I’ll be the first to admit that I am not a chef. I honestly don’t love cooking gourmet meals that have too many steps and too many opportunities for error. That’s why you’ll notice that I go for SIMPLE. Yes, I look for simple meals that are healthy too. I need meals that are tried and true and will be winners for our family and our schedule.
A few years ago, we discovered the concept of freezer meals and even though there has just been the two of us, freezer meals have saved us time and time again! Freezer meals don’t have to be complex, and they can also be healthy too. Here’s how it works for us: we do really well for the first six months of the year and then wane as the year goes on. Just speaking plainly here folks! We are not perfect with this throughout the year, but that doesn’t mean we can’t improve a little bit each time we get back into it.
Here are a few things we’ve learned that will hopefully help you plan your own freezer meal plan:
- Block out time. The first year we did this, we literally spent about 20 hours between two days, prepping and storing our meals. This is A LOT of work, especially if you’re trying to do a ton of meals at once.
- Map out your desired meals. We started a running list of freezer meals we have tried over the last few years and liked. Some meals are better than others for freezer and make-ahead prep, and when you find a winner, you’ll want to remember it. Once you know what you’re going to make, go through each list and make a running list of ALL of the ingredients you’ll need and the amounts of said ingredients.
- Think about lunches and breakfasts too! Freezer meals don’t have to be for just dinners, though that’s about 95% of what we plan out. One thing though, that has worked GREAT for us, are making breakfast burritos ahead of time and then wrapping them individually with plastic wrap and freezing them. We’ll take them out in the mornings for a quick, healthy, and protein-packed breakfast that’s also great to take on the go too!
- Shop once or twice. I say twice because when you’re doing meal prep like this in bulk, memberships to places like Sam’s or Costco can be really helpful. That said, it’s not necessary, so don’t feel bad if you don’t have the memberships! These membership stores are great for buying things like chicken broth, frozen veggies, cheese, and meats. However, they don’t always have the spices, sauces, and other miscellaneous foods you’ll need for every recipe. We found that we had to do two main shopping trips, and we started with the membership store first, and then headed to our local supermarket next.
- Get the right supplies. Yes, the food is important, but the storage containers are also extremely important as well. If you have a food sealer, make sure you have all the plastic you need. If you don’t have a food sealer, make sure you have plenty of gallon size, quart size, and even sandwich size baggies. Make sure to purchase any disposable pans for things like lasagnas that you’ll need. I also like to have a permanent marker on hand to label AND DATE every thing!
- Decide how much you will prep in a given time. If you are the type to do it all in one sitting, be prepared for a loooooong day! It’s a lot of work, though if you have helpers it may be pretty efficient. We tried this one year and did ALL of our meals for about 4 months in a matter of one weekend. It was all we did and we were zonked! After that, we’ve tried a smaller approach as the year goes on where we will make one meal and make enough for six meals of that one recipe, which keeps a rotating source of freezer meals at any given time. For example, when I make a lasagna, I make six lasagnas and throw the five extras in the freezer. I say, find what works for you. There really are no hard-set rules here!
- Group-Prep specific recipes. Group prepping means that you work on all your freezer meals that include ground beef at the same time. If you need to brown meat for lasagna AND meat loafs, you can do these in the same pan. It makes for less dishes and you also can portion out your meat more effectively.
- Cut all your meat at once. This is one of my favorite reasons for doing freezer meal prep in advance. I don’t know many people who get a thrill out of touching raw meat, so if you can cut all your chicken for a few months, you’ll save yourself the ick factor each night, as well as the extra dishes!
- Wear good shoes. Trust me, you’ll get into the zone and forget to put on some tennis shoes. Before you know it, you’re six hours in and your feet are killing you! Take the time to put on some supportive shoes so that you can go the distance if you’re doing a big chunk of prep time!
- Good Music. Pop on some upbeat music to help keep you moving and make the time pass in a fun way.
Regardless of your style, how much you prep, and what kinds of meals you prep ahead, any work you do with freezer meals WILL help you on those nights when you’re running from work straight to the next activity. We’ve tried meal subscription services, and other meal prep ideas, but nothing has worked as well as our own freezer meal plans. We hope you’ll find success with these tips too!