This is a guest post from Elisa of Single Mama Blueprints
Today we’re talking about freezer meals and debunking the myths you’ve probably heard about. Adding some freezer meal prep to your meal plan will not only save you time but it can also save you some serious money too. It doesn’t matter if you’re cooking dinner for two, are looking for ways to eat healthier, or you’re a new mom. If you’re looking to cut expenses, you’re in the right place! Meal planning, and especially freezer meal cooking, is about to become your BBF (best budget friend).
Look at your budget. Food is most likely your #2 biggest expense, and I’m sure you’ve heard that eating in and planning your meals is THE way to go if you want to cut costs quickly. But, did you know that freezer meal prep and planning is the biggest first step you can take to save yourself that money???
You’ve probably heard some nasty rumors about freezer meals and planning.
Let’s set the record straight together, shall we?
MYTH #1: YOU'LL HAVE TO COOK FOR AN ENTIRE DAY
Nope. You could choose to spend an entire Sunday making a bunch of meals that can last you weeks, but if you don’t have an extra freezer (see MYTH # 4), you won’t have room for that. If you lead a crazy busy life or are a single mom like me, you just don’t have that large time block. There is multiple ways to do “freezer meal prep” and doing “once a month” meals is just one option.
You could also:
COOK TWICE + FREEZE ONE
Making a lasagna or enchiladas? Chili or potato soup? Just make extra and freeze it. You’re spending the time making the first one; you might as well spend an extra few minutes and make two! Making extra of something you are already making is how I began my meal-freezing journey. I started out just by freezing extra soup, spaghetti sauce – or gravy as we call it (#italiansunite). Try this one; it’s totally the easiest.
BAG A SLOW COOKER MEAL AHEAD OF TIME
Oh, this one. Now this one holds a special place in my heart because I think it saves the most time. There’s no cooking involved (#timesaver) and most of them go from freezer to slow cooker (#megatimesaver). If you can throw it in a crockpot, you can probably throw it in a bag and the freezer. I always go for the no-cook recipes, even more of a time saver! There are lots of suggestions on Pinterest, cookbooks devoted to slow cookers, and blogs you can check out.
FREEZE COOKED, INDIVIDUAL MEAL COMPONENTS
Freezing individual parts of meals would save you a ton of time too! Taco meat? Homemade chicken broth for soup? Make a slow-cooker full of pulled chicken breasts and use it for enchiladas, chicken soup, or Philly chicken sandwiches. The possibilities are endless.
FOCUS ON ONE: BREAKFAST, LUNCH, OR DINNER
You don’t even have to make and freeze dinners. You could just freeze breakfasts (man, how much time would that save in the morning???). Think: muffins, breakfast burritos, bagels with cream cheese, smoothie packs, the list goes on. Or you could make lunches and freeze individual soups, chili, mac + cheese, sandwiches, burritos. It doesn’t always have to be about dinner!
MYTH #2: IT COSTS MORE FOR SUPPLIES THAN YOU'LL SAVE
Sure, you could go out and buy an expensive crockpot, and those cute little glass containers with colored lids, some reusable freezer labels, and even bag holders but you don’t need any of that. Here is what you really need. Some plastic freezer bags in quart and gallon size and a sharpie marker. Seriously.
I’m going to go out on a limb and guess you probably already have those, right???
Oh, and maybe an extra roll of plastic wrap or aluminum foil, depending on what you’ll be freezing.
In the free workbook below, I have a whole list of the tools that you need and another list of fancy tools that you don't. If you have it in your budget to pick up a time-saving tool like a slow cooker or a stove top grill, do it. You'll still save money in the long run because it will make your meal planning and freezer meal journey easier, which means you’ll WANT to do it. So that money you spend NOW will prevent you from spending lots of money LATER. Like take-out, drive-thru, full-price groceries, etc…
MYTH #3: YOU'LL BE EATING CASSEROLE AFTER CASSEROLE AFTER CASSEROLE
Oh man, nobody loves a freezer casserole (except maybe my Grandma). Here’s the thing: you can freeze just about anything with a little prep beforehand. Again, nobody says you have to prep your meals ONE way. If you don’t like frozen lasagna, guess what? Don’t freeze lasagna. What about quick and creamy Macaroni and Cheese? Grilled Pineapple Burgers? Garlic Bread Meatball Subs? Tuscan Chicken soup with breadsticks? None of those are mushy casseroles and they’re all meals you can freeze ahead of time.
MYTH #4: YOU NEED AN EXTRA FREEZER
Is an extra freezer super helpful? Heck yeah. I had a small stand-up one, and it was great because I could buy meat in bulk when it was on sale and freeze it. But you don’t need one. The freezer attached to your fridge will hold plenty, especially if it’s well organized, and you keep an inventory. I suggest some plastic bins from the dollar store or Target to help utilize every inch of that bad boy. Plastic file folder bins work especially well, and if you label it by type of food, you’ll not only be able to stock it, but you will be able to find everything. Make sure you also keep an inventory sheet (there’s one in the free workbook below), so you know exactly what is in there and when you need to stock up on something!
MYTH #5: YOU CAN'T AFFORD TO BUY EXTRA FOOD AHEAD OF TIME
I don’t know your specific situation, but I’d bet my Dunkin Donuts pumpkin coffee (made at home of course!) that you could work it into your budget. You’ll probably find that you CAN do it with a little creative meal planning and budgeting AND that it will save you money in the long run. Having a meal in the freezer means you don’t have to spend money last minute ordering take-out. But in all honesty, it’ll save you more than a few bucks – you can do some serious grocery budget-slashing with freezer meal prep.
MYTH #6: IT'S BORING, THE FOOD WILL TASTE LIKE FREEZER BURN, AND YOUR KIDS WON'T EAT IT
I probably sound like a broken record by now, but you can just make what you already like and eat! And as for freezer burn, there are two main ways to avoid it:
Don’t leave it in the freezer for too long. Like a few months, max. There are actual real guidelines out there from the FDA, but if you haven't eaten it in a few months, chances are you're not going to. In that case, freezer burn will be the least of your worries. Chuck it and never make it again!
Protect the food well. Use plastic bags designed for the freezer and use a straw to suck the air out of the bags before freezing. Put a layer of saran wrap over a casserole before aluminum foil (and label it because you won’t see it once it’s frozen and you just might put it in the oven with a nice layer of plastic on the top… #lessonlearned). You get the idea.
MYTH #7: YOU DON'T WANT TO USE THE MICROWAVE TO RE-HEAT
OK, awesome, we’re on the same page. I don’t like reheating stuff in the microwave either. But If you’re not doing the 30 meals in a day kind of’ thing (see myth #1), then the freezer will just be storage until you cook and eat it – avoiding the rubbery reheats! If you are doing the 30 meals in one-day kind of thing and you are reheating an entire dinner, just use your stove or oven instead. Easy peasy, no microwave needed (exception: popcorn, of course).
The bottom line…
Freezer meals can give you the biggest bang for your buck when it comes to meal planning and stretching your budget.
Did you learn anything new? Ready to give it a try?
Download the Freezer Meals Workbook here for free and you’ll also get some recipes in your inbox this week to get started!