Texas Living

The Art of Freezer Cooking

By Casey Kelly-Barton 4.26.17

Borrowing from a classic Disney movie, wouldn’t it be great to rub a magic lamp and have a genie pop out to prepare dinner each night? Do you find yourself wishing you spent less money on takeout food? Wishing for a faster way to cook a healthy meal for your family? Since the genie is just a mere figment of your imagination, turn to something more practical like freezer cooking, or cooking and freezing meals and ingredients for later. Freezer cooking fans know how to make these wishes come true, with hot, healthy meals at home, even on busy weeknights. Here’s what you need to know about this (almost) magical method of meal planning.

More Than Casseroles

Some folks avoid freezer cooking because they’ve experienced casserole overload in the past. Yes, casseroles freeze well, but so do burgers and enchiladas. Other freezer favorites are soups, chili, and baked goods from pancakes to pies. For a mouthwatering, menu-inspiring rundown of tasty things to cook and freeze, check out the Pioneer Woman’s long list of dishes that freeze well

Freeze a Little or a lot

If you’re new to freezer cooking, you can start by doubling recipes you like and freezing the second batch. If your motto is “freeze big or go home,” you can use online menus and shopping lists to plan an entire month’s worth of freezer meals and prepare them all in day. Either way, a good list is the key to successful freezer-meal preparation. 

Stocking up for Freezer Meals

With your list in hand, look for bulk buys and good deals on things like in-season produce. For example, you can stock up on Texas 1015 sweet onions in late spring to chop and freeze for soups and casseroles year-round. Watch for sales on meat and coupons for other ingredients. While you’re shopping, stock up on quality containers, too.

Gear up to Freeze Your Meals

Once you’ve cooked and baked your meals, here’s what you need to store them, from the basic to the ideal:

  • Zippered freezer bags. Squeeze out excess air before fully sealing the bags to prevent freezer burn. Use a straw inserted into the top with the bag sealed around it to suck out as much air as you can. You can use freezer bags to freeze individual portions or meals for your family.
  • Foil pans, plastic wrap, and heavy-duty foil to double-cover pans of casseroles, quiches, and pies. 
  • Smaller containers to freeze individual portions of sauces or sides to be used as needed.  
  • A permanent marker to label each package with the contents, date, and thawing and cooking directions.
  • A vacuum sealer. If you freeze lots of meals — and especially if you have a kitchen garden or a regular supply of wild game — a vacuum sealer can save you time and freezer-burned food.
  • A standalone freezer. Food lasts longer in chest freezers than in freezers attached to fridges. That’s because chest freezers get opened less often and the temperature stays more stable. (Be sure to add a childproof lock if you have small kids.)

Try out Different Freezing Approaches

You might find that freezing whole meals for your family works well, but thinking creatively might reveal some different options. For instance, you can separate out cooked meat from sides and sauces, to mix and match depending on your mood. You can also freeze precut veggies or meals that are partially cooked, and then toss in the slow-cooker when you’re ready to eat them so they can thaw and finish cooking while you’re at work. Smaller containers such as muffin tins, ice-cube trays, and individual plastic storage tubs can separate meals, sauces, and sides into individual portions. Once frozen, the food can be removed from the container and placed in space-saving plastic freezer bags, to be used as needed. As a general rule, freezing food after it’s fully cooled in the fridge overnight works best, but you can try different methods to see what produces the best results. 

To Thaw or not to Thaw?

Pop casseroles and quiches into the fridge to thaw the night before you plan to serve them so they reheat quickly. Smaller items like frozen beef patties and muffins can go straight from the freezer to the oven or microwave.

With a little planning, some time to cook for the freezer, and the right packaging for your frozen delights, you and your family can enjoy hassle-free, healthy, hot meals even on the busiest days.

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