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Recently, I had to be off my feet for a few weeks following a surgery. In order to ease the burden on my family, I put about 15 meals in the freezer that I prepared ahead of time … in less than 2 hours. I looked up “freezer meals” and found a wealth of helpful ideas. Most of the freezer meals included assembling ingredients for recipes that will go from freezer to refrigerator (to thaw) and into my slow cooker. The meals proved to be so easy and helpful that I plan to continue this method regularly throughout the year to have several meals in the freezer all the time.

Freezer meals can be helpful for a busy schedule any time you need a meal that’s ready-to-go or when you take a meal to someone else in need. Freezer meals can save you time by prepping all the ingredients ahead of time, and then only taking minutes to put in the oven or slow cooker after they are thawed. Freezer meals can also save you money because you can purchase ingredients when they are on sale to enjoy them later.

Here are a few steps to get you started…

  1. Plan

There are several approaches to freezer meals, including making a double batch of a recipe and freezing one batch, pre-cooking part of the recipe (like browning ground beef), or assembling ingredients to freeze and later cook in the oven or slow cooker. Be sure to consider nutrition. Use MyPlate as a guide for your menus, plan a variety of low-fat proteins and dairy along with plenty of vegetables, fruits and whole grains. Consider avoiding ingredients that don’t freeze well, such as mayonnaise and lettuce. There are entire websites and cookbooks dedicated to freezer meals. This Extension fact sheet on Freezer Meal Planning includes recipe ideas and a grocery list.

Picture of slow cooker recipe ingredients, ready to freeze.

  1. Assemble

Gather all the ingredients and containers for freezing ahead of time. Freezer bags or cartons work well. Label the bag or container with a permanent marker before filling. Label with the name of the recipe, date, and instructions for cooking. You can do several recipes at once or one at a time.

  1. Freeze

Lay freezer bags flat to freeze so they are easier to thaw. Consider freezing on a pan or baking sheet until frozen then stacking in freezer, or standing bags up to freeze vertically. Foods kept at zero degrees are safe indefinitely although quality might deteriorate after 3-6 months. This resource has more tips on freezing foods.

  1. Thaw

The safest and easiest way to thaw frozen foods is in the refrigerator, although it takes a little planning ahead. A gallon-sized bag of food will usually thaw in the refrigerator in about 24 hours. You can also defrost frozen foods in the microwave and then cook immediately.

  1. Cook

If using the slow cooker, be sure foods are thawed before cooking. For more information on slow cooking, check out these resources from Ohio State University Extension: College of Food, Agriculture and Environment Sciences Blog and Live Healthy Live Well.

 

Written by: Shannon Carter, Extension Educator, Ohio State University Extension, Fairfield County.

Reviewed by:  Joanna Fifner, Extension Educator, Ohio State University Extension, Medina County.

 

Sources:

Barlage, L. “Slow Cooker Season!” Ohio State University Extension, Live Healthy Live Well. 10/30/2015. Live Healthy Live Well.

Brinkman, P. “Safely Using Your Slow Cooker.” Ohio State University Extension. Retrieved on 9/5/18. https://cfaes.osu.edu/slow-cooker-safety

Christensen, D. “Freezer Meal Planning.” Utah State University. May 2009. https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1303&context=extension_curall

Henneman, A. & Jensen, J. “Freezing Cooked Food for Future Meals: Freezer Bag Tips.” University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension in Lancaster County and Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department. Retrieved on 9/6/2018. https://food.unl.edu/freezing-cooked-food-future-meals-freezer-bag-tips

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