New moms and busy moms need plenty of food in their freezer for those days when you just can’t spend much time in the kitchen. I prepared a collection of my recipes that would make great freezer meals, as well as some tips for freezing meals.
So many of my readers ask me if some of my recipes can be frozen or, more importantly, HOW they can be frozen. I used to have the same answer, “I’m sorry but I’m not much help in this department because I don’t normally freeze meals.” That was a very honest answer because I truly never had the need to freeze meals.
Oh, how the tides change! Now, being in my third trimester of pregnancy, I definitely had to start thinking of prepping some freezer meals to make sure that we are not starving the first few weeks after little miss makes her appearance. I needed to learn everything I could about freezing food and find the best recipes to prepare. So, over the last few months, I’ve been reading and learning about freezing meals, how to do it properly, and what are the best recipes to freeze. My freezer is now pretty well stocked and I’d like to share everything I’ve learned and prepared with you.
Before I started freezing every delicious recipes that came to mind, I had to figure out the proper ways to freeze prepared food, the proper containers to use, and of course, which recipes stand up best to freezing. I think that figuring out which recipes are the best suited for freezing was the most surprising to me. There are some things that are perfect for freezing and some that are better not.
What to use to freeze meals:
The two best containers to use for freezing meals are freezer ziploc bags and aluminum baking pans. When choosing freezer bags, it is highly recommended that you NOT use the slider-close bags. The main reason why the slider-close bags are not recommended is because there is much more chance for air getting into the bag and you want to avoid that.
The best recipes to freeze in the freezer bags are soups, stews, chilies, prepared chicken, marinated raw chicken or burgers, prepared or raw meatballs, and crock pot freezer meals. When using freezer bags, make sure to remove as much air as possible before freezing. Remember not to fill the bags all the way when freezing liquids because liquids expand when frozen.
Aluminum baking pans are best to be used for casseroles and enchiladas. Freeze prepped casseroles and enchiladas up to the point before baking. So, cook your ingredients and put them together in the pan right up until the baking step of the recipe and instead of baking it, freeze it. Make sure to wrap the container as tightly as possible.
Whether you are using a freezer bag or another container, break up the dish into smaller servings and use smaller bags and containers when possible, so that the content of the container will freezes faster. The faster it cools and freezes, the less chance for developing bacteria and subsequently, longer shelf life.
Things to consider before freezing:
Before freezing your cooked meals, it is important to COOL them and do it as fast as possible. The best way to cool cooked dishes is to place them into a larger container filled with ice. To help soups cool faster and evenly, make sure to stir it from time to time as it cools.
Once the dish cools, portion it into smaller containers or bags and remember to LABEL the content and date it was prepared. When your freezer it full of food, it is very easy to get lost among older meals and newer meals. It is also important to know the date it was prepared, so you don’t go over the recommended shelf life.
Thawing frozen meals:
The BEST way to thaw frozen meals, and the only way that I will recommend, is overnight in the refrigerator. Thawing frozen foods at a slow and cool temperature will prevent bacteria growth, which makes it the safest way to thaw prepared food.
After the meals have been thawed, you can simply bake them, if it is a casserole, or transfer into an air-tight food storage container and heat as needed, like soups, chilies, and stews.
Shelf life for commonly frozen foods:
Tomato/vegetable sauces: 6 months
Meatloaf (any type of meat): 6 months
Soups and stews: 2-3 months
Poultry and Meat Casseroles: 6 months
Cooked poultry (no gravy): 3 months
Cooked poultry (with gravy/sauce): 5-6 months
Meatballs in sauce: 6 months
Meatballs no sauce: 3-4 months
Things that DO NOT stand up well to freezing:
Like I mentioned earlier, some foods are just prefect for freezing but there are some thing I would avoid freezing.
**Dairy, aka cream sauces: cream sauces tend to separate very easily when frozen and defrosted so try to avoid freezing the dishes with cream sauces. For best results, freeze the casserole without the sauce and prepare the cream sauce after you’ve defrosted the casserole and before baking it. If the recipe calls for addition of heavy whipping cream or sour cream, it is usually the last step of the recipe so it can be left for the time you will defrost and reheat the dish.
**Some rice dishes will not freeze well because the rice will soak up all the liquid and become mushy as the dish cools to room temperature before freezing. So, if the dish has a high liquid content, much like soup, it is best to either freeze rice separately and add it once reheated, or prepare rice as you reheat the dish and add it then.
**Beware of freezing Gluten Free pasta! My experience with gluten free pasta has been a bit rocky so far and one thing I’ve noticed is that many brands and types of gluten free pasta can barely stand up to reheating leftovers and in no way will stand up to freezing. Although, not all is lost, there is ONE brand that I trust to stand up to freezing because it easily stands up to reheating. Tinkyada brand brown rice pasta has excellently stood up in pasta salads and rehearing for me, so I trust it with being frozen in casseroles.
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10 great meals to freeze
*Can be frozen with or without sauce.
*Prepare soup without the cream and add cream after the soup has been thawed and reheated.
*For the Stuffed Pepper Soup, prepare it without rice and either freeze rice separately or prepare and add rice after defrosting, as the soup is served.
*Prepare lasagna up to the point of baking and cover well and freeze instead. Bake after thawing.
*Prepare up to the point of baking and cover well and freeze instead. Bake after thawing.
*Freeze enchiladas without the sauce and prepare the sauce after enchiladas have been thawed and add before baking them.
*Prepare enchiladas up until the baking step and freeze instead of baking. Bake after they have been thawed.