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When most people think of freezing meals, they think casseroles. And what’s in most casseroles? Cream of “something” soup.
But, after quite a few sessions of freezer cooking, my friend and I have learned casseroles and cream of “something”-laden foods are not all you can make and freeze.
And, due to some dietary changes, we used ingredients this time that do not have any artificial coloring, preservatives, or flavorings (one exception is pepperoni – there isn’t a store in our area that carries a pepperoni that meets these criteria. I believe Whole Foods/Trader Joe’s carries one).
Note: I’m calling this Real Food, because to me that’s what it is. We didn’t use anything pre-packaged (other than teryiaki sauce), but we did use dairy and wheat products (all flour was white whole wheat, and noodles where whole wheat as well). So maybe the better term here is minimally processed freezer cooking?
Either way, here’s what we made:
K&W Mac N Cheese – We added ham to make this a more hearty meal. Serve with a side salad and a veggie for a yummy dinner!
Pizza Roll-Ups – This is almost always a hit. We made our own dough this time (pre-made crescent dough that met our criteria was cost-prohibitive) using this recipe. They turned out okay, but we think we’ll try making them with a different, “approved,” pre-made dough next time, as this dough stays pretty thick and makes it hard to get the cheese melted when you reheat them.
Teriyaki Chicken – We both really like this! Cutting the chicken up made each bite saucy and delicious. I served this with rice and stir-fry veggies.
Sour Cream and Noodle Bake – This is one of my favorite Pioneer Woman recipes. It is quick to put together for a weeknight meal, and it was easy to double and separate into two different pans. This would be a great one to double, eat one that night and freeze the other!
Greek Inspired Chicken – A great crock-pot recipe, this is easy to put together and is approved by both husbands. I like to serve mine with summer squash and zuchinni.
Waffles – We were going to make eight batches of waffles, but ended up only being able to make four, even with two waffle irons. This was still a good number of waffles for both of us, and we probably wouldn’t be able to make more than that during a cooking day. (This is one thing we both make that’s strictly for the kids!)
Beef and Bean Burritos – This is another great Pioneer Woman recipe! We freeze ours with just beans, beef and a little cheese, and they are so, so good. I served mine with an extra sprinkling of cheese on top, cilantro-lime rice, and a salad.
Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins – We ended up with a TON of these, regular and mini sized. We like this recipe, but this is the first time we’ve frozen them unbaked. This extends the freezer life of the muffin, and it means they can go into a chest freezer and not get dried out. However, they don’t freeze into solid balls, which made them a little harder to work with when we didn’t freeze them in muffin liners (Did you know colored muffin liners have artificial colorings in them that can leech into your foods? I did not. Just goes to show how prevalent this stuff is and how crazy-hard it is to avoid. Have you looked for plain muffin liners? They are rare!) Still, they cook awesome from frozen!
BBQ Pork – My mom went through a two-year phase where she was determined to perfect a BBQ rub, and we love it. A five to seven pound bone in, picnic or shoulder roast makes enough for two quart sized bags, which is about two dinners for all three of us, and at least one lunch for one of us, in my family.
Cilantro Lime Chicken – A good, solid recipe. We ate ours in whole-wheat tortillas with some guacamole, and it was yummy. I think the next time I make this I would use it as a filling for burritos, and serve it with rice. It made a TON too!
Perfect Chicken – This was the first time we’ve frozen this, though we both make this at home regularly. It should be great for salads, wraps, or reheating and serving with some yummy sides.
Taco Meat – We just browned our beef with McCormick’s taco seasoning (no additives, preservatives, or other yucky stuff!). Simple, easy, tasty. I served mine recently with pico de gallo and avocado.
My family likes to eat. My husband always tells me that the chief activity when we visit my family is eating.
Since we’re a southern family, we like to eat barbeque (pulled pork, of course!). I don’t think I can count how many family get-togethers involve this tasty meal. Family reunion? BBQ. Thanksgiving? BBQ. Funeral? BBQ from our favorite out-of-town, hole-in-the-wall BBQ joint is just what we need.
When I was in high school, my mom decided she wanted to make her own BBQ. My dad bought her a “Barbeque Bible,” and she began experimenting with rubs, cook temperatures and the like. I’d say it took her about a year to perfect a style our whole family loved.
A few years ago, I asked for the rub recipe so I could start making my own, since barbeque that meets my standards is hard to find in Virginia.
We both started using our crock-pots to cook the pulled pork (I’ve found that a 6 to 7 pound bone-in shoulder or picnic roast is the perfect size for my 4 quart crock pot, and feeds my family for several meals), and it is delicious and so, so easy. It freezes well (just be sure to ladle generous amounts of sauce into your freezer container), and the liquid created when it cooks makes a great sauce.
I usually mix my rub in a bow, then store it in an old, glass mustard jar. So, so yummy!
We’re 10-weeks until Noodle Baby arrives. When I realized his projected arrival was only 11 weeks away, I may have freaked a little. The desk isn’t done! His room is full of junk! It isn’t painted! Will it get painted? Since I can’t build a desk, and I’m off painting duty, there’s not much I can do about these problems.
But I can cook, so I settled on coming up with a plan to get some meals in the freezer pre-baby. I picked meals that are fairly easy to make and/or don’t take a lot of time to make. I don’t want to make this more complicated than it needs to be, and honestly, if we eat a bunch of crockpot meals for a month or two so I can *maybe* sleep more, that’s fine with me.
Meals I have selected (with my husband’s input on what he’d like) are:
- Marinated Chicken x 2
- Ham Mac ‘n Cheese Casserole (1 recipe makes 2)
- Healthy Mama BBQ Chicken (1 recipe makes 2)
- Baked Ravioli (possibly two full-sized or two slightly smaller than normal)
- Toddler Muffins
- Taco Roll-Ups (make with homemade crescent rolls, if I feel up to it)
- Greek Inspired Chicken
- BBQ Pork (should make enough for at least 2)
- Waffles (as needed)
- Freezer-Friendly Baked Oatmeal (2 or 3)
My priorities are meatballs, Taco Roll-Ups and waffles. I don’t think I’ve mentioned that I’ve been making and freezing waffles for Colton to eat for breakfast each morning, so keeping up with this is a must (I’m hoping to get my husband to mix up some extra waffle batter on the weekends to make this easier to keep up with). C also loves Taco Roll-Ups, which will be a good, quick lunch or dinner option for him as things get crazy. My husband specifically requested meatballs, Colton will eat them, and they don’t require any defrosting to be used in our two favorite meals (spaghetti and meatballs and Greek Meatball Pitas).
If I cook one meal a week from this list, I should have everything made. I have a written plan of what to fix together, so I have a few extra weeks in case this baby comes early or I just find myself too tired in the last couple of weeks to do extra work.
I’ve been thinking lately about freezer cooking when pregnant. Not because I am pregnant, but because a lot of my friends (mostly internet ones) are. So, I’ve been trying to think of how I would approach freezer cooking if I were trying to stock my freezer with things to eat after a baby came.
First, I would try to make meals that take as little effort to make as possible, as I would probably be freezing things at the tail end of my pregnancy, meaning I would be very tired. This means the bulk of my meals would be chicken or veggies I could freeze in a gallon-sized bag with some sort of marinade. These meals require very little meat prep, no cooking, and need at most a bowl to mix the marinade in. An added bonus is that most meals like this can cook in the CrockPot, which makes cooking a snap when baby comes.
Second, I would think about meals that include veggies or fruit my family will like. Partly this is because I have a toddler who I like to get at least some veggies in each day, and because I know eating balanced meals will help keep my energy up and aid recovery after a baby comes.
Next, I would pick one or two of my family’s favorite meals, and freeze it. There’s nothing better than your favorite meal when you’re feeling badly or are stressed out, even if the prep takes a little more work.
Finally, I would consider when I would be eating the meals. Do I need meals as soon as I come home from the hospital? Will I have help for a week or two? Are there any friends who will be providing meals? Our Sunday School class typically sets up meal deliveries three days a week for about five weeks. Since my parents came to help for six days after C was born, I didn’t worry about dinners for six weeks. If I knew that would be the case, I would probably make less meals, since at six weeks C started sleeping a bit more, I felt pretty well healed, and felt like a decent handle on life with a baby. If you will be eating your freezer meals right after you come home, you can start stocking your freezer a bit earlier. Most foods have a freezer life of three to six months, so the earlier you’ll eat them, the earlier you can prepare them; and the earlier you prepare them, the more energy you’ll have!
Considering all those factors, here’s what I would be stocking my freezer with:
- Marinated Chicken – this recipe provides maximum results with minimum effort. Mix chicken and a bottle of Italian dressing in a gallon freezer bag, and freeze. Thaw overnight or for 30 minutes on the counter, and pop into the CrockPot. It’s flavorful and easy, so I would probably end up making two of these.
- Greek Inspired Chicken – Husband really liked this with chicken thighs, so I would use a mix of those and breasts. This doesn’t take a whole lot of effort, has a nice flavor, can be cooked in the Crock-Pot, and can be eaten with spaghetti or with veggies.
- Healthy Mama BBQ Chicken – While this isn’t my all-time favorite meal, it’s still tasty and has a TON of veggies in it, which makes it worth it for me to stick in my freezer for a healthy, post-baby meal. This is great served over brown rice.
- Baked Ravioli – This is the ultimate easy to make, yummy to eat recipe. Simply layer a foil baking pan with store-bought frozen ravioli, pasta sauce, ravioli, pasta sauce and cheese. Cover it with foil and pop it all back into the freezer. This can be cooked directly from frozen, but it does take 2.5+ hours at 350.
- Mini Meatloaves – A lot of what I fix for the freezer has chicken in it, so these provide a nice variety, and aren’t crazy difficult to make. I also despise leftover meatloaf and this solves that problem. These are the perfect solution for the days you forget to plan dinner – they cook in 15 minutes from frozen! Cook some frozen veggies, cook a box of macaroni, and you have dinner!
- Ham Mac and Cheese – My family loves this, it’s not chicken, comes together quickly and one recipe makes a double batch.
- Toddler Muffins – Loaded with fruits and veggies, I would make large muffins for me, and mini muffins for quick meals and snacks for Colton.
- Taco Roll-Ups – These are Colton’s absolute favorite, for lunch or dinner. I imagine having a meal I know will go over well would simplify my life with a needy newborn and crazy toddler.
That’s six dinners, seven if you count the Ham Mac and Cheese’s double batch, and two snacks/lunch items. My guess is you could do an evening of prep work (shred carrots for the toddler muffins, cut ham if you need to and brown beef for the taco roll ups) and cook from early afternoon and be finished in time for lunch. Or, you could take a week and focus on one item a day and have your freezer stocked.
It’s been another two months since my last freezer cooking session with my friend. The meals have actually lasted more than two months, mainly because I’ve actually done some cooking. With all the holidays coming up, we’ve decided we won’t cook until January. Still, I’ve tasted all the meals we made for the two months, so I thought I’d do another giant round-up and review what we’ve been eating.
We ended up making a few things from our previous session again, since we enjoyed them so much. The repeat winners were baked oatmeal, pizza croissants, baked ravioli and marinated chicken.
Freezer Smoothies: These are good, and a great idea for a fall freezer session. I’m excited to get some “fresh” fruit from time to time now that it’s not available during the winter. We didn’t flash freeze our fruit, and I wish we had, because the fruit froze into a giant block and you can’t make a smoothie straight from the freezer. If we had done a fruit flash freeze, I think we would have been able to.
Sausage Balls: Everyone knows how to make these! They are delicious and held up beautifully in the freezer.
Healthy Mama Barbeque Chicken: I liked the idea of this recipe a lot, mostly because it had a ton of veggies in it. My friend and I ended up keeping the amount of veggies the same, but quadrupled the meat and split everything between the two of us. When I first tasted this, I was a little disappointed, mostly because it didn’t taste like the barbeque I expected. The second day we ate this, I enjoyed it much more. It was great served over brown rice (which I did on day 2). This was a solid meal I would make again.
Cheddar Cracker Chicken: This was super, super tasty. You cook it directly from frozen, which makes it even better in my book. It wasn’t particularly crunchy, like I think it might be if it were cooked immediately, but it didn’t get soggy at all, which was my biggest concern making this one.
Chicken Enchiladas: We used my friend’s recipe for this, and they were delicious. Colton loved them too – he ate an entire enchilada for dinner the first night we had these! We flash froze these, so we could have cooked them in smaller batches, had we wanted to.
Poppy Seed Chicken: I had such high hopes for this one. After we had Colton, someone brought us this, and it was one of the most delicious things I’ve ever had. This recipe did not live up to those memories. It was still a solid meal, but definitely needed something like rice served underneath it. We put our poppy seeds and crackers in the pantry, so we could top the casserole with them after it was thawed.
Ham Mac n’ Cheese: This is so totally delicious! The breadcrumbs and spices added the right amount of texture and tastiness to the dish. I served my 8 x 8 pans as our main course, along with a veggie (asparagus was great with this), but also made an 8 x8 pan to take as a side for Thanksgiving. My cousin declared it her favorite food of the day, which I think is a pretty high compliment for this dish.
Cream Cheese Chicken: This was easy to make (no cooking on your cooking day and cooks in the crock-pot), but it just wasn’t my favorite thing, especially when reheated. It wasn’t bad, but I don’t know that I would make it again, even though it was easy.
Hamburger Helper: At first, I was nervous about making this, but my friend wanted to give it a try. It was really good, and another no-cook meal for your cooking day. I would, however, recommend only making enough for your family to eat in one meal. I was super excited about the leftovers of this, but it just wasn’t that great reheated. It did make a TON, so it would be great for a large family, and Colton really liked it as well.
Beef Stew: I liked the idea of this recipe, but I found the spices in it a little overwhelming and Colton wouldn’t even touch it. I would like to make a similar dish, since this did freeze well and was easy to make on cooking day. I think I would use my mom’s roast recipe as a starter next time, since I know my family likes that.
Mexican Chicken and Black Bean Filling: This is another recipe my friend found that I was a little unsure of. I should not have been, because it turned out to be a tasty and versatile meal to have in the freezer. There are lots and lots of ways to use it (I’ve done quesadillas, but click the link for even more ways to use it), which means you won’t get tired of eating it, and it can be made mild or spicy, depending on your family’s taste. Colton loved his quesadilla (he ate the entire one), and Hubby found ours super filling as well.
Meatloaf Cups: Another winner for me. I like meatloaf out of the oven, but hate leftover meatloaf, so this was perfect for me. Another bonus for this recipe is that you can cook it directly from frozen (love those!). I did, however, find this recipe to be a little heavy on the cumin, and found that my muffin cups needed to be sprayed before cooking.
Pizza Dough: We tried a new pizza dough this time around, hoping the crust would rise more after freezing. Alas, we still have flat pizza, not delicious puffy crust. This could very well be user-error, since I’m not great with yeast. Or maybe pizza dough just doesn’t freeze well.
Any great suggestions for meals to make in January? What do you cook, freeze and love?
Now that it’s September, I’ve finally managed to eat every meal from my last freezer cooking session back in July and have another long day of cooking under my belt. I’m not a huge fan of a solid day of cooking, but I sure am a huge fan of never really worrying about what to eat. To help you get an idea of the things we’ve been eating the last two months, and what meals I think are great from your freezer, here’s a list, links and reviews.
Breakfast Cookies – I loved these, Hubby loved these, Colton loved these. My friend liked these, but her kids did not. They’re meant to be eaten right from the freezer, which I think is great, but do get sticky as they get warm, which I think is what bothered my friend’s two kids.
Baked Oatmeal – We liked this so much we made it both cooking sessions! This is a pretty simple recipe, so you can have it plain, with milk, or with fruit. I had mien with blueberries and milk and thought it was fantastic.
Blueberry Muffins – I thought these were delicious, Colton warmed up to them, and my friend’s family wouldn’t eat them. Because they’re made with whole wheat flour they’re very dense, but if you like dense muffins, then you will love them. She gave me the ones they didn’t eat and I’m excited!
Tacos in a Sleeping Bag – A solid, kid-friendly meal. There’s nothing exciting about these, but I enjoyed them for lunch a couple of times, and used them as Colton’s go-to meal when we were eating something he couldn’t have.
Pizza Croissants – These were a hit with kids, husbands and wives alike. We also made these a second time, but decided to quadruple the recipe (for two families).
Pulled Pork – We cooked Boston Butt in the crockpot, covered in a rub my mom created, shredded it, and froze it. A large package from Sam’s made a TON. Both families liked this, but I think next time we need a much smaller cut of meat for us to share.
Taco Soup – We liked this, I liked it even more when I realized I could add sour cream to it. We doubled this recipe, but for two families we probably didn’t need to. Because it made so much and we didn’t have much room left in our pot, we didn’t add the extra water. I didn’t miss it though.
Chicken Tetrazini – This was a good, solid recipe. I thought the addition of mozzarella cheese would be a little strange, but I really liked it. I still thought it was missing a little something – pepper or some other spice I think, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.
88 Meatballs – I really enjoyed these, which we used for spaghetti and meatballs. I made these, and I must have made them a bit big, because we didn’t quite get 88 out of them, but it was still more than enough for two families.
Lasagna Casserole – I thought this was fantastic. I wanted more onion in mine, but other than that, I had no complaints with this recipe and would gladly make it again. My friend found her noodles sort of soggy and mushy, but she ended up letting it defrost in her fridge for two or so days, which might account for our vast difference in opinions on this one.
Marinated Chicken – This is another we made again. It’s easy to make on a giant cooking day, easy to fix since you don’t need to thaw it and can cook it in the crockpot, and pretty darn tasty to boot.
Teriyaki Chicken – I cooked this in the crockpot, which I shouldn’t have done, but still thought it was pretty tasty but not very exciting. I probably would have liked it better had I cooked it appropriately.
Taco Pasta – I didn’t think this was very exciting (taco meat, pasta and cheese), but this was Colton’s all-time favorite meal. I felt like it lasted forever, so we must have gotten plenty of meals from it. This might be a good one for families with young children and/or picky eaters, but I would skip it if you like more interesting, “grown-up” meals.
Baked Ravioli – My friend made this for us right after Colton was born. It’s just frozen ravioli, pasta sauce, Italian spices and mozzarella. Nothing fancy, but a good comfort meal that holds up great in the freezer.
Chicken Broccoli Casserole – This was the only thing we made that I absolutely did not like. I ate a bit of it, then decided I would much rather eat popcorn. I thought it was rather salty tasting, and I don’t think the fact that I don’t generally like chicken and broccoli casseroles really helped in my enjoyment of this one. The Hubby ate it though. My friend said she didn’t remember it, apart from you really did have to let it thaw overnight, unlike what the cooking instructions said.
Beef and Bean Burritos – These are a Pioneer Woman recipe, and they are so, so good. The first time I had these I was craving Mexican food something awful, and this hit the spot in the best possible way. A definite recommend.
Chicken Tacos – This was another easy, dump in the bag, freeze, thaw and cook meal. My only issue with it was it didn’t make enough – we all really liked this one.
Whole Wheat Pizza Dough and Sauce – Both of these (I think) came from a site that’s no longer up. I didn’t think the pizza sauce froze well (it got all watery and thin), but I liked the pizza dough. My friend did not, mostly she said because the crust didn’t rise and it was denser than she cared for. None of the whole wheat dough recipes I’ve tried will do that, so I wasn’t expecting it and was happy with the results.
So that’s what I’ve been eating. All-in-all, I enjoyed most of the meals, but I’m hoping to enjoy the fruits of my September labor even more. Do you have any recipes you love that freeze well? Please share!