Prepping Frozen Meals for Busy Seasons

This is the first in a series of posts about how I stocked my freezer with meals before the baby’s arrival. It was something I read a good bit about online before trying for myself, and I wanted to add my two cents to the info out there. Enjoy!

While I know there’s no way to be fully prepared for having a newborn in the house, I figured it couldn’t hurt to take care of at least a little cooking ahead of time. You’ve probably noticed my penchant for meal planning, and I’ve learned over the years that I’m someone who needs to be fed real food regularly if I’m going to function like a normal person.

No doubt our families will help us out by dropping off meals on the regular—feeding people is the official love language of the south, y’all—but I knew I’d feel at least a little more peaceful if I could count on having some healthy, ready–to–go options in the freezer, too.

I started off by doing a little planning, so I figured I’d share about that first. Also, just to give you an idea of my timeline, I started preparing meals at the end of July and prepared 2–3 meals a week over the next 5 weeks. I don’t have a deep freezer (or much freezer space at all, really), so you’ll see that I had to consider available space during this project. And with a September due date, I kept soup and stew weather in mind while planning, even though it was in the thick of summer that I was doing all of the cooking!

Planning

  • Assess freezer space. Start eating what’s been in there a while and getting rid of what’s no longer good. See if there’s anything you can move out for the time being. For example, I had 4 ice packs in the freezer in case of a pulled muscle or other injury. I decided to leave just 1 for now to clear out just a little bit of space. It all helps!
  • Scour your favorite recipes and see what will freeze well or what you can alter a bit to make it more freezer–friendly. You can also search for new recipes based on what people recommend for freezing, but I personally didn’t want to try anything new at this point (too many what ifs with nursing, sleep deprivation, etc.). You’ll want to consider what you can freeze as a full meal AND what you can freeze as a meal starter (more on that in a second).
  • Start following your grocery store’s sales. I made a list on my phone of what I thought would freeze well, then referred back to it when I’d check the grocery store savings ad. I love to do roast in the crock pot with potatoes, carrots, and onions, and it freezes beautifully, and I knew my grocery store would have roasts buy one / get one free at least a couple of times during this project. The same is true for stew meat (and you know I can’t get enough of Misty’s beef stew). Once I had the list of what I’d like to prepare and freeze, I matched it up with what was on sale each week.
  • Consider time. This one sounds pretty obvious, but it was something I’d have to remind myself of more often than I’d thought I would. There was one week when my grocery store seemed to have all the things on sale, and I literally had to remind myself that I only had one crock pot . . . and one self, who was eight months pregnant, no less! Don’t turn a stress–saving venture into something stressful.

Full Meals and Meal Starters

An idea I had along the way was to prepare not only full meals but also meal starters. I mentioned my lack of freezer space, which was part of the inspiration for this move. These quart containers are awesome for freezing soup—and I don’t think you need me to tell you that soup freezes well—but they take up a lot of space in the freezer.

The solution? Meals that are almost fully prepared but need just a few more minutes when they’re thawed and heated up. French onion soup is a great example of this. Rather than add as much beef stock as I would have to an actual pot of soup and then freeze quart containers, I just got the onions ready to go. I sauteed them in oil with a little thyme, then let them cool, scooped them into freezer bags, added just enough beef stock so they’d have some liquid to freeze in, and froze them.

See?

onionsoup

When I thaw a bag, I’ll just add beef stock until the soup is the consistency I want. It’s still just as easy but takes up much less space.

Have a Labeling System

Did you notice the crazy labeling on that bag of onions? OCD is a heck of an issue to deal with, people, I can assure you! ; ) In all seriousness, you will want to come up with a way to label what you’ve made to make it easy on you in the coming months. Remember, we’re going for stress reduction here, not “What in the world is this? Beef something? Am I supposed to have noodles in the house for this?”.

Most of my meals needed something added during preparation or would be better served with something purchased the day of (i.e., a fresh loaf of French bread). When I started labeling freezer bags, I decided to err on the side of more details than I thought I’d need rather than fewer. I’m thinking this will make it easier on my sleep–deprived brain, plus it makes it easy for people who want to be helpful. I know my sweet husband will gladly take care of thawing a bag of beef stew, but I can also imagine him putting it in the oven to warm and asking, “Should I have started rice 40 minutes ago? Do we even have rice?”.

I labeled what was in the bag and the date in blue, then added what we’d need in red.

onionsoupclose

I also froze things flat, then lined up the frozen bags so we could flip through them and find what we needed. It was another space–saving method that helped a ton.

stackedtofreeze

frozenlinedup

Those were the planning steps that helped me the most. Coming up next: Prepping Full Meals and Prepping Meal Starters.

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