Wednesday, February 20, 2013

A Freezer Cooking Adventure

     My husband had a three day weekend. To me, a three day weekend should be used in one of three ways... 1. Family Fun, 2. Long Date with the Spouse, or 3. Complete a House a Project.

    Unfortunately a slew of sick kids limited the amount of Family Fun we could have over the weekend, but options 2 and 3 were still valid possibilities.  By Sunday afternoon, I had a adventurous plan.

     We've been incorporating freezer cooking into our routine for some time, but we've never tried the Once-A-Month cooking idea.  That type of freezer cooking takes planning and calculating.  It takes time and well, money. And most importantly, it takes guts.

     This is how I presented the idea to Chad anyway when I told him we should make Monday a 'freezer cooking adventure' date day.  He totally fell for it!  He was totally on board! 

    We actually did all of our planning on Sunday night.  First we searched through my Freezer Meal Pinterest Board for new recipes we wanted to try and choose some of those as well as a few tried and true family favorites.  We choose 10 meals with the plan to make 3 of each.  Our goal was 30 meals.  We would need to purchase the supplies and prepare them to freeze in one day.

     Once the meals were chosen, we made our grocery list and sought the advice of Facebook friends on where the best deals for meat were.  We choose to only prepare meals with either ground beef or boneless, skinless chicken breasts for simplicity.  We won't use a frozen meal every day of the week so we weren't too worried about a variety.  We estimated the cost, and looked through ads to find our best deals.  We decided on hitting two had ground beef on sale for $1.99 per lb, the other had boneless, skinless chicken breasts on sale for $1.99 a pound.

     Bright and early Monday morning...okay, it was a little before 9am...we headed out the door.  My MIL had bravely consented to watching the kids for us (they had all been on antibiotics for well over 24 hours) while we shopped.  I regret to say that we didn't take any pics while shopping, but we did get some great deals.  By comparing prices and shopping at just two different stores we were able to buy all of our items for less than we estimated.

     As a side note, we also stopped off at a local produce terminal that we had heard about from other moms that sell to the public and came home with this awesome haul...
     In addition to the freezer meals, the pineapples and strawberries were cut up to be frozen for smoothies and you will likely see a reoccurring zucchini theme in our freezer meals...that's because we bought a huge flat of them for just $5 and needed to use them up!  So we added them to many of the meals.

     Before we move on to recipes, I have to tell you that once again, I didn't take many pictures.  Once we got to cooking it was difficult to find a stopping point and quite frankly, it wasn't always a picture-perfect scene.  Messy floors, kids underfoot, dirty dishes...well, you get the idea.  I didn't even manage to get a pic of each individual meal.  My plan is to take pictures of the cooked meals as we prepare them and update this post with pictures then.

     Another thing that I must mention for those of you who don't know us...we are a large family and we require large family portions.  I am cooking for a family of 10...our 30 meals would likely equal out to about 60 average family meals.  Keep that in mind if you are trying these recipes.

    The first thing we did was divided up our meat and starting cooking it.  All of the ground beef would need to be browned except for 6 lbs that we set aside to use for 3 meatloaves.  About 15 lbs of chicken needed to be cooked and shredded.  We got that going and began labeling gallon sized freezer bags for our Chicken crockpot meals.

     Each of these bags would contain boneless, skinless chicken breasts uncooked as well as marinades/veggies.  These are all freezer to crockpot meals...when we are ready to cook them, we will just throw them in the crockpot and let them cook all day.  It will take 2 bags to feed our family, so we needed six bags for each chicken crockpot recipe to make 3 meals.  We lined all the bags up, cleaned the chicken, and divided it evenly amongst the bags.  Then we started making the marinades and adding them to the appropriate bags.  Here are the links to the Chicken Crockpot meals we made...

1. Cilantro Lime Chicken with Corn and Black Beans
2. Cafe Rio Crockpot Chicken

3. Creamy Chicken Italian-O

4. BBQ Chicken
We did add some veggies to this meal.  We went with bell peppers, onions, and sweet potatoes.

    Once our meat was cooked up, we started working on some of our casserole type dishes.

5. Poppyseed Chicken is a family favorite.  We keep it simple and don't add all of the "optionals" on this recipe, but I have found that we prefer to double the amount of ritz crackers she used on top.  We frozen this meal several times.

6. Mexican Mac and Cheese
I've adapted this recipe from some ideas I've seen online, so honestly this one is an experiment.  If I do it again, I will likely add taco seasoning to the meat as I'm cooking it.  Also, each meal wound up taking up two pans when all was said and done.  So we wound up with 6 of these!  I've reduced the amount in the following recipe so it should only be 1 meal's worth of food now.

1 lb of ground beef, browned
1 box of elbow macaroni, cooked
1 pkg of shredded mexican blend cheese
1 can of rotel

Once your macaroni is cooked and drained, return to pot and fill with milk about halfway.  Heat back to a boil, adding in butter and cheese to taste, stirring constantly.  Meanwhile, drain can of rotel and mix in with cooked ground beef.  Once your mac and cheese is warmed through add in ground beef mixture and stir.  Pour into aluminum pan.  Top with more cheese if desired.  Cover and freeze.  

Reheating Instructions:  Let dethaw.  Bake at 350 for 30 minutes or until hot and bubbling.

7. Chicken Tortilla Soup


1 cup chopped celery

3/4 cup chopped carrots

1/2 cup chopped red onion

3 cans (14.5 oz) reduced-sodium Chicken broth

1 can (15 oz) black beans, rinsed and drained

1 can (14.5 oz) beef broth

1 can (10 oz) diced tomatoes with mild green chilies

2 cups cooked, cubed chicken breasts

2 cups frozen corn

2 tsp dried parsley flakes

1 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp dried basil

1 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp chili powder

1. Saute the celery, carrots, and onion in oil until tender.  Stir in chicken broth, black beans, beef broth, tomatoes, corn, chicken, and seasoning.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat, and simmer for 15 minutes uncovered.

2. Serve with tortilla chips, cheese, and sour cream if desired.

Reheating Instructions:

Let dethaw.  Transfer to stove top and heat until warmed through.
      Finally, we finished up our 3 bags of chili, 3 Cowboy Casseroles, and 3 meatloaves.

8. Cowboy Casserole is another kid-friendly family favorite!  It's basically a tator tot casserole and freezes really well.

9. Meatloaf
I almost hate to give you this recipe because I pretty much make it different every time I make it.  I use something similar to the following each time.  We like to add bread to our meatloaf and top it with ketchup, but any way you make it I've found that meatloaf freezes well.
2 lbs ground beef
1 egg
1/4 cup milk
3 pieces of bread, torn into small pieces
1 tsp ground mustard
1 tsp of garlic powder
1 tsp of sage
salt and pepper
optional: cut up veggies like zucchini or carrots

Mix all together in a large mixing bowl.  Form into loaf and freeze.

Reheating Instructions: Let dethaw.  Cover with ketchup.  Bake at 350 uncovered for 1.5 hours.

10. Chili

2 lbs of ground beef
carton of Bloemer's chili paste
1 pkg of chil-o mix
 1 large can of tomato sauce
1 can of water
1 can of Brooks Chili beans
1 onion, chopped
1 box of sphaghetti noodles 

Brown ground beef, drain grease.  Add Bloemer's, mixing until completely melted.  Add tomato sauce and 1 can of water (use sauce can).  Add Chil-o mix, beans, and onion.  Let simmer for a few minutes, stirring occasionally.  Let cool.  Freeze in freezer bags.

Reheating Instructions: Let dethaw or place in pot on stovetop frozen.  Heat through, stirring occasionally and let simmer for about 10 minutes.  Meanwhile prepare spaghetti noodles. Stir in noodles and serve.

    We finally finished our cooking and cleaning up rather late, but we both felt like it was worth it.  Our 30 large-family meals cost us about $11 per meal, so I think it would equal out to about $6 per meal for the average family.  Totally happy with that!

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  1. this is awesome. you should link it up with February's Frugal Family, if you haven't already!

  2. Thanks Shanna for typing all this up! I have been printing recipes and making plans to freeze some meals. I appreciate your help!

  3. Such a great idea! We do this too from time to time. It is wonderful to pull out a meal that I can pop in the crockpot. So easy!!


  4. Impressive! We have a "good size" family ourselves (About to be 7 of us), and I always like to cook meals large enough to have extra for my husband's lunch (if not also mine) the next day. Thanks for going to all the work of putting this together. Pinning it!

  5. I think what it really requires is an online business model other than selling ads. Until someone finds a different viable way to make money, this is what we're stuck with.

  6. I should add: and unless that different business model makes us part with even more of our cash than these ads do, there's no reason for anyone to use it.



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