A couple months ago I decided to attempt freezer meal cooking to help me out on days that my energy is low and pain is high. See the post here. Since then I have done another freezer meal day and I have learned several things in the process.
- The ziploc bags nearly always leaked either while starting to freeze or defrosting in my fridge. I got name brand bags and even double bagged them the second time around. It helped but didn’t solve the problem completely. In the future, I plan to buy extra large stack-able storage containers for my freezer. I have found that the locking lids work best because the top can’t come loose when getting cold like cheaper snap on ones. Something like this. Above are my double-bagged dinners. The majority of them didn’t leak, but some still did. Never through the top, it was always the bottom corner or side-seams that tore.
- Certain meals are actually easier and taste better in the oven, even though they are marked for the slow cooker. I found that certain meals, like ones for seasoned meat, like my favorite Lemon Pepper Chicken, putting them in the oven makes for juicier chicken. It was just as easy for me to stick them on a backing sheet and put them in the oven, than dumping them in the slow cooker. When you are home and can stick them in about an hour or so before dinner time (or you forget to stick them in the slow cooker in time, which was my case, the oven is a very good option, and I think it tastes better. My slow cooker chicken seems always dry. (Maybe you all have some tips you can put in the comments to remedy this).
- Slow cookers really do cook at different times. I overcooked most of mine the first time. When the recipe says 6-8 hours, check at 4. I found that mine was overcooked every time even at the earliest time given on the recipe. Experiment with your recipes and determine the best length of time for that specific meal. WRITE IT DOWN. I have the meal lists on my computer and edit the labels with time changes.
- Before shopping, make sure your shopping list is thorough and check ALL of your supplies. This may seem obvious, but as a person that has trouble remembering details, I found that I tend to miss things if I don’t triple check. My second freezer meal attempt sent me to the store 4 times in one day. yep. never again. For a couple things, I thought I had enough in my pantry but ran out. For others, I missed them on the grocery list. For some, my list didn’t say how much I needed, and I ended up not getting enough. Be thorough. If one recipe calls for 2 14oz cans of tomato sauce and another calls for 1 28 oz, and another yet for 3 14oz, keep track of how they will be separated when making the meals. You may want to get bulk to save money, but in some cases, you may want to have a couple separate if you can’t make them all at the same time.
- Don’t forget side dishes and extras. Write on your list how many side dishes, what types, and even plan ahead what they will be if you like. Don’t forget things like parmasan cheese for an italian meal or bbq sauce if your family wants it for dipping. And don’t forget essentials that we sometimes don’t put on our lists because we get them every time anyway. Make sure you buy enough if you will need them for the recipes too.
- Have the recipes, ingredients and labeled bags ready before you plan to do the assembling. Don’t wait until the time you set aside to assemble, because labeling takes time away from assembly. Last time I didn’t finish in one day because I had to spend time labeling. I didn’t end up making those meals at all because of pain. I didn’t even bother to put away any of the ingredients after shopping. I did the shopping the day before assembling and I left everything out.
- If you are hurting, take breaks. Don’t completely over-do it just because you really want to get it done in one day. Sometimes that is impossible. You may want to do less meals in one sitting next time. I did 27-28 both times, and it was really too many for me. I ended up on the couch for days after.
- Find shortcuts that you are comfortable with. I don’t buy fresh garlic. I buy a jar of minced garlic. It isn’t worth it to me to buy fresh. If you can get certain things already chopped, you may spend more, but will save a lot of time and wrist/hand pain. Get a food processor or a chopper if you can. Though I got a hand-chopper and it was virtually useless, so it may require a bit of an investment for a really good one. I hear this one is great and it is on my wishlist.
- After trying a new meal, write down any changes you want to make, and if you don’t like it remove it from your list entirely. My conditions give me some terrible brain fog, and often I can’t remember if I liked something by the name of it. After I try a new meal I have to immediately write on my list any changes I want to make or delete it. It helped especially in improving cooking time and removing certain ingredients I didn’t like.
- You don’t have to eat them every single day. When you make a meal plan, leave a couple days a week empty. Use those days to catch up on any leftovers (especially with the soups, as they tend to have a lot of servings) or go out to eat. Move the empty days around based on how you feel that day. If you are feeling good, you may one to use the empty day to cook something special, or use the empty day for leftovers if you aren’t feeling well and didn’t have a meal defrosted. Don’t feel like you have to eat one every day.
- While ebooks are great for recipes, they aren’t necessary. There are free freezer meal recipes everywhere. Check pinterest and even google. You can find hundreds of good freezer meal recipes without paying a cent. Most of mine are from New Leaf Wellness because even though I don’t like every single recipe, I do love most of them and her instructions and shopping lists are wonderful.
I hope these are somewhat helpful. I’m at a standstill with meals right now because of some medical issues, which I’ll explain a little more next time. Have a good day! Feel free to leave comments!