Life gets in the way of our best intentions sometimes. I spent most of yesterday at the Science Olympiad regional with my son. From 9:00 am to 4:00 pm I was fortunate to be able to watch him and his teammates compete in several events. It is amazing to me what the kids can do at middle school and high school during these events. I only understood about 50% of what they were talking about but I was really impressed with all the students at the event.
Of course it had to be on a day when my daughter has dance class so we needed to leave shortly for the hour drive to her dance studio. So, dinner at Applebee’s. I completely forgot to plan dinner. Didn’t even think about it until I was sitting at a table about 1:00 pm and realized I had no meat thawed in the refrigerator and nothing in the slow cooker. This is unusual for me. I could have gone home and taken out a package of soup from the freezer and made that but I didn’t want to. I was having a little bit of a tantrum and an “I don’t want to cook time.”
I think we all need a break from time to time. It is when life gets out of balance and we are eating out 3-4 meals a week, every week, that I am concerned for my family.
So, as we are heading into that busy time of year with school and extra curricular events I need to rely on my freezer and slow cooker to make things easier for dinners. I just need to have salad items and frozen bags of veggies on hand to complete the meals.
Here are some freezer tips:
Mix it Up
For the most part I do a mix of meals such as casseroles, chilis, stews, meatloaf and soups that can be frozen and then taken out of the freezer the evening before or the morning I am going to cook them to thaw. Knowing I have several different meal options to choose from makes things easier for my family because some nights they just do not want another casserole.
Ingredients to Prepare Ahead of Time
Also, I prepare certain ingredients up to a certain point and have those on hand too.
Cooked Chicken Breasts are great to have on hand. Whether you are grilling chicken, poaching it or frying it making extra and then freezing it will allow you to make a dish in no time on busy nights.
What can you make with cooked chicken? Tacos, quesadillas, sandwiches, toss them in salads and add them to soup, chili or pasta to bulk up the meal.
Browned Ground Beef is another item I find helpful to have on hand. Pizzas, tacos, spaghetti sauce, chili, sloppy joes and hamburger soup are some of our favorite ways to have frozen ground beef.
Hearty Vegetables such as carrots, broccoli, green beans and cauliflower can be chopped or diced and then blanched and then put into an ice bath before freezing. Each vegetable is a little different so research what works best for you.
Plastic Freezer Bags are the workhorse in our house. Don’t have one of those expensive vacuum sealers? I learned from Alton Brown that a straw can work just as well. Seriously! Slide a clean straw into the bag just as you are sealing it. Close the bag tightly around the straw and suck out any remaining air in the bag. Quickly remove and seal the bag to avoid letting the air back in.
Lie the bags on a cookie tray in your freezer or on a flat surface until frozen to stack better in your freezer.
Aluminum Pans are great for freezing because you are not constantly looking for your glass dishes and then remembering you froze them. They can be purchased inexpensively in bulk or at the $1 store. The best thing is when you finish the meal you can throw the pan away!
Here is a partial list of items that do not freeze as well:
- Fried foods (especially deep-fried foods): They can taste stale.
- High water content vegetables (lettuce, tomatoes, celery, etc.): They may get limp.
- Potatoes: May get grainy and soft.
- Crumb toppings on casseroles: They can tend to get soggy.
- Cooked egg whites and yolks, as well as icings made with egg whites: May separate when thawed.
- Custard and cream pies or desserts with cream fillings: May separate when thawed.
- Soups and stews made with potatoes: Can darken and become mushy when frozen.
- Soups and stews thickened with cornstarch or flour: May separate when thawed.
- Sour cream: May separate when thawed.
- Whole eggs in the shell, whether raw or cooked