Whether your goal is to provide healthy meals for your family, lose weight, or save money freezer cooking is a game-changer! The Busy Mom’s Guide to healthy freezer cooking will show you step by step how to make healthy eating a reality while sticking to your budget.
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Hey! I’m Heather. Back in 2011, I was a busy mom of 3 struggling to find a balance between eating to lose the baby weight and providing healthy meals for my family without spending a fortune. My struggle ended when I discovered that the answer to my dinner dilemma was freezer cooking! Today I am 90 pounds lighter, with much more confidence in myself and more importantly the meals I serve to my kids.”
Healthy eating doesn’t have to cost a fortune or take up all of your time. Let me show you how!
Why Freezer Cooking?
If you’re reading this chances are you are familiar with the benefits of freezer cooking, but just in case you need a few hardcore examples to give your friends when you skip Sunday brunch to batch cook-I’m listing the top benefits here.
Healthy: Save yourself & your family from the toxic processed foods offered at the drive-through & instead serve meals full of nutrients, antioxidants, and protein. According to a 2017 study by The University of Washington’s School of Public Health, home-cooked dinners are associated with a better, healthier diet at no significant cost increase.
Makes Life Less Stressful: Being stocked up with ready-to-cook meals-be it 5 or 50-gives you the freedom to go about your day without the constant worry of creating a healthy dinner lurking in the back of your mind. You also get a wicked rush & sense of accomplishment after you’ve stocked the freezer!
Saves Money: When you meal prep once or twice a month you can buy in bulk which is almost always cheaper. You also cut down on the number of times you visit the grocery store-which saves money because you & I both know that impulsive buys happen on last-minute grocery runs!
Freezer Cooking Tips
If this is your first rodeo with freezer cooking, I do not recommend going big by attempting to prep 30 meals in a day. Instead of overwhelming yourself & getting so frustrated you end up quitting, go with doubling a couple of recipes you know & start building your collection from there. You don’t have to spend all day cooking & prepping!
Try a Mini Menu from Once A Month Meals! Perfect for beginners with busy schedules! Click here!
Collect recipes that can easily be doubled & use the same ingredients to save time and money and sanity at the grocery store and on meal prep day!
Freeze By The Ingredient
Starting slowly by freezing reoccurring ingredients is a fabulous way to dip your toe into the freezer cooking pond. Think: Batched cooked chicken in the crockpot to divide up for future lunch & dinner recipes like salads, burritos, shredded chicken dinners, browned ground beef, hamburgers, beans, vegetables, fruits, and rice.
Make your list & check it twice!
Look-if Santa Claus has to double check his list you should too!:) Make sure you have everything for all of the selected recipes listed to ensure an emergency onion run doesn’t mess up your groove on meal prep Monday. Check it twice to scan for items you already have in the pantry-why spend money if you don’t have to?
Organize the order of recipes by ingredient & cook in batches. Do you have two recipes that call for browned ground beef? Go ahead & get both knocked out at once! Same for chicken, bacon, and veggies. Start with whatever takes the most time-like boiling chicken & chop up your vegetables while you wait.
Freezer Cooking Supplies
Chances are you have most of these already. But if your kitchen is starting from zero (like mine was), you’ll need to buy a few supplies before you begin! Here are the essentials. A more extensive list of meal prep tools & COOL kitchen gadgets is right here.
Ziplock BagsZiplock Bags
Ziplock freezer bags with zippers have never let me down. Most of the time I’m down for a bargain, but not when it comes to making or breaking the quality of food! Pay a few cents extra now for good bags & save money later when your food is not suffering from a bad case of freezer burn!
The key to getting the most out of your freezer bags? Smooshing!
To smoosh-you’re going to zip the bag all the way closed-then unzip it a tiny bit and smoosh it down to let all of the air out. Then zip it again & start a stack in the freezer after giving it time to cool. Humming the all-time best meal prep song (Push It – Salt-N-Pepa) is optional, but I do recommend it.
These will save your sanity-especially if you’re alone in the kitchen on meal prep day! No more begging your family to please come help for just a second & no more Macguyvering your way through pouring hot soup into freezer bags! Consider these an optional luxury that will make your life so much easier.
You’ll need at least 2-3 of these for batch cooking vegetables, meats, chicken, and batch freezing. Even if you think you have enough you probably need more!
Leak Proof Plastic Containers
Store sauces, soups, and stews in plastic containers with lids. When you do be sure to leave around 1″ between the soup & the top because the liquid will expand when frozen!
Unless you enjoy a good round of Guess What’s in This Frozen Bag- you have to label everything that goes into your freezer. Put the name of the recipe, the date you froze it, and the Use By date. If you want to go the extra mile, and why not since you’re already there-write down a few recipe notes! You know, like Heat at 450 for 30 minutes, thaw in the fridge overnight, or stop eating your feelings:)
Sharpie: Usually I’m not a repeat name-dropper, but really if you’re labeling items & you have to go with the smudge-free option, and the best choice is a Sharpie!
Disposable Foil Pans
Here’s where you go the cheap route! Don’t make my mistake of using your good casserole dishes to freeze & not have a thing left to use in the meantime!
Any brand of crockpot, slow-cooker or Instant Pot is pretty much a mandatory supply if you want to save time & sanity on meal prep day, but I recommend this 8-in-1 Multi-Use design because it does EVERYTHING!
For a comprehensive list of Meal Prep Tools & Gadgets click here!
Avoiding Freezer Burn
- You can spot freezer burned food by a few telltale signs including discolorations, white-patchy splotches, and a dried-out appearance. While it will not make you sick, the flavor of your meals may suffer.
- Freezer burn is the result of dehydration of the food caused by exposure to air, temperature changes inside the freezer, and keeping the food inside the freezer for too long.
- To avoid a freezer burn fiasco try to keep the freezer door opening to a minimum to keep the temperature stable, wrap all freezer foods to limit contact with air, avoid using the freezer door area, and keep a log of what goes in and what comes out.
Freezer Cooking Safety
Do you get a little paranoid about food safety? Me too! The last thing you want to do is serve your family (or anyone) a meal chock full of food-borne illnesses! Here’s what you need to know to play it safe!
According to the USDA food consistently stored at 0° will always be safe. The keywords are consistently & always. To keep your freezer temperature a consistent 0° try to keep the door closed as much as possible and give hot meals a chance to cool off before freezing.
Believe it or not, one bag of hot soup can effect the overall temperature and negatively impact the contents of your freezer!
You can also buy a freezer thermometer like this one at a very reasonable price to be on the safe side!
Most freezer meals have an average shelf life of 6 months, but if you’re like me you need specifics-so I’ve created a graphic to show you just how long each food lasts!
What You Can Freeze
Technically anything stored at 0° is safe, but quality and safety are not the same. The periods listed are for best quality! Feel free to print & hang on your freezer door as a quick reference!
- Meat:Ground beef, meatballs, hamburger patties and meatloaf have a shelf-life of around 3 months & uncooked 3-4 months.
- Uncooked roasts, steaks and pork chops last 4-12 months-uncooked wild game lasts for 8-12 months.
- Chicken:Both raw & cooked chicken keep their quality for 9 months.
- Casseroles, Soups & Stews: These last for 2-3 months in airtight containers in the freezer.
- Cheese: Lasts up to 6 months. Be sure to shred it before freezing. Frozen blocks of cheese are difficult to slice. Hard cheese performs better than soft cheese!
3 Safe Ways to Defrost
- Refrigerator: Most foods take a day or two to defrost safely.
- Cold Water: Give it a cold water “bath” for a faster defrost. Place it in a leak-proof bag to avoid contamination and submerge in cold water. Cook immediately after it thaws!
- Microwave: Be mindful that a microwave dethaw can warm & may even cook some areas of the food, so you have to be prepared to cook it right away!
What Doesn’t Freeze Well
- Eggs: Do not try to freeze whole eggs in the shell. When you put eggs that are still in the shell you are flirting with an egg disaster: the water inside the egg will expand upon freezing & cause the shell to crack. Major Mess!
- Milk: Unless you want a chunky mess & you love watery tasting milk-don’t freeze it! Technically it’s safe to eat, but trust me, you don’t want to go there!
- Raw White Potatoes: Cook the potatoes first!
- Mayonnaise: Mayo separates when it’s frozen & that makes for a slightly off texture in recipes like casseroles, chicken salad, and dips. Avoid freezing recipes with mayo.
Freezer Cooking Recipes
You can find fabulous freezer recipes in all sorts of places-Pinterest is full of ideas & recipes, but unfortunately, many of these do not include proper instructions and dietary information.
Which can be very discouraging, frustrating & headache-inducing!
If you’re looking for a few recipes to start these healthy make-ahead meals are perfect! You’ll find freezer meals for breakfast, lunch, snacks and dinner!
30 Healthy Meals for the Freezer: Mouth-Watering Make Ahead Freezer Recipes That Make Life So Much Easier
I’ve found a fantastic, time-saving resource in Once A Month Meals. They offer over 5,500 made for freezer cooking meals that covers every dietary need:
Real Food, Paleo, Keto, Weight Watchers, Diet Vegetarian, Gluten Free Dairy Free, Allergen, Mini, Baby & Toddler.
You can customize your family’s meal plan by mixing and matching recipes from the various diets! So if you’re on the keto diet, but your hubby & kids aren’t you can make a plan that suits everyone!
And they don’t stop there.
If you see a recipe you love that serves 4, but you have a family of 6 their system lets you select the serving size for your family & automatically updates the ingredients & grocery list! No more calculating double recipes or converting measurements-they do it for you!
You also get prep and step-by-step cooking instructions for every recipe for meal prep day which is an enormous time & sanity saver!
There’s more. You’ll get printable labels for every meal with the name, date, reheating & thawing instructions, and the nutritional content. Which means there’s one less thing for you to do on meal prep day!
Once A Month Meals is a one-stop shop that’ll give you all the tools and recipes to make freezer cooking easy and dare I say, fun!
Try a Mini Menu for free here & be sure to let me know what you think!
One More Thing! I’d like to thank you for stopping by today! I hope you’ve found some inspiration to solve the Mom, What’s for Dinner question that often haunts all of us! And I hope you come back for more inspiration soon!