Monday, November 4, 2013

How To: Make Freezer Meals

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Before Bradley arrived, I decided to prepare ahead of time for the sleepless nights and the low energy during the day. Since I think it's important to continue to eat home-cooked meals instead of take-out or delivery every night, I made a few of my favorite meals that I could prepare ahead of time and freeze for easy dinners.

I make sure to write the date somewhere on all the items I freeze using a permanent marker. Since everything can only freezer for a certain length of time (which I have noted below) it's important to write the date on there. I also recommend writing the heating instructions directly on the packaging. This saves you some time so you don't have to look up a recipe to figure out how to cook it once thawed!

Soups and Chili: Soups are super easy to prepare ahead of time and freeze. Make the soup as you regularly would and allow to cool. Add it to a gallon-sized plastic resealable bag and remove all the air. Press the soup lightly so that it lays flat in the bag. This allows for easy storage. Place in freezer for up to three months.
Chicken Pot Pie filling works the same way as soups. I used my recipe for Turkey and Pancetta Pot Pie and replaced the turkey with chicken since I knew I would be able to use the leftover chicken in other recipes. I used a rotisserie chicken to save myself some time, and it was easy peasy. I made the filling and poured it into a large ziplock bag to freeze. All I'll have to do is let it thaw in the refrigerator, place it into ramekins and top with pre-made biscuit or pie dough and let it bake.

I also made a big batch of my 30-Minute Stovetop Chili and froze the leftovers in a Tupperware container. Since this was already cooked, all I have to do is thaw it and reheat it on the stove just until it's hot. Same thing with my Slow Cooker BBQ Pulled Pork. Freeze in a Tupperware container, thaw in the refrigerator, and reheat over the stovetop or in the microwave. Then you have a quick sandwich or quesadilla in no time.

Casseroles: Casseroles are probably the easiest things to freeze. Not only are they easy to prepare, but you can make them as you normally would and freeze them right before the baking process. They'll last for about 3 months in the freezer.

Baked Ziti is a great example of this. It took me MAX 15 minutes to put together, then I just covered in aluminum and stuck it in the freezer. When we're ready to eat it, I can thaw it in the refrigerator the night before and cook as directed, or I can even cook it frozen and add on about 30 minutes or so. For easy preparation, use a permanent marker to write the cooking directions right on the foil.

Enchiladas: I love making chicken enchiladas, so this was a no-brainer when preparing freezer meals. I had leftover chicken from the filling I froze for the Chicken Pot Pie, so I used that chicken to stuff my enchiladas. I made them as I normally do, and froze them right before the baking process. I'll just thaw these in the refrigerator the night before we're going to eat them and bake them according to the recipe's directions. Again, use a permanent marker to write the cooking directions right on the foil. These will last for about 3 months in the freezer.

Meats: I had some leftover rotisserie chicken from the Chicken Pot Pie filling and Enchiladas, so I froze it in 1 cup portions. I can pull out one bag at a time to use in things such as quesadillas, wraps or taquitos. Cooked chicken will last for about six months in the freezer.
I also bought ground beef in bulk-size. I used some for the Baked Ziti, and froze the rest in ziplock bags in one-pound portions. Since most recipes call for a pound of ground beef, it will be easy to thaw these in the refrigerator separately instead of thawing a huge chunk and finding a way to use it all (since you can't refreeze meat after it has been thawed). Stuffed Peppers, Sloppy Joe Tater Tot Casserole, Taco Salad, Meatloaf, and Meatballs are easy uses for defrosted ground beef. Uncooked ground beef will typically last about 4 months in the freezer. 

Muffins and Snacks: Since ice-cream sandwiches are loved in my house, I made some of the Snickerdoodle variety to keep in the freezer when we want a homemade treat.
Muffins are also a great snack to keep in the freezer. They thaw at room temperature pretty quickly and are a great alternative to cereal or a pre-made meal in the morning. For a really quick treat, you can even zap them in the microwave for 30 seconds or so. I made some Blueberry Muffins to freeze so Chris can grab one on his way to work while I'm busy with the baby. They'll last for about 3 months in the freezer.

These are just some of my tips and things I find helpful. What freezer meals are some of your favorites??

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