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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
* 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!!