a long way!
  • Cooked Meats: Whole Chicken, Pulled Pork and Ground Beef
    Freeze either plain cooked meat that you can season when defrosted or freeze it already seasoned in a large freezer-safe bag/container. Freezing something like plain cooked ground beef would give you a lot of options when it comes time to defrost.
  • Other Meals: Casseroles, Refried Beans, Etc.
    For large casseroles (such as lasagna or enchiladas, before baking) I prepare and freeze them in disposable baking pans with a lid so I don’t tie up my regular baking dishes. I freeze refried beans the same way I freeze soups (in small jelly jars with room at the top to expand).

Some General Freezing Tips:
– Air is the enemy! Especially when using bags try to squeeze out as much of the air as possible.
– When freezing soups and other “liquidy” things in freezer bags it’s helpful to lay them flat on a baking tray during freezing so they don’t take up as much room and are easier to store once frozen.
– *Since it’s important I want to repeat that when freezing in jars, they must be labeled as freezer-safe (i.e. no shoulders) and you MUST leave room at the top for the liquid to expand (otherwise it could crack)! We fill to the line at the top in these jelly jars.

Step 3: Label it!

I cannot stress enough the importance of clearly labeling (with a description AND date) every single item in your freezer. You can write directly on disposable bags with a sharpie, or for jars I love to use the labels that dissolve in the dishwasher so I’m not stuck scrubbing them off.

Food Storage Guide

The government’s food safety website is a good resource when it comes to understanding safe food storage. Here are some general guidelines when considering the items above:

Storage Times for Freezer

  • Cooked Meats: Up to 6 months
  • Prepared Soups, Sauces and Casseroles: 3 to 4 months
  • Bread Items: 3 to 4 months

These are the ideal timeframes – I’ve definitely had soups and breads in my freezer for even longer. When it comes time to defrost it’s best to pull the item out the night before and let it defrost overnight in the fridge. Otherwise you could always put it in the microwave on half power to help things along.

Please share your freezer tips in the comments below!

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50 thoughts on “How to Make Your Own Convenience Food (for your freezer!)”

  1. This might be a silly question, but if I use frozen-then- thawed homemade chicken stock for a soup recipe, can I then freeze the soup leftovers which would essentially be re-freezing the stock?

    1. Hi Ashley, yes, with soups that will be okay, as long as it doesn’t have meat in it you should be fine refreezing it. – Nicole

  2. Your caution regarding the use of glass jars cannot be stressed enough. Any jar with shoulders (not straight sided) should NOT be used as the pressure from freezing food pushing upwards will crack or pop the jar. I know from experience how dangerous it is to clean up broken glass in the freezer.

  3. I would like to freeze casseroles. Often, when I see a interesting casserole I see that one of the ingredients is a can of soup. I am living in France now, with all the wonderful fresh food. I am trying to think of a substitute that might be more “real”. All I’ve come up with so far is maybe some creme fraiche and chicken broth concentrate. Any ideas?

    1. i’m sure Lisa has something on this site, but google ‘how to make condensed soup’ I’ve seen and used several recipies to make my own cream of chicken, cream of broccoli, etc.

  4. I’m NOT recommending this; anecdotal experience should never be confused with scientific evidence, I recently dug a beef roast out of the back corner of my freezer (home-grown beef, butchered by a professional butcher and wrapped in paper) that had been in my freezer for every bit of fifteen years and probably more. I let it thaw, trimmed a few edges that looked “dry” (freezer-burned) and then cooked in the crock pot almost like normal. (Usually I just put a roast in the crock pot frozen and let it cook all day.) It was good. Maybe not the MOST tender roast ever, but not bad, and better than wasting the forgotten meat. We modern cooks are sometimes too precious about things; I learned to cook (partially) from my grandmother who learned to cook in the depression so whenever I would ask her if something was too old to use, her answer was, “Sniff it. If it smells okay and isn’t slimy it’s okay. Just cook it real hard.”

    1. Michele, I still sniff and touch; if it smells ok and isn’t slimy, I generally take the chance. Once cooked if it doesn’t smell or taste good, out it goes.
      Pat

      1. Assuming the item was frozen properly and stayed frozen, its usually not a safety issue but more of a quality issue. As you said the roast was not as tender but obviously didn’t make anyone sick.

  5. I make and freeze einkorn pizza so i can throw together a pizza for lunch or a snack. Actually i make ghem the size and shape,of,my rectangular baking stones, so theyvshouked be called foccacia. I also make extra burritos and freezevthem in butcher wrap.bi can wdite directly on the paper and seal woth a strip of freezer tape. But with a very active teen and his friends and the original “Hungry Man” they never last long enougj to worry about the date. Jas anyone bought the heavy paper take out containers such as they sell on Amazon? I am trying to avoid plastic and the pint and quart containers sound good for soups and sauces.

  6. After I use limes, lemons or oranges, I put the “shell” of the citrus in freezer bags. Then when I want the house to smell lovely, I add a couple of the frozen halves of citrus to a small pot of water plus a cinnamon stick, a couple of cloves and a star anise. Wow! I let it simmer on the wood burning stove and the house smells fabulous without chemicals.

  7. I have 2 full sized freezers as well as 2 fridge freezers so you know I freeze alot. I actually purchased extra large glass casserole dishes just for freezing. So when I get more casserole dishes than will fit into my cupboard I know it is time to make more. I also freeze a lot of fruits for smoothies and Yonanas in single serving jars so that I am never without. I put leftover meats into containers and then we have leftover meat quesadilla night about once a week to each them all up. I cannot bear to waste anything. I even freeze the juice from cooking veggies and then use that to impart extra flavour and nutrients in my chicken stock. I also freeze the cut parts of veggies (nothing rotten, just the ribs and wrinkly parts) so that I can quickly whip up a batch of veggie stock.
    Thank you for this article, it is a great reminder/resourse to ensure I always have something easy when I am pressed for time or low on energy.

  8. For those doing jar storage, a tip: masking tape and a Sharpie make a great labeling system. Masking tape is super cheap, stays on in the freezer, and comes off with no sticky residue. And the Sharpie stays legible and doesn’t smear, even with some condensation.

  9. Question: Do you use disposable aluminum pans for your lasagna, etc.? I’ve heard that it is not healthy to use aluminum for storing foods, but do not know it for a fact. I prefer to store in glass or BPA-free plastics, but it would be nice to have another alternative for freezer to oven to table.

    1. There are just two of us at home now. I cut a casserole recipe in half, baking half that night. The other half, I line my pan with parchment, freeze and then vacuum seal with date, directions, item AND the correct pan to use. Sarah Lee doesn’t have anything on me!

      1. I have a vacuum sealer and hadn’t even considered that option. I’m going to use your idea. Thank you!!! You’re quite right about Sarah Lee. :-)

      2. So happy you found this helpful! Makes a great gift too if someone is sick, recovering or had a baby.

  10. It’s just my husband and I so we always have leftovers. I put leftover homemade chili or soup in 1 cup bags and then just pull out a bag when it’s time to eat. Then all I have to do is buy bread or make cornbread. I call them our fast food meals because we can eat fast and I know it’s healthy and delicious because I made it. Our favorite is to put leftover taco meat in 1 cup bags. We put it in the freezer and then use it later as a topping for baked potatoes with homemade salsa. Labeling your bags is key otherwise you get out to the freezer and ask yourself, what is this? Always date the bags too. Enjoy!

    1. Cooking for the freezer saves me from eating foods I shouldn’t eat! On busy days, I really don’t know what we’d do if I didn’t have freezers filled with baked goods, soups, stews and dinners.

      The only problem is remembering to take them out of the freezer early enough.

      :)
      cj

  11. I like to use Ziploc vacuum bags for freezing. They come in gallon-size and are sold either with or without a reusable hand pump. Besides cutting down on freezer burn, they take less room in the freezer.

  12. I did learn that you can freeze cooked quinoa, although I wouldn’t serve it to anyone who didn’t already love me… It got a little grainy after thawing even though it tasted fine.

  13. Love freezing! If I have enough ingredients, I’ll double crockpot preps and freeze one for another time.
    Leftover tomato paste and creamy sauces (like alfredo sauce, cauliflower cream sauce, pumpkin/alfredo sauce) do well if you add a little water after thawing. Freeze them in containers, and then pop them out to food saver them. They’ve been good 4-6 months later. Heat the cream sauces on the stove and whisk in water to get the right consistency (about 1/4 c at a time).

    Leftover browned or shredded meats do well for 2-3 months. I add these to spaghetti sauce, quiches, etc. I always shred cheese and store it in the freezer, but it never lasts long :).

    I think, Lisa, I learned about both of the alternative sauces through your [awesome] site?
    – cauliflower cream sauce (http://dontwastethecrumbs.com/2014/01/recipe-pasta-primavera-creamy-cauliflower-sauce/) and
    – the pumpkin skillet pasta (http://www.laurafuentes.com/pumpkin-pasta-recipe/)

    Happy freezing (of food)! Stay warm all!

      1. Once cooked, meat can be re-frozen – BUT, the texture may be affected. Essentially the defrosting and refreeze process damages the cell walls. So there’s a possibility that the meat goes a little soft or mushy. I’ve found that Beef is more hardy in this regard than chicken.

  14. Question: Is it good ok to freeze homemade ranch dressing? If so, how soon should you use it and does freezing alter the taste?

      1. I freeze dairy all the time with no problem, including dressings and dips made with sour cream, alfredo sauce, and so forth.

  15. We usually buy hamburger in bulk at Sam’s, 10 pounds at a time. I usually freeze 3-4 pounds raw and then fry up the rest, let it cool and then bag and freeze it cooked in 1 pound bags. I usually only season it generically, salt, pepper, garlic and onion. It is fabulous to be able to pull out already cooked hamburger for quick tacos, spaghetti, sloppy Joe, or whatever.

  16. Ziploc freezer bags (or Food Saver) and Sharpies are two of my most important kitchen tools. I label the bags with contents and date before I fill them.

  17. When I make soup, chili, stew or basically anything , I use large muffin tins to freeze the leftovers. It’s just the right size for a single serving ,so if my husband wants chicken noodle and I want wedding soup, it’s not a big deal. For larger portions, I freeze the food in small loaf pans. After I freeze, I pop out the frozen portions, vacuum-seal, label and date.

  18. Does anyone have an opinion on cooking with aluminum or storing in aluminum? I have read online the aluminum is not safe for these things.

  19. I make pizza dough in my bread machine. Then I roll it out, bake it and freeze it in extra large zip top bags. I always have pizza sauce on hand and usually cheese. I top the crust with sauce, cheese and desired toppings, pop it in the oven and dinner is ready in 10-15 minutes. While it bakes, I cut up veggies or toss together a simple salad.

  20. Ok tip that may or not help, saw the fiancé doing it lol. When going to zip a ziploc bag stick a straw in one corner, zip to straw, suck air out, then finish zipping. He was marinating meat for dinner and there was open air space in the bag he didn’t want.

  21. Usually we have soup on Tuesdays. Don’t ask–it’s a routine set by husband, Mr. Routine. So I looked for a bag of squash in the big freezer and found none. However, I did find a big plastic box of something with discernible carrot slices. Vegetable stew! When did I make that? I thawed it, and only then realized it was the stew for couscous. It all came back to me, the leftovers, but too late! We had it, without the semoule and merguez, and it was great. Lessons: label, label, label. And clean out the freezer from time to time!

    1. Yes, label! I needed additional chicken broth for something I was making. I retrieved a container of “chicken broth colored” contents from the freezer, plunked the whole container into the cooking meal. When it was time to eat, I realized I had added a quart of applesauce. Oops!

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