1. PLAN AHEAD
There are many times in the kitchen where just winging it works just fine. I have learned the hard way that freezer cooking is NOT one of those times! A well thought out plan will make (or break) your freezer cooking day. Your plan should include:
- A list of the recipes you plan to make
- A grocery list of all the food & supplies you will need
- A prep sheet of all the tasks you will need to complete before you begin your cooking day
- A step-by-step action plan for assembling your recipes on cooking day
- Cooking instructions for all your recipes
If creating a plan like this on your own seems too overwhelming you can try using a freezer cooking website such as Once a Month Meals, which provides a huge variety of freezer cooking recipe menus as well as corresponding grocery lists, prep sheets, action plans, and cooking instructions. I have personally used this paid service multiple times and I really like it.
Another important part of planning ahead is making sure your kitchen is ready to go! Make sure your counters are clear, your dishwasher is empty, and all your pots, pans, mixing bowls, and measuring spoons are clean.
2. DON’T GROCERY SHOP AND COOK ON THE SAME DAY
I don’t know about you, but by the time I have gone to the grocery store, loaded my bags into the car, hauled them into the house and put everything away, the LAST thing I feel like doing is cooking for four hours! Do yourself a favor and split up your shopping day and cooking day. For my freezer cooking sessions, I will usually do my grocery run on Friday afternoon after I’m done working and then wake up bright and early Saturday morning ready to get started. With so much renewed energy, I find that I am almost always done before noon!
3. DON’T OVERDO IT
While it might be tempting to go BIG for your first freezer cooking session and knock out 30 meals in one marathon day, you might also be setting yourself up for failure. Cooking multiple meals at one time can very easily become chaotic and overwhelming, especially if you have never done it before. Furthermore, the last thing you want to do is buy 30 meals worth of food, only to discover that your husband or kids HATE freezer meals.
A better solution is to test the waters by trying a mini session of 3-5 different recipes that will make you 6-10 meals and help you get used to the process of planning, shopping, prepping, and cooking, as well as let your family try out the food.
4. PICK “CHEATER” RECIPES
My own personal freezer cooking strategy is to pick as many “no cook” meals as possible. These recipes basically involve dumping all your ingredients into a Ziploc bag, slapping on a label and instructions, and sticking them in the freezer until you are ready to use them, at which point you dump the contents into your crockpot and let it cook on low all day. Friends, it doesn’t get much better than that! As little work as possible on cooking day, then just as little effort on the day it is served! Most of my freezer recipes fall under this category, or you can do five different recipes at once with this 10 freezer meals in an hour plan or this 10 Meals in an Hour, Part 2 plan.
5. WORK IN PHASES
The whole point of freezer cooking, well aside from having a freezer full of meals, is to do as much of your work in bulk as possible in order to get the maximum gain for the minimum amount of effort. This means that instead of making one recipe at a time, you work on multiple recipes at once, first chopping all your vegetables and prepping your meats. Once all the prep work is done, assembling the actual recipes is a piece of cake!
For people who are very methodical and like to complete one project before starting another (i.e. my husband!) cooking in phases–and often creating a giant mess in the process–can be a little daunting. If this sounds like you, try to tell yourself that this type of cooking is a process and method all its own. Just follow the plan and it will all be okay in the end.
6. LABEL EVERYTHING
Trust me on this one! Take the time to label every single bag with the name of the dish, the date made, and the thawing/cooking instructions! While it might seem like a pain, it will save you a whole lot of effort later on. Even if you think you will remember, you won’t. Because here’s a little secret you might not know: it all looks exactly the same when it’s frozen!
And even if you are some sort of freezer cooking version of Rain Man and can remember not only what everything is but how to cook it, aving labels and instructions on everything also means that people besides you–like the babysitter or your husband–will also be able to cook it just in case you aren’t there.
Some people like to use printed label stickers but I have found that those don’t always hold up well in the freezer, so I always just use a black permanent marker.
7. CLEAN UP LAST
Don’t bother trying to wash your dishes in between every recipe! Use two sets of measuring spoons (one for wet and one for dry) and two sets of measuring cups. When necessary you can rinse bowls between recipes, but washing and drying the same dishes multiple times is little more than a giant waste of time and effort. Save your dishes for the end.
Or better yet, make your kids do them when you’re done!
And friends, that is pretty much all there is to it! Easy right? If you haven’t yet dared to venture into the world of freezer cooking, I strongly encourage you to give it a try. Your busy schedule–and your hungry family–will thank you!