Freezer meals. Love ’em or hate ’em? If you’re not a fan, try these freezer meal alternatives that may fit your busy lifestyle.
For every second-rate housekeeper I ever knew was wont to declare that the hardest thing in her life was to tell what to get for three meals a day.~1884
I hear so much praise for big batch freezer meals that I wonder if I’m one of the few people who won’t spend one day cooking meals that will last them for weeks. Here are 4 reasons why I’m not a fan of the process, followed by 5 things I do instead.
Why you need freezer meal alternatives
I did one of those 30 meal cooking days once, helping someone else. It’s an intense, ALL day project. It can get complicated shopping for all the ingredients and keeping them organized. You can’t forget any one item, because that one ingredient could derail a whole series of meals. Children have to be kept out of the way and busy and you’re on your feet for hours at a time.
I’m not convinced that making batch freezer meals saves that much time. Every meal is different, but there are plenty of nights when dinner isn’t complicated. For instance, some kind of meat, some frozen or canned vegetables, and a side like rice just don’t take that long to cook. It’s only occasionally that I pull out all the stops on an elaborate meal.
On the day of our freezer meal project, we made all the meals from scratch so I’m sure that contributed a substantial amount of time to the process. I routinely see recipes with instructions to put raw meat in a bag and cover it with a sauce (usually a pre-made one that I wouldn’t normally use) then freeze it. If it’s that easy, is it really saving time?
Theoretically, freezer cooking will save money, right? I’ve heard that many times. The idea is that you’ll waste less food because you’ll be able to take advantage of bulk food buys. However, there’s the added expense of plastic bags, aluminum pans, and freezer paper. Another supposed benefit of batch cooking is that if food is in the freezer, you’ll be less likely to eat out. If the budget doesn’t allow it, that wouldn’t happen anyway! On those nights when you didn’t prepare a nice dinner, you’ll just make a quick meal using ingredients you have on hand….like you would do if you didn’t have freezer meals.
When the day is over after preparing dozens of meals, the last thing I want to do is look at my own cooking at dinnertime, so dining out needs to be part of the budget, too.
Not all recipes taste good after being frozen; they just don’t. The sauces that curdled or simply disappeared somehow, those mushy vegetables, and that unmistakable freezer taste. So many fantastic meals that become a vague, dismal resemblance of their former selves.
Yes, there are recipes that have been tested to stand the freezer test, but they aren’t necessarily your family’s tried and true favorites. So do you try new recipes out on your family or just modify your current menus? All in all, it involves a lot of trial, error, and suffering through some less than stellar meals.
My Freezer Meal Alternatives
Don’t get me wrong. I like to have quick meals and I don’t prepare every meal from scratch every single day. I use several strategies to ensure that cooking dinner every single night isn’t agony.
canning and freezing
After I harvest potatoes, carrots, and onions from our garden, I make beef (or venison) stew to can. One batch makes 7 quarts of beef stew that sit on the pantry for a nearly instant meal. I don’t even have to remember to pull it out of the freezer. I make a big batch of ham bean soap to can after I’ve cooked off a ham bone and can it all. Instead of canning plain tomato sauce, I’ll add onions and herbs so I always have a ready-made spaghetti sauce.
I also can baked beans, pickles, salsas and sauces, all of which give me a head start to a meal.
When you buy a big piece of meat, like a ham, freeze the chopped meat in meal-sized quantities. And always, always freeze ground beef and pork chops into measured portions. Facing a family-sized styrofoam tray of solidly frozen pork chops mid-afternoon is no one’s idea of a good time.
Bake more muffins and breads than you’ll use in the immediate future. Stash some of them away in the freezer so you don’t get tired of them. It’s also nice to pull them out as a side dish on short notice. As a matter of fact, I pulled these muffins out of the freezer tonight to go along with soup.
repertoire of easy meals
Have a few menus in mind that are quick and easy and keep the ingredients for them on hand. It’s even better if you can make those meals using ingredients from your pantry. We all have different favorites in our families so choose those ol’ reliable ones you barely have to think about. For me, it’s my home-canned soups, pizza, Navajo tacos, spaghetti, and a couple of skillet meals that allow me to vary the ingredients.
freezing single meals
Every once in a while you can make a dinner that you know freezes well. Instead of making a single recipe, double it and freeze half. It may take a few extra minutes chopping vegetables or opening a few more cans but the additional time amounts to nearly nothing. Non-dairy soups and casseroles usually maintain their quality well.
Ah yes, planning ahead. It’s the primary key to an organized kitchen life. For some reason, it seems like it’s the first aspect I abandon when life gets busy. At the risk of sounding like the person who wouldn’t liven up any party, my whole day goes smoother when I know what I’m making for dinner that night. Have you noticed it often takes longer to decide what to make for dinner than actually doing the work?
I think menu planning is a topic all its own and I’ll tackle it soon.
This is my favorite of my freezer meal alternatives and the most valuable strategy of all. Every week pull a few pieces of meat from the freezer into a tray in the refrigerator. If you don’t have a microwave, thawing meat ahead of time is especially important. Even if you haven’t planned all my menus ahead, knowing that you have something thawed will make it easier to build a meal.
Always keep some side dish components handy. For instance, when you make rice, make enough for more than one meal. I like variety so it’s not as if we have rice as a side dish multiple days in a row. One night it could be a side dish and a few nights later it’s an ingredient in a stir fry or in a soup. The same goes for potatoes. I love to cook them in my trusty Instant Pot. One day, I serve baked potatoes, another day I could make them into gnocchi or hash browns.
I do the same thing with vegetables. Why chop I onion when you can chop 3? Unless, of course you enjoy a good cry every day. (I keep the chopped onions in a glass jar so the whole fridge doesn’t smell.) You’ll be more likely to pull out fresh vegetables for a quick side dish if they’re already washed and sliced.
your turn, please!
I’m really curious to know. Do you like batch freezer cooking and why? Do you have any other freezer meal alternatives? Do you have other strategies you use to make dinner preparation easier? Or do you simply prefer the adrenaline rush of last-minute decisions and grocery runs at 4 o’clock? Fair enough. We’ve all done that, too.