Cook-A-Palooza: Freeze Ahead Meal Marathon (*deep breath* this is gonna be a long one...)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

One of the biggest crazes of recent times is the concept of preparing homemade meals ahead of time and freezing for later use. At first I was skeptical because I am definitely not a fan of most frozen dinners you buy in the grocery store because you can tell by the taste they are a frozen meal; I worried that even homemade meals that were frozen would taste the same but I was pleasantly surprised on my first round of freeze-ahead meals that that was not the case at all!!! They taste homemade and fresh due to the process in which they are prepared and frozen (with the exception of an occasional recipe that just doesn't turn out well) :) The purpose of this blog is to share my method of tackling what seems like the daunting task of preparing multiple meals to be stored for later use all in one day! Let the cooking begin...

The Preparation Process

Before you can even begin to tackle the actual cooking, you have to take time and careful steps to be fully prepared so that when you get to the big day, you don't realize you have forgotten 1 or more things and end up throwing the whole day off with an extra run to the grocery store. Here is my method that I have created for myself...

(1)Pick out your meals: This round I picked 5 meals and a side to make, you can pick more or less depending on how much you feel like tackling, but these 6 items took me about 8 hours in total from start to finish including a little down time here and there. Also, try to pick a variety of meals that will appeal to you and your family. I wouldn't recommend doing all pasta dishes or all chicken dishes unless your family just really loves it! Variety is best because that means generally no matter what you are feeling like for dinner that day, you'll have something that will satisfy you. For my meals I picked Vegetarian Lasagna, Chicken Chimichangas, Chicken Parmesan Meatloaf, Healthy Mama BBQ Chicken, Healthy Mama Chicken Curry, and Twice Baked Potatoes.

(2)Prepare Your List of Ingredients: Now that you've selected your meals you are making, look at each recipe and write down the ingredients needed to make it. If you're like me and like to double recipes often make sure you double ALL ingredients as you write them down. The idea is to group all the recipes together so they are easily seen.

(3)Combine Like Items Onto A Single List: Chances are you may need onion or potatoes or some other common ingredient in multiple recipes. Combine all ingredients into a single list, marking them off as your write them down. Ex:If one recipe calls for 2 sweet potatoes and another for 1, then combine them and write 3 sweet potatoes on a shopping list. Also, I try to group like items such as spices needed, pasta needed, veggies needed etc so that the daunting shopping list doesn't take as much time.

(4)Check Your Pantry/Fridge: Now take the organized list of all the things you need to make the meals and start looking through your pantry and fridge, chances are you may have some of the stuff already which will cut back on the cost of your shopping trip; however, if you wish to not use what you already have because you have it stocked to make other things, then you can simply purchase everything needed and skip this step.

(5)Take your revised shopping list with you and visit your local grocery store-- don't forget you can use coupons, price matching etc to get good deals and cut down on the total cost of your freeze-ahead session.

**I realize this seems like a time-consuming process, but it really is worth it, and I learned after the first round when I did this without a process that it creates more stress on the cooking day when you realize you have no bread crumbs, and therefore, cannot proceed to make the double batch of meatballs you planned that day without yet ANOTHER trip to the grocery store**

The BIG Day

So you've made your lists and done your shopping and now you just have to follow-thru and make it all... or if you are like me the first time, you just stand there scratching your head, wondering where to start and starting to wonder why you decided to do this, BUT I promise, it's really not that bad :) This was my process for my recent freezer pleaser session:

I decided I would start with my most involved and complicated recipe to get it out of the way. I figured I'd feel accomplished and not have to worry about doing it at the end, when I started to run out of energy and motivation.

Vegetarian Lasagna

If you wish to view the recipe so you can also make this, you can find it in this article I originally found at (yeah I was shocked I found something useful from this site also...)I doubled this recipe to make two lasagnas.

1 (16 ounce) bag frozen mixed vegetables
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
1/2 cup water
2 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 (12 ounce) carton ricotta OR crumbled drained tofu
2 eggs, beaten
1 Tbsp. dried parsley flakes
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
2 cup grated provolone cheese
12 ounces lasagna noodles, cooked and drained
1 (16 ounce) jar four cheese Alfredo Sauce
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preparing the Tomato Sauce

Tomato Sauce Ready To Go!

Cookin' The Veggies (you can use any type of veggies that you want, but I think the California style veggies are best for this!)

Lasagna Fully Assembled :)

Now comes a few more important tips about prepping your meals for freezing...

There are a few options for prepping your meals for freezing... you can purchase the disposable aluminum pans for casseroles etc, which is what I usually do because it's easier overall...
BUT if you don't want to do that, you can line your actual pans with aluminum foil making sure you have enough foil to cover top of dish, spray it with nonstick spray and leave the dish in the pan. Once the dish is fully frozen remove the dish from the pan and store in freezer bag. I just find this takes too much time, and if, like me you are making two lasagnas but only have one lasagna pan (because I never make more than one lasagna at a time when I'm cooking on a normal basis), then that method doesn't really work. My opinion-- go with disposable aluminum pans, they don't cost much at all and make life a lot easier when you are doing a lot of cooking!

Lasagna Prepped for Freezing

I always put everything I make in a freezer bag, even if it's already been sealed in another way because it's extra protection against freezer burn, and it also give me an opportunity to write the cooking instructions or extra information needed about the dish directly on the bag with a black sharpie. That way when I take it out of the oven I can read the cooking instructions straight off the bag without tracking the recipe back down. Makes it so easy-- definitely try it!

That concluded my first recipe...

Then I moved on to the crockpot freeze ahead meals and made them together because they have a lot of the same ingredients. These recipes are choked full of veggies, which makes them super healthy, and they look fantastic. I found it over at a cute blog, check out these recipes and more at her blog Mama and Baby Love. Each recipe makes two meals :)

Healthy Mama BBQ Chicken

3 medium unpeeled sweet potatoes, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
2 large green pepper, cut into strips
1 large red pepper, cut into strips
1 zucchini, chopped
1 medium onion, sliced
1 tablespoon quick cooking tapioca
2 pounds chicken thighs or drumsticks (I used chicken breasts)
1 8-ounce can of tomato sauce
2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
1 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon yellow mustard (I wasn't sure if this meant actual mustard or the spice so I did a little of both)
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon salt

Healthy Mama Chicken Curry

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons curry powder
1.5 teaspoons ground cumin
1.5 pounds chicken thighs, cut into 1 inch pieces (I used chicken breasts)
2 cups chopped peeled sweet potatoes
2.5 cups baby carrots
2 cup coarsely chopped mango
1 cup chopped onion
1 zucchini chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 chicken bouillon
.5 cup raisins (for garnish)
.5 cup peanuts or cashews (for garnish)

**I excluded a few of the ingredients, if there is something you don't like about the recipe, simply exclude it**

All you do is chop up all the ingredients and separate each recipe into 2-1 gallon freezer bags. I just divided it between two bags as I chopped each item because it seemed easier to make sure the right amount of everything went in each meal worth of the recipe. Can't wait to try them- not only were they easy to assemble, they are crockpot meals meaning my crockpot will be doing all the work when I try them! Simply defrost for 30 mins then cook on low for 8 hours or high for 4 hours!!!

Crockpot Meals All Ready For The Freezer :)

At this point I started my recipe that would end up being the last one finished, but it had quite a bit of prep time so I started it now...

Twice Baked Potatoes

I washed up 8 potatoes (2-1 for each of us for a 4 meals) and put them on an old cookie sheet, then baked them in the oven preheated to 350 for an hour and a half... at this point, I forgot about them and worked on my other two remaining recipes :)

Potatoes Getting Ready To Go Oven

Chicken Parmesan Meatloaf

This was an intriguing recipe that Chris wanted to try, it's a different take on normal beef meatloaf. I can't wait to try it :) The only recipe can be found at the blog What's Up Chicago? I doubled this recipe.

1 lb ground chicken (ground turkey can be substituted)
1 egg
1/4 breadcrumbs
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1-2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 small onion, grated
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup pasta sauce (homemade or store bought)
1/2 cup shredded Italian cheese blend
minced parsley for garnish

Ingredients All Ready To Be Mixed

Meatloaf Mixed And Ready For Pan

For this recipe, I actually did use the pan lining idea just to try it out and see how I felt about it. It wasn't bad for something small like a meatloaf, but I don't like it for most things.

Chicken Chimichangas

I was so excited to find a recipe for these to freeze ahead! I love Mexican :) Find it here at

1 lb cooked beef or 1 lb pork or 1 lb chicken
1 (16 ounce) jar salsa
1 (16 ounce) can refried beans
1 (4 ounce) can diced green chili peppers
1 (1 1/2 ounce) envelopeburrito seasoning mix or 1 (1 1/2 ounce) envelope taco seasoning mix
16 flour tortillas , 7 or 8 inch
16 ounces monterey jack cheese or 16 ounces cheddar cheese , cut into sixteen 5 x 1/2 inch sticks

The Sauce

Sauce Is Ready & And The First Tortilla Is Warming :)

I am including pictures of the steps of making the chimichangas because I feel the original recipe fails to make it illustrate it

Place Filling Near Bottom Edge of Tortilla

Place Stick of Cheese on Filling

Fold sides In

Roll Tortilla From Bottom To Top To Form Chimichanga :)

Wrapped Each Chimichanga Individually in Foil Before Storing In Freezer Bags

Twice Baked Potatoes (revisited)

After the potatoes baked, I pulled them out and let them sit and cool while I finished my other stuff up and did a little clean up. Once they were cooled, I slit them down the middle and scooped out all the insides...

Scooped Out Potatoes

Potato Filling

Next I just added all the goodies I wanted to make loaded potatoes. I chose sour cream, butter, bacon, shredded cheddar cheese, ranch dressing, chives, salt and pepper... yeah I had a little of everything, just how I love it :D You just choose what you want and add it in til it taste the way you want it! If you want a recipe to follow below is approximately what I added for 8 potatoes:

8 oz sour cream
1 stick (8 tbsp) butter
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
5 tbsp ranch
3 tbsp chives
2 tsp salt
2 tsp pepper

Potatoes All Stuffed

Potatoes Ready for the freezer :)

And yes... that FINALLY concluded my cooking marathon!!!

I ended up with 14 meals and 4 meals worth of twice baked potato sides!!! I ended up spending around $90 on all the groceries I had to buy which included all the meat, cheeses and veggies, which are the most expensive items (I only had the basic spices and some of the basic cooking ingredients for all these recipes) That works out to around $5-$6 per meal for things like homemade lasagna and chicken curry, which is insane! I may even end up with more meals then this out of it; that was just my guess based on the intended amount of meals, but sometimes one meal stretches into dinner and then a lunch for us too so I guess I will see :) This method of cooking is so worth it! It gives you wholesome meals much cheaper than going out when you don't feel like cooking, and you know what's in your food. If you plan your meal plan right and catch sales, you can make things even cheaper than I did. It takes a couple rounds to adjust to a process that works for you, but in the end you feel so accomplished. If I can do it, you can do it too! Hope you try it, and if you need any help, then I am more than willing to help!

Lizzy <3


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