Surviving Tough Times:
by Jennifer Schultz
Making Fresh Freezer Meals
Frozen Assets: Getting Started
Freezing Food Staples
Four years ago when our family took a pay cut to move closer to our extended family, we needed to trim the budget. We did not have a lot of areas to cut spending, but I did notice that we spent hundreds of dollars each month on feeding our family of four. I had heard about freezer cooking and did some searching for recipes online. Most of what I found called for cooking multiple dishes simultaneously (I was having a hard enough time cooking a side dish with a main course so I knew this wouldn't work for me). I decided to modify my recipes into meals that could be stored in the freezer, to be used by the hurried, cooking-challenged woman (me). I decided that I would not cook during meal assembly. Instead, I would cook any meat needed before hand. This would speed up meal assembly and make it easier.
I called a few friends to try freezer meals with me, and I have been cooking this way for the last four years. It has been great! We are able to cut our spending on groceries by buying in bulk and not making multiple trips to the grocery store. We have spent less money on eating out due to having quick, delicious, easy-to-prepare meals at home. Not to mention the stress that freezer meals save, by staying within our food budget and not stressing over what to make for dinner each night.
I highly recommend no-cooking freezer meal assembly because of the time it saves. We usually prepare 15 meals including set up, clean up and breaking for lunch in about four hours. Fifteen meals will last our family over a month due to leftovers. Plus we love the assembly sessions because my friends and I talk and have fun while being productive!
You can easily start your own freezer meal assembly sessions. Grab a few friends and ask them to bring their favorite easy-to-prepare recipes. Slow cooker meals, casseroles and marinades for grilling are usually easy to change into freezer meals. Create a "menu" that has serving day instructions on preparing each frozen meal. If a recipe calls for cooking ground beef, or another meat, just make a note that everyone will do that prior to the assembly session. You can easily modify most casseroles by boiling the noodles on serving day, adding them to the casserole, and then baking. Many times, slow cooker recipes call for serving the dish over cooked noodles or rice. Make a note on the menu to cook the noodles or rice on serving day and then place the cooked meal over the noodles or rice when serving.
Here are some tips to make your freezer meal assembly session go smoothly:
- If you are using raw ground beef for recipes such as sloppy joes or meatloaf, be sure to use the leanest ground beef you can find.
- Depending on what time of the day you'll be meeting, and how many meals you are assembling, you may want to add a couple of frozen pizzas to the grocery list. Then halfway through, your group can break for lunch.
- Get childcare. It is too difficult to be watching/tending to children during this process.
- The host home should have multiple sets of measuring cups and spoons, sharp knives, strainer, a few cutting boards, electric can opener, cooking spray and a sharpie marker. Have recycle bins and/or garbage cans ready to accommodate multiple cans and boxes.
- You will want to bring an apron and a cooler. Wear comfortable shoes.
- It is best to prepare your meals in order of the type of meat. This will help avoid cross contamination. For example, every meal that requires cooked ground beef complete first, meals that contain raw ground beef complete second, etc. You will want to disinfect the counter top each time you switch to a different type of meat.
- Write the name of the meal and date on the freezer bag with a permanent marker.
- Lay your freezer bags flat to store to make best use of your freezer space.
- You will want to thaw out your meals in the fridge two days before using them.
Using freezer meals has made the biggest difference in my life as a busy, working mother. They save our family money, when I didn't feel I could stretch our dollar any more. They also make dinners more peaceful, as I'm not stressed out about what to prepare each night. Most of all, I have fun with my girlfriends as we're assembling these meals! Give freezer meals a try and enjoy the monetary rewards and stress-free meals!
Jennifer Schultz lives in Dubuque, Iowa with her husband of eleven years and two children. She works part-time as a dental hygienist.
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