How to Have a Freezer Cooking Day if You Don’t Have a Deep Freezer

Guest Post by Jessica from LifeasMOM

“I’d love to do freezer cooking, but I don’t have a freezer.”

Sound familiar? Well, today we’re going to dispel the myth. You can practice bulk cooking even if you have small storage space. Really and truly. Want to see how?

For the record, that is a 10 cubic foot freezer into which I placed 20+ meals and still had extra space. The meals were varied, from casseroles to sauces to chili to marinated meats. Let me explain in more detail how you can make this work for you.

The first time I attempted once-a-month cooking, I was pregnant with our first child. We lived in a 250-sq ft studio apartment and were learning a lot about making the most of small storage space. How we fit three of us in that one room is a testimony to God’s grace and creative thinking. My freezer cooking experience was no different. Our refrigerator was the smallest they made that still had an independent freezer. It was one (small) step up from a dorm fridge. Yet, I was regularly able to store 30-40 meals in the freezer. Granted, I was only feeding two adults, but if we do the math, even that small freezer would hold 15 – 20 meals for a family of 4.

How is this possible?

  • Start with a mostly empty freezer. You are probably not going to be able to store several weeks’ worth of meals in your refrigerator/freezer if it already has multiple boxes of ice cream, loaves of bread, and packages of hamburger. Consider “eating from your pantry” so that you can reduce what is already there. If you have a stockpile of frozen meats and poultry, those are going to be the building blocks of your freezer meals. Research meals that you can make ahead using those proteins. You don’t need much extra space for these meals. You’re simply going to take the frozen hamburger out, thaw it, cook it up, give it a makeover and put it back where it was.
  • Use freezer bags. Ziptop freezer bags, designed for cold temperatures and durability are able to hold many different kinds of frozen foods. These are especially useful for meats in marinades, taco fillings, pizza dough, and even thicker stews and chilis. As you cool, label and freeze the food in these bags, seal them tightly and lay them flat in your freezer. Once they are frozen, you will be able to stand them on end and line them up like books on a shelf, making the best use of your storage space. Make sure that you remove as much excess air as possible to avoid freezer burn.
  • Use like-shaped plastic containers. For more liquid meals, like pasta sauce, use containers that are all the same shape and size. These will stack the best and make the best use of your space. Square boxes are more efficient than round, but use what you have and look for other complements on sale in future months.
  • Stack like with like. This is probably obvious, but bears repeating. If you have three 9×13 pans, stack those one on top of each other. Not only will those meals be easy to find, but you’ll make the most of your space.
  • Consider freezing meals in components. You might not have room for 15-20 casseroles to fit in your freezer, but you don’t have to freeze it all together. You can freeze some meal components separately. For instance, when Crystal made my Slab Apple Pies, she froze each layer in a separate ziptop bag. This enabled her to have much more flexibility with her storage space; she could move the separate bags around and fit them where there was space, rather than have to find a way for a 9×13 pan to fit.

You don’t have to have a free-standing freezer to make Freezer Cooking work for you. Sure, it helps. But, you can make the most of what you have and still enjoy homemade convenience foods.

– Jessica Fisher, also known as FishMama, regularly feeds her freezer so that she can feed the hungry masses who call her “Mom.” She posts daily about life’s joys and challenges at LifeasMOM and shares delicious ways to act your wage at Good Cheap Eats.

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Comments

  1. says

    I love doing batch style cooking and freezing meal components. Having ground beef, chicken or ham already cooked and in typical “recipe” size portions in my freezer really keeps me from chucking it in and buying dinner out.

  2. says

    Any tips on brands of containers that work well in the freezer? I can’t tell you how many plastic containers we have shattered in the last year when they fall out of the freezer, onto the hardwood floor. I’ve lost probably one container a month – usually Ziploc or Rubbermaid plastic. I freeze some foods in metal or glass, but 1) plastic is much less expensive (and I am not putting them in the microwave in that plastic), and 2) If glass were to fall out of the freezer, I’m afraid it would shatter also (or at least hurt a lot more on a bare foot!).

    • julie says

      @Christina, I’m not sure if this will help, but when I’ve got a meal to go in the freezer I line the dish I’m going to bake/serve it in with parchment paper and then foil on the outside. I use paper b/c the acid in some foods (like tomatoes) can react with the foil. After everything is properly lined and the food is in the dish I put it in the fridge to cool and set, then after awhile I take it out of the dish and make sure it’s all wrapped tightly, label it and put it in the fridge. This method has worked well for me. And if I’m being good I can usually use the foil another time b/c I take it off before I bake my dish. I use ziplock brand freezer bags for sauces and homemade soups, and try and contain them in a tupperware container so they don’t slip and slide or fall out when I’m not expecting it. Hope that helps!

  3. Jessica says

    Thanks!!! I was just looking in my freezer and wondering how I would be able to attempt frezzer cooking for the first time! These are some great tips and very encouraging!

  4. Karen says

    Thanks for some great tips. When I buy my hamburger meat in bulk I then divide it into 1lb sections and put a pound in a freezer bag then roll it out with a rolling pin then I can stack them. 10 lbs of meat is only about an inch thick.

  5. says

    Sometimes, when I need extra room in my freezer (I only have a small freezer on top of my fridge), I turn off the icemaker and remove the ice tray. I can’t get away with this in August, but I can for most of the winter. :-)

  6. says

    You are so cute Jessica! One of these months I’m going to jump on board with you gals. Every once in a while I’ll make one or two freezer meals, but I haven’t worked up the nerve to do as many as you do. However my third baby is due in September so I’d liked to have a stocked freezer by then. Thanks for the video!

  7. says

    Thanks for all the great tips – it makes me feel so much better to know that someone else made it work the way you did! I was JUST, like 20 minutes ago, on the phone with my mom, telling her that I wish I had a large freezer in the garage!

  8. says

    Thanks so much for this – these are really good tips, and a guide to how to prepare to make the most out of both your freezer as well as freezer cooking days.

    I was just thinking about how nice it would be to have a deep freezer, but then reminded myself that I probably didn’t need it, and that I would do better at first to try and make the most of the freezer space I already have. I’m probably either going to wait until the summer when my husband has time off or a weekend to try freezer cooking again, but at least I will know what to prepare for.

  9. says

    I have only an above the fridge freezer, and if I stick to a whole bunch of meal parts and a few casseroles, I can definitely fit enough for out family of 3. Its such a wonderful thing!

  10. says

    Love the video – very helpful. I have 1 question in terms of the ‘size’ of your meal for the size of your family. For example, 1 huge pot of chili will last us only 1 dinner & 1 lunch (for some of us). It won’t last for 2 full dinners. Just wondering when you say ‘meal’ how many people & ages & helpings are you considering for that 1 meal?

    Keep up the videos – great tips. And your kitchen is so clean :)

  11. says

    I get this statement all the time too! I’m so glad you did this vlog! I’m going to share it with everyone that says they have no space. Great job!

  12. Kerry D. says

    I’m learning a lot here… thanks! I’m wondering about using a lot of large ziploks, both for the expense and waste of tossing them out after use. Do you wash and reuse?

      • Sarah says

        @Sarah, Whoops, meant t o add: without having to clean them. Also if you label the contents on the foil w/ a permanent marker, then you can easily reuse the bag for anything!

  13. says

    Thank you so much for the tips! I just asked for help on this very subject not too long ago on my blog. I am going to give these a shot & recommend others to read as well.
    Thanks again!

  14. Nina says

    What are some easy meals to start with I would LOVE to start freezer cooking but a lil scared to try it. Also for the fact that I dont have any tuperwear any tips??

    • says

      @Nina, I find pasta dishes and casseroles to be easiest. If I’m going to make ziti for dinner, I’ll go ahead and boil a whole box (or more), add the sauce and vegetables (we don’t eat much meat, but I add squash, zucchini, etc. to baked pastas) and portion it into two or three dishes. They can be frozen either before or after you bake them, and baked pasta dishes reheat really well!

      One tip with pastas (I have never done it with a casserole) . . . a dish should only be reheated once (for a total of two heatings) in order to cut down on the temperature fluxuations that encourage bacteria growth. So, if you bake the lasagna/ziti/whatever before you freeze it, then you should only heat it one more time after thawing. However, if you DON’T bake before freezing, then you can bake it after, and reheat any leftovers.

      • Nina says

        @Christina,
        Thank you so much it really is a good way to save left overs since we tend to over cook alot (grew up with TONS of kids) and they normally sit in my fridge till I throw them out Thanks so much
        Nina

  15. says

    Great post; used to struggle with this as well, until husbo surprised me with a deep-freeze! One little trick I use to save space is to freeze the items in a plastic container or pan, then pop it out and wrap it in foil and/or plastic wrap, and stack several of these wrapped packages in a freezer bag. This way, I don’t have to worry about using up all my containers, and they aren’t taking up precious freezer space, either.

  16. Holly says

    That’s so nice!!! I’m glad you posted that. I was able to share this on my facebook profile for all my friends that say, “I don’t have enough space.” LOL!

    I am looking into freezer cooking for my family as well……just gradually getting into it. :0)

  17. Robin says

    I have the smallest freezer known to man!!…just one up from a dorm fridge/freezer..I thinks it’s only about 3 cubic feet and yet I can get almost 30 meals into it just by using freezer bags and lying them flat. I’m very excited though because my DH is buying me a 5 cubic ft chest freezer ($160 at home depot) this week…it’s small and compact just like our house and it will enable me to cook/store and save more!! I also re-use my ziplock bags for kitchen compost after I’ve taken the meal out of them.

    • says

      @Emily, I put them in the fridge the night before – giving the dish 18-24 hours to thaw. The only safe way to thaw perishables is in the fridge. I’ve heard other people say they put them directly from freezer to oven, but I’ve never been brave enough to try . . .

      • says

        @Christina, If you have use pyrex dishes, you can put them straight from the freezer into the oven, it’s just takes longer to cook it through. I do it all the time without any mishaps.

  18. says

    This is such a helpful post! I can’t wait to get to work on my freezer and stash a few things, especially meats in marinade because that protects against freezer burn and the meat marinades while it thaws. And Jessica, you looked so super cute in your vlog! Way to go girls!

  19. MrsS75 says

    This is awesome. I’m newly married and my DH and I are constantly evolving our grocery budget to stretch our hard earned dollars. Neither of our wonderful mothers were savers like this – so this is new territory! Thanks for the great suggestions and tips. Baby steps… baby steps… maybe I’ll try doubling a meal or two. Wait, DH usually cooks – I’ll share this with him.

  20. Melodie says

    Get ahold of the old fashioned square freezer containers. Nowadays plastic-ware is mostly rounded. That’s a lot of dead space in the freezer. Squared edges are ten times better. I got a bunch from my husbands grandmother. Yardsales might be a good place to look.

    Also, if you get stuff that’s packaged (like veggies) from the store, combine them. The bagged veggies have a lot of air in the bags. You can store them more tightly if you open the bags and combine two or three of them into one bag to save space. The boxed veggies aren’t so bad, but the outer cardboard container can come off and like veggies can be stored together in a larger labeled ziplock bag to save another half inch or more. Every little bit helps!

    Energy saving tip: Near the end of the month as the freezer is more and more empty, your freezer works harder to stay cool. Fill the empty space with containers of water filled 2/3 full. When the turn to ice, it will help the freezer keep cool without turning on as often. Thaw them for an hour or so on freezer cooking day, at least till the ice loosens from the container enough to come out. That way, you can use the container again with the next batch of food.

  21. Susan says

    I posted before that I had plans to do my first freezer cooking…well, I did it! Today I browned and taco seasoned 3 pounds of ground beef and divided it into 4 portions (it’s just hubby and I), I cooked enough brown rice to make 2 cup portions, I made two sets of two split chicken breasts with marinade – one Asian and one Buffalo, and I have a whole chicken going in the crock-pot right now to shred up and divide. Yay me! Jessica and Crystal, you have really encouraged me, and all of your readers as well. On a side note – we found out today that my husband could be losing his job in a couple of months, so I am a little worried, but at the same time I feel like the last few months that I have been following MoneySavingMom and LifeAsMOM, I have developed skills that will help us get through tougher times. We’ve been following Dave Ramsey for about a year as well, which will also help us. Anyway, sorry for the long comment!! I originally just wanted to share that I did my first freezer cooking today, haha. Thanks again!

    • Ln says

      Praying for you and your husband. My husband was layed off about a year ago at this time. He found a job within 5 weeks, thank the Lord. And thankfully he was given about 5 weeks pay as a “parting gift.” During that time it was nice to know that we were covered as far as our stockpiled food and household items went. We were able to save the grocery budget in case he didn’t find a job before the pay ran out. What a relief!!! His next job didn’t pay near what his other one did, but any paycheck is better than none and it has turned out the be the best job for him. He’s way happier even thought financially we have to be even more careful! God is so good!!!

    • says

      @Susan, Wow, I’m honored to have played a part in all that. Blessings to you as you see where God is leading you and your family. He will never leave you or forsake you.

  22. says

    This also depends on the size of your family. I found for us I just did not have freezer space for more than 2 to 3 frozen meals. Because our freezer was packed to the max with just my every 2 week meals.
    We are a family of 10. Now finally after 20 years I have my very first freezer and plan to add freezer meals this next week. :)

  23. Ln says

    Okay Crystal, I have a request for a post. There are lots of us who would LOVE to try freezer cooking. I think I can handle cooking everything on one day, but some of us don’t know some of the other “common sense” things that go along with this. Like for instance: how long something can stay in the freezer (whether it be the refrigerator freezer or a deep freezer), how to properly thaw things (which things should be thawed before reheating or which things don’t have to be thawed), what kinds of foods don’t freeze well and reheat well at all, can anything be reheated in the microwave, and about a thousand other things that are probably second nature to you but confuse the dickens out of me.

    Thanks!

  24. Lorna says

    Maybe it’s because English freezers are notoriously smaller than American ones, but is 10 cubic feet considered small?

    • says

      @Lorna, I have no idea. I don’t think our fridge is monstrous. But, it’s not a “small” refrigerator. However, our first fridge was. I was taller the taller one then. ;)

  25. Andrea says

    I have been freezing “meal” items for years and stretching the food $ for several years. Although I have not frozen my pasta but I do freeze everything I plan to add to the pasta then pull it out in the morning to thaw in the frig. reheating while the pasta cooks.

    I also often add TVP (Textured Vegetable Protein (Fred Myers bulk foods, Bobs Red Mill or Organic Foods)) to my ground meats and soups.
    For those who have not used this there is no flavor but takes on the flavor of what you are cooking.

  26. Mary says

    Help me understand. The raw meat already in my freezer can be thawed, prepared, and then placed back into freezer, right? So should the meat be cooked?