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Homemade freezer meal 101

By February 24, 2013Freezer Cooking Tips

Over the weekend, I taught a group of moms how to start prepping homemade meals for their freezers, and I’m excited to share my tips with you too.  Making homemade freezer meals is easy once you get the hang of it.

I started making freezer meals when my older daughter Cameran was a baby.  Having a lasagna or pan of macaroni and cheese in the freezer cut down on my stress level around holidays and birthday parties.  Before my second daughter Isla was born, I prepped and froze two week’s worth of dinners.  It was amazing to have homemade meals on-hand while I was recovering and bonding with the newest member of my family.

Isla is 19 months old now, and I continue to freeze simple, healthy meals for my family.  I constantly rave about this easy method of meal planning to my friends and private coaching clients.  I even published a cookbook of my favorite fast freezer recipes titled, ‘15-Minute Freezer Recipes.’

All of the recipes in my cookbook were written for beginners.  I share my most helpful freezer tips at the beginning of the cookbook, and include instructions about how to prep, freeze, and cook every recipe.

homemade freezer meal 101

Once you get the hang of freezer cooking, I know you’ll be hooked.  I simply can’t say enough good things about homemade freezer meals. Freezer meals will save you time and money, and help your family to eat healthier.  Planning freezer meals in advance also means you won’t be buying other meats and produce that go to waste.

benefits of freezer cooking

If you have never frozen anything before, you need to start with deciding what you want to make.  My husband and I always plan at least one week of meals ahead of time.  Recently, we started planning TWO weeks of meals at a time, so freezing has become even more important.

Here are some of the BEST and WORST freezer meal ideas to help you figure out what will do well in your freezer.  This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it’s a good place to start.

best and worst freezer meals copy

Here are some of my family’s favorite freezer meal recipes:

Once you pick a recipe, you’ve made the first big step toward becoming a ‘freezer mom.’  Now, you need to grocery shop for the ingredients, clean out some space in your freezer, and pick a time to prep your freezer meal. I have two strategies: 1) doubling a recipe and making one for dinner and freezing the second, and 2) devoting an hour or two to prepping 3-6 dinners for my freezer at once.  Since most of my recipes are super quick, I can prep three in an hour or less.  I can normally find an hour first thing in the morning when my daughters are just waking up, in the afternoon when my younger daughter is napping, or over the weekend.

My Best Tips for Prepping, Storing, & Cooking Freezer Meals

PREP

  • Prepare meals until the point that you would put them in your oven or slow cooker (AKA Crockpot) to cook.  At that point, cool them to room temperature (if they’re hot) and put them into your freezer.
  • Use a pen or Sharpie marker to label your freezer meals with instructions (other types of markers will rub off), including:
    • to thaw overnight in refrigerator (if necessary)
    • ingredients, if any, that need to be added the day of cooking
    • cooking instructions
    • use-by date
  • For slow cooker recipes, fill your gallon-sized plastic freezer bag like this: beans and vegetables at the bottom, sauces and spices in the middle, and meat at the top.

how to assemble freezer to slow cooker meals

STORAGE

  • For oven recipes, store meals in aluminum or glass pans.  Place layers of plastic wrap and aluminum foil on the top.  If you don’t have a lot of pans on-hand, you may want to use disposable aluminum pans because you can’t cook with pans that are in the freezer.
  • For slow cooker recipes, store meals in gallon-sized plastic freezer bags.  I recommend using the freezer bags that have a zipper on top.  My bagged freezer meals never leak.  (Do NOT buy the cheap bags!  I’ve tried them and the bags always tear.)
  • When storing meals in gallon-sized freezer bags, remove as much air as possible before sealing the bag.  This will help your meal keep better.  Using bags with a zipper will help you remove air without making a mess.
  • Freeze bags flat in your freezer.
  • Most freezer meals can be stored up to 3 months in a regular freezer.

Here is a quick video of me demonstrating how to remove excess air from your freezer bag:

(If the video doesn’t show up right away, refresh your web browser.)

BEFORE COOKING

  • Thaw your slow cooker freezer meals in your refrigerator overnight before cooking them. Thawing is important because the meal probably won’t fit in your slow cooker as a frozen block.  Plus it helps the meat cook safely and evenly.  (If you forget this step, you can thaw frozen freezer bags in the microwave the morning of cooking.)
  • Thaw your oven recipes in your refrigerator overnight before cooking them.  Thawing will help your oven freezer meal cook more evenly.   (If you forget this step, thaw your oven recipe in your refrigerator the morning and afternoon that you’re planning to cook it – or skip the thawing step altogether and just monitor your meal in the oven to make sure it doesn’t burn).

COOKING

  • I cook all of my slow cooker recipes on the “low” setting.
  • I use a basic 4-quart slow cooker.  Slow cookers work best when they are at least 1/3 full, but no more than 2/3 full.
  • Oven recipes that come straight from the freezer will take longer to cook than room temperature meals.  You may want to keep them covered with foil so they don’t burn.

If you have more questions, leave a comment below or email me and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can!

Have you ever made freezer meals before?  If not, what makes you want to get started now?   

62 Comments

  • Erin says:

    Slow cooker recipes are becoming my go to. I'm a mom of a 15mo and soon to be new mom. Help help things are about to get crazy. This cookbook would really be helpful

    Thanks.

  • Is there any problem with the meat being tough because it has been frozen?

  • Kerri says:

    Hi Kelly, I am new to your site and am a full time working mom of 3. Going to try the freezer cooking for my family! With recipes like your chicken chili, is the chicken mixed with everything raw or pre cooked? Wasn’t sure if there was a problem with the raw meat or not. Thanks!!

    • Kelly says:

      It’s frozen raw. That’s what’s so great about it – it takes very little time to prep and since it cooks for the first time out if the freezer it doesn’t taste like leftovers at all! There’s no problem with freezing raw meat with other ingredients.

      You will love freezer cooking!! Check out my list of “25 freezer meals that don’t require any cooking ahead of time” for more ideas meals can be frozen without cooking. Let me know if you have other questions!

  • Cindy says:

    Thanks for all of these useful tips! I am new to this, but I’m definitely going to give it a try! I do have a question, why not freeze the oven recipes in freezer bags as well to save room in the freezer? Thanks!

    • Kelly says:

      What kind of recipe? There’s nothing wrong with it, per se, but I’m trying to figure out how you’d get it into and out of the bag (and if it would fit). A lot of my oven recipes are casseroles.

      • Annette says:

        You could line the pan with freezer wrap, put the casserole in there, freeze it enough to get it out of the pan and then freeze it either in freezer wrap or a large bag. Before thawing, unwrap it enough to put it back in your 9×13″ pan and you are set. This saves space in your freezer.

  • Sami says:

    Hi! I’m new to this blog and am very excited to get started on some of these recipes! I have already tried a few and just have a couple general questions:
    1. Since I am pretty big on crumb toppings, I am just curious as to why they don’t do well in the freezer? For example, I generally add rice to the breakfast burritos I make to add some nutrients.
    2. I usually add rice to my breakfast burrito recipe at home, and am just curious, since you mentioned that rice in casseroles don’t do well in the freezer, what would adding rice to your burrito recipe do to the burritos in the freezer?
    Thanks for your feedback!

    • Kelly says:

      Hi Sami!

      I think adding rice to burritos would be OK. I generally stay away from crumb topping because they can get soggy instead of crunchy. I’m sure that there are topping that will work though. Happy (freezer) cooking! 🙂

      • Annette says:

        Freeze the crumb topping in a separate baggie and tape it to the top of the casserole. Thaw your casserole and add the crumb topping before you bake it (or how you normally would do it, per your recipe instructions)

  • Sami says:

    Hi Kelly!
    One more quick question for you… what do you generally do with marinated meats? I have a fantastic marinated flank steak recipe that I use a lot for fajitas, and I’m wondering how you think it would hold up in the freezer?

    • Kelly says:

      I think it would taste great…and would probably taste good in the crockpot too!

      • Sami says:

        Awesome thanks! Also, does raw meat generally hold up in the freezer better if it’s in its original state, or can i save myself some prep by cutting it into slices before freezing it?

        • Kelly says:

          I would freeze it the way you normally cook it. For example, I freeze my beef roasts whole because I think they stay juicier when they cook whole, but I freeze chicken cubed to add to my chicken chili. Hope that helps!

        • Kelly says:

          Also, do you have a copy if my No Cook Freezer Meals cookbook? All of those recipes includes instructions about how to freeze.

  • josephinme says:

    What you used the vacuum machine that remove all air from the bag. And would it still work the same?

  • Carmen says:

    I would love to make batches of lasagna and freeze. When covering with foil or plastic wrap, do you ever end up with frost on top? And does it affect the dish?

    • Kelly says:

      I have seem a little bit of frost on the plastic wrap, but not on the food. I don’t think a little bit would make a difference though, even if it was on the food.

    • Marylin Foley says:

      It is important to remember that tomato dishes should not be cooked or stored in an aluminum dish. The acidity of the tomatoes attacks the aluminum

  • Nicole says:

    Does the eBook version of your book work on a Nook tablet?

  • Kimberly says:

    Hi Kelly, I’m a single mom of 5. I’ve been thinking about this freezer meal planning. I’ve been checking out websites and blogs for information on freezer meals. Non have been as helpful as yours. I appreciate that you include the use by date. That’s an important part. Thanks for the tips and help. I love the info on the site.

    • Kelly says:

      Thank you so much, Kimberly. That means so much to me. My advice is to dive right in. One you see how easy it is to prep a couple, you’ll be hooked! 🙂

  • Tiffany says:

    What is the point with wrapping the burritos in both wax paper and tin foil? Would it make a huge difference if I just went with one or the other? I ran out of wax paper, could I get away with just tin foil and putting them in the freezer bag?

  • Amanda says:

    Can I put a freezer meal that is not thawed into the croc pot that usually cooks for 4 to 6 hours and cook it for the full 10 hours?

    Thanks!

    • Kelly says:

      It’s not recommended by the USDA food safety and inspection service, but I think you could. It might only need 8hrs. Just make sure it’s the right size bc it’s hard to fit a solid square block in an oval-sized crockpot.

  • Kim says:

    How many servings do most of your recipes provide? We are a large family (10 total with 8 children ranging from 16 yo boy down to 7 week old) so I’m wondering if I need to plan on doubling to try out your recipes. Thanks!

    • Kelly says:

      Most will feed 4-6. Pay special attention to the amount of meat. One pound of chicken breasts will probably feed 3-4 and a 2-lb roast will feed 6. If you look at the most recent posts on my homepage, they include servings. Happy to answer any questions you have!

  • Melina says:

    Hi I just found your site but am a “freezer freak” myself 🙂 One thing I do since I don’t have endless pans (like an 8×8): I make my meal in the pan, freeze it a few hours, take it out when its frozen, and then run warm water just on the bottom and sides for a minute or two. The whole thing pops right out and then I can wrap it in wax paper and slide it in a freezer bag. Also, just a thought of reading up on the potential dangers of plastic and the possible adverse effects of putting a plastic freezer bag in the microwave to defrost– I’m just sayn, since you seem very health-conscious 😉
    I also make potato dishes that freeze fine, mashed potatoes and twice baked are two I have in my freezer all the time as an easy side dish. I cannot wait to try your burritos- thanks!

  • thien says:

    Hi, the pork roast recipe doesn’t call for being “saucy”….do I need to add vegetable oil to the slow cooker before I add food mixture? Thanks!

  • Diane says:

    I’m a newbie to crock pot cooking and have these questions. Do you cut off the visible fat off meat and/or poultry (like chicken breasts and thighs) before freezing it? If you do not, does the fat cook off? Do you think that the fat content of the meal would be reduced by cutting off the visible fat first? Thank you! 🙂

    • Kelly says:

      I normally cut off the big pieces. Yes, it cooks off, but I think the fat content is reduced by removing it prior to freezing. Personally, I cut if off because I don’t like fatty pieces mixed in with my cooked meat.

  • Thanks for sharing these great tips!
    Pinned!

  • Stacy says:

    I just found your site thanks to a friend sharing. I am the mother of 4 boys from 6-14 who all play sports. My husband and I both work so we run through a drive-thru more than we like. I am so excited to try these recipes.

  • Jillian says:

    Most of the freezer crockpot meals say to cook low for 3-6 hours, but I work 9 hours and with travel time I’m out of my house for about 10, any suggestions on how to make these meals work for me?

  • Lindsey says:

    I see that you have baked pasta with tomato sauce as one of the best recipes. By being new to the freezer meal situation I’ve found other people who have said that freezing pasta never turns out. I love reading your site and it had greatly helped me get started. I was curious what you thought about freezing pastas. Do they need to be ‘baked’ or could I freeze a dish of spaghetti or Mac and cheese?

  • Rose Ann says:

    I am new to your site. Great tips on frozen meals! Not having a lot of pans for the oven baked meals and not wanting to spend money on disposable, I line my pan in foil leaving additional foil on the ends. Prepare my dish and then freeze it in the pan. Once frozen remove it from the pan and wrap well. When you are ready to cook it you can place it back in the same pan and bake. Because the foil is still lining the pan, you have very little clean up!

  • Ginny says:

    How do you freeze crockpot recipes that call for wine or beer? Do you leave it out and add when you cook the meal? Thank you

  • Beckie says:

    Hi Kelly,
    First of all, I love your website – you’ve done an amazing job on it, especially with making this simple – thank you!
    You use wax paper and then foil, I like using parchment paper. I think it will serve the same purpose as wax – if not, please let me know. Thanks!

    • Kelly says:

      I think it will work. I think parchment paper is typically used for the oven and waxed paper for cold storage, but they’re probably interchangeable in the freezer.

  • Kendi says:

    Hi Kelly!

    Quick question! You say to lay plastic wrap on your dishes before you cover them with foil to prevent freezer burn. Are you suppose to wrap the who dish in plastic wrap or just put a layer over the top? Just wondering what the best method is for making sure the dish doesn’t ruin before your get a chance to cook it!

    Thanks!

    • Kelly says:

      It doesn’t have to cover the entire bottom of the pan, just make sure to put enough on the sides so that it covers the top securely.

  • Stephanie Mann says:

    In general, how many servings are the recipes meant for?

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