Introduction: Months of Meals - Preparing for a Baby (or Any Time You'll Want to Eat But Won't Want to Cook...)
With a baby on the way I've been stocking up our freezers with an assortment of home cooked, healthy meals. From what I hear, I probably won't have much extra time in my days to think through what to make for dinner, shop for ingredients, prep and cook each night. So I've done that work ahead of time so that when our little one arrives we won't have to worry about what we're going to eat and won't have to constantly run out to the grocery store.
Although I've been prepping meals in advance of a baby, there are all sorts of situations where you might want to take a similar extreme advanced planning meal approach... times when you'll have extended stay visitors and would rather spend time with them than in the kitchen, before a surgery, in advance of hectic periods of your schedule, or even just as a way of saving money by taking advantage of grocery sales! Freezer meals also make great gifts for friends and family who have other things to focus on than cooking!
I've been focused on building a supply of meals with plenty of variety: quick meals I can eat with one hand, individual portions of comfort foods, lunch and dinner portions for two, and larger meals for when visitors come by to meet the new addition. Of course I've also made sure to cover breakfasts, lunches and dinners in my meal prep work.
I started preparing meals one month before baby's due date. So far we're one week past that date and STILL waiting for baby, so I've managed to get an extra week of food prep in so far!! There's absolutely no room left in either freezer, so I think that means my food prep work is done! This has been a really easy and gratifying process - I love seeing our freezers stocked up with tons of delicious choices!!
Step 1: Plan the Types of Meals You Will Make
Before getting started cooking I researched the types of foods that would freeze and reheat well. Fortunately, there are lots of options for delicious meals you can make and freeze In advance! Unfortunately, potatoes and cream sauces are not the best opinions, so I chose recipes that weren't cream sauce based and also avoided potatoes; it's probably healthier this way, but that's of little consolation...
It's also important to consider the date you'll start preparing your meals and the date you'll need them to last through. Some foods freeze well for several months, while others only do well for about a month or less frozen. I tried to stick with meals that would hold up well in the freezer for 3 months.
Overall, the meals I prepped fit into the following categories:
- Grab and Go Breakfasts
- Lunch Sandwiches
- Slow Cooker Meals
- Family Favorites (meatballs, chili, Salisbury steak)
Step 2: Gather Supplies
(1) Containers to freeze foods in. I used a combination of:
- Glass Storage Containers
- Canning Jars
- Disposable Aluminum Pans
- Tin Foil
- Plastic Wrap
- Plastic Freezer Bags
* Lots of people freeze their foods directly in plastic freezer bags. Whenever possible I avoid storing my food directly in plastic, opting instead to use it primarily as an outer layer of extra freezer protection.
* Also consider the portion sizes you'll want to store your food in when deciding what types of storage containers will work best for you!
(2) Recipes!! Gather up your personal favorites, or search online for some exciting new options!!
(3) Groceries - For me, I've been gradually adding to my freezer stash for the past five weeks. This has been the right pace for me. You might be crazy ambitious and want to do all your cooking and freezer prep work in one massive batch, but that wasn't my approach. Before you clear out the grocery store, be realistic about when you'll do your cooking and only buy supplies for the meals you'll prep right away. You won't save any money letting a massive stockpile of food slowly go bad in the fridge.
Step 3: Grab and Go Breakfasts
30 Breakfast Meals in No Time!!
I focused mainly on breakfast sandwiches and smoothies. Pancakes and waffles are also great choices to make in advance and freeze. I would make a huge batch of pancakes if I had any freezer space remaining!
**BREAKFAST SANDWICHES ABD BURRITOS**
- Baked a big pan of eggs. I used a dozen eggs whisked with a cup of milk and baked at 375F for about 30 minutes.
- While my eggs baked, I cooked my meats (bacon, sausage).
- Set up an assembly line of supplies: aluminum foil squares for sandwiches, English muffin on each square (or flour tortilla for the burritos), get your cheese out and ready...
- When the eggs were done, I used an upside down drinking glass about the same size as my English Muffins to cut egg circles. (Hint: the extra eggs after cutting out circles work perfectly in breakfast burritos!!)
- Placed an egg circle on each muffin, added meat and cheese and muffin top
- Wrapped muffin in aluminum foil
- Labeled a plastic freezer bag and placed 4 individually wrapped muffins in each bag
- Froze bags of muffins/burritos
When you're ready to eat a sandwich, simply take one out and heat it in your microwave for ~2 min, or toaster oven / oven for ~15 min.
Through this process, I made...
8 - Bacon, Egg & Cheese English muffins
3 - Ham, Egg & Cheese Burritos
7 - Sausage, Egg & Cheese burritos
4 - Ham Egg and Cheese English Muffins
2 - Egg and Cheese English muffins
Did you know you can make smoothies in advance and freeze them?! I did not know this, but it's true! They're good and you can make lots of them at once and clean your blender out one time vs. daily!! Woo hoo!!
I made 6 smoothies and stored them in glass containers. You could make your smoothies with whatever you want, here are the ingredients I used: yogurt, milk, apple juice, kale, chia seeds, apple, banana, blueberry.
The trick to freezer smoothies is to make them, pour into your storage containers and then put them in the fridge for at least 4 hours BEFORE putting in your freezer.
You do need to thaw a smoothie slightly before you eat it. You can move one to the fridge from the freezer the night before or thaw in cold water if you need it sooner!
I made 6 smoothies through this process.
Step 4: Lunch Sandwiches
Hot sandwiches are the perfect addition to a freezer stockpile! And they're something you can eat with one hand and are easy to eat on the go!
Really you should customize these to your liking. I kept them very simple, just meat and cheese on a bun. We can add condiments when we heat them up.
The process is very similar to the breakfast sandwiches. Spread any condiments you want onto your bun (or don't, and add these when you're ready to eat), add your meat, add your cheese and wrap the sandwich in its foil. Label the outside of the foil with the sandwich contents and also label a plastic freezer bag. I bagged my sandwiches 4 to a bag. Then freeze -that's it!
When you're ready to eat, microwave for ~2 minutes, or place in the toaster oven or oven for ~12-15 minutes and you'll have a delicious hot sandwich!
I followed this process to make:
10 - ham & cheddar sandwiches
6 - roast beef & provolone sandwiches
Step 5: Stews
Stews freeze exceptionally well and really retain their flavor when reheated. I made a few different options from recipes I found online that noted they freeze well. If you have a favorite stew recipe, make a great big batch of it and divide it out into containers portioned for what your family eats in a meal; freeze it and reheat it when you're your ready for an easy no effort home cooked meal!
I followed the following recipes to make my freezer meals:
- Made 3 freezer packages each with 2 servings of Sunday Stew (recipe from The Pioneer Woman)
- Made 4 freezer packages with 1 serving each of Hungarian Meatball Stew (recipe from Rachel Ray)
- Made 2 freezer packages with 3 servings each of Braised Beef with Sweet Potatoes (recipe from Real Simple)
Step 6: Casseroles
It wouldn't be freezer cooking without a couple casseroles! Casseroles are classic freezer staples because they freeze and reheat really well. Make a couple pans of you favorite lasagna recipe or pretty much any other pasta dish and stash them away in your freezer for a low effort meal!
I made 2 trays of Lasagna Primavera, each with about 8 servings. These will be perfect to pop in the oven for visitors! I used the following recipe from Martha Stewart. I haven't tried this yet, but it looked and smelled delicious while prepping!
I also made 4 containers with about 3-4 servings per container of Baked Ziti, using our favorite recipe from The Pioneer Woman:
Step 7: Slow Cooker Meals
For fresh cooked food straight from your freezer, slow cooker meals are an excellent option. Basically, you package together the ingredients of your slow cooker recipe and freeze them. The night before you want to prepare your easy home cooked meal, defrost them in your fridge. In the morning dump the ingredients into your slow cooker and cook! The benefit is you have all the prep work done (ingredients gathered, vegetables and meats prepped, spices added, etc) and all you have to do is let your slow cooker do the rest of the work! These meals come out tasting like you slaved away in the kitchen all day! These meals are a great option for when you'll have visitors over or when you just want an extra special dinner!
I have the following slow cooker meals prepped and ready for a fresh from the freezer meal:
Crock Pot Mongolian beef (approximately 4 servings)
Honey Teriyaki Chicken (approximately 6 servings)
Salsa Chicken (approximately 6 servings)
Crockpot beef vegetable soup (approximately 6 servings)
Spiced Braised Beef with Sweet Potatoes (approximately 6 servings)
Step 8: Family Favorites
I also wanted to be sure we had plenty of small portions of our family staples frozen and ready to be reheated. Think about your standby meals and how they'll hold up when frozen and reheated to customize these options with what will work best for you.
Chili: I made a big pot and divvied it into 6 freezer containers with about 2 servings each
Meatballs: I filled 5 freezer containers each packed with 2-3 servings
Chicken Pot Pies in Pocket form (for easy eating on the go): I made 11 pockets
Sloppy Joes: I made 3 containers each with 5-6 servings
Salisbury Steaks: I made 6 "steaks" and packaged in 3 freezer packages of 2 steaks each
Step 9: Side Dishes and Things Necessary to Serve Your Meals
Finally, don't forget to stock up on side dishes and anything else you may need to accompany your freezer meals!
I added several packages of buns to my freezer supply (so we have something to put all that sloppy joe meat on). I also bought some loaves of frozen garlic bread to go with our Baked Ziti and Lasagna Primavera. In addition, I made sure we have several bags of frozen vegetables to use as sides. I also made sure our pantry supply includes enough pasta for all those yummy meatballs, and other grain choices like Quinoa, rice and couscous.
Step 10: Tips for Freezing
* Package your freezer meals leaving as little air as possible in the container.
* Remember water expands when frozen!! This is especially important when freezing meals in glass!! So when freezing a meal in glass containers, leave head room of about 1" in the jar before freezing, this will ensure you don't open your freezer to see a cracked glass and a meal you worked on destroyed...
* Never put hot meals straight into the freezer (again, super critical when freezing in glass, and a good best practice no matter what type of container you are freezing in).
* Always label your meals before freezing so you know what everything is. Include instructions on reheating, suggestions for side dishes or any ingredients to add when cooking or reheating.
* Make double or triple whatever you're cooking for dinner and freeze the rest for an easy way to build up your freezer stockpile!!
* Look for sales on meats or vegetables you eat regularly and stock up then! Use these opportunities to prepare several portions of your favorites!
* Keep notes on the recipes you used. As you heat your meals and serve them, add to your notes your own rating of the meal and any adjustments you'd incorporate if you prepared that meal again. This way, over time, you'll develop your own twists on recipes and a staple supply of your own freezer meal personal favorites!
I hope this Instructable gave you some ideas for how you might stock up your own freezer in advance of a big event!! It was such an easy process, this just might become my new approach to cooking all the time!!