After 2+ weeks back into the working mom gig, now with a 4 year old and a baby, I’m oh-so happy I decided to get a bunch of freezer meals prepped before Reese was born. Through the process I instagrammed (@LilMissRysMama) some of my meals and I had a few requests to share some of my tips.
I’m no expert, just a regular working mom sharing things that work for me. Please feel free to leave your favorite tips & tricks in the comments below!
Figure out what process works best for you. – Setting aside a whole day for cooking or simply doubling up on cooking nights..I’ve made freezer meals both ways now. Before kids, setting aside an entire day for cooking/prepping freezer meals was easy. When something like chicken went on super-duper sale, I’d buy 20+ pounds and get a bunch of meals prepped. My freezer stock this time around came from doubling up on my cooking. When you’re making a batch of lasagna or enchiladas it’s easy just to double the recipe and prep a pan for dinner that night and one for the freezer. My freezer meal stock built up over a few weeks which was a lot easier on my pregnant body than an all-day cooking marathon.
Disposable pans are your friend. – I don’t know about you, but I don’t own enough pyrex casserole dishes to use for freezer meals. I’ve read a few freezer meal books that have suggested lining your casserole dishes with plastic wrap, assembling your meal, freezing, then once it’s frozen pop it out of the casserole dish, wrap it in plastic and freeze it that way. Two things about that: It sounds like a lot of work, and that just screams giant mess to me. So, I always have a few disposable pans on hand and when I’m making lasagna or enchiladas for the freezer I’ll use the disposable pans. I use different sizes depending on what I’m putting in them. Working Mom Bonus: easy clean up!
Get crazy with the recipes. – Ok, so I don’t really mean “crazy” but don’t feel like you have to use only recipes that books call “freezer friendly.” The recipe I use for my freezer lasagna is the same exact recipe as the one I make on a normal night. Same with the sour cream enchiladas. Last time I wrote about freezer meals, our readers shared a few links to their favorite recipes: Grilled Veggie Lasagna, Chicken Spaghetti and BBQ Comfort Meatballs.
Make your recipes go further. – There’s no way my husband & I can eat an entire pan of lasagna before it goes bad. Knowing this, when I made my lasagna freezer meals, I split the second batch into two and used smaller disposable pans. Now, when I make one of them, we’ll have enough lasagna for dinner and lunch the next day for each of us, and no waste! I did the same thing with the creamy chicken taquitos I made. One batch made a dozen taquitos, so I split them up and vacuum sealed them into pack of 6 taquitos each…enough for dinner for both of us and lunch for one of us. Doing this with pretty much all the meals I prepped, I was able to have well over a dozen meals in my freezer before the baby was born.
IQF! – It stands for individually quick frozen and it’s how I freeze a lot of the meals I prep. For example, when I make homemade chicken nuggets, I’ll cut boneless, skinless breasts into chunks and coat them with Shake-n-Bake. Instead of sealing them all up like that, I lay them out on a rimmed baking sheet, not touching and freeze them. Once they’re frozen, I’ll vacuum seal them up. This keeps them from getting all mushed together/the breading coming off. I do the same thing with stuffed manicotti…once I fill each shell, I’ll place them back in the tray the noodles came in, freeze them that way, then seal them up once they’re frozen. If I were to vacuum seal them before freezing them, the cheese to ooze all over and it’d be one ugly mess.
Wax Paper/Parchment Paper is a must. – When I’m using my IQF method, I’ll line my rimmed baking sheets with wax paper or parchment paper and place the raw, unfrozen food on that. That way, once the food freezes (like the chicken nuggets), it doesn’t stick to the pan…and it makes for easier clean up.
I love my Vacuum Sealer. – I’ve talked about it before. I seriously love my it…so much so, that I burnt out the heat sealer in my first one after 5 years. After I IQF a batch of chicken nuggets or stuffed manicotti, I will seal them in batches that are just the right size for one meal. I do the same thing when I pre-marinate and freeze meat. The vacuum sealing also keeps the food good for longer periods of time.
Dry Erase Pens for labeling. – When I’m making one of my “half batches” of stuffed manicotti, I only use a half jar/can of spaghetti sauce so I’ll put the extra in an plastic storage container then I’ll use a dry erase pen to label the container with the contents and date. The writing stays on fine in the freezer then washes right off once the container is used.
Ice Cube Trays are good for more than just ice. – This may not be news to you…it’s been around a while, but other than ice and baby food, I never used my ice cube trays for anything. AND THEN!? I got pregnant, was cooking something that called for wine and since I couldn’t finish the bottle myself, I decided to freezer the leftovers. Um, you guys? BRILLIANT! Especially since I really don’t like to drink white wine that much. Now, when a recipe calls for white wine, I just pop some cubes out and let them melt before using it in my recipe. I now also use this trick with cilantro and green onions.
Let them freeze solid before you stack them. – When freezing your meals, let them freeze solid before you stack them on top of one another, otherwise, your food will be all squished and the pans may even stick together in the freezer making it a pain in the booty to get apart when you’re ready to take one out. When I first freeze meals that I’ve prepped in disposable pans, I’ll have them sitting on a baking sheet so the bottom stays flat. Then once they’re frozen solid, I’ll stack them in their permanent spot in the freezer.
Freezer Meals are not just for dinners! – On nights I made big dinners, like pasta bolognese or soup, and we have way more leftovers that we could possibly eat before they go bad, I’ll portion them out into containers and toss them in the freezer. Then, on mornings I’m running late and don’t have time to make a lunch, or if I don’t have leftovers already ready, I can grab a container out of the freezer and I’ll be ready for lunch!Brandy shared her Egg-a-Muffin mass production recipe that she uses for quick breakfasts. Another option for breakfasts is to prep fruit for smoothies in zipper baggies…just toss them in the blender with some juice & yogurt and BOOM…breakfast on the go.
Ok, that’s all I’ve got. Prepping freezer meals is really pretty simple and a huge time-saver on nights you get home a little late or when you just plain don’t feel like cooking.