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Check out Post #1 of this series here.
So many of you have given me such great feedback since I’ve started talking about meal planning and make-ahead freezer meals. If you can’t tell, I’m kind of enthusiastic about this subject, so I can’t begin tell you how happy this makes me! Yet, there’s probably just as many if not more of you out there that are still not convinced. That’s okay! You’re reading this post so that tells me you at least want to know more. Maybe you’ve just had a bad experience in the past, maybe the meals you’ve seen just don’t sound tasty, or maybe your concerned that you just don’t have enough time in the day to make this work. I can help you with all of these things! Why do I want to help you? Well, because you guys are awesome! You come here, you read my blog, you make my recipes and you give me feedback. You make this job fun!! Of course, maybe you are new here? That’s great! I’m so happy to have you and I want you to stick around. I’ve been in your shoes, I struggled to get dinner on the table and I’ve invested my time into solving dinner dilemmas so that I can help you too.
Let’s talk today about the two biggest questions about this meal planning stuff that I know are on your mind:
- Can I really make meals ahead of time, freeze them, thaw them, slow cook them and still have them taste great?
- When I’m looking for recipes to use, how do I know what foods will freeze well, what I have to do to them before freezing and what I should avoid freezing so I don’t ruin my meal?
To address question no. 1 – the answer is YES! Want a few examples? These are meals that I have made ahead of time, thawed and slow cooked and, yes, they were delicious! I’ve tested hundreds of recipes to figure out what works! I’ve personally created all of these recipes based on all the things I have learned to make sure they turn into meals I’m excited to serve my family. If I’m not excited about them, how could I expect anyone else to be?
These look great, right? You would eat these meals, wouldn’t you? Throw out any preconceived notions about what freezer meals are and start making them work for your family! So to answer question no. 2:
- Foods that freeze well:
- Whole chunks of meat – like chicken breasts, whole chickens, roasts, pork chops, etc.
- Veggies without a lot of water content – carrots, corn, green beans, peppers, etc.
- Dairy – to an extent – shredded cheese, cubed cream cheese
- Canned items – beans, diced tomatoes and tomato sauces, fruits
- Spices – go ahead and add in your dried spices to your freezer bag meal, it will save you time later
- Foods that don’t freeze well:
- Potatoes – sometimes it works and sometimes they turn a gross black color
- Other dairy items – sour cream, heavy cream, milk (they may technically freeze okay but the texture will change so I don’t generally recommend)
- Ground meats – when you are going to use it as part of your freezer meal I recommend cooking ahead of time
- Veggies with high water content (things like zucchini or spinach) – they can be included in freezer meals but can’t be a main component of the dish or it will just end up mushy
- How to freeze these meals:
- I love to used zippered bags especially made for the freezer. As long as you follow the steps below to remove the air, your meal should last 2-3 months in the freezer
- You need to remove as much of the air as possible. Of course it would be great to have a vacuum sealer but you can also do this by hand by closing the bag most of the way and they rolling it up to squeeze out any extra air.
- This may seem obvious, but don’t forget to label your bag. Things can all start to look the same when they’re frozen.
- And a few other tips:
- Wait and add broth at cooking time. It saves space in your freezer bag, is easy to store in the pantry and keeps your meals from getting freezer burnt as quickly.
- Always thaw the food before slow cooking. If not, you risk the food not coming to the proper temperature in those first few hours and end up risking the growth of bacteria, etc. Yuck! Not worth it!
- Add things like milk, cream and sour cream toward the end of cooking. It will keep it from getting that weird separated texture.
Okay, so these are just a few tips to get you started. Next we will talk about how to choose recipes that will work for you!
Does this all seem like a lot of work? It does take some time to get it all planned out but it’s totally worth it when you can come home to a slow cooked meal.
For help with this and plenty of other tips on meal planning, be sure to check out my site, Garnished Plate!