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There's been a distinct difference in my life the last couple weeks. Even though we've been home more (as has everyone), I've made a choice to try and spend less time in the kitchen.
Because I realized that I spend a LOT of time cooking for my family. Between breakfast for the kids, breakfast for me, snack for the kids, lunch for everyone, and then dinner...I was in the kitchen a LOT.
And don't get me wrong...I love cooking, and I love being in the kitchen...taking time to create something healthy and delicious to give my family.
But I wanted a change.
And I made the choice to see if I could change it.
It was a simple experiment..."Why don't I try to spend less time in the kitchen, so that I can spend more time doing other things I love?"
And I'm happy to say the experiment has been a success.
Instead of cooking daily from 4-5, now (in addition to breakfast, snack, and lunch)...I just don't.
That doesn't mean we order take-out every night. We still get a home cooked meal full of veggies, quality protein, and tons of flavor.
But now it's cooking all by itself. Somewhat of a miracle, really.
You want to know how this happens? Freezer cooking.
I've been freezer cooking, folks.
And this post is going to tell you how to get started with freezer meals. That's right...this is Freezer Cooking 101 - Freezer Meals for Beginners. Here we go!
what's a freezer meal?
A freezer meal is a meal where you put all the ingredients into a freezer bag, freeze it, then when you're ready for it, you let it thaw in the fridge and dump it all into a crockpot.
It's genius. Pure genius.
I've been hesitant to try freezer meals in the past, because I just pictured everything being all mushy. Mushy veggies...gross. I also thought it wouldn't be healthy. Because I don't know about you...but I've seen some pretty unhealthy "easy crockpot meals" on Pinterest.
And that's not what I wanted either. I set out on a mission to make meals with the same ingredients I usually use (fruit, veggies, meat, bone broth, spices, and other simple ingredients).
By the way, if you're looking for a super convenient (and delicious) bone broth that's shelf-stable and super yummy, my favorite is Kettle & Fire.
But I wanted to let the crockpot do most of the work (with a little freshness added at the table, if needed). I typically add cilantro, or guacamole, or crunchy cabbage for that "fresh" factor.
But, you guys, it's been awesome.
The other day, between 4 and 5 when I usually would be cooking, I was reading a book.
READING. A. BOOK.
While my kiddos ran around outside in the sun, getting dirty and exploring.
It's been life changing, and I want to share more about it with you.
Are freezer meals healthy?
Well...if you just freeze boxes of processed food (like Hamburger Helper)...NO. That's not healthy.
But if you start from scratch, and use simple ingredients to make your meals, then YES. This is an extremely healthy way to get dinner on the table (and SUPER easy, too).
The meals I've been making are all made with simple ingredients (veggies, protein, spices, and seasonings). And they've been super tasty.
I'm working on perfecting some of my recipes to share on the blog, so stay tuned.
How long does it take to make freezer meals?
Well with the freezer bag meals, there's two parts. The first part is the chopping and putting everything in the bag.
And depending on the recipe you're following, it can take a few minutes (for these no-cook-just-dump-into-a-bag-recipes), or maybe a little longer for something like meatballs (that need individually rolled into balls).
Take a look at your schedule and find an hour or two, then get a handful of recipes and get started. Even if you just make two or three a day a couple times a week, you'll be coming out ahead. And your freezer will be full!
The second part of the freezer bag meals is the cooking part, which is all passive cooking (in the crock pot).
One way to get started with freezer cooking is to start by making a double batch of dinner (soup, lasagna, enchiladas) and freeze half of it. It won't take that much more effort, but you'll have an extra meal in your freezer...ready when you are.
How to find time to prep the freeze meals?
"But, Megan...I barely have time to cook dinner as it is. When will I find the time to do extra prep work?"
If you don't have an hour in your week to get some meals in the freezer, we need to talk.
Because the trade you're making is taking ONE hour to prep meals for the WHOLE week. And in return, you save 30-60 minutes every single night of the week. Because you're not actively cooking anything for dinner.
That means you'll actually have MORE time if you do this.
And, you know what i've learned (warning: the truth is coming out)...
...we make time for what's important.
And if you want healthy food to be part of your life (without the stress), then you need to make time for it.
Here's how you find time:
- Look at your schedule for the week
- Find the non-negotiable times that you REALLY can't change (sleeping, working, etc.)
- Then find the more flexible times...
- Then find the open times....
- Move around your flexible commitments to make an open hour, and plan for it. Make this time a non-negotiable. Pretend like it's as important as a coffee date with your best friend.
If you have a motivation problem, not a time problem, take a few minutes to journal about your long term goals.
For me, being healthy is a goal, sure. But a bigger (and more convicting) goal is that I want to have energy to explore and play with my daughters. I want them to see that I care about my body and my health, and hopefully pass along those values to them.
How do I freeze the meals?
Alright, so you're ready to get freezing (way to go!). Here are a bunch of ways you can freeze the food.
- Aluminum containers - you know the "disposable" kind. I like to re-use them to reduce waste, but you can definitely treat them as disposable.
- Ziplock bags (or these compostable freezer bags).
- This ziplock bag holder helps the bag not overflow.
- For crockpot meals, bags work great.
Make sure you label with directions/recipe/ingredients.
Tips for labeling the freezer meals
You want to make sure to write these four things on each meal you put in the freezer.
- What is it? You might think you'll remember. But you won't. When I forget to label, we end up thawing a jar of "applesauce" only to find it's actually bone broth. Oops.
- When did you put it in? This is helpful so you can make sure you're using up the oldest items in your freezer first.
- Reheating Instructions - What temperature should you heat this up at? For how long? Take the guess work out of the cooking process by labeling things clearly.
- Ingredients or link to recipe - this is especially important if your family has food allergies. Even if you don't, though, you'll likely be in a situation where you're having people over for dinner who don't eat _________, and you can't remember if you put __________ in that version or not. Or maybe you want to be able to drop off a meal to someone without much effort, but they're gluten free (or dairy free).
If you're using ziplock freezer bags (or these compostable freezer bags) you can write directly on the bag.
If you're using aluminum pans, write on the foil you cover the pan with, or get some freezer stickers.
How long do freezer meals last in the freezer?
If you store them properly, they should last 3-6 months. My goal is to stock the freezer, and keep it going so that I can just grab a bag out of the freezer, thaw it, dump it in the crockpot, and sit back and read my book (or a kids book with my girls).
What can I make for a freezer meal?
Here's a list of ideas:
- Your favorite crockpot recipes - Try freezing the ingredients in a bag first and then heating it up when you're ready to eat.
- Meat + Veggies + Sauce - This is my favorite combination that seems to work pretty well in the crock pot. I've got plenty of healthy & delicious sauces on the blog if you need recipe inspiration.
- Lasagna - in an aluminum pan
- Enchiladas - in an aluminum pan
- Fajitas - freeze the meat & veggies
- Soup - leave any noodles out until the end.
- Take a look around the internet for freezer meals. There's a bunch out there. Here's a collection of healthy freezer meals from Pinch of Yum.
What do you think? Are freezer meals something you want to get started with? Leave a comment below and let me know if you've tried freezer meals in the past, or if there's a recipe you WISH could be a freezer meal.