Tuesday, September 23, 2014

assemble-and-freeze meals!

I don't know about you, but after a long day of work, I'm ready to eat dinner... and if you didn't catch that, I'm ready to eat dinner - not make dinner.  ;)  I absolutely love to bake, but when it comes to weekday cooking, I'm not a huge fan, and to be honest, it feels like tacking on more work to my day!

So, to help prepare for my transition back to work (and anticipated lack of interest in meal prep), this past weekend I made 12 freezer meals for John and me to eat throughout the month.  The total cost of the 12 meals was about $135 (including the disposable baking pans that I bought)... so about $11/meal.  Money aside, I decided to do this for the convenience of a tasty post-work meal with basically no day-of work required!


To make things easy, I used chicken for all 12 of my meals, but if you are feeling ambitious, you can most certainly prepare a variety of meats.  All in all, I used about 10 lbs of chicken.

I made...
- Chicken pot pie (2)
- Pesto ravioli and chicken (2)
- Chicken and wild rice casserole (2)
- White chicken enchiladas (2)


For the majority of these recipes I used the Dream Dinners cookbook, but there are plenty of resources and recipes on Pinterest that provide similar information for freezer meals.

Tips for meal prep:
-  If the recipe calls for cooked chicken, cook your chicken in the crock pot the day before... this way it requires very little prep work, and it will shred very easily.  Or, buy a rotisserie chicken - even more yummy!
-  Prepare the meals in dishes that can go straight into the oven (and then be disposed of, if you are clean-up lazy like me!).
-  Serve the meal with something fresh, like a salad... we always buy the salad kits (again, it's a convenience thing), but I realize it is way cheaper (in the end) to buy all of the ingredients separately.
-  Label everything! Label what the dish is and how to prepare it.  For example, specify whether the dish must be thawed first, or if it can go straight into the oven.
- Since you will be essentially assembling a large number of meals in a single day, it will take some time.  Invite a friend over to join, turn on some music, pour a glass of wine, and enjoy the process (these 12 meals took me about 4 hours in total).
-  Once the meals are assembled in baking dishes, wrap them in airtight foil, plastic wrap, or freezer paper... proper packaging will help maintain quality and prevent freezer burn.

Tips for tasty meals:
-  Carrots, zucchini, onions and celery are vegetables that freeze best.
-  Dice vegetables no smaller than 1 inch; larger chunks will freeze and reheat better than smaller pieces.
-  Cream cheese will dry out when frozen if not blended with other ingredients (instead, try a yogurt-based spread).
-  Heavy cream and mayonnaise do not freeze (substitute with sour cream which freezes better).
-  If you plan to freeze cooked pasta, do not fully cook the pasta.  It should be a bit firmer than al dente.
-  If any of your meals have a finishing sauce, freeze the sauce separately from the rest of the meal so the food does not get soggy. 


Have you made freezer meals before?  Any go-to recipes?!



36 comments :

  1. I always find that homemade curries freeze very well and when I make lasanga and Cottage Pie I always make enough to do a couple of individual freezer portions so H has them when I am away on business! Chicken and wild rice casserole sounds great, will have to find a recipe for that! Great idea I need to use my freezer a bit more so thanks for the inspiration!

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  2. Love this. Definitely pinning these ideas, girl. Right up my alley.

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  3. I do similar things for breakfast. I'll make breakfast burritos, pancakes, muffins etc and freeze them for easy breakfast throughout the week.

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  4. i've never done this but I LOVE the idea! i need to try it sometime soon. pinning this post! xo jillian - cornflake dreams

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  5. When you posted about this yesterday I was just thinking what a perfect idea it was!! I'm going to need to try this for sure!! Rotisserie chicken has become my new best friend!!

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  6. I did this a few years ago and it was great, I really should do it again! All of the ones I made were crock pot meals so I would dump them in before bed and then they were ready in the morning the package and take to work. That's the thing I like least, all my dinners are on the go since I'm working at that time. But I am totally with you in lacking the energy and motivation for prep and clean up - time to do this again!

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  7. Great post, thank you so much for sharing this! I have been working some extra hours and coming home and cooking is sometimes the last thing that I want to do. I hope that your first day went well yesterday too! :-)

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  8. This is so cool! Thanks for the good recipes and tips, I really really need to do this. We are super busy during the week and I get sick of the same things...

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  9. Great tips! I need to do this but I didn't know all those tips and I never know how to properly freeze items and then what do after that.

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  10. I would absolutely LOVE to do something like this, but Matt is SO picky about this sort of thing! It's a little irritating because the convenience factor is huge. I also love to use my Pampered Chef Deep Covered Baker to cook meals in the microwave, but he doesn't really like those either... John's a good man for eating what's in front of him! :) We do burn through a lot of crock pot meals because they're easy and ready when we walk in after a long day.

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  11. This is such a good idea. I need this in my life!

    ~Ashley @ A Cute Angle
    acutelifestyle.blogspot.com

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  12. I have never done this but really need to sometime! How nice it would be to have a meal ready to go for those busy/don't feel like cooking days! Hope the transition back into working life is going smoothly :)

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  13. oh man, I really want to do this. freezer meals just seem so smart! i am so lazy on the weekdays that i end up eating cereal or instant mash. oops.

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  14. I never have done that... I need to be this organized.

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  15. This is amazing. Now if I can just get motivated to do this...

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  16. Look at you go! I'm such a bad wife - if I'm not home, my husband fends for himself hah. Love the idea of being so prepared. Chili in the freezer is my one plan-ahead meal but I need to get on the ball!

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  17. i've never done this before but MAN how much easier would it be! thanks for the tips. i actually enjoy cooking so knocking it out all at once would be fun! ..with a glass of wine :)

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  18. You're talking my language. I hate cooking dinner after a work day. The poor hubby usually gets leftovers and salad. This is perfect especially with the baby on the way ;)

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  19. I LOVE this idea! I really need to do something like this. I like to go for runs or a long walk after work, and then by the time I get done, it's late and I don't feel like cooking an entire dinner. This would be perfect for nights when we have other things going on and need dinner prepare quickly. Thanks for sharing!

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  20. This is so great!! Such a fabulous idea and amazing tips!

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  21. Great tips! Question - how does the rice taste after frozen? I've never tried freezing a rice casserole before...wasn't sure how it'd turn out! I just did a big freezer meal day - I typically make different kinds of chili, taco and sloppy joe meat, and soups like Chicken Noodle and Pasta e fagioli. If I fully make a chili or soup, I like to separate them in smaller containers so my husband has an easy lunch to grab for work :)

    Katie @ Sweet Little Ones

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  22. Yay, I was waiting for this post and I'm super excited to try these out since I also despise cooking after work - thanks for sharing!

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  23. Ummm!! Love this post. Thanks for sharing. Pinning now.

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  24. Love this! Such great tips. I'm trying to eat at home more often, but sometimes it's so much more convenient to go out and grab something. These will be great for those times!
    xo Southern Style

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  25. I have never done freezer meals before but I love the idea of it and how much time it will save in the future! Thanks for sharing!

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  26. Oh my gosh this is amazing!!!! I'm always so lazy when it comes to food prep after a long day, so this would be great. I've always been nervous about freezer meals because when I try and freeze leftovers I'm usually not a big fan, but I bet these would be great since they're made specifically to be frozen! Thank you! Also, do you have the chicken pot pie recipe?

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  27. I was patting myself on the back because I got a Costco Rotisserie chicken tonight.....hahahahaha girl can I fly you out and you can help me meal prep my life please???? Oh and bake and do some DIY's with me!

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  28. I love your freezer meals idea! I've never done this before, but am thinking this would be perfect when my sis has her baby next month! Chicken Pot Pie is perfect for a freezer meal! :)

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  29. Love these great tips. Prefect for weekly staples and I've even thought snout trying to do this for breakfast. Making bulk for easy quick mornings!

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  30. You are awesome! I'm looking to do some batch freezer cooking soon and this gives me some great ideas. I'll be pinning this.

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  31. I have never done this, but I have always wanted to try it! I just never know where to start! I will definitely be using your guide now to try it!! Thanks for the tips!
    xo,
    Brittney Marie
    Pretty Little Pursuits

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  32. Just pinned this post!! I am planning on freezing some meals before baby comes!! This is a great idea!

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  33. Featuring this next week on WYWW! Thanks for linking up!

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  34. These are awesome tips and I totally need to do this. Even though I'm home most of the day (homeschooling), life gets crazy and there are days when the last thing I want to do is make dinner. There have been a few times we've have meals that were frozen and just needed to be thawed, and those were wonderful days! :)
    I am DEF going to make the pesto ravioli. Wish the Swiss Chicken and Chicken Parmigian links had the recipes and not just cooking instructions. That Swiss Chicken sounds fabulous! (I love Dream Dinners, by the way!)
    Thanks for sharing this post with us at Delicious Dish Tuesday!

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  35. These recipes look really good! I used to do a little bit a freezer cooking, but I fell off of the wagon. I need to get back on it!

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  36. These are very practical and helpful tips. Thanks so much for sharing!

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