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