If the idea of Freezer Meals both intrigues and terrifies you, then this post is for you.
Preparing freezer meals is a great way to help you find balance between teacher/work life and whatever your real life looks like. For me, preparing freezer meals means that I get to enjoy my kids in the afternoons. For others, it might mean eating real food instead of another box of mac and cheese (#nojudgement, boxed mac and cheese is delicious!) or finding time to squeeze in a workout. Or taking a nap.
Bottom line: if you want to reclaim some time in your life, throwing a freezer meal fiesta is a great way to do it. In this post, I've got a menu, recipes, a shopping list, and step by step instructions to help you pull it off!
PLAN YOUR FREEZER MEAL FIESTA
In Alaska, some of my best mom friends got together regularly to make massive batches of freezer meals. It all sounds dreamy, but in reality it's a huge, super-daunting undertaking that can easily leave you sweating, smelly, and mad...but with ready to cook meals.
My friend Alana and I made freezer meals over her Winter Break! (NOT Spring Break....wishful thinking....)
As you probably are aware, I am a *little* obsessed with lesson planning. It is my favorite pastime. So while I typically channel my passion toward writing Spanish materials (and a few French ones), I've found that planning Freezer Meal Parties is just as gratifying.
Today I am going to share my most recent Freezer Meal Fiesta lesson plan with you!
10 DUMP AND GO FREEZER MEALS
All 10 recipes that you are going to make require ZERO pre-cooking: no need to brown meat, cook noodles, etc. These are "Dump and Go" meals, and they are the easiest to prepare for freezing.
STEP 1: REVIEW THE RECIPES
First, look over these recipes. I have cooked all of these and like them! Make sure that you think you would like all of them, and consider whether you might need to make adaptations for dietary restrictions. If the recipe isn't linked here, it's because I don't remember where it came from...but you can find the full recipe in the directions file below!
- Creole Chicken and Sausage - a gumbo-y dish that can be eaten as a stew or served over rice (Note: you can usually find andouille or other spicy chicken sausage to sub if you, like us, don't eat pork)
- Chicken Fajitas - the filling for fajitas
- Beef Ragu - a flank steak red sauce to serve over pasta
- Wild Rice Soup - eliminate the chicken to make it vegetarian. This soup is VERY mushroom-y. I'm not sure how it would turn out if you want to eliminate mushrooms...but you could try!
- Mongolian Beef - Stew meat in an Asian sauce that is served over rice, probably with broccoli added
- Chicken Curry - Chicken in a lightly spiced curry sauce, to serve over rice
- Cafe Río Chicken - Yummy in chicken tacos or with rice on the side
- Barbacoa Beef - A super flavorful roast that packs some heat!
- Beef Burgundy - Stew meat (and carrots) in a traditional stew sauce to serve over egg noodles
- Tandoori Chicken - Melt in your mouth Indian-spiced chicken thighs
STEP 2: MAKE YOUR SHOPPING LIST
Today is your lucky day, because I have already done this for you! If you are planning to cook all 10 meals, you don't need to do anything--just print and go.
If you want to make doubles of any of the meals OR if you do not plan to make some of the meals above, then you'll need to modify the shopping list a bit. Just find the column for the recipe that you want to double or eliminate, see which ingredients are required, and then modify the totals for those quantities in the shopping list (found in the far left column). You probably have some of the ingredients in your pantry already (the spices, for example), and you won't need to buy them--just make sure that you have enough at home before you take it off the list! Click here to print or modify.
Notice that items marked with an *asterisk are items that you don't need for prep day; you'll need them for serving. You might choose to get some of them now, but some of the fresh items you'll want to hold off on.
STEP 3: GO SHOPPING
Plan ahead to get a good price on your ingredients
This menu is pretty chicken-heavy, so if you have flexibility in your freezer meal fiesta date, wait until chicken breasts are on sale. Fresh are definitely better than frozen, since you'd be re-freezing them!
It's best to work with a fresh roast for the Barbacoa beef, but it's okay if the flank steak and stew meat for those recipes are already frozen when you prep your meals; the sauces and seasonings soak into them pretty well even if they are frozen when you prep the meals. You could grab those when they're on sale and pop them in the freezer until fiesta day.
Stock up on your dry goods when they are on sale!
OR....if you're like me, you see a window of opportunity that you haven't planned for, and you just make one monster shopping trip and hope for the best at checkout.
Freezer meal shopping tips for anyone with young kids
If you are bringing kids with you, go shopping right after breakfast! The stores are less crowded and your kids are probably at their best. I almost always shop with my four youngest in tow, and they like helping me find ingredients--or at least fetching them from the shelves after I've found them. I usually let them pick out a treat for good behavior (a pack of index cards, $.99 Memo pads, crayons, or stickers from the Office Supplies section are usually a little spendier than candy, but those are our favorites). If you have babies that need to ride in the cart, you might want to wait and go shopping when you don't have to bring the kids because you will need your cart space!
STEP 4: PREP YOUR BAGS
Once you've got all your ingredients in the house and sorted out by type so that you can find them easily, grab your freezer bags and your marker and label each bag for the freezer. Click here to access the recipe cards and directions. I wrote instructions for Slow Cooker cook times, so if you use an InstaPot's Pressure Cooker setting, adjust the cook times accordingly.
I recommend printing out this document so that you don't have to have your computer, phone, or tablet out and at risk of getting slapped with a slab of raw meat ;-). The document includes the full recipes as well as instructions for prep day and cook day.
STEP 5: CHOP
Chop all your veg! As you chop and/or slice the vegetables needed for each recipe, pop them in the labeled bag.
STEP 6: DUMP
Now, go through each recipe and put the remaining ingredients –except the meat– in each bag. The only exception is the Wild Rice soup; hold off on adding the broth until after the meat is added so that it doesn't spill and flood your kitchen (speaking from experience!).
STEP 7: MEAT
Deal with all the meat at once to minimize contamination. Trim the fat off your roast for the Barbacoa Beef, cut the flank steak into four chunks, and plop everything into the designated bag. Seal each bag when the meat is in it!
STEP 8: DOCUMENT
Now that you have 10 meals in front of you, ready to go, the only logical thing to do before popping them in the freezer is to put them all together and take a photo to show the world how excited you are about what you have accomplished today!
STEP 9: FREEZE
Remember to get your meals in the freezer...or in a friend's freezer if yours isn't big enough to hold your bounty.
STEP 10: LIVE YOUR LIFE
The best step of all! Enjoy eating home cooked meals without slaving over the stove!