Our first baby is due in only a few weeks, and while both my husband and I pray Baby doesn’t make too early an appearance as we rush to both meet essay deadlines, we are also very excited to meet our little one, and it somehow feels like the birth cannot come quick enough!
As I start to waddle more and swell up in the heat, I am finding sleep difficult and the last few weeks exhausting. The regular wiggles as Baby reminds us of his/her presence makes it all worth it, but I am starting to struggle with my low energy levels, and although I had prepped a little from last month’s shop, the week ahead is all about freezer cooking for me so that I don’t have to worry so much about further exhaustion when our baby arrives.
I know people who do a month’s worth of freezer cooking as a big day event, but while I have the time and am too tired to do a whole day’s worth of prepping and cooking, I intend to spread the process out over a few days instead.
Well, my intention is to complete enough meals for about 6 weeks. Our freezer is quite small, so it is possible that I may not get to quite that much due to space, but I know that a month’s worth fits, so I am aiming for at least that! Along with help from friends and family, and a relaxed take-out rule while baby is still little, it should keep us going…
I have picked out some of our family favourites that are easy to make and freeze well. I love trying out new dishes, but this is just not the time to do it! So the meals for the month – 6 weeks are:
Mac & Cheese with Spinach & Sweet Potato x4
Vegetable Crumble x4 (one of our family favourites from this wonderful book – only £0.01 used!)
Chicken & Bean Enchiladas x5 (these will actually be pork, as the deal at the supermarket was much better on pork!)
Chilli con Carne and/or Pork dish (with leftover pork that wasn’t used in enchiladas) x6
I have also already frozen some soups and will freeze some sausages and homemade hotdog buns for lunches, as well as various other options (savoury muffins, homemade bread, raw veg and houmous, etc). And there are a few breakfast options for when we want something more than cereals if I have the time to do them, too:
Baked French Toast (from one of my go-to ebooks for healthy, wholefoods recipes: Real Food for the Real Homemaker) – I made enough of this last month to see us through!
Baked Oatmeal (I’m not usually a fan of baked oatmeal, but I love this one, served warm with milk, cream or homemade yogurt)
I have already made and frozen a carrot cake and some cookies and have made a big gingerbread cake to freeze as well so we’ll have homemade treats available too.
Ambitious, perhaps. And maybe it will not all get done or all fit, but so far it is going well.
Once I’ve selected the recipes, and bought the ingredients, there are a series of simple steps:
1. Prepping the ingredients: if you are planning on doing several different dishes in one day, it is easiest to prep across dishes. So, for example, if several of your meals require sliced onions and peppers, it is easier to slice them all in one go than to keep going back for each recipe. Or if you are doing a couple of mince dishes that require browning the meat, do it all in one pan (if you have one big enough!). This also usually means less washing up – win/win! 🙂
2. Following instructions to a suitable point for freezing: This varies from dish to dish. It is when I am most grateful for the best buy I ever made for my kitchen – my slow cooker. Slow cooker dishes are extra easy, as all you usually have to do is prep the veg and brown the meat, then place all the ingredients in serving sizes in freezer bags and you’re ready to go! On the day you want them, you can take the ingredients out and dump them in the slow cooker, and you’re done. 🙂 I have deliberately chosen a couple of dishes for this month that are slow cooker ones (tagine and chilli) for that very reason.
Of course, you may not have a slow cooker, or be making some dishes that are not suitable for one. In these cases, I follow the recipe to a logical point for freezing. It can depend on how much you want to be doing on either end – are you willing to do more prep on your freezer cooking day, perhaps even to the end of a recipe, in order to be able to do less once you defrost? For example, right now I would rather not just make the meatballs, but cook them fully and freeze them in servings with the sauce, ready-made. If I wanted to do less prep and a little more after defrosting, however, I could freeze them on a tray raw, and then put them in freezer bags and freeze some sauce separately to be cooked and assembled when defrosted…
Some dishes I have chosen, such as shrimp & grits or mac & cheese, I deliberately picked because you have minimal prep to do (if any), and they are quick to assemble and cook when you want them. I can freeze some homemade cheese sauce and cooked shrimp, stock some polenta/cornflour and pasta in my cupboard, and I am pretty much ready to go!
3. Freeze in appropriate portions and label clearly: I have tried many different freezing methods, and find that buying tin foil trays and freezer bags tends to work best for us, as it allows us to freeze smaller portions for just the two of us. This means I don’t end up overstocking the freezer and forgetting what’s in there. It’s also easier to write on them what the dish is, when it was frozen, and any simple instructions that may need to be included. I haven’t always done this, convinced I would remember what was in them, but it’s amazing how quickly you forget!
4. Have a meal plan, or at least a rough idea of what to serve when: I usually do this at the planning stage before buying ingredients, but it can also be done here. I used to think I could just do the right amount of meals and pull them out as we needed them, but it would result in the inevitable forgetting to defrost things properly by not thinking of it in advance, or in forgetting what was still in the freezer, etc. Things may change, but having at least a rough idea or order of what to eat when makes life so much easier in the long run!
So that’s it!
Freezer cooking is a wonderful way to ensure you get healthy homemade food for your family without it taking a lot of time daily. Whether you do it over one day, or cook double/triple batches during the first week to freeze for the following week(s), or whether you have the time to spread it over a few days, it is a great way to cook on a monthly/fortnightly basis, as well as an excellent method of prepping for life’s big changes (like moving or a new baby).
I’m off to make some chilli, but if you would like to learn more about freezer cooking from some more knowledgeable sources, check out some of the links below. 🙂
And check out my “Freezer Cooking” Pinterest board for some inspiration!