freezer cooking 101

Posted on Jul 10, 2012 in Food

Last weekend, after our Costco trip, Babyface and I spent eight hours in the kitchen preparing frozen meals. Why? Well, a few reasons. First of all, we are commuting to Bloomington two days a week, and it became very clear, very soon that food on those two days was going to be a struggle. On one commuting day during our first week back at work, we didn’t even get to eat dinner until 9pm! So we wanted to streamline meals for those days as much as possible.

Secondly, we live in the country now! Before, when we didn’t feel like cooking or didn’t have anything planned, we’d just head to the grocery store that was 1/2 mile away or grab something from a sandwich shop down the road. We don’t have those options anymore. Thankfully, there is one pizza delivery place, but I don’t want to rely to delivery pizza to fill that void. So the freezer will!

This was our first time really doing batch cooking like this. Sure, I’ve doubled a recipe to freeze, or made a batch of burritos for lunch, but we made seven different recipes in large quantities all in one day. It was an exhausting day, but totally worth it.

But before I get into the actual recipes, let me tell you how I tackled it all. I actually split the process into three separate days (well, actually, two half days of prep and one full day of cooking). I would not recommend trying to do all of this in one day. I’d do at least two days (one for prep and shopping and the other for cooking). Here is how I broke it up:

1. Assess your freezer space.

This may sound crazy obvious, but the first thing you need to do is figure out how much space you have to hold food. The amount of recipes you can cook at one time will vary drastically if you have a chest freezer versus just the fridge/freezer combo. I actually overestimated how much space we have (even though we do have a chest freezer) and had to nix a recipe last-minute because it couldn’t fit.

2. Pick your recipes.

Now, you have to figure out what you are going to make. I chose mostly old standbys (after all, you don’t want 20 servings of a new dish that no one in your family ends up liking) and dishes that were easy to double or triple. I actually ended up making a list of about 20 dishes that would be good freezer cooking candidates. Then, I narrowed that list down to what I wanted to make in this cook-a-thon.

3. Adjust your recipes.

Making just a regular batch of most recipes really isn’t worth the time in the kitchen, so I doubled, tripled or even quadrupled the recipe in certain cases. I created an Evernote note (you do use Evernote, right? It’s awesome!) with all of my new, giant-sized recipes. I also made note of the new number of servings and what kind and quantity of storage I’d need (example: 12 servings, 4 servings per gallon zip-top bag, 3 gallon zip-to bags per recipe).

4. Make your grocery list.

Once all my recipes are ready-to-go, I start list-making. I’m normally a Grocery IQ girl for when it comes to making a grocery list, but this is one occasion when pencil and paper is the way to go. I wrote down each ingredient as it popped up in the recipes and then used tally marks to indicate how many of each item I’d need. Then, I translated this list into my Grocery IQ list. Make sure to check what you currently have stocked in the pantry. No need to buy something new if you already have it! Oh, and don’t forget to add storage containers and bags to your list.

 4. Go shopping!

This is probably the easiest step there is. Go shop! Follow your list and keep a close eye on quantity and size (especially for produce). If the peppers are particularly large, you might be able to get away with getting a few less and vice versa. Also, try to keep your bulk shopping separate from your everyday shopping. We actually did it all in one trip, but once we were home, separated it.

5. Organize the supplies.

Set out all of your non-perishable food, all of your tools, and all of your storage containers in plain sight. If you can, make a separate shelf in the fridge just for the food you’ll need for your cook-a-thon. Make sure all the utensils, bowls, pans, and skillets you need are washed and ready to be used and abused.

6. Clear out freezer space.

Take a few minutes to organize your freezer and prepare it for all the goodies that’ll be coming its way. Trust me, you do not want to be doing this when you have two gallons of chili that need to get in the freezer immediately.

7. Make a rough schedule.

This maybe a little too anal retentive for most folks, but I actually made a rough schedule for my cooking day. I figured out what should go in first, what I could multi-task with and what needed my full attention. We didn’t really follow it exactly, but it did help a lot with multitasking.

8. Start cooking!

Wake up, have some breakfast and then just get to cooking! If you are working by yourself, it might be good to work one recipe at a time, just in case you get worn out and need to stop, you’ll have a good stopping point. Babyface and I did our batch cooking together, so we tag-teamed it. He was my sous chef—chopping, peeling, assembling—while I was keeping an eye on the big picture. It was a huge help to have two people doing it.

9. Clean up as you go.

I have a ton of cooking gear, but even with my stash, I plowed through all my bowls, baking sheets and pots within a few hours. Clean up as you go, or at the very least, take a break every hour or so to do a load of dishes and clean up the kitchen before you start your next endeavor.

10. Label, label, label!

Write the recipe, date, and reheating instructions on each storage container. I know, you think there is no way you’ll forget you put Nana’s Chicken Surprise in that container, but in a few months, you will. I promise.

11. Cool, store and freeze properly.

You want to cool your food completely before freezing it, but you also want to do that very quickly to help prevent yucky bugs from growing. Putting hot food in the freezer will cause the temperature of the freezer to rise (putting all the food in danger) and also it’ll cause the food itself to freeze unevenly. Use the fridge or sinks full of cold water and ice to chill food before stashing it in its final resting place.

And there you have it. That’s how I made over 100 meals in less than 8 hours.

Now are you ready for some recipes? A word of warning, we actually haven’t eaten all of these yet, so a few are untested (namely, the Vegan Beer Chili and Florentine Calzones and Meatballs). Also, I’m writing these out old-school on this post, so if you’d like to download a PDF of the whole list of recipes, you can here.

Slow Cooker Vegan Beer Chili

Like I said, we haven’t had this yet (it’s been 15,000° here!) but it smelled amazing while cooking away in the slow-cooker.

Makes: 12 servings
Storage: 4 servings each in 3—1 gallon freezer bags

  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2 large red bell peppers, diced
  • 1 large green bell pepper, diced
  • 2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and diced
  • 8 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 bottle beer (whatever you have on hand)
  • 2-28 ounce cans crush tomatoes
  • 2 cans black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 cans kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can vegetarian refried beans
  • 1-16 ounce package frozen corn
  • 2 tablespoons cumin
  • 4 tablespoons chili powder
  • 2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper

Combine all ingredients in the basin of a very large slow cooker. Heat on high for 2-3 hours or until bubbly. Cool and ladle into labeled freezer bags. Freeze flat.

To reheat: defrost the bag in the fridge over night and then pour into a slow cooker. Heat on low for 8-9 hours or high for 4-6.

Roasted Veggie, Sweet Potato and Black Bean Burritos


We made a lot of delicious food on our cook-a-thon day, but these are far-and-away the favorites. They are so packed with flavor, fiber and good-for-you veggies. We’ve been eating them pretty much daily for lunch.

Makes: 24-30 burritos, depending on size
Storage: 1—10″x 10″ sheet of aluminum foil to wrap each burrito, 8-10 burritos per 1 gallon freezer bag

  • 3 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1/2″ cubes
  • 4 large red bell peppers, roughly chopped
  • 2 large onions, roughly chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 jalapenos, seeded and diced
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 2 tablespoons cumin
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 cans black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 cups salsa (your favorite!)
  • 1 bunch cilantro, chopped
  • Juice of one lime
  • 24-30 whole wheat tortillas (we like the Truly Homemade ones from Trader Joe’s)
  • 4 cups shredded cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 400°. In a large bowl, combine sweet potatoes, bell peppers, onions, garlic, jalapenos, chili powder, cumin, salt, pepper and olive oil. Toss to coat. Spread onto two large baking sheets and roast in preheated oven for 30-40 minutes or until veggies are all soft and browned. Allow veggies to cool enough to handle. Transfer roasted veggies into a large bowl, add in beans, salsa, cilantro and lime juice and toss until well combined. To assemble burritos, place one tortilla on a square of aluminum foil, top with 1/2 cup-1 cup of filling, sprinkle on cheese and roll burrito closed. Wrap in foil. Place wrapped burritos in labeled gallon freezer bags.

To reheat: unwrap foil from frozen burrito. Wrap loosely in a paper towel. Microwave on high for 90 seconds to 2 minutes or until the burrito filling is hot.

Whole Wheat Flax and Applesauce Waffles

These waffles have been perfect for a grab-and-go breakfast. We just slather them in a little bit of nut butter and sprinkle on some chia seeds and we’ve got a breakfast we can eat in the car.

Makes: About 24 toaster-sized waffles
Storage: 3—1 gallon freezer bags

  • 3 cups whole wheat flour
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup ground flaxseed
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 1/2 cups nonfat milk
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup applesauce
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil

Preheat waffle iron. In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and flaxseed. In a second bowl, whisk together honey, eggs, milk, buttermilk, applesauce, vanilla and vegetable oil. Pour wet ingredients into dry and stir until just combine. Make waffles according to waffle iron instructions. Cool completely and store in gallon freezer bags.

To reheat: Pop in the toaster. Push the lever. Let it pop up. Eat!

Slow Cooker Creamy Veggies and Chicken

I really loved how easy this one was to put together and reheat. I also loved how yummy it was! It’ll be a great dish for once the weather gets a little bit cooler.

Makes: 16 servings
Storage: 4—1 gallon freezer bags

  • 8 chicken breasts, chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 green bell peppers, chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 2 red bell peppers, chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 2 zucchini, chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 large sweet potato, peeled and chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 large onion, chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 2—6 ounce cans, tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons dry mustard
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

For serving:

  • 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 4 cups cooked brown rice

Divide the chicken, garlic, green peppers, red peppers, zucchini, sweet potato and onion evenly between each of four one-gallon freezer bags. In a small bowl, whisk together tomato paste, Worcestershire, dry mustard, salt, pepper and vinegar. Divide evenly between bags. Freezer flat.

To reheat: Dump frozen contents of bag into the basin of a slow cooker. Cook on high for 4-6 hours or low for 6-8. Just before serving, turn off slow-cooker and stir in yogurt. Serve over cooked brown rice.

Florentine Calzones and Meatballs

I love this recipe because it’s a two-for-one deal—you get calzones out of it and meatballs that are great in a marinara sauce. We haven’t eaten from this batch yet, but we have been eating this recipe for years. It’s a favorite!

Makes: 12 calzones and 16-18 meatballs, depending on size
Storage: 4—1 gallon freezer bags

  • 3 pounds ground turkey
  • 16 ounces frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
  • 1 large onion, diced finely
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 eggs, divided and beaten
  • 1 1/2 cups bread crumbs
  • 1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 2 batches whole wheat pizza dough (we used the fresh whole wheat dough from Trader Joe’s)

Using clean hands, combine ground turkey, spinach, onion, garlic, 2 eggs, bread crumbs and cheese in a large bowl. Set aside. Divide each pizza dough batch into six balls. Roll out each ball to a 6″-8″ circle. To assemble the calzones, take a handful of the filling (about 1/3 cup) and form into a ball. Place in the middle of the dough. Using a pastry brush, paint remaining beaten egg along side of dough, fold over and seal. Repeat with remaining dough balls. Place assembled calzones on baking sheets and freeze flat until hard. Then remove from sheet, place in labeled one gallon freezer bags, and freeze.

To make meatballs, form remaining filing into desired meatball size. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Sear all sides of meatballs in skillet. Place on baking sheet and freeze when cool. When meatballs are frozen, transfer to a labeled one gallon freezer bag.

To reheat calzones: Preheat oven to 425°. Place frozen calzones on a baking sheet and bake in preheated oven for 25-30 minutes or until dough is golden brown. Serve with warm marinara sauce for dipping.

To reaheat meatballs: Drop frozen meatballs in simmering marinara sauce and cook until heated through.

Provolone Penne Bake

This is a classic in our house. I’ve already written a post about the original, but I modified this version to produce more and to be sans the meat. It’s delicious!

Makes: 12 servings
Storage: 4 servings in each of three 8″x8″ foil baking dishes

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 3 green bell peppers, diced
  • 8 ounces button mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2-28 ounce cans fire roasted diced tomatoes
  • 1- 6 ounce can tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 pounds whole wheat penne, cooked omitting fat and salt
  • 1 pound provolone cheese, sliced
Heat olive oil in a large dutch oven over medium heat. Add garlic, onion and pepper. Cook until softened, about 4-5 minutes. Add in mushrooms and salt. Cook until mushrooms have released most of their water, about 10 minutes. Add in diced tomatoes, tomato paste, vinegar, oregano, and red pepper flakes. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes or until thickened. Remove from heat and stir in penne. Divide half the mixture into each of three 8″x8″ foil containers. Layer on half the cheese. Then top with remaining penne mixture and remaining cheese. Cool completely and freeze.
To reheat: Place frozen casserole in a 350° oven. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until the center is hot and cheese is browned and bubbly.

Veggie Supreme Pizzas

Who needs to buy frozen pizzas when you can just make your own? Feel free to sub in your favorite pizza toppings.

Makes: 4 pizzas
Storage: Each pizza in an aluminum foil pizza pan, wrapped in plastic wrap.

  • Cooking spray
  • 4 batches whole wheat pizza dough (again, we used Trader Joe’s fresh)
  • 2 cups pizza sauce
  • 4 cups assorted sliced veggies (we used red and green bell peppers, onions and mushrooms)
  • 3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 4 teaspoons Italian seasoning

Spray each aluminum pizza pan with cooking spray. Spread out the dough in the pan. Split the pizza sauce, veggies, cheese and Italian seasoning evenly between each pizza. Wrap in plastic wrap, stack and freeze.

To reheat: preheat oven to 450°. Wrap pizza and remove from the pan. Place frozen pizza directly on the oven rack and bake for 18-20 minutes or until crust is browned and cheese is bubbly. For a less crispy-crust, heat oven to 400° and bake in foil pain for 23-25 minutes, or until crust is browned and cheese is bubbly.

And there you have it! Make sure to chime in and share your tips for batch cooking and your favorite recipes!

 

52 Comments

    • Oooh! Thanks for the recipes. Some of those look AWESOME!

  1. WHOA, you go girl! That looks like a lot of work but you’ll certainly be reaping the benefits for a while, great idea! There’s no way I would have that much room in our freezer, I can barely squeeze a single strawberry in there right now but I’ll be trying out some of these recipes regardless.

    • Awww! Bummer that you don’t have freezer space. But if you aren’t going to try one recipe, make it the burritos. SO GOOD.

      • I usually use fresh salsa with burritos. I am curious how that would heat up in the microwave though (if I make it all in advance. That is my preference otherwise the salsa would go bad (if I didn’t eat all the burritos at once). What salsa is everyone using?

  2. Awesome! Thanks for the recipes!

    • No problem! Hope you like ‘em. :)

  3. Best post ever?? I think so! Thankyouthankyouthankyou for all the wonderful ideas!

    • Awesome! Glad you like it, Jenny. :)

  4. Oh how I love freezer cooking!!! Thanks for sharing! We actually bought an upright freezer for just this purpose and stocking up for winter. Thanks oh so much for the recipes, can’t wait to try them!!

    • I SO want an upright freezer! I’m so sick of digging deep in my chest freezer. Why is the thing I need always on the bottom?

  5. Nice! I love the way you organized everything. By the way, every time you write “Babyface”, I can’t help but think of this song by Elis Regina:

    • Hahah! That’s awesome. I sometimes forget that “Babyface” isn’t just our thing. The singer Babyface is actually from Indiana, and one of the interstates in Indianapolis is named after him and everytime I see the sign I’m like, “HEY! BABYFACE!”

  6. Best post ever!!! Makes me yearn for a deep freezer!

    • Best investment ever! Says the girl who got hers for free as a hand-me-down. :P

  7. Love!! I have a few basic recipes that I use but I’m so excited to add some of these in. I wish I had this before my daughter was born, but even now things are busier than ever and I’m realizing I need to start freezing meals ahead of time. Thank you so much for sharing!

    • If you don’t have time to do a full batch cooking day, you could always just slowly fill your freezer by doubling or tripling the recipes each time you make them! I’d definitely imagine freezer cooking would be awesome for just after you’ve had a baby.

  8. I am such a fan or making giant recipes and freezing! I love to cook, but cooking for one is a lot of work, unless of course you make massive amounts of food and save to reward all your effort. Right when my freezer starts to get too full I find a great week to say “I’m TIRED!” and then eat nothing but premade freezer meals. It’s also a nice break on the wallet, and is perfect for those unexpected weeks when you’re sick. I think everyone should be cooking this way, so I’m so glad you’re sharing the wisdom. And I can’t wait to try those burritos!!

    • That’s absolutely awesome! I would have been so much healthier when I was single if I did what you are doing. You’re so smart. I, was not and ate a lot of fast food. :P

  9. Holy cow – that’s amazing!!!! Great great post, and thanks for all the ideas!

    • Thanks, Ali!

  10. How cool! I find freezer meals so fascinating. They make my inner organization geek jump for joy. :D All of your meals sound so yummy!

    • I totally went all organizational geek on it. It was fun!

  11. Wow girl you’ve outdone yourself with this post! So genius! I absolutely love reading your blog, you pack so much information into your posts and I always learn something! I definitely will be trying a few of these recipes over the next few weeks, thanks for the inspiration!!! :)

    • Aww, thank you so much, Lindsay! I’m glad you’re getting good stuff out of it. :)

  12. It’s so great to have meals ready in the freezer. I always make too much of everything and freeze single portions to take to work. The night before, move your container to the refrigerator. It will still be a little frozen in the morning, just enough not to spill in transit. By lunch it is perfect to microwave. It’s such a huge saving over buying lunch and so much more interesting than fast food or a sandwich. My favorite is Thanksgiving “TV dinners.”

    • OH MY GOSH. You are genius. Individual Thanksgiving servings? I will definitely be doing that. What an amazing lunch that would make sometime in January. THANK YOU!

  13. Love this. I really want to try this in the late summer early fall!

    • I think that’d be the best time to do this because then you could really focus on stocking soups and stews for the winter! So much you can do with freezer cooking for cold weather. :)

  14. Love this! I emailed this to DH since he’s the cook in our house! But I want us to try some of these recipes for this fall when we’re both crazy busy.

    • Definitely stock up before “crazy season”! I plan on doing this again before the holidays. I struggle so much with eating healthy during the holidays because we’re just so busy!

  15. I found your blog via FG and I have had so much fun looking around! First off, this is such a great post! Not an easy task to get that all organized and everything you cooked looked delicious. I can’t wait to try some of your recipes! :)

    • Hi Melanie! Thanks for stopping by! :) And thank you!

  16. OMFG, this is an amazing post. Thank you! Thank you! I’ve been interested in freezer meals, but most are so carb/cheese/meat heavy that I feel dubious on actually making them. Thanks for ideas with so much veg in them!

    • I TOTALLY agree with you on the carb/cheese/meat thing! I wanted the vast majority of mine to be meat-free. If I really want to add meat later, I can!

  17. Wow, great job! We have this awesome place near our house that specializes in frozen meals – you book a time, pick from a list of twelve entrees, then you go there and prep them yourself! They have all the food prep done (ie, cutting veggies) and all we have to do is put them together then throw them in the freezer when we get home! Super convenient for busy weeknights!

    • That’s such an awesome business idea! Very cool.

  18. It’s so funny to read this as just last week I was doing the same thing! I was pressed for time and didn’t make anything quite as fancy. I cooked up three different kinds of vegan chili (white, black bean, and sweet potato-red bean) and froze portions that I could eat in the future. WHY HADN’T I DONE THIS BEFORE?! SUCH a time saver! (and stress saver… and money saver…)

  19. Great post! Thanks for the great ideas. Like a lot of other people said, I envy you and your large freezer space. ;)

    My favorites as of lately:

    http://www.crockadoodledo.blogspot.com/

    http://allrecipes.com/recipe/meatball-nirvana/detail.aspx

  20. This is one of my fav posts I have read in a long time! I am totally gonna do this before I start up law school again (I literally had NO TIME to cook last year, it was depressing). Thank you this has given me the best idea!

  21. I am a university student who recently upgraded to my very own (albeit very tiny) studio apartment. Yesterday, I decided to make the burrito freezer recipe as a backup for busy days at work when I don’t have time to pack a lunch. I have to say, they are amazing! They will be made frequently. :) I turned two friends onto your blog after they tried the burrito filling. Cassie, thank you!

  22. What a great post! So many good tips and that vegan chili sounds delicious!

  23. You have just rocked my world! Thanks for these recipes, I definitely am going to need to make some!!!

  24. Awesome. THANK YOU so much for posting this! We’re expecting our first baby in September and I’ve been trying to figure out how to surmount some freezer stock ups. I looked into some local ‘Time for Dinner’ prepare it yourself to freeze type places but their menus suck nutritionally. This is awesome! Thanks for all the recipes and how to! Congrats on the “new” house!

  25. I just bought my new chest freezer last week and am planning our first big freezing day this weekend. My husband will be watching the younger kiddos while myself, my 13 yo and my 12 yo will be having some girl time… My question is, can you tell me more about how you plan it all out. I have the rest (except from shopping, that will be on Friday) ready to go, just not sure how to plan out the rest… Thanks for any help you can give! {LOVE THE POST!!}

  26. Could I use new potatoes instead of sweet potatoes in the chicken one?

    • Absolutely!

  27. Hello love all of these. I have some questions with the creamy veggies and chicken I have heard to put chix at the top of bags so they the meat ends up on the bottom of crock pot. And do you remember how much all of this costed?

    • I don’t remember how much it all cost. But yes, you can put the chicken at the top and it’d work just fine. :)

  28. Hi Cassie – I just want to make sure I’m reading this right. You get 6 calzones out of 1 ball of TJ’s dough? And there’s nothing inside the calzones except for the meatballs?

    Thanks!

    • Yes to both questions! We usually dip the calzones in tomato sauce to eat. :)

      • Thanks for the prompt reply!

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