Thursday, August 22, 2013

Saving Summer Produce: Tips for Freezer Meals

One task I've been taking on this summer is making meals ahead of time before heading back to work. Lucky for me I'm a teacher and I put in my year's worth of work and hours during about 10 months of the year. Between finishing a year of school, living an academic year, and preparing for a new school year about 10 months of my time is spent working and planning and thinking about some of my favorite people.

One bonus is that there are two months that I do not report daily to work. I can use this time to garden, vacation, and prepare our home for the year ahead. This summer I am attempting to pre-make many {freezer} meals for while school is in session. This will cut out the need of convenience foods to be purchased by our family. I'm sure we'll still buy bags of tortilla chips or the occasional frozen pizza. But I already know that one night a week I will dedicate my evening to meetings at work... this makes me want to try and save us some cooking/prep time and have a few meals ready to go.

Here are some tips I have concerning "freezer meals":

Consider what your family will eat - Often I want to have loads of variety for my family to choose from, but then I end up with prepared dinners that never just "sound good" in the moment to heat up. So if you know that pizza, chicken noodle soup, and lasagna will get eaten then maybe those are good meals to start with when you begin to make a dinner stash.

Consider who will be making these partially prepared meals - I make sure to have some meals that are simple for me to throw in a crock pot on my way out the door in the morning... this will be perfect for those nights that both I and my husband will be coming home just in time for dinner. I also am preparing a few things that will be finished in a way that is easy for my husband to get our dinner ready - such as 30 minutes in the oven or grilling chicken when he gets home from work.

Labeling - Be certain that you have properly labeled all meals. If any food in the freezer seems mysterious it may never be chosen for dinner.

In-depth Labeling - I'm serious about the labeling. I even write the cooking directions directly on my frozen meal packaging. This way if I'm not home my husband will still know what to do with the food he has selected for dinner. In fact this year I've added suggested thaw times and name items that we prefer to serve with those specific meals in case we need to check for  Parmesan cheese or tortillas prior to pulling out a certain dinner from the freezer.

Proper Storage -  Be sure to seal all containers and decrease any risk of freezer burn. Because no one will want to eat that...

Bulk Prepared Main Items - One idea I had was to pre-cook chicken to freeze. I have no other plan for this chicken currently, but knowing that I can pull out one or two chicken breasts from the freezer and have them thaw and be ready to add to any recipe I want will save lots of time when we're scrambling for a late dinner. We don't eat much beef at home but I'm sure if your family prefers a different type of meat you could make it work for you. I also chopped a few bags of peppers, tomatoes, and prepared corn for the freezer that will be easy to just throw in any type of dinner I select.

Consider your ingredients - I love using fresh summer produce in these meals that will be eaten in the fall and winter. There is just something special about taking a bite and enjoying that little taste of summer when it is cool and breezy outside. It also allows me to "use up" produce that we might not eat quickly enough if I didn't make it and save it for a different day.

Do you have any tips on making meals ahead of time?

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