About 9 months ago, I documented my insane freezer cooking extravaganza, and it is one of the most commonly viewed entries on this blog. Make-ahead meals, or “freezer cooking,” is an idea that is gaining popularity lately, and I can see why. For families who work outside the home, there are only a few precious hours between when you arrive home from work and when you head to bed, and most of us probably don’t want to spend all of that in the kitchen. For those of us who are home with small children, dinner can be a challenge for other reasons.
Generally speaking, I love to cook, and when the stars align, making dinner can be my favorite part of the day. But that is a rare occurrence lately. I don’t know what it is about the hours of 5:00-7:30pm, but some weird spell comes through this house, and a toddler who might have been reasonably well-behaved for much of the day suddenly turns in to a monster. It’s not as simple as placing him in the living room with his dad because my husband travels often for business, and even when he’s here, Jude usually decides it’s a good time to plaster himself to my leg and refuse to leave without a major fight. There are two ways that dinner gets on the table around here: my Ergo carrier or my freezer.
I tried a full Once a Month Mom menu last August, and I was really grateful to have so many choices of prepared food at my disposal, but over time, I’ve discovered that what works best for me is to cook or prep a couple of meals at a time and not get so overwhelmed with making a million things at once. For me, this usually happens about once a week during nap time, but if I still worked outside the home, I’d do it on Saturdays or Sundays like I used to do babyfood when I worked and made frozen purees on Sunday afternoons.
Once a Month Mom is an awesome source, whether you are doing the full menu or just a piece of it. She also has an allergy-friendly menu up now and a whole foods menu which I am super excited about. A vegetarian one is coming soon, too. She’s been busy over there!
Without further rambling, I’ll share my favorite freezer cooking recipes:
- Slow Cooker Beef Stroganoff – I discovered this one when I did OAMM last fall. You do the prep work for it and place it all in a ziplock bag, but then you cook it in the slow cooker the day you eat it, so it tastes completely fresh and delicious. I usually prep about two or three of these at a time, and then they last me for a couple of months.
- Southern Living’s Tex-Mex Casserole – This is admittedly not company-worthy fare. It’s sort of an old-school casserole where you throw together some unlikely ingredients and they come out yummy. It’s good food though, and sometimes I crave that type of meal. It’s simple, inexpensive, and freezes well.
- Penne with Chicken, Artichokes, and Sun-dried Tomatoes – This is on our menu for Sunday night, and after that I have two more in my freezer. Pair it with a salad, and it makes a great dinner.
- Strawberry Chocolate Chip Scones – Need I say more after that title?
- Oatmeal Raspberry Scones – This is a recipe from Annie’s Eats that was also featured on a past OAMM menu. They are delicious, filling, and reheat really well in only 45 seconds in the microwave. A perfect little breakfast.
- Baked Ziti – A great way to use summer tomatoes and fresh basil.
- Passionate Homemaking’s Chicken Divan – Do it “the long way” with homemade cream of mushroom soup. It’s worth it. This dish is so so good.
- Red Lentil Soup – I put the whole thing in the blender because I like a smoother lentil soup, but either way it’s good stuff. I loved having some in my freezer this fall and winter.
- Vanderbilt Wife’s Black Beans and Brown Rice – I discovered this through an old OAMM menu, and we like it a lot. It’s simple and really frugal.
- Squash Soup [my own recipe] – Again, never underestimate the pleasure of having homemade soups at your disposal during cooler months.
- Toddler-friendly Veggie Nuggets [my own recipe] – I don’t understand how Jude is not completely sick of these by now. He eats them at least four or five times a week. They are always in my freezer. I made a fresh batch this week, and they are a great way to use up leftover vegetables.
- pizza dough – I follow Breadbecker’s recipe now that I mill my own grains, but here is one from Once a Month Mom. It’s handy to have some in the freezer and get creative with the toppings.
There are definitely many more than this out there, so look around. The best thing I learned doing my crazy cooking experience in August is that you can freeze almost anything, so old recipes can adapt to this as well. The other great thing about all of this is that it offers a creative way to preserve seasonal ingredients. Last summer when yellow squash was abundant and in season, I made two huge pots of squash soup and froze it to eat in the fall.
This week I cashed in on the strawberries sale at my local Whole Foods Market and made a few dozen scones.
I also used some of my fresh basil for a few rounds of baked ziti with homemade marinara since my basil really needed to be trimmed anyhow.
And I used up some leftover vegetables for some of Jude’s toddler veggie nuggets.
My advice is to just give it a try and see how you like having a few dishes in your freezer. The breakfast ideas are especially useful since none of us typically have the time to make a good breakfast on a weekday morning, and having even one day a week when you don’t have to worry about prep work at dinner time is great. The whole idea is to use time when you have the time so that you can reap the rewards when you are busy or stressed. It really works well for me. I love opening my freezer to see neat little dishes staring back at me and waiting to be used one evening after a long day.
Do you freezer cook? What are your favorite freezer-friendly recipes?