In this, The Retro Art of Freezer Cooking – All Your Questions Answered I wrap up (pun totally intended…) some of your questions about the whole process:
How do you fit all those meals in your freezer?
One thing is important for you to keep in mind:When you are shopping for things like foil pans to prepare your meals, squares and rectangles pack better than round pans.
The other key is to freeze thing like soups, stews and marinades as “flatly” as possible. When I’m freezing those liquid-y items, I freeze them as flat as possible (lay them down on a cookie sheet in your freezer,) so I can stack as many as I can in my space.
How long can you keep meals in the freezer?
Some people would say longer, but I feel that three months is a good rule of thumb. (Plus, it gets me to clean out my freezer at least a few times a year and not waste meals.)
Where did you get all the recipes for all the meals?
A while ago I bought a “Freezer Cookbook” (Without naming names, if you were cooking in the 90?s and going to church, you probably owned – or own – that book,) and tried out all of the recipes. While I loved the technique and learned how to do freezer cooking from that little book, there were a couple of problems:
- Making 30 entirely different meals was a pain in the rear.
- My family hated most of the meals.
That is when I tried some of our family favorites Freezer Cooking Style. As I learned more and more about what froze well (and what didn’t) I got a collection of recipes that worked for us. I have those in my book The What’s for Dinner Solution.
My freezer doesn’t look anything like yours – mine is full of Mystery…
Trust me – if I don’t keep on top of it, my hubby and I have conversations like, “So what do you think that grey lump of meat it?” Roger’s response? “Garbage.” That is why I have to be so vigilant at labeling everything with dates and contents. Trust me – it is better for everyone involved.
How long does it take to make all those meals? Is your grocery bill astronomical?
Pretty much a full weekend. We figure that each meal averages up between $5-7.50. We could make it cheaper (cook our own chickens for casserole meat instead of buying Costco roasted chickens, making our own pesto, etc.) but we choose convenience over cost on some things.
Does shopping at Costco really save you money? How about for a smaller family?
Here is my very uneducated opinion about Costco: If you are super organized, use coupons wisely, follow loss-leader sales, and can shop on a frequent basis to take advantage of those sales, you can probably save as much money shopping more traditional stores and outlets as you can at Costco.
I admit that we make some trade-offs re: money/convince. If I can get it at Costco, I usually do – especially when it comes to Freezer Cooking. (Although, we tend to buy our fruits and veggies at Safeway or Farmer’s Markets, and do grow a few things – tomatoes, peppers, and some herbs – on our tiny back patio. We have not always been over the moon with the quality of all the Costco fruit and vegetables. )
I think if you get your stuff home and have a plan for dividing up your big Costco-sized items, you can save money. Money is lost when you forget that you bought that bag of frozen chicken and discover it 18 months later.
What about Low-Fat versions of the recipes – where can I find those?
Most recipes – low fat or not – can be frozen in some state. You can always use low fat substitution for the ingredients that are stated in a recipe as well.
Obviously you are not going to freeze a salad, but, low-fat soups, chili’s, marinades, stews, (that are not cream based) work great.
I have some recipes in my book that are great for low-fat cooking. And then there are others. There will never be a low-fat version of “Poppy Seed Chicken” or “Dreamy Spaghetti”. Maybe lower-fat, but they are just not healthy. In those cases, we serve a lot of veggies, and treat those casseroles as more of a side dish (and I have a bowl of chili instead of the casserole.) These are the recipes that my kids LOVE so it is OK to slip them in every once in a while. (Trust me, the meal I am serving them is better than what they would order at McDonalds.)
Here is a family favorite for low fat cooking. If I could only freeze one recipe – this would hands down be it. You can spice it up and add chicken sausage to make a great Jambalaya – serve it over pasta, or if you are looking for lower-fat versions, over steamed white or brown rice.
1 lb Boneless, skinless, chicken breasts
1 Tbs Vegetable oil
2 cups Mushrooms
1 tsp Minced garlic
1-28 oz Can of crushed tomatoes in puree
2 Tbs Parsley
1/4 tsp Pepper
2 tsp Italian Seasoning
1 tsp Basil
1. Prepare: Cut chicken into cubes. Slice onions and mushrooms. Chop garlic.
2. Cooking: In a large skillet, sauté chicken in vegetable oil until no longer pink in the center. Remove chicken from skillet and sauté onions, mushrooms, and garlic until the onions are transparent. Add chicken and remaining ingredients except for Parmesan cheese. Simmer for 15 minutes. Allow sauce to cool.
3. Freeze: Freeze in a 13×9 pan.
4. Serve: Thaw sauce in the refrigerator overnight. Place the foil-covered pan in a 350° oven for 30 minutes to warm. Serve over pasta or mashed potatoes.
Can I store my freezer meals in glass – I am worried about the health reports re: plastic bags.
If you are likewise concerned about plastic bags, I would encourage you to take a look at This Article. Basically my philosophy (this is just for me and my family, you need to make your own decision,) is that I store and freeze in plastic, but I don’t reheat in plastic anymore.
Just like chicken.
She and her husband Roger are the parents of four young adults in San Jose, CA. When she’s not dating her husband or hanging out with her puggle Jake, Kathi is speaking at retreats, conferences and women’s events across the US.