The Method to My Madness: Start Where You Are and Learn As You Go

Every time I blog about a Baking Day or a Freezer Cooking Day, I invariably get a multitude of questions that go like this:

Can you tell me how you package the meals for freezing them? Do you just put them in a metal 9×13 and then cover the top with tin foil? Does this keep out freezer burn for you?

Or this:

I'm wondering if you use aluminum baking pans? I want to make up a bunch of stuff, but then I'd have to go out and buy a bunch of throw away pans for it…I've done it before. Now that I've cut my budget in half for groceries, I'm wondering if there is a way around this?

Or this:

It appears that you have frozen many items in the dish that they will ultimately be baked in; do you purchase additional dishes just for freezing? do you use foil pans? do you just own a billion more dishes than I do? I'm just curious as to your freezer storage method – not so much the wrap in foil/use a freezer bag, but do you use all your dishes and how do you fit them all in your freezer along with milk, butter, etc. that you seem to stock up on and freeze throughout the month?

For a number of months, I've just pretty much avoided these questions because I didn't really know what you'd think of me if I answered them. But I decided this Freezer Cooking Day it was high time I come clean on this whole freezing thing and what I do.

Are you ready for this?

I have no idea what I'm doing. Seriously. There really is no precise method to my madness; I just work with what I have and do the best I know how.

I'm not much of a "follow-the-directions" kind of gal (which is one reason I have a very hard time following recipes exactly!) so it's rather comical anyone is coming to me for advice–especially when it comes to cooking. I have a long history of flopped dinners. In fact, growing up, many of my family members were afraid to eat anything I made for fear of what it might taste like or be made of.

Practice has provided much progress in my cooking abilities, but I still have huge room for improvement. And as far as freezing goes, I'm just learning as I go.

So I'm probably not the person to go to if you're looking for specific and detailed instructions on how to freeze food. But I hope that my admission encourages you: it doesn't take much skill or knowledge or know-how to make up food for your freezer. It just takes some energy, some perseverance, and the willingness to make a few mistakes along the way!

Of course, I think it's helpful to check out books from your library on freezer cooking (you can see a few of my favorites here). But I think book-learning is almost always trumped by hands-on learning.

Now that I've confessed I don't know what I'm doing, here are the answers to your questions as far as what I do when it comes to freezing: I usually freeze half of the meals in the pans they'll be cooked in and half the meals in freezer bags laid flat (to conserve space). I usually try to use the meals in pans first as they are more prone to freezer burn. But I've rarely had a problem with this so long as they are sealed well.

I sometimes use a few foil pans–if I have some on hand–but most often, I just use freezer bags and glass or metal pans. I don't have a huge collection of pans (I'm a minimalist, remember?), but since I won't be doing much cooking because most of our meals are already made and frozen, I can tie up most of my pans for a little while without even missing them. I do try to make sure I set aside at least two pans of some sort since I usually have something or other I have to cook each week!

This is what works for me and for our family. It may not work at all for you or yours so please do what works for you. Amy has a post here with a freezing method that works for her. If you're the type who needs to have a detailed freezing tutorial, I'm sure they are out there. I've just never taken the time to look! (I take that back. I just did a quick search and found many different tutorials, including this one which is rather comprehensive.)

Think you're up for some cooking ahead (and I hope this week inspired you to save time and money by doing so!)? Don't be intimidated! Just start small, make a plan, work the plan, and learn as you go. You'll improve a little bit each time until you're soon an accomplished Freezer Cooking Pro!

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Who says you have to have a big deep freeze to cook ahead? I don't! You know all the meals I made earlier this week? All 21 dinners plus 14 breakfasts? That's them all stashed in my over-the-fridge freezer along with some frozen veggies and bread. Get creative with your freezer space and you can probably do a lot more with it than you once thought possible! I know that's certainly been the case for me!

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Comments

  1. Rochelle P says

    Thanks for all the tips! I’m planning to get some meals in the freezer before my baby comes! I’m due in 27 days!

  2. Crazy quilt says

    Love your honesty. I pictured everything in alphabetical order! Thank you for sharing with us. It’s great to see you are no different than the rest of us homemakers!

  3. Mrs. Pear says

    Grin – this is how I started!

    If you pick up a freezer cookbook at the library like Super Suppers, Dream Dinners, Don’t Panic Dinner’s in the Freezer, etc they usually have good sections that explain the logistics and how to for you.

    By the way, C&H Icing Sugar is on at my Target for $1.44 a 2lb bag, so with coupons it is around $1. Best price so far out here in CA.

  4. says

    I think Amy’s idea of freezing in foil in a pan and then putting into a freezer bag was GENIUS. I’ve never done that, but think it’s a great idea. I usually use freezer bags, and sometimes just freeze in big plastic Ziploc containers, but I am going to try Amy’s method at least some of the time.

  5. Rhiannon says

    This month, when I did my OAMC, I just bought a 2 boxes of ziplocks( gallon and quart) and a stack of loaf pans at the dollar store. They worked great! I made my bread first in the loaf pans and then used them for lasagna. Double duty! I also rarely make my own pie shells so I save those pans for things like Tortilla pie. But for almost everything else I use freezer bags because they freeze flat and I can “file” them in a box in my freezer in the order I plan on using them. A amazing space saver trick I learned from my sister, and no more fear of a block of frozen Chicken noodle soup landing on your foot when you open the door!

    Doing these couple of things I was able to get 5 weeks of meals plus, lots of fruit and veggies, in my small apartment size freezer! It can be done!

    Good luck to you all on your cooking adventures!

  6. says

    Wow! So I have been wondering for a while where you stored all that food and I figured you had an extra freezer! Good to know i could make that fit in my little freezer!

  7. says

    I have learned a lot from your posting on your baking days and have started to do my own smaller baking days. I used your Chicken Tetrazini recipe (my husband loved it) and I kept an old 8×8 pan out that I was going to throw away. I try to make a double batch of it when I do cook it up – put 1/2 in my good 8×8 pan and bake for dinner and then put a larger freezer bag into the older, beat up metal pan I kept. I fill the freezer bag with the casserole and conform it in the 8×8 pan. I then pull out as much of the air as possible by using the straw method! Put the pan with the freezer bag of casserole into the freezer; let it freeze and then take out the pan. The casserole is now conformed to an 8×8 pan shape so that I can slip it into my good pan to thaw when I am ready to bake it. In addition, I always write in ink on the top the oven temp and length of time to bake!

  8. says

    You are one of my very favorite bloggers and I feel the same way. I wing everything and sometimes it takes me a while to figure out the best way to do something but I usually do figure it out!

    Thanks so much for all you do!

  9. says

    Tupperware containers with tight snapping lids work great for freezing things in. Fruit, sides, veggies or even entire meals. If it is already cooked you can unthaw and microwave or unthaw and transer it to a baking dish and bake.

  10. Mary says

    Had to laugh at your description of your family not wanting to eat your cooking when you were younger. I’ve lived through that myself! I’ve taken the ring off several cheesecakes only to have them flow off the plate they are on. And the lemon meringue that my dad sucked through a straw, that was nasty! But my successes have far outweighed my failures, so I keep trying! Like the no-fat pumpkin cheesecake that was devoured a few Thanksgivings ago – I didn’t tell anyone til it was gone that it was low-cal and fat free. Or the crab-stuffed mushrooms that I just improvised on (and it made about 500 mushrooms, next time I’ll make a smaller batch!) that everyone loved one Christmas. Part of the fun of cooking is finding out what you can change and what you can’t, and still have people want to eat it!

  11. Marcia says

    I’ve been doing OAMC for a few years now. A few months ago I finally bit the bullet and bought some nice Pyrex freezer to oven dishes with lids. They stack perfectly… no more enchiladas oozing out the sides when I stack unfrozen meals in the freezer! One tip… I cover the food in plastic wrap to keep the air off of it before I put the lid on.

  12. says

    I am so glad to read your post. Last week was my first time freezer cooking and I was so nervous that it was going to turn out awful. This week we had the first of the meals that I froze and it turned out great. I am so glad that I tried freezing meals, and I definitely learned so much more from actually freezing meals than from all of the times I had read about it.

  13. Patricia M Evans says

    Thank you for sharing your cooking day with us! You made me laugh — thanks for being so humble and honest! I can’t wait to try some of your items.
    Thanks again!

  14. says

    Here’s what I sometimes do:

    I line a baking pan with heavy-duty foil. I put whatever I’m going to freeze in it (say, a meatloaf) and put it in the freezer for a few hours while it firms up. I do cover it with foil and sometimes an extra wrap to keep out air.

    A few hours later, I take it out of the pan and wrap it tightly in foil/freezer wrap and put it inside a ziplock.

    The item retains the shape of the pan, but I no longer need to keep my pan in the freezer.

    When it’s time to bake the item, I unwrap it and plop it in my original pan. It perfectly fits, of course!

  15. love it says

    Ok, i love all of these posts and never thought about doing this. I just have one question… some of the posts talk about cooking the meal after you pull it out of the freezer and others talk about reheating it.

    So my question is which one is better? Are u saying that you make up the tator tot casserole, for example, then freeze it and in a week or so, take it out and pop it in the oven to bake? Or are u assembling, baking, freezing and then reheating?

  16. says

    I have been freezer cooking for quite a while. You sound like you’re doing great as is – but you might like a cookbook that I use. (I am NOT affiliated in any way!) It’s called Fix, Freeze, Feast. The recipes focus on healthfulness, and they won’t even use canned cream-of soups, they make it from scratch. The method is based on purchasing ‘tray packs’ from warehouse stores, but I never do. I get it in smaller quantities on sale, then just cut back the recipe accordingly. In addition to meat based recipes, there are breakfast burritos that my family loves, vegetarian, granola, sauces, etc., all suitable for freezing.

  17. Tifani Wells says

    One thing that can be suggested to those who are not ready for a full out “baking day” is to have them make lots of things in double for a while. When making dinner just make two of the casserole you are making and then freeze the other. Do this for a few days and you will have a nice way to get started having meals in the freezer!

  18. Elizabeth says

    A deep freeze is a very worthwhile investment. Without mine I wouldn’t be able to freeze all our produce from the summer or buy meat “off the hoof” from local farmers. They aren’t expensive at scratch and dent or off of Craig’s list and are INVALUABLE for convenience/thrifty living.

  19. Phebe says

    Oh my, you make me laugh, Crystal!! Mostly because I am the exact same way!! Somehow, I always get a reputation for being a great cook. I think that’s because when people see the way I cook (a dash of that, a scoop of this), they think I must have some sort of amazing skill. If they ask for a recipe, I usually have to admit that I made the dish up, or mostly made it up. They are in awe! What they don’t see are the countless “yuck dishes” that my family has sat down to! With a smile, I might add… :)

    Thanks for being honest! Sometimes I feel so “behind” some super women online, but then I realize that I DID make meals for the freezer, tried pureeing my own pumpkin, switched to coconut oil, etc. It just doesn’t seem as impressive when I’m not reading about it on someone else’s blog! :) You are a blast because you seem so “real”–very encouraging for us moms who have a long way to go!! :) –phebe

  20. Angie says

    I just wanted to say I did OAMC for the first time this last week. My dad just gave us a deep freezer and I had bought some chicken breast and ground chuck for dirt cheap in October and thought I would just pull it out and make a meal every night. But almost everything else I have tried to save $ has worked so I thought hey lets give it a shot whats the worst that could happen. It was a ton of work but now my freezer is full of meals for the whole month and this month I spent $150 to do it. Here’s what I made….
    pumpkin muffins
    pumpkin cupcakes
    banana muffins
    breakfast burritos
    taquitos
    5 pork roast
    5 pork chops
    4 mexican cornbread
    4 shepards pie
    4 chicken tortellini
    I have the ingredients to make chicken caciatori but I ran out of room so that will have to wait a week or two. I have been writing down where all our $ goes and I am so glad that I have adapted this frugal lifestyle because it was 1 year ago in October that I stumbled upon couponing and I have never before then had name brand stuff in our house. We were always the ones that had to stretch our shampoo or deoderant. I can still remember my husband using my deoderant because he ran out and we had no $. Well those days are so long gone thanks to frugal living….

  21. Arlene says

    I have a food saver. When I cook to freeze I will line the pan I need with a foodsaver bag that has one end sealed. I then put in the bag what ever food I am freezing. When I seal it the food is conformed to the pan that I will be cooking it in and I can just lift the bag out and freeze the labeled bag. When I am ready to use the food I let it thaw enough to release it from the bag and then put the frozen food in the container I first used and cook it. I finish thawing it in the fridge and then cook. No need to freeze the baking dish.

  22. Jennifer says

    I love this idea and I will be definitely giving this a try. Just one question: Do all the cooked frozen meals taste like your eating leftovers all the time?

  23. Christina says

    Love your posts on this cooking ahead. I try to do this every night before I head to bed. I make one dish for the next night since I’m at work all day. But once I get a stand-up freezer I plan to cook on weekends non-stop. My freezer is packed with assorted meats, frozen vegs and waffles. We had farmhouse chicken last night and it was a hit. Now do you make your own stuffing or buy stove top? Would like some tips on this because stuffing is hard to find coupons for. Thanks Christina