As many of you know, I am just days away from expecting my first baby, which means I am in full blown nesting mode! Because we are having her in the month of June, I started to plan ahead for freezer meals that I would enjoy in the summer. Unfortunately, things like salads and fresh foods aren't good to make in advance or store in the freezer, however, there are plenty of options that are packed with summer fruits and veggies, and are great for warmer weather! That being said, if I were to prepare freezer meals in batches in the winter or fall months, I would likely have more soups, chilis, sweet potato dishes, casseroles, baked pasta dishes, lasagnas, and crockpot meals, which all freeze and re-heat really well.
To start, I want to share how I got started with planning my menu, how I executed my meal prep, and how I freeze and stored things for when the baby comes!
1. Create a Menu: When I created my menu, I did so by writing out a list of things I would want to have for breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and snacks. From there, I narrowed it down to choices that I knew Sean and I both enjoyed (for the most part), and that there was something for both of us to choose from for each meal. I planned to make meals lasting at least two weeks, although, I figured it would be nice if I ended up having more than we needed in the long run.
2. Prepare Meals: From there, I made my grocery list and meal plan using the Dashing Dish meal plan and grocery list builder, breaking it down into two weeks. That way I could grocery shop and make half the meals one week, and the rest the following, (which I preferred, so I didn't feel overwhelmed). After grocery shopping, I would make my meals and snacks on different days of the week when I had time, (although you could certainly make them all in one big meal prep session.) I found it best to break it down into individual meal prep throughout the week because I have been so busy, so I had to work it in when I found time.
3. Freeze and Store Meals: As far as freezing and storing meals, I plan to pull things out in batches as I need them, and enjoy them as leftovers through the week, so I personally packed things into big casserole dishes, etc., although you could also pack things individually if you prefer to have one single serving that is fresh each time you enjoy a meal.
4. Thaw and Re-heat: I personally baked things before hand so they are ready to go when I am hungry, (which I'm guessing will be very helpful with a new baby). Since they are already baked, I plan to pull them out of the freezer the night before (or the morning of), and allow them to thaw in my fridge overnight or all day, (or place them on the counter to thaw at room temp for a few hours). I can then reheat them in the oven or microwave before serving, and save the rest to eat as leftovers. If however you prefer your food freshly baked, (not re-heated), then I would recommend assembling the dish, and freeze before baking. That way you can thaw overnight or throughout the day in the fridge, and bake according to the recipes directions when you are ready to enjoy!
Here are some examples of what I made for each meal:
BREAKFAST: For breakfast I made my Strawberry Baked Oatmeal Cups, Clean Eating Freezer Waffles and Protein Pancakes, Make Ahead Smoothie Freezer Packs, and Breakfast Burritos (recipe coming soon). I plan to pull the oatmeal cups, waffles, pancakes, and breakfast burritos out as I need them and heat them in the microwave for about one minute, or until warm. (I may also toast the waffles). For the smoothie packs, you literally just dump the pack into a blender along with some almond milk, and blend!
SNACKS: For snacks I made a few grab and go options such as my No Bake Cookie Dough Balls, Banana Bread Protein Balls, Peanut Butter Cookie Balls, and Lemon Poppyseed No Bake Balls (recipe coming soon). I also made my Banana Bread Protein Muffins. For all of these snacks, I plan to pull them out as I need them and eat them partially frozen, (the balls are actually super yummy that way), microwave them for 20-30 seconds, or let them thaw for a bit.
LUNCHES: For lunches I made one of my husbands favorites, my Easy Cheesy Burritos, Salmon Cakes, and Black Bean Burgers (recipes coming soon). I also made some Chicken Fajita Cauliflower Rice Bowls, which I frozen individually for easy thawing (recipe coming soon). I plan to pull these out individually as needed as well and heat in the microwave for about 1 minute. I will most likely serve the burgers and salmon cakes with a side dish such as veggies, avocado, or with a salad, and the burritos with cheese sprinkled on top. I will serve the chicken fajita bowls with salsa and possibly some avocado or guacamole.
I also pre-made some Buffalo Chicken Burgers (I kept these raw to freeze) and marinated some chicken breasts in ziplock bags to thaw in the fridge and grill when we are in the mood for grilling!
And that about wraps it up! Overall I really don't feel like it was a lot of work because like I said, I did all the prep in little batches throughout a two week period, freezing things as I went. As you can see, freezer cooking can work for you whether you enjoy fresh foods, or don't mind leftovers! I hope this information was helpful, and it inspires you to meal plan for a coming busy season in your life!
Last but not least, here are a few other food freezing tips:
• To prevent freezer burn, use freezer specific containers. For zip-top bags, use ones specifically made for freezing. You may end up with freezer burn if you use sandwich-style bags–they are too thin. Also, if you’re freezing something in a bag, get rid of excess air before sealing it. If you’re using a plastic container, make sure it has a tight-fitting lid and use the smallest size that will fit what you’re freezing, as excess air in the container allows for freezer burn.
• If you are baking food ahead of time, let food sit at room temperature until it cools completely before freezing. If the food is warm at all, it will create moisture as the dish freezes, creating freezer burn.
• If you are not baking food ahead of time, always thaw raw food in fridge (not at room temperature), overnight or at least eight hours during the day. Bake or cook according to recipe directions and food safety parameters.
• Meals can be stored in the freezer for up to three months before they spoil or before flavors are affected. If you aren’t sure how best to freeze a certain item (or long it will keep), check the National Center for Home Food Preservation website.