Packed restaurants, drive-thru lines so long they back up traffic, and grocery stores hawking ready-to-eat meals all point to the hectic nature of modern family life. Who has time to cook a meal every night while juggling work, kids’ homework and activities, etc.? You do, if you “shop” from your freezer every day.
Freezer cooking is the art of pre-assembling and freezing meals so that they’re ready and waiting when you need them. You can do something as simple as dumping raw ingredients into a freezer bag or as complex as cooking an entire casserole that just needs to be reheated. Cooking this way has reduced both my stress level and my grocery expenditure and improved my family’s nutrition. It changed my life, and it can do the same for you.
You know the drill. You walk in the door with your brain still at work and your hungry kids in tow. You try to figure out what to do for dinner while unloading backpacks with an exhausted, whiny toddler attached to your leg. Frustrated and overwhelmed, you pull that package of chicken nuggets out of the freezer and search the frig for some baby carrots to throw on the plate.
That scenario is why I started freezer cooking. I have three young children who need snacks, help with homework, etc. And I don’t even work outside the home; I’m just not good at getting things done with the kids underfoot. I can’t imagine how working parents who don’t get home until dinnertime manage. With freezer cooking, I do my meal planning — which I dread and can tolerate only with the comfort of a glass of wine — in one session, and I don’t have to make last-minute runs to the grocery store. If I forget to take something out to thaw, no big deal; that’s what microwaves are for.
Restaurant meals and convenience foods are expensive. Freezer cooking lets you stock up on meat when it’s on sale without having to eat the same thing every day. If boneless, skinless chicken breasts are on sale for $1.99/lb., you can fill up your cart, prepare a variety of recipes, and freeze them so that you can spread them out rather than eating all of that chicken at once. That’s a good strategy for warehouse clubs, too. Sure, they may have a great price on ground beef, but can your family eat 10 lbs. of it? You bet. Use some for spaghetti sauce, some for taco meat, and some for a casserole or two. With freezer cooking, you can use your favorite recipes to take advantage of sale and warehouse prices without dying of boredom.
Freezer cooking reduces the temptation to swing by your kids’ favorite fast-food joint or to take a shortcut with commercially prepared meals. You’re still getting a ready-to-go meal without having to shop and cook at the end of a busy day, but you get to control the nutritional content. Whether a family member has special dietary needs or you just prefer wholesome food, you decide what goes in the meals you serve.
Freezer cooking is now part of my routine. In fact, each May I get a little obsessive and fill up every inch of space in my freezer so that I don’t have to plan meals, cook, or — Heaven forbid — grocery shop while my kids are home for the summer. (Well, I do have to shop for perishables, but I try to save it for the weekends when I can leave them home with their dad.) This year I even had a few meals left over when school started.
If this all seems a little daunting, do a soft start. Next time you make your family’s favorite meal, triple the recipe and freeze two portions. The first time you go to the freezer and grab a delicious meal you don’t have to prepare from scratch, you’ll be hooked.
Have picky eaters? Don’t let that throw you. Check out my post on easy ways to accommodate their quirks.