Clear your schedule — we’ve got some cooking to do!
Whether you’re expecting a baby soon and want to stock up on easy-to-reheat freezer dinners for when the little one arrives or you just want to make weeknights easier by having an arsenal of meals ready-to-go, you might want to consider devoting an afternoon to cooking in bulk.
The idea of preparing so many meals at once may seem a little daunting to some, but the amount of time, energy and money you’ll save in the long run more than makes up for your time in the kitchen.
Just before I had my baby, my husband and I spent an afternoon creating 15 freezer meals at once — and learned a lot of self-taught cooking lessons along the way. The biggest one? We need to do this way more often! It’s so convenient and it's actually really fun to do.
One major takeaway is that the more often you meal prep, the easier it will become and the more you'll learn about what foods freeze best. So take advantage of our own trial-and-error and use this as a beginner’s guide to creating your own bulk freezer meals.
1. Organization is key.
Planning is an imperative step in this whole process. First, you'll want to decide what meals you’re going to make. Just search the phrase “freezer meals” on Pinterest, and you’ll get a ton of ideas. Pick ones that sound good to you and save them in a word document.
Once you have all the recipes you plan to make, go through and create a grocery list. Combine any ingredients that you can (for example, you might only need to buy one large can of tomatoes instead of multiple small ones to use in separate recipes). To really save time at the supermarket, organize your grocery list by the store’s layout. You’ll be in and out quickly, giving you more time to cook at home.
2. Stock up on supplies.
A few things to add to your grocery list: aluminum pans (ones with lids are best), cling wrap, freezer Ziploc bags and heavy duty aluminum foil. These will all be important for wrapping your meals and storing them in the freezer. If you don’t wrap them properly, you could lose your meal to freezer burn.
3. Double the recipes.
One of the things we found really helpful was doubling some of the recipes, instead of making 15 totally different meals. That’s because you’re already going through the process of making it anyway, cutting up vegetables, measuring out spices, and more. It’s faster to make just one meal and divide it up, instead of creating 15 completely different recipes. We doubled three recipes: chili, meatloaf and enchiladas (some of our favorites that we could eat a lot of). The rest of the meals were different recipes.
4. Make the wrapping as air-tight as possible.
To prevent freezer burn, get as much of the air out of each wrapped dish as possible. If you’re using a Ziploc bag, press the air out of the bag before zipping it shut.
5. Know the shelf-life of each meal.
As a general rule of thumb, food can stay in the freezer for up to three months. However, there are exceptions. For example, bacon and sausage have a recommended time of one to two months, while soups and stews can stay there for about two to three months, depending on what's in them. Check out foodsafety.gov for a complete list of storage times for specific foods.
6. Label each meal clearly.
After you wrap each meal carefully, be sure to use a permanent marker to clearly write the following on the packaging: name of dish (pulled pork and shredded chicken can look pretty similar after a few weeks in the freezer); the date the dish was made; the date the dish should be eaten by; and add any specific reheating instructions, like whether you should thaw the dish first and if it can be microwaved or reheated in an oven.
Ready to get started? Here are a few freezer-friendly meals to try: