Do you freeze a lot of meals? I use my freezer all the time and it’s one of my favourite ways to save time. Whether you’re cooking for one or cooking for a large family, cooking large quantities of freezer-suitable meals means you can give yourself one, or many nights off cooking … and who wouldn’t enjoy that!
Other than cooking double batches of food, the real trick is to make the most of your freezer by maximizing every millimeter of space available and the simplest way to do that is to ditch as many containers as possible and embrace using zip lock bags. I’ve been doing this for years and it works!
Recently I flew to Emerald to visit Miss 25 who works for a mining company as a Management Accountant in a remote mining town. She loves it but it has presented some unique challenges for her in the food and cooking department as she’s now cooking just for herself. Although there is a very well-equipped local IGA in town, as well as a butcher/deli, she usually drives to Emerald (about 1 ¾ hours away) once a fortnight or sometimes as infrequently as once a month to shop at either Woolworths or Coles. She takes two esky’s for transporting her raw meats, fish, deli meats like ham and bacon along with any cheeses and milks. The esky’s are filled with crushed ice so that everything stays healthy and fresh and survives the trip home.
She also works incredibly long hours and is really tired when she gets home so, on my recent visit, I taught her how to cook large batches of food on the weekends and freeze off into zip lock bags. From my normal-size batch of Chilli Con Carne, for example, she can freeze enough for roughly 12 meals. When I make Chilli I make enough for at least 3 family-size meals so that we can eat one serve and freeze two others but for a single person this will stretch so much further. So that means that one dish will produce a healthy, tasty, home-made meal for one night of the week for 3 months.
Now you might think that will be boring eating the same meals on certain days of the week but a dish like Chilli Con Carne is also incredibly versatile and she can mix up how she serves it. It can be served in a bowl with some sour cream and corn chips. It can be served over a baked potato with tomato, cheese, lettuce, sour cream, cucumber, avocado and shallots. It can be added to nachos. It can be used as the filling for a burrito, taco or enchilada. It can be used as the base for a Mexican dip with avocado, cheese, salsa and sour cream. So not only does she have a meal for one night of the week for 3 months but she can also vary the way it’s served … love it!
This will work for any recipe that’s suitable for freeze. The list is endless but here are a few suggestions:
- Bolognaise sauce
- Home-made taco meat
- Slow-cooked meals
- Parmesan sauce
- Bliss Balls
So, here’s how I do it:
- Choose a recipe you like that’s suitable to freeze.
- Decide how many serves of this dish you would like to make.
- Buy the appropriate quantities and cook as normal, allowing it to cool once cooked.
- Make sure you have a good supply of ziplock bags in the appropriate size.
- Clearly label the bags with a permanent marker. I like to include the name of the item, the date is was frozen, how many people the quantity will serve as well as a measure of what’s in the bag, for example, 1 cup.
- Place the zip lock bag inside a container that will allow you to fold the tops of the bag over the side. This will make it easier to spoon the food into the bag but, once you get the hang of it, you most likely won’t need to do this and will spoon the food directly into the bag … don’t worry you’ll figure out a technique that works for you.
- Spoon the required quantity in the bag.
- Remove the bag from the container and close the zip approximately ¾ of the way across the top.
- Now for the tricky bit but don’t panic this will be super easy with a bit of practice. Lay the bag flat on the bench so that the contents work into the bottom corners and the side of the bag that’s already been zipped close. Hold the open corner slightly higher so the contents can’t come out. Slowly work the contents towards the open corner to remove as much air as possible but do leave a little air in the corner to allow for expansion. Liquids will expand when frozen.
- Close the zip, place the bag in the freezer onto a flat baking tray that’s been lined with baking paper and flatten the bag gently and evenly with your hand.
- Repeat until your entire recipe has been dispensed, labeled, sealed and placed in the freezer.
- Once frozen, restack the bags vertically in either a freezer drawer or a container/basket.
A couple of tips:
- I like the zip lock bags that have a white strip to write on as it’s a little clearer to read but it’s not essential.
- Make sure you allow your meal to cool before freezing. Placing boiling hot sauces and food into a ziplock bag will melt the plastic and that will spell disaster. Placing very hot food directly in the freezer will also take longer to freeze and you may risk partially defrosting already frozen food and that’s not safe.
- To help speed up the cooling process, stir as much of the heat as possible out of the pot. You could also refrigerate the saucepan, covered on a shelf by itself, but be careful not to place the hot saucepan next to other food.
- Once frozen, I prefer to stand the bags vertically as it’s easier to see and you won’t need to unpack and repack the contents of your freezer each time you want something from the bottom.
- If you have freezer drawers, stacking the bags vertically is easy. If, however, you don’t simply add some baskets or large containers to your freezer shelves to create drawers.
- Don’t forget to use the baking paper, it’s really important. If you have flat glass or plastic shelving as opposed to wire racks in your freezer, I would still recommend using the baking paper to prevent the bags from freezing to your shelves and tearing when you try to remove them.
- Be mindful of the dates on the frozen bags and make sure any new dishes are added to the back of the freezer. It would be shame to go to all this trouble and then find yourself throwing out food because you didn’t eat it in time.
This method is freezer cooking at it’s best. On my recent trip, I cooked and froze enough food in two days to last my daughter for almost 3 months. When I shared the photo above on Instagram, my inbox was overflowing with requests for more information and that’s how this blog post came about. It just takes a little planning but is definitely worth the effort. It will reduce your stress, save you loads of time and, if you’re only cooking for one, it will mean you’ll have a wonderful supply of nutritious, delicious food that you would normally dismiss as being all too hard … give it a go!
So tell me, do you cook enough to eat and freeze and do you like the idea of “Flat-pack” freezing your meals?
You might also enjoy reading the following: