With a 45-minute commute, a fast-paced career and a dislike for cleaning the kitchen daily, I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of freezer cooking.
Here’s how it works: You prepare multiple meals at one time and freeze them. On days you’ll be too busy to cook a real meal, you pull out the frozen concoction and toss it in the slow cooker. After an eight to 10 hour day when you would be tempted to order out, dinner’s ready to be served.
On my first attempt, I made 12 freezer meals. It took about three hours to prepare the ingredients. However, it saved my sanity during a hectic time when I would work all day and then head to my first graduate-level class.
My favorite freezer recipes so far have been chicken and dumplings, smoky pulled pork and chipotle beef tacos. But not every recipe will be a winner. You’ll want to rely heavily on reviews and comments from other people. I once tried a rosemary honey chicken recipe that tasted like pine needles. The entire dish went in the trash, and I ordered a pizza instead.
Want to take a stab at this money- and time-saving trick? Here are six tips:
Buy ingredients during big sales. I bought all the items I needed for my freezer-cooking debut on a day when Meijer, the local grocery chain, ran a "5 percent-off-all-groceries" deal. I also try to use coupons and buy store-brand items to save even more dough.
Embrace family-sized packaging and bulk pricing. Typically, a young professional can’t benefit from the savings of family-sized packaging and bulk pricing. But because you prepare so many recipes on the same day, you can save a few cents. During my last round of food prep, I bought two family-sized packages of chicken breasts, a very large container of chicken brothand a big bag of onions.
Prep your own veggies. As much as I would prefer to buy pre-cut, pre-washed celery, it is cheaper to do it myself. But take shortcuts that you prefer – like using bagged baby carrots.
Freeze leftover ingredients. You won’t use a freezer meal every night, but you can still save some of the prepped ingredients. For example, I love using chipotle peppers in adobo sauce. But a small can has more than I can use, and it feels wasteful to toss. I mince and freeze the peppers in tablespoon-sized portions. I also have tomato paste, chicken broth, and evaporated milk in my freezer. To save time, freeze ingredients in pre-measured amounts.
Be sure you have space. I have an extra freezer, which allows me to make 10 to 15 recipes at one time. Some people like to lay the freezer bags flat to freeze them, helping to save space. I prefer to place the bags side-by-side in an upright position because I know I won’t want to clean the freezer if one of the bags leak. It’s also easier because I can dump the frozen clump of ingredients right in the crock pot without having to defrost it.
Don’t be afraid to improvise. I add extra vegetables in some of the recipes. Sometimes, I add extra broth or sauce because I end up leaving food in the slow cooker for eight to 10 hours. You also might want to add extra spices because some of the recipes you’ll find online are a bit bland. Not sure what to add? Try adding spices right before serving.