Freezer cooking can be a great way meal prep, save money, and cut down on mealtime stress but you absolutely need a plan.
Freezer cooking is becoming more and more popular but it isn't as easy as it seems. Without a solid plan in place, a freezer cooking can easily become overwhelmed resulting in wasted time, money, and food.
The first time I set out to do a day of freezer meal prep - it was overwhelming. There were so many recipes, so many ingredients, I had no idea where to start. So I didn’t. That first time, I actually gave up. Ingredients were wasted and I continued to feel stressed about dinner.
Over the next few months, I was determined to master freezer cooking and finally figured out a system that works.
Today I want to share that with you. Using these tips will make it easier to get a freezer full of food ready to go!
1. Start Small and Choose A Manageable Amount of Meals
The biggest piece of advice I have for anyone starting to prepare freezer meals is to start small. While you may see someone who cooks 30 freezer meals in 2 hours, this just isn't realistic for most people.
Instead, start small and choose 4-6 recipes to start. It is better to spend a couple of hours every few weeks prepping freezer meals than trying to do too much, getting overwhelmed, and wasting time, food, and money on unused ingredients.
This also cuts down on the cost and you won't have to spend a large amount at one time when grocery shopping. Lastly, it prevents you from overpacking the freezer and ended up with wasted meals. Start slowly and see how many meals you actually use from the freezer.
2. Choose Ingredients That Overlap
When looking for freezer meals to cook, one of the best ways to cut down on prep time and save money is to choose recipes with overlapping ingredients. For example, if you choose multiple recipes that use chicken breast then you can save money buying chicken breast in bulk. The same is true for produce, beans, grains, spices, and more. This also speeds up the shopping process and cuts down on waste.
That's why the recipes in our freezer book are separated into five lists with similar ingredients. This makes prep work easier and more affordable.
3. Pick Meals That Make Life Easier
Before you begin picking recipes for your freezer cooking day, think about what recipes will be the most helpful meals for your family. Are you stressed in the morning and need grab-and-go breakfast recipes? Are nights packed with activities and you need a meal that will be ready in the slow cooker when you get home? Do you need lunches to take to work or school? Think about the meals that will work for your family.
Here are some of our favorite freezer recipes for each meal:
- Breakfast: Chocolate Banana Muffins, Baked Blueberry Oatmeal, Freezer Breakfast Burritos, Greek Yogurt Pancakes, or Frozen Oatmeal Cups.
- Lunch: Slow Cooker Lentil Soup, Asian Quinoa Stir Fry, Ranch Chickpea Burgers, Homemade Frozen Burritos, and Turkey Fajita Stuffed Zucchini.
- Dinner: Slow Cooker Taco Soup, Slow Cooker Tomato Balsamic Chicken, Chicken Fajita Casserole, Unstuffed Pepper Skillet, and Baked Zucchini Pasta.
- Snacks: Peanut Butter Oatmeal Bars, Chickpea Cookie Dough Bites, No Bake Brownie Bites, and Blueberry Lemon Frozen Yogurt Bark.
4. Write a Complete Grocery and Supply List
This may seem obvious, but the most common reason that a freezer cooking day fails is missing ingredients. Go through each recipe line by line and make a comprehensive grocery list, organized by section if possible. Then go through the list and shop in your own kitchen. What ingredients do you already have? Do you have enough of that ingredient?
If you will be shopping at more than one store, I also like to note where I will be purchasing each ingredient. This can also be a good time to check sales in grocery circulars if you are hoping to save money with your freezer plan.
5. Write Out a Cooking Plan
Although we devoted an entire article to how to schedule and plan your freezer cooking day, here are the basics:
- Ordering the recipes: Look at the prep times, cooking times, and cooking method for each recipe and make a plan for how to order each recipe. Normally I start with the recipe that takes the longest time to cook. Then while that cooks, I will prep the other recipes that require cooking. Then I move on to the recipes that don't need cooking. This helps to ensure I am never waiting while something cooks.
- Prep similar ingredients at the same time: Look across the recipes and prep similar ingredients at the same time. For example, if three recipes need minced garlic - do it all at the same time.
6. Prep the Day Before
One of the most common complaints we hear about freezer cooking is that it takes forever. Most of the time that's because someone is trying to shop, plan, and cook all in one day! Instead, you want to prep the day before. This prep should include:
- Grocery shopping: If possible, never grocery shop and cook the same day. Instead, shop the day before and get all your food organized for the cooking day. This should include checking your pantry, fridge, and freezer before shopping so you don't buy ingredients you already have. Also, make sure you have enough common pantry ingredients. For example, you may have oatmeal but do you have enough for a doubled or tripled recipe. There is nothing worse than running out of ingredients in the middle of cooking.
- Organize your cooking supplies and storage: Get all your cooking supplies ready to go the day before cooking. This includes making sure you have enough containers to store the freezer food, as well as cooking tools. Do you have enough baking sheets to cook efficiently? Are you cooking lots of slow cooker dishes - could you borrow a slow cooker from a neighbor to speed up the process?
- Go over cooking plan: Go over your cooking plan to make sure everything is ready to go. Sometimes I will do some prep work the night before to speed things up the next day. This might include chopping veggies, measuring grains or spices, or preparing proteins.
7. Label Everything and Make Lists
There is nothing worse than filling up your freezer with beautiful meals that don't get used. There are two key reasons that freezer meals don't get cooked. The first is that the food isn't labeled with the recipe name, date, and cooking instructions. You may think you will remember, but trust me, it's so easy to forget! The second most common reason is that people forget about what's in the freezer, forget to defrost it, and let it go to waste. Here's how to overcome these two common pitfalls:
- Label everything: When I make freezer meals, I print out labels for everything. It includes the name of the recipe, date it was prepared, and then cooking instructions. If you don't want to print, just write in sharpie right on the freezer bag. Trust me - this step is easy to overlook but critical to success. Make sure to write the cooking instructions right on the bag! This includes whether the recipe needs to be defrosted or can be prepared from frozen.
- Keep a running list of meals: Keep a list of the freezer meals on your phone or taped to the fridge. Then plan for those meals every week while you are meal planning. Normally I take a look at the list when I am meal planning and choose freezer meals for our busiest nights. Then I add a reminder in my phone to take out anything that needs to be defrosted in advance. I can't tell you how many times I have forgotten to defrost a freezer meal when I don't have a reminder set.