Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Freezer Meal Ideas and Tips

I've been working on putting together my collection of photographs to photo-commemorate the year 2012, and was thinking of posting it today.  The pictures, for the most part, are images of very adorable children, smiling parents, and loveliness all around.  However...  given that today was one of the most difficult days of the past six years, it seemed a little hypocritical and ridiculous to put my "awesome family life in 2012" post up today.  (If you live in the Eastern half of the United States, it's very possible that you heard the echos of my immature outburst, the gist of which was, "I can't take this anymore."  Around 10am?  Yeah, that was me.)

So instead of completely misrepresenting the kind of day I had by posting something similar to a Color Me Happy Year in Review, and without actually talking about today because that dirty laundry isn't ready to be aired -----------
I decided to respond to the request of a few friends (hey, gals!) and pass on some ideas and recipes for frozen meals.

Some random thoughts to consider:

* I usually set aside three or four weekends for major cooking.  (usually in Nov.)
* I raid my recipe box and pull out everything that I'd like to make, then divide the recipes up into piles according to the weekend they'll be made.  I try to lump like items together - soups, casseroles with similar ingredients, meals with chicken, meals with ground beef, crock-pot meals... however you want to divide it up.
* I use the recipes to create a shopping list for each round of meals.
* I buy lots of extra gallon-size freezer bags and aluminum casserole trays at the Dollar Store.  I also buy Dollar Store tupperware if they have larger sizes available.  (I usually double bag the bags, just to be safe.)
* For soups especially, or for any meals that require a lot of veggie and onion chopping before you cook, I often have a "chopping night"  and enlist my husband's help.  I'll chop all the veggies and meat the night before and put them in ziploc bags so they're ready to go the next day.  For some soups, all the ingredients go in the pot at the same time, so they all go into one large ziploc.  But if a recipe needs the onions added first, for example, I'll put the rest of the veggies in a big bag, and the onions in a smaller bag within the larger bag.  I just like to keep everything as easy as possible for the cooking day.  Don't forget to label these bags too!
*  Don't make unnecessary dirty dishes for yourself.  Why use two pans when you could use one???   If you're making beef chili and shepherd's pie within a couple days of each other, cook all your ground beef together in one pan.  Then you can divide out what you need to use right away and what needs to go in the fridge for later.  Same with chicken, potatoes, etc...  (easy every-one-already-knows-this tip: if I cook more ground beef than I need - which I usually do - I freeze the extra to add to spaghetti sauce for an easy last-minute meat-sauce night.  Just a little review from Freezer Food 101.)  
* I usually make double of everything, except for recipes I know we all love.  Those I may quadruple.  When I freeze meals, most things I freeze are intended only to feed my family of 6 (wow!  I can't believe I can say 6, because the baby eats table food now!!)  Some casseroles I've made in the past and so I know the recipe leaves me with tons of leftovers, so I will make a double batch but divide it into three aluminum pans.  Perfect size meals for our family.  I do freeze some bigger meals to use if we have company.  I will label those bags/pans accordingly, so that I don't have to wonder which meals are the larger sizes later on.
* Don't forget to label your meals going into the freezer with instructions of how to defrost, cook, serve, etc...  

I can't think of anything else right now.  I have put some of the favorite recipes to freeze on the "Recipe" page up top. I can't wait to hear what you try!  And, if you have any fabulous recipes for freezing and feeding to hungry families, send them this way.  I love trying new ones!

Finally, if you're anxious to see 2012 in photos, check back in a couple days when it won't be so "off the mark" to post it!  I'll be *trying* to link it up with Dwija at House Unseen!  

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