Caleb Harris is the master of the “freezer meal”. He shares what he has learned!
Though not a new concept, freezer meals have been the Pinterest rage for a while now, and they lured me in. I handle most of the cooking in our house, so anything that might ease that nightly burden when law school started had my attention.
It didn’t take much consideration to decide this was something I needed to do before school started. Between law school, a toddler, Callee working full-time and breastfeeding the newborn, cooking was the last thing I wanted to have to worry about in the evenings. So I did, and I’m going to keep doing it. If you’re thinking about it, here’s some things I learned:
- Don’t buy the hype. Sure, you can make 100 freezer meals in 5 hours. If you don’t count the cleaning, planning, shopping, and have 5 friends to help you. All things considered, I spent about 25 hours getting the meals together, which is still a huge time savings in the big picture – but a lot longer than an afternoon. Also, what is a meal? What I cooked would have been about 250 meals when I was single. But now with two adults and a toddler, we’ll get about 120 meals out of what I cooked. Whereas my Mom, with 6 mouths to feed, would probably only get about 40 meals out of what I cooked. Something to keep in mind.
- Dedicate and set-up a work area before you begin. The last thing you want to do is have your work scattered all over the kitchen, or constantly be looking for spices or measuring spoons after you get started. The first thing I did was put the leaf in our kitchen table and set up a folding table near by (technically the first thing was cleaning all of the clutter out of the kitchen.. but that’s a different story). Then I set out everything I would need, knife block, cutting boards, measuring cups and spoons, spices, wax paper, butcher paper, freezer bags, etc.. getting set up before I started was a big help.
- Dedicate supplies for raw meat. A little bit of food poisoning paranoia is a good thing when you’re dealing with food, especially when you’re handling a lot of food all day long. Meat is one of the most common culprits for food poisoning, so it’s important to wash anything that raw meat touches before anything else goes on it. I dedicated a knife, cutting board, and two steel bowls for raw meat; I washed them after every round of having raw meat on them. Having only four items dedicated to raw meat made preventing cross-contamination easy and simple.
- Batch the prep work. “Batching” is a time management principle, the idea is that it’s faster to do repetitive tasks all at once and cut out the transition time. It’s even simpler than it sounds. Basically, before I got started I diced 5lbs of onions in one go, trimmed all the meat in one go, etc. Once the prep work was done, I would cook meals in in the largest batch that my cookware would allow, and then portion it out to “meal” sized quantities.
- Crockpot meals are the fastest to assemble. The crockpot meals I prepared took about half the time to make as compared to the heat and eat meals. Since none of the ingredients in the crockpot meals have to be cooked before freezing, there’s no cooking or cooling time, just bag and freeze.
- Buy some print and stick labels. This is way easier than writing the name, date and directions on everything. If that doesn’t work for you though, make sure you write on baggies before you fill them.
- Invest in proper supplies. It’s best to have a combination of large bowls and pots to mix and cook in,with some moderate sized pans for items that’ll need to be cooled before freezing. Working alone, all I needed was enough to have one meal cooling while I was cooking the next one. Also essential is a kitchen scale, it’s hard to have even portions and consistent meals without one.
- It really is cheaper. The food for all my meals was about $200, which comes out to just under $1 a serving. That said, the actually cost was closer to $300 when I add the full cost of things that weren’t entirely consumed, like bulk spices and extra pans. That still isn’t bad at just over $1 a serving, and means less stuff to buy next time around.
- It’s worth the effort. I made our freezer meals about a month ago, and between law school, Callee working full-time, and two kids, they’ve been a lifesaver. Since school started, there’s only been two weekday evenings we were able to cook a full meal. Being able to just pull something out of the freezer that is nutritious, tasty, and not full of preservatives has saved us a lot of stress.
A Google or Pinterest search will yield all kinds of freezer recipes, but I ended up getting a lot of mine from onehundreddollarsamonth.com. I recommend checking them out if you’re serious about loading up a freezer with meals.
Top image: Flickr/Asma