I have done a post on meal planning and freezer meals before, but that was two kids ago..things have gotten busier these days and now more than ever I need to lean on freezer meals to help me keep my sanity. I haven't done them in forever but have recently seen a bunch of posts on Pintrest with new recipes and ideas. A lot that I come across have so much prep work involved that it is a daunting task that I just don't have time for. Not only does it help me actually have dinner ready each night but it also keeps our food budget lower than most who feed 7 people each meal. OK, lets get started...
First I pick about 12 meals that my family likes to eat...in order to do this I break down our days of the week into themes. Some themes we like to use are pasta night, taco Tuesday, casserole night, breakfast for dinner, pizza family movie night and soup on Sunday. You get the idea..
Then pick a few variations of those themes..here are some of our favorites:
Pasta Night- Spaghetti, Homemade mac and cheese, fettuccine..
Taco Tuesday- Tacos, taco salad, bean and cheese burritos..
Breakfast for dinner- scrambled eggs and country potatoes, french toast, pancakes, omelets..
Soup night- Baked potato soup, taco soup, tomato soup with grilled cheese..
Casseroles- Tater tot Casserole, Spicy Chickenetti, Chicken pot pie
Crockpot meals- Lemon Chicken and rice, Orange Chicken, Hawaiian meatballs, Sweet and Sour meatballs, pot roast, pulled pork..
At this point I pick about 12 meals we want to eat then plan to have them on the same day of the week every other week (make sense??) I also have 4 nights a month we will have breakfast for dinner and 4 nights a month for pizza. So if you are into math that is 12+12+8= 32. That was easy right??
Now when it's time to make a shopping list and shop you will just double all your ingredients to make 2 of everything.
My menu for the next month looks like this: (I did not do pizza this month to keep our budget a little lower)
The other day my daughters and I put together 16 freezer meals for the next month. It only took us 2 hours. I'm definitely a lazy freezer meal maker!! Most of my meals are "dump" meals. I basically buy a bunch of freezer bags, put in some chicken and sauce and stick it in the freezer...ok not all are that easy but pretty close.
I get my chicken and ground beef from Zaycon Foods- it is a Co-op to get (mostly) meats cheaper. They deliver to most areas around the US. The meat is hormone and anti-biotic free and so very yummy. I can get 40lb boxes of chicken breasts for $75. I have a lot of chicken and ground beef in my freezer!!!
I only had two recipes that we needed to cook ahead of time- Sloppy Joe meat and Spicey Chickenetti. Everything else were dump recipes. My mom recently bought a cookbook with some freezer meal "dump" recipes and let me borrow it. A few of the recipes were different variations of meatballs- so I went to Sam's and bought a 6lb bag of precooked meatballs and those made 3 meals. I just divided them into 3 freezer bags, added the few ingredients for the sauce and popped them in the freezer.
My 10 year old browned 2lbs of ground beef, added some Manwich sauce and then divided it into two freezer bags. We let it cool in the bags before putting into the freezer to avoid excess moisture.
I did 2 bags with chicken breasts and added a jar of salsa to each. Cook that on low for about 6 hours in the crockpot, then 30 minutes before serving add a bar of cream cheese then shred the chicken. This makes for great taco meat or meat for a taco salad.
Two more bags we did for orange chicken- add a jar of orange marmalade, a bottle of bbq sauce and a T of soy sauce to the bag and stick it in the freezer. Cook that on low for about 6 hours in the crock pot.
Two bags were taco soup- this one has a chicken breast (or 2) , 1 quart of chicken stock, 1 can tomato sauce, 1/4 cup taco seasoning, 1 can of corn, a bell pepper diced. Add everything to a bag and freeze. To cook just put into the crockpot on low for about 6 hours- with 30 minutes left to cook add a bunch of chopped up corn tortilla strips and a cup of shredded cheese and stir. We serve this with a dollop of sour cream and tortilla chips.
Three more dinners were my very easy Lemon chicken- Chicken breasts plus a bottle of lemon pepper marinade.
My three dinners of Spicy Chickenetti took the longest because I had to dice an onion and brown it and get the cheese to melt on the stove..and cook the spaghetti. I did cut down my cooking time a little by using precooked chicken from Costco. I will do a special post with this recipe if people are interested.
I also did one meal of a pot roast- I put a tri-tip roast in a bag and added a powdered marinade plus the other things it called for. I do not add my vegetables to the roast- I cook them separately.
When it comes time for the day I need to use a meal I have my ipad alarm set to remind me to get the meal out of the freezer and actually put it in the crock pot. If we are having chicken or meatballs I will make brown rice in my instant pot and serve that with the meat. I always add a vegetable, fruit and sometimes salad to the meal. And if I need to add a carb I buy Pillsbury biscuits or frozen garlic bread to go with certain meals.
An example of a dinner we might have would be Orange Chicken, brown rice, broccoli with cheese on top and applesauce.
**quick tip** watch your grocery store sales- canned veggies and bagged pasta goes on sale a couple times a year for $.50 each- I stock up big time so I can always have these on hand and don't need to worry about buying them every month.
**Also- after you have made your meal list, go shopping on one day and cook on another. Don't overwhelm yourself by trying to do everything in the same day. And make sure on cooking day that you leave one dinner out for that night- you won't feel like cooking again when dinner time comes around.
Some meals on my list I do not make as freezer meals- I plan to have those when I know I will be home most of the day and have time and energy to put into making the whole meal. These meals are easy for the most part and my most toddler friendly too: Homemade mac and cheese, tater tot casserole, spaghetti, bean and cheese burritos, and breakfast for dinner.
I really hope this helps some people out. I know when I realized freezer cooking doesn't have to take all day and cost a fortune it helped me get started without feeling overwhelmed.
Here are all the meals we made the other day:
Let me know if you have any questions!! I would love to hear from you. Good Luck!!