I once was a member of a Freezer Group. Every 3 weeks, the three lovely ladies and I would get together to exchange 2 delicious meals with each family. While having 8 meals in the freezer ready-to-go was fantastic, I dreaded the weekend of the “exchange”! Oh, sure – it included a little wine and a little girl time, but it also meant hours (if not days) of planning, grocery shopping, cutting, chopping, browning, assembly – and sometimes running back to the store – and then more chopping, cutting and assembling. UGH. I clearly did not have it down to a science. And, neither did the other ladies. We dropped it. No more home-made meals ready to go in the freezer. It sucked. It really, really sucked.
And that’s when I realized – why does it have to be a process? Why not the next time I make a lasagna, I make two and put one in the freezer for later? Surely, it doesn’t take that much more time to make two than one? Eureka! A plan that works. And, so now, I look for those easy cook once, serve twice recipes. Casseroles and soups are perfect with this concept. Here are simple tips for getting started with planning your own freezer meals.
- Make sure you have the right equipment. Enough freezer space? Enough containers with tight lids to store your meals (using heavy-duty aluminum foil is a great way to provide added protection)? Enough freezer bags for those that can be stored that way?
- Label and date your meals so that you don’t have that “Mystery Meal” or one that gets pushed to the bottom only to be found years later. Include baking time on the label. For best quality, enjoy your meals within three months.
- Choose your favorite recipes, but check the ingredients. Entrees containing milk, sour cream, mayonnaise and some raw vegetables (spinach, potatoes) do not freeze well. Most of the time, you can leave these items out before freezing. The entree can be thawed and the extra ingredients can be added right before baking. Be sure to note ingredients to add when you label the entrees. Leave casserole toppings, such as breadcrumbs, off the casseroles, so they don’t become soggy.
- Undercook starchy ingredients, such as pasta, rice and potatoes, because the casserole will be baked later and could become overcooked.
- Package in meal-sized portions whether you are cooking for an individual, couple or family. To free baking pans, you can line them with heavy-duty aluminum foil, bake and freeze. Then you can pop out the entree, seal securely and return to the freezer.
- Be sure your freezer temperature is zero degrees Fahrenheit or lower. And, immediately store your foods in the freezer to ensure that they adequately chill.
- You can bake frozen casseroles or you can thaw them overnight in the refrigerator. The amount of baking time depends on the number of servings. For frozen, fully cooked casseroles, bake at 400 degrees until the contents reach an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees. For thawed, fully cooked casseroles, bake at the temperature directed in the recipe, but add about 15 minutes to the baking time. The internal temperature of the casserole should measure 165 degrees.
Here is one of our favorite Freezer Meals!
Bow Tie Ham Bake Recipe
Serves: 12 | Source: www.tasteofhome.com
All you need:
- 4 cups uncooked bow tie pasta
- 6 cups frozen broccoli florets
- 4 cubes cubed fully cooked ham
- 2 cartons (10 ounces each) low-fat Alfredo sauce
- 2 cups (8 ounces) shredded Swiss cheese
- 1 can (8 ounces) mushroom stems and pieces, drained
All you do:
- Cook pasta according to package directions, adding the broccoli during the last 5 minutes of cooking. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine the ham, Alfredo sauce, cheese and mushrooms. Drain pasta mixture; add to ham mixture and toss to coat.
- Transfer to two greased 11-in. x 7-in. baking dishes. Cover and freeze one casserole for up to 3 months. Cover and bake remaining casserole at 375° for 20 minutes. Uncover; bake 5-10 minutes longer or until bubbly.
- To use frozen casserole: Thaw in the refrigerator overnight. Remove from the refrigerator 30 minutes before heating. Cover and microwave on high for 8-10 minutes or until heated through, stirring once. OR, following baking instructions noted above. Yield: 2 casseroles (6 servings each).