Freezer Cooking for the Busy Mom (Two Hours and Ten Meals? Yes, Please)
A common sentiment when it comes to eating real, whole, from-scratch foods is that (while we know they’re good for us) they can be time consuming to prepare.
It’s a real deterrent for a lot of people who want to eat better, but feel they just don’t have the time and energy to do it.
I totally get that. As I shared in my “day in the life” post this week, my life is often busy, and at times, it’s downright hectic.
There are many ways to turns real food ideals into dinner on the table, and one of them that I have turned to frequently in the past is freezer cooking.
Now, before some of you groan, you should know that the idea of freezer cooking is making a resurgence. Just try searching for “freezer meal” on Pinterest. I dare you.
Not Your Mother’s Make-Ahead and Freeze Cookbook
My friend Jessica, of Life as Mom and Good, Cheap Eats, has this to say about the renaissance of freezer cooking:
Some folks might thumb their nose at “cook and freeze” meals. Perhaps they’ve had bad experiences; maybe they’re haunted by a memory or two of Mom’s Mystery Meat Casserole. How- ever, those are relics of the past! I am a self-proclaimed food snob, yet after finding ￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼and developing recipes that really work for my family, I’ve found bulk cooking to be a happy compromise between a busy life, a tight budget, and a desire for good, home-cooked food…
We live in an age of instant gratification. While hard work is still important, ours is a fast-paced society. But good home cooking still has a place in it. Through careful planning and making use of modern technologies, I’m now able to prepare 20 to 30 breakfasts, lunches, or dinners in a matter of hours.
Donna Reed, it’s time to meet Jane Jetson. While we may not have machines producing food to order the way the Jetsons did, we can have tasty, healthy meals at the ready without an inordinate amount of work.
Taken from Not Your Mother’s Make-Ahead and Freezer Cookbook
Her own experience of adapting the traditional once-a-month freezer cooking style into something more manageable (and better tasting) helped her to put nutritious and tasty meals on the table for her family of eight.
Just in time (guess what I’ll be doing this week?)
For me, this cookbook review couldn’t have come at a better time. Only last week I was searching through Pinterest for freezer cooking inspiration, knowing that to keep putting decent meals on the table right now, I needed a plan to lighten my cooking load.
My search for inspiration ended when Jessica’s book landed in my inbox (I’m still awaiting my hard copy in the mail). It was exactly what I needed!
What particularly drew me to her book was:
- She loves to eat fresh foods and plenty of produce. She has crafted her style of make-ahead meals so that they reduce most of the hands-on prep, but still allow her to incorporate plenty of fresh ingredients. It might mean marinated meats, pre-made sauces or seasoning mixes, or meal elements (pre-cooked meats, beans, etc.) that can be made into a variety of different meals, depending on your mood or what you have on hand.
- She has created plans that range in time commitment from 2 hours or less (with a 10 meal takeaway), 3-4 hours (18+ meals), or up to 1 day (25+ meals). While I can rarely commit a full day to cooking, I could definitely find time to cook for 3-4 hours once in a while (weekends?) or 2 hours or less frequently (one afternoon every two weeks?).
- She shares techniques for maximizing your time spent in the kitchen, even if you’re not doing one of the actual cooking plans or spending more than an hour. Try making one extra meal while you cook dinner, or pulling together a couple easy recipes if you have a spare hour, doubling dinner a couple nights per week, or even just putting a meal in the crockpot to simmer all day so that you have something extra to freezer at the end of the day.
Pre-made plans to get you started
One super-smart aspect of how Jessica has arranged her plans (and what she suggests that you do as you learn to stock your freezer) is to focus on one protein type at a time. Whether it’s beef, poultry, or meatless, or even breakfast meals to make morning smoother, you can pick just one area to focus on which only serves to streamline your process and make your time use more efficient.
I’ve already decided that since I just purchased 50 lbs of beef last weekend, I’ll be doing the Beef Plan- 2 hours (or less) this week. It comes with a shopping list, supply list, and an action plan, as well as (of course) all the necessary recipes. Having done plenty of freezer cooking over the last 5 years, I can tell that these plans are realistic and feasible to complete within a couple hours.
I’ll probably swap out one or two of the recipes for different ones from the book, just based on the cuts of meat that I have on hand, but since the plan is already laid out for me, making the substitutions will be a snap.
I only wish I had already been able to try and review a few of the recipes from this book, but I will tell you that I’ve tried several recipes from her blog Good, Cheap Eats and they haven’t failed me yet. Especially her Shredded Beef Filling. Amazing. Every time I make it with a large roast, I wind up with extra packages of tasty, seasoned, shredded beef to put in the freezer and then pull out when I need a fast and simple dinner option.
How to get your copy
The official release of Not Your Mother’s Make-Ahead and Freezer Cookbook is October 9th, but it’s available for pre-order already on Amazon.
I was impressed to see how affordable it it is, too! Only $11.32 for over 200 recipes and a ton of helpful tips and techniques to teach you how to really do this freezer cooking thing and do it well. This would make a fantastic cookbook for any moms of your Christmas list this year.
are there pictures for each meal in it? Thank you!
In order to keep the price of the book reasonable, there are not pictures other than the cover photos.
How many meatless meals are there? No more meat for us. 🙂
Actually, there wer a lot of meatless meals. She even had some plans that were meatless meals only. But, of course, there are still plenty of beef/poultry/seafood meals in the mix.
I love freezer cooking. A dear friend helped me do a chicken freezer day and a beef freezer day 2-1/2 years ago before the c-section birth of my 3rd son, to teach me the ropes. I cooked 6 weeks’worth of meals for post-op and it saved our lives!!! Recoveries are slow. I did the same for my 4th baby’s c-section as well. I make freezer meals frequently though for therapy days, busy days, feeling icky days too. Well worth the time and effort.
(And now i return the love and help other expecting moms freezer cook before the birth of their babies).
I triple meals I’m making for supper and freeze the other portions. I do the same for muffins, granola bars, and cookie doughs as well.
For official freezer meals days, I’ll pick 3-4 different recipes and triple them. I also pick chicken, pork, or breakfasts for themes. I have 2 of them be less intense (like marinates, crockpot meal, etc) and the others be more involved. For supper on those big freezer days, it’s another crockpot meal (hooray for 2 crockpots) or sandwiches or pizza night.
I can honestly say, freezer meal cooking has changed our lives for the better! Healthy meals on hand when life with 4 kids in 4 years gets a little crazy. Now I’m planning out 4 weeks of them because my oldest is going into intense occupational therapy, 5 days a week for half the day. Coming home and not worrying about supper is high on the list.
Are the recipes easily converted to gluten free? Are there plenty of dairy free choices as well? Sometimes I find gluten free is easier to achieve than dairy free.
There is a 2-page spread listing the naturally gluten-free recipes. As for the dairy free…. as long as you’re not wanting meatless AND dairy-free, there’s a good amount of choice, at least 70 of the main dish recipes contain no dairy.
Do most of the recipes have dairy in them? Could they be converted easily?
About 70 of the main dish recipes are dairy free. The meatless chapter does have a fair amount of cheesy recipes, but some of those could be easily converted. If you’re comfortable with making subs for butter or milk, the baked goods could also be easily converted.
I do this on and off again- meaning some seasons I can do it, others, I can’t. Right now I have some in the freezer thank you to a lovely dear friend who helped me get some in the freezer so I could survive this time of being on my own all week with the kids. Otherwise we were resorting to nut butter and jam AGAIN (even natural nut butter, natural jam and good bread it just doesn’t cut it again and again)…
The best technique I have found is simply making something freezer friendly and doubling it, doing this every day or almost every day for a week or two. I find I don’t have the time or energy (or there are too many interuptions) to make this work well in my family otherwise.
The book- I am also curious about the content is it allergy friendly, is there lots of dairy. Most books like this have tons of dairy especially cheese.
There is a lot of cheese in the meatless chapter, but about 70 of the main dishes are dairy free. 55 of the recipes are naturally gluten free. And since my daughter is allergic to eggs and nuts, I was sensitive to making sure there were recipes to accommodate those allergies. There are still eggs and nuts present in the book, but it’s not chock full of those. And there is absolutely no peanut butter.
I just went to Jessica’s site and used the contact link to ask her about the allergy friendliness. Here is what I wrote…
Hi Jessica, I just saw Stephanie’s post on KOTH about your new freezer cookbook. Several people in the comments section are asking if it is allergy friendly — do the recipes include lots of dairy, could they be converted to gluten free etc. I have that same question. We can’t eat peanuts or tree nuts and I have one dairy allergic kid so recipes that are cream based or chock full of cheese don’t work. Could you comment on the allergy friendliness of your book?
As a side note, I have the 1992 version of Once a Month Cooking and still use a few recipes out of it but a lot of them are not real food based. I’m really excited to take a peek at yours and implement this great time saving process again with recipes that are better tasting and use better food.
Good idea, Brenda. I did notice a lot of recipes that didn’t include dairy, but I haven’t looked at them all yet, and I wasn’t looking through the eyes of worrying about a dairy allergy.
Thanks for your email. I’m going to answer here since others might benefit from the info as well. I counted earlier today and there are about 70 main dishes that are dairy free. Others can be easily converted if you have favorite ways to substitute for butter or milk.
There is a 2-page spread listing all the naturally gluten free recipes. I just counted, there are 55 on that list.
My daughter has nut and egg allergies, so any recipes that do have nuts can easily have them pulled out. A lot of recipes are egg-free, esp ones you wouldn’t expect, like lasagna and some of the cookies and scones.
Hope that helps.
I have several freezer cooking cookbooks and some are better than others. I find that the assembly-style recipes (raw ingredients mixed together) taste better than most of the cook-ahead and freeze type recipes. I’ll occasionally make some casseroles that freeze well. Otherwise, I’ll double what I’m making and freeze the extra. I joined a OAMC meetup group once but I didn’t like the recipes because they used too many processed pre-made ingredients (bottled ranch, BBQ sauce, onion soup mix, etc.)
Thanks, Stephanie. Going to pin this in healthy food board on Pinterest. Even us retired people can use this tip.
I have been doing Once-a-month cooking off and on for years. My favorite way to do it is with a friend! We make 4 of each recipe and save money by buying ingredients in bulk. Plus, it makes the day go faster.
This cookbook looks amazing! I put it on my Amazon “wish list” but I’d love to win it!!!
Brenda – I would love to hear if you hear anything back on how allergy friendly the book is. We also have dairy allergies among several others, and I am always heisitant to buy a cookbook that I cannot browse through first…
As the author, I can give you a general idea. My daughter has egg and nut allergies, so while I tried to be sensitive to people enjoying those types of recipes, I also had to cook foods she could eat. There are recipes with both of those allergens. With the nut recipes, they can easily be omitted. There are a fair number of egg dishes — I just didn’t feed them to her. But, there are also a lot of recipes that typically contain eggs that don’t, like egg-free scones, lasagnas, and cookies.
I counted earlier today and among the main dishes, there are about 70 that are dairy free. In many of the other recipes, the cheese can be omitted or the butter subbed for oil. There will probably be an Amazon preview available in the next few weeks. And of course, it will be available in physical bookstores as well. Let me know if you have more questions.
I’ve been following Jessica for a long time and have anticipated this book for hwat feels like FOREVER. So excited. Thanks for the review; I’m considering purchasing it – which is a big deal for me!
I know. I was thinking of purchasing it before I was asked to review it, and that’s a big deal for me, too. 🙂
I try to have 5-6 meals in the freezer for crazy days. I just make doubles or triples of some things and freeze them.
this looks great! can’t wait to request it at the library!
Put your request in now if your library has it listed. One reader told me she’s already number 49 on the list! Yowzers.
This is my next goal. I’ve been wanting to try stocking up on freezer meals for a while now. I do have a few soups and stews stashed away in my freezer, but I need to figure out some tasty, and healthy, meals to try too. Thanks for the post!
I have never tried this, but it seems to me that it would be super helpful with our schedule. I really should do it! Thanks for the review!
I’m going to pre-order now! I used to freezer cook ALL THE TIME, but after we transitioned to a Real Food/Traditional way of eating, I discovered that all those cream of ??? soups weren’t going to cut it. Even on Pinterest, I have a hard time finding a good casserole that doesn’t call for some sort of creamed soup. And, let’s face it, dried milk powder to make your own cream soup base isn’t healthy either. I have missed casseroles so much over the last few years simply because I didn’t know how to make a casserole with out cream of ??? soup and still have it be comforting and creamy.
I always want to freezer cook, because I feel it would be so much easier, but I find freezer cooking not as healthy when I find recipes meant for the freezer. But there are some out there,I need to try them!