Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The List: 5 Tricks to Making Freezer Meals Worthwhile

The List: 5 Tricks to Making Freezer Meals Worthwhile

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Stock your freezer and save time and money with this efficient meal-planning concept.

Many of my busy mom-friends are excited about the concept of freezer meals: You spend a few hours assembling a bunch of meals, and then later you need only to pull them out of the freezer and throw them in a pot or the slow cooker for an easy dinner on a busy night.
And really, done right, this is a super-efficient and environmentally responsible way of cooking. You’re doing all the prep work at once, so you’re cutting down on the number of dishes you would be washing nightly. You can take advantage of bulk grocery purchases, which uses less packaging, and you might even require fewer gas-wasting trips to the supermarket since you’ve done one big shopping trip. And, best of all, you’ll save lots of time each night since really all you need to do is cook the meal.
There are plenty of resources with recipes for these make-ahead meals. One of the most popular is Once a Month Meals, a paid membership that gives you access to a month’s worth of recipes, and includes meals for special diets like Paleo, vegetarian or gluten-free. But there are plenty of free options, too, if you just search for “freezer meals.” I found options from Southern Living, Cooking Light and the blog Living Well Spending Less (which promises 10 meals that only take an hour to assemble).
If you decide to try your hand at stocking your freezer, use these tips to ensure that your efforts are environmentally responsible.
1. Make sure your groceries do double-duty. Choose recipes that share some ingredients, so that there’s less waste when you have to buy perishables like bags of carrots, bunches of herbs, or blocks of cheese. If you belong to a warehouse club, freezer meals gives you the chance to take advantage of the larger packages of meat sold. Buy those big containers of chicken thighs or ground beef; you’ll be able to get several different meals from them while you take advantage of the cost savings and the minimal packaging of buying such a big quantity.
2. Invest in reusable freezer containers. I’m proud of the fact that I’ve overcome my dependence on disposable bags and tupperware — so much so that my daughter’s packed lunches are nearly always entirely waste-free! — and I try to carry that through to meal prep, too. While freezer bags take up less space in the freezer and minimize the amount of air that comes in contact with the food, I prefer to use reusable food containers. To avoid freezer burn, be sure to use a container that’s just the right size for the food inside, and consider pressing a piece of plastic wrap against the surface of the food to keep it away from air. Also, if you’ve cooked something before freezing make sure to cool the food completely before putting it in the freezer. And don’t forget to label! I’m a fan of the erasable food labels, which can be used again and again.
MORE: Check out great food storage containers in One Twine.
3. Use recipes that have an energy-efficient cooking method. Many freezer meals are stews or casseroles, which makes them great candidates for cooking in the slow cooker. Luckily, the slow-cooker can be more energy efficient than an electric oven. Also don’t overlook pressure cookers, which can cook the type of stew-like recipes that are best in a slow cooker, but in a fraction of the time that they’d cook on a conventional stovetop — making them one of the most energy efficient cooking methods around.
4. Join forces with a friend. Not only is it more fun to hunker down in the kitchen with a buddy, but it can also be more efficient and economical! Choose to make the same set of recipes, and you’ll be able to maximize the use of ingredients, so you’ll waste less.
5. Keep a list of what meals are in the freezer, and EAT THEM! Make a list, along with heating or cooking instructions for each, and post it on your freezer so you know exactly what’s in there. That way you’ll avoid rummaging around in the freezer to see what’s in there, while precious cold air escapes. As you eat the various meals, cross them off the list. Above all, if you’ve gone through the trouble to prepare the freezer meals, don’t let them languish in the freezer, uneaten. Frozen foods do eventually deteriorate and lose quality or texture – Once a Month Meals estimates its meals are best eaten within three to six months — so don’t let your hard work go to waste.
Enjoy the convenience of your freezer meals, and when they’re all eaten, head to the kitchen and make some more!

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