Thursday, January 16, 2014

Feeding the Freezer!

This year, one of my resolutions was to eat more homemade food and spend less time in the kitchen! We already eat home most of the time, but after Moby was born I started relying a little too much on frozen store bought meals…I figured it was time to end this. That would mean even more daily cooking, with 2 kids under 3 at home full time, and creative ideas bubbling inside just waiting for me to get some time to work on them. I definitely need to spend less time in the kitchen…but cook more food!! How do I accomplish that? The short answer: freezer cooking!

There are lot's of methods out there, some call it "once a month cooking", but it all boils down to this: cook each entree 3 times as much! One portion you eat that night the other 2 you freeze. To make it work, you need BIG pots, alternatively, a big slow cooker or pressure cooker AND - most importantly - organization! You need to plan it, write it down, label it and keep track of what's in your freezer!

So this is how to get started:

  1. Choose with your family meals that everyone enjoys and that are easy to prepare. You will need recipes for 2 weeks. For instance, if you are planning to eat homemade on weekdays only, you will need 10 recipes. 
  2. Start with an empty freezer, you will need space so think wisely what you want to put in it aside from your own cooked food. 
  3. Get your recipes, triplicate the amount of each ingredient and do your groceries.
  4. Now each day cook what you planned. Since you are doing 3 times as much, make sure you use your food processor to chop, slice and shred as much as you can, it will save you time. 
  5. Done cooking? Divide your meal in 3 portions, one you will eat that day the other two you will freeze. Here you have a few options depending on what it is you are cooking. If it's something like soup I like to freeze in many 1 cup portions (that's what I did in the picture, by the way, those are beans in a gravy - brazilians can't do without it!). If it's a casserole, I line 2 containers (which are the same size) with freezer paper, assemble the casserole. Once it's frozen, I remove from the container and put the ice block in a 1 gallon ziploc bag. If it's a sauce, you could even freeze it in ice cube trays, once frozen transfer to a ziploc back. There are many ways to do it and you'll have to experiment a little to find out what works best for you.  
  6. If you are cooking something that goes in the oven (like a casserole of lasagna), it is usually best to freeze the assembly and put in the oven only when you are ready to eat. Same goes for bread dough. If you are making dinner rolls (or cookies), freeze the dough balls in a baking tray first, once it's hard, remove them from the tray and place in a ziploc bag.
  7. Ok, next is labeling. After you pack your food, you have to label it, write in a label what it is you've cooked date it. Also write it down on a piece of paper that will be stuck to you freezer or you could use like I did, chalkboard vinyl or even a magnetic white board would do. Basically you need to know what you have in the freezer, how many portions and when you cooked it. 
  8. So keep doing this for 2 weeks. You go to your 3rd week and now it's time for your reward! This week you will only plan to cook 2 or 3 meals (these meals you will do 3 times as much too, to make sure you keep your freezer stocked). The other nights you will be eating your frozen food in the order you cooked it. Since you should have 2 of the same meal, you can eat one portion in one week and eat your second portion the week after or even skip a week. 
  9. Whenever you remove something from the freezer, make sure you cross it out of your chalkboard, so you always know exactly what you have in the freezer. 
  10. I always like to remove the meal from the freezer the night before I plan to eat it and keep in the fridge, that way it defrosts faster. NEVER leave food outside the fridge to defrost! If you forgot to defrost overnight you can put it straight in the pot or microwave it. Also NEVER freeze left-overs of something that was already frozen.
This method has been working really well for us. It's even great that if you have extra company for dinner you can just see which meal you still have 2 portions of and pop it out of the freezer! Easy and simple. Not to mention that grocery trips are a lot faster. Now you buy more quantities of the same products, so you don't have to run around for ingredients for 5 or 6 different meals, you'll be cooking only 2 or 3. Not to mention that if you are having a particularly hard week, you could choose to eat all frozen meals and then compensate the next week so you maintain your stock in the freezer! AND, most importantly, now that I am not cooking every single day I have more time to play with my kids!

Today, instead of cooking, Toby and I made a school bus!

Hope this will inspire you to give freezer cooking a try!

Here are some good references for further reading:

How to start freezer cooking -

Food Safety - USDA website

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