I was recently e-mailing with Caroline, and mentioned I had just finished my third round of freezer cooking. Once I’ve finished the meals after my previous two sessions, I’ve posted our meal list and which recipes really seemed to work for us, and planed to do the same this time. But, Caroline requested more details, so I thought I would talk a little bit about the process of getting ready for a freezer cooking session.

Nothing better than a stocked freezer!

The biggest thing, I think, when undertaking freezer cooking, is to cook with a friend or two. This time was the first time we had three people involved in cooking, and I thought it was perfect. Adding a third person didn’t significantly increase our food total (we actually came in about $30 less per family than we did last time!), and reduced our cooking day time by an hour. At times, we each worked on our own recipe, had one person working on one recipe and two working on a more involved one, or two people working on different recipes while the third worked on cleaning.

Working with another person, or two, is also great if there are food you like, but don’t necessarily like to cook. For example, all three families like sausage balls, but I was the only one who didn’t really mind mixing and rolling them. Our onions were pretty pungent this time around, so we each took turns cutting them in an attempt to limit crying.

When cooking with multiple families, we first agree on our recipe line-up, then triple our recipes and make a spreadsheet of all of the ingredients we need for our cooking day. Then, we each go through and note what ingredients we already have (usually the person who is hosting cooking day goes first) and assign values based on what we know we paid to the ingredients we contribute. Once we’ve shopped, we split the total three ways and deduct the total of our contributions from our total.

We’ve figured out that for us, the best thing is to have one shopping day, a joint prep day (usually just a couple of hours with kids), and one task per-person (like cooking and shredding chicken, browning beef), if needed to complete before the cooking day. One of the greatest helps on our cooking day has been using parchment paper. Parchment paper is expensive, but we’ve found it saves time both in removing things from cookie sheets, and in washing up.

I was excited about this round’s menu because I felt like we finally got the balance right between no cooking meals, pre-cooked meals, and things that need to be flash-frozen. Plus, we only had one recipe this time that required a can of condensed soup – the rest were all-natural ingredients; but man, that Ham Mac N Cheese is so worth the cream of chicken soup (cream of whatever soups are yummy, but I’m really trying to feed my family less processed food. This round of freezer cooking has really helped!).

If you’re thinking of doing some freezer cooking alone, the easiest thing to make are marinated dishes, where you mix a marinade, put chicken in a bag, pour marinade over it, and then stick it in the freezer. Some great versions of this are: Marinated Chicken, Teriyaki Honey Chicken, Chicken Tacos, Brown Sugar Chicken, Honey Garlic Chicken, and Greek Inspired Chicken.

If I had to cook alone, or wanted to spend a few days scattered through the week working on stocking my freezer, I’d also make some things I cooked in my crock-pot, then froze. Beef stew and barbeque pork or chicken are great, easy meals that can cook all day while you work on other things. Chicken and Black Bean Filling is a great, versatile and easy meal to stock your freezer with. To make this recipe even easier on cooking day, we pre-cook and shred our chicken before hand (in the crock pot) and simply add the cumin when we warm everything on the stove.

The question I’m most frequently asked when friends find out I’ve been freezer cooking? Does that really help with cooking dinner, because you still have to remember to defrost your meal? And, isn’t that a lot of work to do in one day?

Yes, it really does help with fixing dinner. Meal planning is easier, because I can just look at my freezer meal list, decide what I’m in the mood for, and plan sides. And, if something lasts longer or not as long as I thought, I can leave one meal in the freezer to use later, or I’ll have a “back-up” meal and won’t have to run to the store. Plus, I’ve found that even if I forget to defrost in the fridge overnight, most meals are good if I let them sit on the counter for an hour or two.

A whole day of cooking really is a lot of work, but since I’m not trying to start dinner at 4, when my toddler and dog are at their craziest and my husband isn’t home yet, being able to take a meal out of the freezer and pop it in the oven is a huge help. Otherwise, I’m dealing with raw chicken while my toddler is clinging to my leg because he wants me to hold him or getting a bucket stuck on his head (true story). Sauteing veggies I can do while I hold my toddler, if need be.

My husband has even endorsed freezer cooking because, “we eat yummy food and you’re less stressed.” So, at this stage in my life, freezer cooking really works for me!