How to Turn a Regular Recipe into a Freezer Recipe

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Guest post from Kelly of New Leaf Wellness

I started making freezer meals after my first child was born. Freezing a casserole for a holiday or birthday party meant I could enjoy the day with my daughter and husband instead of spending it in the kitchen.

Four years and two more children later, I still use freezer meals to simplify our busy lives. To save time, I freeze most of my meals raw.  They’re very easy to prep, and since they’ll cook for the very first time out of the freezer they won’t taste like leftovers at all.

Curious how you can turn your favorite oven or slow cooker recipe into a no-cook (or little cook) freezer recipe? Read on!

How to Turn a Regular Recipe into a Freezer Recipe

1. Start with a recipe that will freeze well.

Here are some of the BEST and WORST foods to freeze.  This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it’s a good place to start.

BEST:

  • Chilis, stews, and soups (non-milk based)
  • Beef roasts and pork roasts
  • Casseroles
  • Baked pastas with tomato sauce

WORST:

  • Casseroles with potatoes or rice
  • Some dairy (like sour cream, mayonnaise, and sour cream)
  • Fried foods
  • Crumb toppings
  • Fruits and vegetables with a high water content (like melons and lettuce)

2. Follow the recipe instructions until the point that you would put the meal into your oven or slow cooker.

If the ingredients go into your oven or slow cooker totally raw, then you can freeze them raw, too. For example, I freeze loaves of raw carrot bread, raw meatloaves, raw beef roasts in sauce for my slow cooker, and raw veggies in broth for slow cooker soups.

If the recipe calls for some cooking before putting the food into your oven or slow cooker, do that cooking before freezing. For example, if a recipe calls for browning ground beef before adding it to your slow cooker, brown the ground beef before freezing. Then, cool the beef to room temperature, add the rest of ingredients, and freeze.

3. Assemble your freezer meal so it won’t get freezer burn or take up a lot of space in your freezer.

For slow cooker recipes:

  • Store your meal in a gallon-sized, plastic freezer bag.  I use quality, name-brand bags with a zipper on top and mine never leak.    
  • Fill your plastic freezer bag like this: beans and vegetables at the bottom, sauces and spices in the middle, and meat at the top.  Your sauces and spices won’t stick to your freezer bag, and your meat will be the first thing poured into your slow cooker.  
  • Remove as much air as possible before sealing the bag. (You can watch me demonstrate here.)
  • Lay the bags flat in your freezer and stack to save space. 

For oven recipes:

  • Store your meal in a glass casserole dish or aluminum pan (you can use disposable.) Place layers of plastic wrap and aluminum foil on the top of the dish.  
  • If you are stacking multiple casseroles in your freezer, place layers of cardboard in-between so they don’t collapse into one another. 

4. Label your freezer meal.

Use a pen or Sharpie marker to label your freezer meal with the following:

  • To thaw overnight in the refrigerator before cooking (if necessary)
  • Ingredients, if any, that need to be added the day of cooking
  • Cooking instructions
  • Use-by date (most freezer meals will last in a standard freezer up to three months)

5. Cook your freezer meal.

Most freezer meals need to be thawed in the refrigerator overnight. Thawing helps your meal cook more evenly and quickly.  It will also help your slow cooker meal fit in your slow cooker. (Because it’s hard to fit a frozen square block in an oval-shaped slow cooker!)

Follow your recipe’s instructions for cooking your meal in your slow cooker or oven. Frozen slow cooker recipes may require an extra 1-2 hours of cooking. Frozen oven recipes may need an additional hour of cooking. When you’re first getting started with freezer meals, check your meal at the end of your recipe’s recommended cooking time and add more time as needed.

Dr. Kelly McNelis is a 31 year old mother of three little girls. She’s also a psychologist, wellness coach, and author of two cookbooks: 15-Minute Freezer Recipes and Easy & Healthy Slow Cooker Recipes. Kelly shares her favorite time-saving tips, DIYs, and recipes on her blog, New Leaf Wellness.

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Comments

  1. Sue says

    I’ve been freezing meals for 30+ yrs and I Always double bag my meals.. Even with name brand bags you Never know when one will burst (and its a mess if it does) You can reuse the outer bag as they will be clean with no food on them…

  2. Carrie says

    As a mom of four boys – 4 years old and under – I need to do more freezer cooking! I always want to, but just need to find the time. (I did a bit after #1, but then it sort of fell off).
    Thanks for the helpful tips, this will help to getting more food in the freezer!
    But, from your do/don’t list: we DO freeze broccoli-cheese soup and homemade egg rolls (fried). And they both come out delicious!
    With the egg rolls, I just wrap them in paper towel for the last 2 minutes of baking and it soaks up any extra oils so they are still crispy.
    The soup I freeze in individual portions then just pull out the number I need, which is helpful for company or an individual lunch.

  3. Mrs. R. says

    Thanks so much—esp for the method of getting all the air out. I’ve never seen or heard of that, and always have shied away from the method using a straw.

  4. Susan says

    Thank you for the tips.

    I prefer to freeze meals in the dish that the meal will eventually be cooked in. I line my dish or slow cooker with plastic plastic wrap and then add the ingredients. Freeze until firm, then remove from the dish and wrap well. I use the plastic wrap, and then double wrap with wax-lined paper, like the kind butchers use to wrap meat. This way, when it comes time to cook it later, just unwrap and it fits right into the pan. With slow-cooker meals, I don’t even take the time to defrost. I just put it in the put and set it to low all day.

  5. Susan says

    Why not freeze rice dishes? I do it all the time. In fact, I almost always have pre-cooked, frozen rice in my freezer. So quick and easy to scoop out as much as you need for a meal.

    I also freeze milk- or sour-cream-based soups without a problem.

    • amanda says

      Susan how do you do the rice ezactly? I would love to know your secret.it sounds like a great idea.

    • Sarah says

      That is interesting. I’ve tried to freeze fried rice a couple of times and each time out of the freezer, it was watery and had a very unappealing texture. However, I also tried the Crockpot fried rice that had such rave reviews (I think the recipe was at this site), and it had the same awful texture as if it had been frozen. So…maybe some of us just have a thing with texture? It doesn’t save time if I have to refry it to make it edible!

      • Lori says

        I think it depends on the type of rice. Regular long-grain gets mushy for me so I only use Jasmine rice. I always like to cook a large batch of rice and beans to keep on hand as a last minute sides. Even straight out of the freezer, and into the microwave, it comes out great.

  6. says

    This is a very well-organized post, Kelly; especially helpful for beginners. I think with rice, potatoes, and dairy it must depend on the recipe because some of my favorite freezer meals use those ingredients. I must say point #5 is my downfall – I always forget to thaw it ahead of time!

    • says

      It definitely depends on the recipe. My goal was to make things as simple as possible for beginners and set them up for success. We have a chalkboard hanging in our refrigerator and write our weekly meal plan on it. That’s how I remember to thaw our freezer meals overnight – I’m always checking what’s for dinner tomorrow! :)

  7. Jennifer says

    Love this post as I prepare to empty freezer and then stock up meals for baby #2! We freeze plain cooked rice easily and broccoli/cheddar/cheese/rice casserole too. Potatoes are terrible frozen though.

    • says

      My third daughter was born in November and I froze almost 30 meals in preparation. Having so many homemade meals on-hand was FANTASTIC. Best wishes for the rest of your pregnancy! I hope your birth works out like you want, or better! :)

  8. says

    Thanks so much for this, I have wondered just exactly how to do this for awhile now! I have three children three and under, & would really like to start freezer cooking!

  9. Donna says

    I have found through MUCH trial and error that the GLAD brand freezer bags are better than the Ziplock brand. Glad is thicker and therefor less apt to develop holes which equal leaking!!! Don’t believe heft a box of each! Glad weighs more cuz their thicker!

  10. lori says

    I like to cook several pounds of ground beef (brown with onions and peppers and put in sandwich size ziplock baggies, freeze flat after they cool) and a whole bag of cooked chicken breasts (no seasoning …. just toss the frozen breasts on a cookie sheet, cook on 400 degrees until they are done, then I dice half/slice half, put in sandwich size ziplock bags and freeze flat after they cool.) It really helps to cut meal prep time and if you forget to thaw them out you can always peel and cut the bag off. The ground beef is good for spaghetti sauce, taco night, casseroles, soups and chilis, and the chicken is good for casseroles, salads, pizzas, quesadillas, etc.

  11. says

    I love this article! Very useful. I love the idea of making complete slow cooker meals.

    I always freeze my foods before baking as well–my family isn’t huge of leftovers (though I try to make them into different things to keep them guessing :)), and freezing food before cooking takes care of any leftover taste that frozen food may have.

    I purchased a Food Saver, and it has been worth it. Foods stay fresher much longer than in a conventional zipper bag, and it condenses the food to fit in our little freezer.

  12. Kristi says

    Thanks for the tips!

    I have a question on thawing meals overnight in the fridge. This never has worked for me – the meals are always 80-90% frozen when it’s time to put them in the oven! Is my fridge just too cold? Or are you thawing longer than 24 hours?

    • DelRae H says

      I agree. I run into this problem all of the time. What I’ve been doing is taking the meal out of the freezer the night before while we are eating supper and let it sit at room temperature then I throw it in the fridge when we go to bed for the night. Sometimes it’s still a little frozen in the morning but then I just let it cook longer. If anyone has any tips or tricks I would love to hear them.

    • says

      My meals aren’t 100% thawed, but they’re thawed enough to easily break apart for the Crockpot or cook in the oven (I add more cooking time, as needed). You could try thawing for two days in the refrigerator or thawing in cold water in the sink. If the food is in an appropriate container, you can also thaw in the microwave. Hope this helps!

  13. Corey says

    I generally skip the cook time/temp and ingredients, and write cookbook title and page instead. It usually proves less writing and takes less space. It also removes the margin of error in transcribing because I pull out the original recipe and read it fir there.

  14. says

    I make freezer meat packages for our freezer. I had to mess with raw meat, so making the freezer packages means I only have to deal with the raw meat mess once.

    I also like to make our own meatballs, meatloaves and bread for the freezer. Most of my family members have a milk allergy so purchasing those ready made items isn’t always an option for us. But I love having those items tucked away into the freezer to help me save time on busy days.

    Great tips, Thanks!

  15. Beckie says

    I made several weeks of meals for my daughter and her husband as a baby shower gift right before she had twins. Eighteen weeks later I did the same thing for my son and his wife when they were due with their twins. They all said this was the best gift they received. I made individual servings because they were eating at different times because of the crazy twin schedules. Wanted to pass this idea on in case anyone has a chance to do this as a gift for someone else!

  16. Jaime says

    I also freeze make-ahead meals in the container I plan to cook them in the oven in. I use heavy duty aluminum foil to line my dishes instead. The easiest way is to turn the dish in question upside down on the counter – tear off a sheet of foil the appropriate size and center it on the bottom of the dish. Use your hands to press it down and around the sides. Lift off the foil and you’ll have a perfect impression of the dish shape. Flip the dish back over and the shaped foil will very easily fit down inside with a few snugging adjustments.

    I use enough foil that I have a generous overhang on each side. I freeze it before I fold the overhang over – giving it just long enough in the freezer to harden. Then I take it out, pop the foil and meal out of the dish and wrap it all up. Double bag, label, etc. Works very well and avoids tying up dishes in the freezer or the expense of the disposable pans.