Frugal Friday: Freezer Cooking on the Cheap


This week I spent a few days in the kitchen. I was on a mission to fill my freezer with homemade “convenience” items. Rather than start from scratch each night at dinnertime, I will be able to draw from a storehouse of “freezer meals.” Almost all of this month’s meals have been pre-prepped in some way: chicken sliced and marinating for stirfry, ground beef cooked and seasoned for tacos, burritos, and not-soggy-nachos, custom baking mixes made up for pancakes, cornbread, scones, and muffins. We’ve got it all.

I find that if food preparation is off my to-do list, I can get more done the rest of the time and enjoy the evening so much more. And while I love to cook and I love to eat, I also love to relax and simply enjoy my family. So, I try to limit my cooking, but still feed my family well at dinnertime.

Freezer Cooking Saves Money
Cooking many meals at once and freezing them for later use will save you:

  1. time – it doesn’t take much more time to make two or three lasagnas than one.
  2. resources – if you’re going to use the stove or oven to brown meat, brown five pounds instead of one. You’ll save gas or electricity over time.
  3. money
  • buying ingredients in bulk is often cheaper than purchasing many smaller packages
  • having food already to go will prevent you from running for a McRipoff and paying way more than you should to feed your family.

How Do I Freezer Cook on a Budget?
The question came up often this past week as I tweeted and updated facebook. In years past, I made my list of 30 meals based on what I wanted to eat in the coming month, regardless of the price or if the ingredients were in season. It still saved me money, but it was hard to have that lump of money at the beginning of the month. If you’re paid weekly, that can present a bigger challenge.

There are several ways that you can swing a freezer cooking day even on a fixed budget.

  • Use what you have – don’t use recipes that call for ingredients you don’t have or those that might not fit your budget this pay period. Instead, scan your fridge, freezer, and pantry for what you already have. Build your menu plan from there.
  • Practice stockpiling – buy regularly used ingredients on sale and stock up rather than pay full price later when you want or need it. If you make this a regular practice, you’ll find that you can keep a fuller pantry than shopping in other ways. Purchase meat items at good prices and freeze them until freezer cooking day. For instance, my local store has a great price on chuck roast this week – $.97/#. I will probably buy several packages and store them until the next Freezer Cooking Day and turn them into stews, chili, and shredded beef.

(The only exception I make to this is when I know that I want to freeze the meal uncooked, such as marinated meats and chicken or meatloaves which I prefer to freeze before cooking. Those I would prepare for freezing at the time of purchase.)

  • Straddle the sales – Find out the beginning and ending dates of your local grocery stores’ sales. Build your menus from what’s on sale. Usually, you can get an ad for the new sale the night before it starts, sometimes sooner. Just ask at your store. If you don’t mind going shopping on back-to-back days, you can take advantage of 2 weeks’ worth of sales.
  • Stretch meals from one cooking session to another - At the beginning of October, I made enough pasta sauce to last us for October and November. That was one less item to make and shop for this month. It also provides us with a little more variety in our menus for both months.
  • Make in season recipes – Next month’s freezer meals will feature items that I know I can get for a good price. Can you say turkey? A few birds will make several batches of enchiladas, tamales, and chicken-broccoli casserole. This is also the season for roasts. Make stew, chili, and ragus. There’s a wealth of items that are fall and winter-friendly.
  • Make items that are always frugal to eat – Eggs, beans, rice, and pasta are almost always good deals. You can easily make many meals based on these.

With some careful planning and some savvy shopping, you can easily pull off a great freezer cooking day on a budget. For inspiration, visit all these great recipe links for make-ahead meals.

How do you save money? Share your frugal tip with us.

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Comments

  1. Moms In Need Of Mercy says:

    I didn't know you could refreeze meat! I thought you had to package it up the way you wanted it right away and then stick it in the freezer. I checked the USDA website & sure enough, you can! This is what it said:
    Once food is thawed in the refrigerator, it is safe to refreeze it without cooking, although there may be a loss of quality due to the moisture lost through defrosting. After cooking raw foods which were previously frozen, it is safe to freeze the cooked foods. If previously cooked foods are thawed in the refrigerator, you may refreeze the unused portion.

    Thanks for the tip :)

  2. Your Frugal Friend, Niki says:

    Great tip! I didn't know you could do that with beef either.

    :)

  3. waldenbunch says:

    As I shopped my local Harris Teeter with triple coupons this week, I realized one of my most frugal tips on grocery shopping is not to shop! I tell my kids I am on a mission, I am not looking or socializing! I bought several things (which I got free with the coupons) that I didn't even realize was available, all of them convenience foods. Somebody must be buying them, but it's not me!

  4. I would like to see your list of meals that you made during your 2 day cooking marathon. I am new to your blog and I find it very enjoyable.

  5. A few months ago some friends and I got together and made 8 meals from scratch to freeze and we had a blast! Glad you had fun too :>) http://www.mummydeals.org/2009/05/how-to-host-successful-meal-swap.html

  6. Hoosier Homemade says:

    I don't use my freezer near enough. Sometime I'd like a post on how to wrap the food for the freezer.
    Thanks for hosting!
    ~Liz

  7. MINOM and Nikki, sorry for the confusion. I actually don't refreeze raw beef. That was what I was trying to explain. It is safe, as you found out, but you can have a loss of texture, so it is something I try to avoid. (We've got texture issues here.)

    Kim, the link is here: http://www.lifeasmom.com/2009/11/freezer-cooking-day-2-end-result.html

  8. Averyswife says:

    I found out the re-freezing meat thing a couple of months ago and I was SO excited! That makes thing SO much easier.

    For Baking Day this week I was preparing for upcoming morning sickness, so I went all out and spent $250 at the grocery store. However, that $250 will provide TWO MONTHS worth of meals…which is much better than my $50 weekly grocery budget spread out.

    Thanks again for introducing us all to the cook-ahead method…it's going to be a LIFESAVER for me during this pregnancy!

  9. We had turkey last weekend, one that I'd bought cheap and had in the freezer. I figured I'd have it then so it wouldn't be too close to Thanksgiving.
    Of course, I have the carcass frozen again to make broth in the future!

  10. Anonymous says:

    When I am making freeze ahead meals, I save a ton of money by buying the large can of vegetables, such as peas or corn. These are easly just a couple of dollars, much cheaper than the smaller cans of vegetables. Since I am making several meals at once (usually about 40), I easily use up all the vegetables being added to soups, stews, casseroles, etc, and save easily $20 to $30 on vegetables alone. I can do the same by buying onions, garlic, carrots, bell peppers, and potatoes in bulk. I just cut/dice/peal all of my vegetables before I start assembling my meals and it makes the process go much easier and much faster.

  11. Dina-Marie says:

    With our large family (10 children), monthly meal planning alone cut our food expenses in half! Coupons, monthly grocery shopping and freezing produce from our garden has further reduced our expenses.

  12. *Crystal* says:

    I just wanted to say I ran across your blog yesterday and I absolutley love it! You have so many great tips and advise. Your blog is going to help make my life so much easier. Thanks you so much and god bless you.

  13. I am nervous about freezer cooking so I will definitely be reading all about your cooking experience! I know it will be so helpful for my family.

  14. I would love to start freezing meals, but I am a vegetarian. Do you have any vegetarian tips or meal plans?

    Thanks!

  15. Sheri, I have tons of meatless recipes! That should not stop you at all. Vegetarian chilis and soups, meatless pastas, lots of black bean recipes. Oh goodness… I feel a separate post coming on…. ;)

    What do you normally eat? I bet a lot of it can be frozen.

  16. We normally eat all of those things – pasta, lots of beans, soups, chili, casseroles. More info would be fantastic!

  17. vaxcel lighting avignon collection says:

    Thanks for all your useful tips.

  18. I’d love to hear some suggestions on reasonably priced packaging. The dollar store has three aluminum tins with paper lids that are three for a dollar, but they’re not especially reusable and I worry about freezer burn with paper tops. Matching lids and containers to plastic containers never seems to work, plus I just hate putting my food in plastic. Foil wrapping isn’t pad, especially if the frozen wrapped bundle goes into a ziplock bag, but it always seems to get torn in the freezer, as does butcher paper. I’ve got a vacuum sealer but the bags are expensive and I’m not very good at using the darn thing, so it’s slow and stressful. Pyrex and corningware have fabulous freezer containers, but I can’t afford enough of those.

    As an aside, have you seen the single serving pies? SO DARN CUTE, though the jars cost too much to be able to afford to lay out until my husband gets a job. http://www.ourbestbites.com/2009/09/single-serving-pie-in-jar.html

  19. I coupon and so I try to work my meals around what items I have recently gotten on sale. I have also found that just having a menu planned out saves my family a lot of money… You know what youre having and you are less tempted to just grab a quick, fast food meal. Thanks so much for all the tips! Great site!

  20. I am going start freezer cooking next Friday for the first time…. I am on a really tight buget so this can be a little over whelming. It is just my husband and I but we normally spend about 100 in food and upteen dollars in takeout… I know I won’t master this overnight, but it makes me nervous to think that I won’t have enough so I’m going to try two weeks as u suggested. I tryed to factor the takeout budget into my planning… and by the way I’m not the cook of this familly so whole new challenge for me!!!

    I would like to make more soups and stews…. with a mixture of chicken and beef the first time around… I love using my crockpot…also my pantry is bare I really don’t have much to start with. Is there any suggestions that u can offer for a beginner starting from scratch…basics to start with… and how to stretch the budget…..

    • Jessica Fisher says:

      You can do it. Just start slow. One good way is to just make double batches a few nights in a row. That’s easy and will eventually allow you to ramp up to bigger cooking sessions.

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