To be successful with freezer cooking it's important to have the right tools. Some of these things you likely already have; others you may need to purchase in order to make your freezer cooking go as smoothly as possible.
1. The Right Freezer — Although you can use the freezer over your refrigerator, it may be difficult to fit a lot of food in there. We like to purchase meat in bulk, and we also freeze fruits and vegetables during the growing season, so our freezer tends to not have much room left over for freezing meals. We purchased a frost-free freezer from Sears so that we would have room for all of our bulk purchases and bulk cooking sessions. You could try searching on Craigslist for a used one, but I recommend getting a frost-free freezer. We had one that was not frost free, and got really tired of defrosting it all the time!
2. Large Bowls — When you are preparing food in bulk, your job will be much, much easier if you have large bowls in which to mix your food. Shoot for at least a 32 cup mixing bowl.
3. Large Pots — If you're going to cook large amounts of food, you'll need large pots in which to cook it! 16 qts. is a good size; although you may like having more than one.
4. Freezer Bags — Freezing food in bags and laying them down flat is a good way to optimize freezer space. Just make sure you are using freezer bags, and not just plain plastic ziptop bags. The freezer bags are much thicker and will prevent freezer burn.
5. Glass Baking Pans — If you're going to double, triple, or quadruple a casserole recipe, you'll need enough pans in which to cook it! You can buy disposable aluminum pans, or just invest in several glass baking pans that you can use over and over. (If you want to have meals in the freezer that you can take to sick or bereaved friends at the last minute, use aluminum so that they won't have to wash dishes or remember to give your pan back.)
6. Permanent marker — You need to label all your food, and a sharpie works best for writing directly on the bags. If you don't want to write directly on something then buy some masking tape, write on that, and stick it to the dish.
7. Quality knives — Don't skimp on the quality of your knives. You want to be able to cut veggies easily and quickly.
8. Two Large Slow Cookers — Use one for a freezer meal and a second one for dinner the night you're cooking all that food for the freezer. You'll thank yourself at dinner time! (I prefer an oval shaped slow cooker, because I can fit larger items in it, such as a long roast.)
9. Ice Cube Trays — Great for freezing left over broth and stock to use in recipes later.
10. Mesh Colander — I prefer mesh for draining since very little other than water can go through.
11. Large Food Processor — If you are going to be chopping large quantities of vegetables, a food processor will make the process go much faster!
12. Cutting Board Set — Having cutting boards dedicated for meat and vegetabes will keep you from contaminating your food.
13. Apron — This is not a necessity, but it's nice to have something clean to wipe your hands on instead of your clothes. Plus, it's fun to put on an apron and get into the mood to cook.
14. Comfortable Shoes — You're going to be standing for a while, so you need to wear something that will keep your feet from aching. I have these and wear them all day, every day without any foot pain. My favorite shoes ever!
Be sure to check out the other posts in the Freezer Cooking Guide:
1. Be Prepared
It's important to get prepared for your cooking session if you're going to cook several freezer meals at once. Even if you are just doubling your nightly meal to put into the freezer, you'll need to get everything prepared, and make sure you have all the ingredients and storage containers.
2. Get Comfortable
You should wear a good pair of shoes (I have these shoes and absolutely love them! They're the most comfortable pair of shoes I've ever purchased!) If you can invest in a comfortable standing mat for your kitchen floor that is great too. Have a snack before you start to avoid snacking as you cook.
3. Shop with a List
You definitely do not want to shop for a freezer cooking session without a list. Go through all your recipes and write down all the ingredients as well as the amounts you need, taking into account the fact that you may be doubling, tripling, or even quadrupling some of your recipes. You need to know exactly how much and what to buy so that you will not be lacking anything when you get into the middle of cooking.
4. Cook What You Like
Most families actually rotate the same 8 to 10 dishes, and rarely try anything new. It's important to understand what you and your family like and work within that parameter to truly be successful with freezer cooking. Try only one or two new things in any give month and you'll be a lot happier with the outcome. Believe me, I've put some recipes in the freezer that were new to me, and ended up not liking them at all. Not fun to have to throw it out or eat something you don't like!
5. Get Organized
Before you start, make sure you begin with a clean kitchen and an organized workspace. Get out the pans and supplies that you need in advance and set them out like you work in a factory so that they're ready to go. Fill your sink with soapy water so you can wash dishes as you go. You'll need to reuse some of your utensils for other recipes and you'll be glad to have them clean and ready to go again. Plus, you don't want to end your cooking session with an avalanche of dishes to wash!
6. Packaging & Labeling
You can use freezer bags to store a lot of your meals. Lay them flat and you will find that you can fit quite of bit of food in the freezer that way. You also need to make sure you label everything so you'll know what it is after it freezes.
7. Handling Food Safely
Do not mix utensils when handling raw meat. Wash your hands often in hot soapy water. Use a thermometer to ensure proper internal cooking temperatures. Don't leave foods sitting out on the counter; get them back into the fridge or into the freezer. You can read more about the Core Four Practices of safe food handling at fightbac.org.
Last Friday I posted 4 Reasons You Should Be Freezer Cooking.
Today I want to talk a little bit about what you can and cannot freeze. If you know these things, you can easily turn many of your favorite recipes into freezer recipes. No need to try to find a bunch of recipes that are specifically labeled “Freezer Recipes”.
Do Not Freeze These Items: (or freeze with caution)
Dairy (milk, sour cream, cream cheese, yogurt)
Lettuce and leafy greens
Some of the above items can be frozen if you know what you're doing and understand what changes freezing will make to them.
Cheese — You can actually freeze cheese as long as you understand the texture will change. It will be crumbly, (shred it first) and you can't eat it as is, but you can use it in a casserole as a topping. So, if you put cheese on top of a casserole that you're going to pop into the oven to reheat anyway it's fine. But if you plan to slice it for a sandwich, you probably don’t want to freeze your cheese.
Dairy — Freezing dairy will change its consistency; however, you can add it to soups and casseroles without any noticeable difference – especially if you reheat them slowly.
Fried Food — You can freeze fried food as long as you wrap it right, and then reheat it correctly. For something like fried chicken be sure to cool it down while draining off the extra fat, then wrap with freezer paper and then put it inside an air tight container. To reheat, put in the oven frozen after unwrapping on a greased pan.
Grapes — You can freeze grapes if you plan to eat them frozen. If you try to thaw them they will turn to mush.
Leafy Greens — You can chop and freeze leafy greens if you plan to use them in soups or stews.
Onions & Peppers — You can chop these and freeze them to use in recipes. Chop and let them dry on a paper towel first to drain off extra moisture. Spread them on a cookie sheet and freeze for about an hour before putting them into airtight freezer bags.
Tomatoes — You can chop them and freeze into serving sizes or recipe sizes in airtight containers. You can only use them for sauces after freezing or in a soup or stew where texture isn't as important.
Oranges & Citrus — You cannot freeze the fruit but you can freeze the zest. Zest onto a paper towel, and let dry out a bit, then freeze in one layer on a pan for about an hour. Pour into a airtight container to use in recipes.
Rice &Potatoes — They freeze fine in casseroles and dishes, but it does change their texture a bit. You cannot freeze them raw; you must precook and then freeze.
Pasta – While many places have pasta on the ‘no freeze’ list, you can freeze cooked or frozen pasta. It is recommended that you freeze pasta for some dishes uncooked because it will cook during the reheating and you don't want to overcook it. But, you need to use prepared dried pasta and not freshly made pasta that isn't dried.
Below is a list of foods that generally freeze without any problems:
Baked Goods (freeze already baked or freeze the dough)
Baking supplies (nuts, chocolate, coconut, flour, etc.)
Fruits (any besides citrus)
Fresh Herbs (freeze in ice cube trays with a small amount of water)
Now that you know what does and doesn't freeze well, you can easily determine which of your favorite meals you can prepare for the freezer. Next time you make your favorite recipe, double it and put the extra in the freezer for a busy night! You won't even be tempted to pick up a pizza knowing that you've got healthy food already prepared!
Have you ever made freezer meals? If you haven't, I want to try to convince you that you should be doing it regularly!
Here are 4 Reasons You Should Be Freezer Cooking:
1. Saves Time
It takes just as much time to make one enchilada casserole as it does to make two or four. It just takes bigger pans and containers. Anytime you double, triple, or quadruple a recipe, you'll be saved the time preparing that meal at another time.
2. Saves Money
By having meals already in the freezer, you will not be shopping as often. When you don't go to the store, you don't spend any money!
3.Better Nutrition for Your Family
When you get too busy the temptation is to go through the drive-thru or pick up pizza. You know it's not healthy, but you're hungry, the kids are hungry, and you're exhausted. But imagine you have healthy food at home that you can easily reheat and serve!
4. Enjoy Last Minute Guests
If you struggle with finding time to have company, you will free yourself by having meals pre-made in the freezer. You can even invite guests at the last minute without worrying about what in the world you will feed them. You can focus your time on sprucing up the house while dinner heats in the oven, then enjoy your time with your guests since you haven't been frazzled by trying to get everything done.
Have you ever done freezer cooking? Do you need to be doing it more often?