Getting Started with Meal Planning & Freezer Meals

Lifestyle

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Life gets busy and a lot of times that results in sacrificing nutritious, home-cooked meals. When we were stuck at home during the COVID-19 lockdown, I realized how exhausting it was to cook every single night. It also made me realize how much we leaned on take out and leftovers to feed us on the nights we were too tired or too busy to cook. Take out adds up fast and it was totally killing our monthly food budget. So, in 2022 I decided to figure out a system that would help us get better food in our belly’s without breaking the bank.

Where to begin

I came across an amazing post by Sweet Peas and Saffron sharing freezer meal do’s and don’ts. This is a great place to start and helped me learn how to make meals that weren’t specifically labeled “freezer” or “make ahead” as a freezer meal.

Some food items don’t freeze as well as others. Some recipes are best if fully cooked before frozen. Some containers fare better than others. There’s lots to learn and each time I do this I’m able to improve my process a little bit.

You certainly don’t need to go out and buy all new sets of glass tupperware and reusable silicone bags. Start with what you have and, as you refine your process, you can add items that will save you money over time and streamline preparations.

Another great reference is Emily Ley’s A Simplified Life book. She goes into more than just meal planning in the book, but I learned a lot from her approach to weekly meal planning and have tried to carry some of that into our weekly routines, too.

A few of my favorite containers if you’re adding to your collection:

  • Glass tupperware (Always be sure to cool before freezing and thaw before baking to avoid breakage)
  • Silicone storage bags (These are dishwasher safe, but we hand wash to avoid that lingering detergent smell)
  • Metal 9×13 pan
  • Canning jars (Be sure any glass jars you use are “preserving and canning” quality, which are freezer safe)

Finding recipes

I hadn’t really done this type of meal planning before, so I started by searching for “make ahead meals” or “freezer meal recipes” and by filtering through some of our favorite blogs for recommendations: Sweet Peas and Saffron, Half-Baked Harvest, Serious Eats and Gimme Some Oven.

There are a ton of blogs out there with round ups of 50+ meals you can make ahead and freeze. It’s definitely trial and error. Each time we do this we discover more favorites, but there are plenty along the way we’ve decided we won’t make again. I always make a handful of favorites and sprinkle in one or two new recipes to try so we can continue to grow our list of go-tos.

Pro tip: Mix up cookie dough and freeze for emergency cookie needs. This is one of my favorite hacks to date!

Some of our go-to freezer meals (and dessert because that’s important, too!):

Is it worth it?

For us, yes! I do freezer meal prep about once every ~3 months now. Most freezer meals taste best if eaten within 3 months and that’s about all our freezer has room for, anyway. These meals are really just intended to fill in on the days we’re not able (or willing) to cook a meal from scratch. Nothing beats a fresh cooked meal, so we’re not trying to replace, just supplement.

I try to select recipes that have ingredient crossover so I can buy some items in bulk and maximize produce. It kind of becomes a fun challenge – how cost effective can I be with this quarter’s meal prep? The more we save here, the more we’re able to shift budget into other buckets!

When we take the stress of “what’s for dinner?” off our figurative plate, day-to-day tends to go a little more smoothly and, to me, that is priceless!

We hope you find these tips helpful! Enjoy perusing some of our favorite blogs to learn more about freezer meal planning and discover some new go-to recipes (for the freezer or made fresh!)

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