Simple tips to make meal preparation easier
With a busy household, I prioritize all the things that I can do to make my life easier. For years now, I’ve been menu planning, and creating my master lists. Now I’m adding freezer meals and meal prep to the things that I can do that save me time, energy and money.
What are freezer meals?
Freezer meals are pre-cooked or prepared to a certain stage, and then frozen. Then, at a later date, you can take that meal or parts of a meal out of your freezer, thaw and use.
Having freezer meals means that sometimes all you need to do is remember to bring the meal out of the freezer and put it in the oven at the right time. And that means that you can save time because you’re not actively chopping, mixing, stirring or cooking. And you save money, because you’re able to plan and make ahead. And there’s the whole hassle of last-minute what’s-for-dinner questions — gone!
Saving time, money and hassle makes me a happier mom.
Typically, freezer meals work best for dinner.
Freezer meals are usually casseroles or dishes that can be put together really quickly. And because of the time needed to thaw before heating and serving, they work better for dinners rather than breakfasts.
That’s not to say that you can’t do some really good freezer breakfasts! After all, a homemade version of a toaster waffle or pancake is going to taste way better than the store-bought brands.
Freezer meals ideas for Breakfast
So what can you make to freeze ahead for breakfast?
Think about what freezes and thaws easily and quickly.
We did muffins, banana bread, coffee cake, and pancakes. I put pancakes in packages — 6 to a freezer bag — so that I can just take out a package, put them in the toaster, and boom! Breakfast!
You could also do French toast, or egg casseroles. Or freeze bits and pieces of meals, such as fried ham or blanched diced potatoes.
Freezer meals ideas for lunch
For lunch, I love doing homemade versions of convenience foods. So instead of hot pockets or store-bought frozen pizza, make your own! Making turnovers and mini-pizzas isn’t hard, and it’s easy to freeze.
Pro tip: make in bulk and freeze in portions. That way you can have several freezer meals with just one cooking session!
You can also do homemade soups, stews, and chilies in double and triple batches. And then freeze in either meal portion or individual portion options for a quick reheat and eat.
Bonus: you can also use these as replacements for store-bought canned soups in other meals.
Double bonus: soups, stews, chilies and sauces make excellent slow-cooker options, so you can start them in the morning, and have yummy goodness by noon, without even having to cook!
Freezer meals ideas for dinner
Just like lunch, you can do homemade versions of convenience foods. Try making your own batch of french fries! Just slice and blanch potatoes, and then freeze. When you’re ready to cook, fry them in oil or put them in the oven with a little oil sprinkled over them, and bake.
Another option is to make casseroles and freeze. To make this easy on yourself, use disposable foil pans, and cover in tin foil, so you can label them with date made and directions for cooking. You can either cook ahead and then freeze, or put together, freeze and cook later.
I like doing lasagna, shepherd’s pie, and chicken & rice casseroles this way.
Freezer meals prep ideas
There’s one more way you can use freezing ahead as a time saver. You can freeze meal parts for later use.
I don’t know about your family, but in mine, we have a few things that start off the same way. For example, I make spaghetti sauce, chili, tacos, shepherd’s pie, and sloppy joes with the same ground beef base. My kids are so familiar with how to make this base, that I don’t even have to give them instructions anymore.
My daughter and I made up about 10 packages of this ground beef mix, and froze them. 10 packages of cooked ground beef, with onion, diced bell pepper, garlic, salt and pepper sit in my freezer, just waiting to be used.
What do you use frequently as the start or a piece of a meal? We did meatballs, shredded cheese, and cooked chicken breasts (some diced, some not). These all start or add to a meal, and that’s one less step we have to do later.
When do you do freezer meals prep?
So since the whole point of doing freezer meals is to save you time, chances are finding the time to do the prep might be tricky. Here are some ways you can make freezer meals prep easier.
- When making a casserole, double or triple up.
- Make soups, stews or chilies while cleaning up (We make chicken noodle soup after having roast chicken dinners!)
- Do freezer baking at night, while you’re doing other things. (My daughter will make batter for me to bake up and freeze later.)
- Designate a weekend for freezer meal prep, every couple of months. (Use the Practically Painless Meal Plan System to plan out your meals!)
- Make freezer meals prep a part of your older kids’ chores! (I let my kids watch their favorite show on TV if they will shred cheese or chop peppers and onions for ground beef prep.)
- Do freezer meals prep after grocery shopping. (How hard is it to put chicken breasts in the oven right away after getting them home from the store?)
Freezer meals requires an adjustment in your thinking!
Honestly, this has been the biggest challenge. I had to rethink how I view cooking and preparation. Not only did when I cook change, but how I start cooking. Now I often bring out my dinner plans at breakfast (so they can thaw naturally). But the stress relief of knowing exactly what I need to shop for and what we’re having for dinner is so worth the change.
And it saves me time and money too!
What kinds of things could you make ahead and freeze? Share your ideas!