Saving time, effort and money making freezer meals

An Introduction to Freezer Meals

by Deborah Taylor-Hough

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Following the premature birth of our first child, a group of ladies from church filled our freezer with two weeks of frozen meals. Between frequent visits to the I.C.U. Nursery and the normal stresses of starting a family, those meals in the freezer were a lifesaver. This was my introduction to the idea of freezing meals ahead. Since then, I've applied this concept to our regular family meals. I save substantial time, effort and money in the process.

Some cookbooks refer to this as "investment cooking." Often I'll cook one day each month and have 30+ main dinner meals tucked away in my freezer, ready to thaw and heat for a month's worth of easy meals.

The popular book Once-a-Month Cooking, by Mimi Wilson and Mary Beth Lagerborg, outlines step-by-step menu plans for cooking 30 meals in a day. I found the meals in Once-a-Month Cooking to be too expensive for my limited grocery budget (lots of expensive pre-made ingredients), but by applying their methods to my own less expensive recipes I've been able to save money by purchasing in bulk. This method also cuts down on those quick (and expensive!) trips through the local drive-thru when I'm rushing the kids to T- Ball practice or an evening meeting. I call my personal method of cooking ahead "Frozen Assets."

If you're thinking, "I could never do this. I only have a small fridge top freezer," don't tune me out. When I first started cooking ahead, I only had the small freezer attached to the refrigerator. By packaging meals in plastic freezer bags and freezing the bags flat, I was able to store a month's worth of Frozen Assets in my small freezer.

An easy way to start building up Frozen Assets is doubling or tripling recipes as you prepare them during the week. If you're making Lasagna, prepare three: one for eating tonight and two for the freezer. Just one week of tripling recipes will give you a stock-pile in your freezer of two weeks of meals with virtually no extra effort.

Andrea, the mother of a two-year-old and seven months pregnant with twins, is starting investment cooking. Realizing her hands will be full during those busy post- partum days, she says, "I don't have the stamina to devote an entire day to standing on my feet cooking, unless I want to send myself into labor right now! So, I'm going to triple recipes of easy meals every night until the babies arrive. I know the extra work now will pay off when I find myself less harried later. I can devote my energy to caring for my little ones."

Related: Getting Kids Involved in Freezer Meal Prep

No matter who you are, how big your family or what your lifestyle, whether you're a single working mother or a mom at home full-time with your children, investment cooking has something to offer everyone.

Frozen Assets could be the answer you've been looking for:

  • Save money on your food budget.
  • Save time in the kitchen each day.
  • Increase the outreach opportunities frozen meals can provide (meals for the sick, the young mom on bedrest, a grieving family, etc.).

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We could all use a few more minutes in our day, couldn't we? Anyone out there have enough time for everything they want to accomplish? No. . . ? I didn't think so. . . .

Lazy Lasagna

Makes two.
(serves 4 - 5 people; 2 times)

12 oz. lasagna noodles (uncooked)
1/2 tsp dried oregano (crushed)
2 (15 1/2 oz.) jars spaghetti sauce
2 cups cream-style cottage cheese (or Ricotta)
12 oz. mozzarella, sliced (or shredded)

Add oregano to spaghetti sauce. In two 10x6x2-inch baking dishes, spreading one cup of the spaghetti sauce on the bottom of each dish. Then make layers in this order: uncooked noodles, cottage cheese, mozzarella slices and remaining spaghetti sauce; repeat. Wrap pan in foil; label and freeze. To serve: thaw completely (takes about 1 1/2 days in the refrigerator.) Bake tightly covered at 350 F for about 45 minutes, or until edges are bubbly and center is hot. Take cover off during final 10 minutes of baking time. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

There's no need to pre-cook the noodles since they'll cook in the sauce while the Lasagna bakes. Just make certain that the noodles are completely covered with sauce. Some people recommend adding a small amount of water to the sauce (about 1/2 cup), but I personally haven't found that necessary with this particular recipe.

Deborah Taylor-Hough is the author of the bestselling Frozen Assets: Cook for a Day, Eat for a Month and A Simple Choice : A Practical Guide for Saving Your Time, Money and Sanity. She also edits the Simple Times email newsletter.

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