Choosing Foods for Your Freezer Cooking Plan (November Link Up)

This week, I’ve been thinking about food. Specifically, what foods we’ll be eating — for the rest of this month. That might sound odd to some. But, yes, I’m thinking about our month ahead.

Since I regularly stock our freezer with meals to be enjoyed in the weeks ahead, I need to think long term. The month holds two birthdays and one major holiday. Those events can be stressful if I don’t plan ahead and seek balance in our activities and in our meal plan.

Efficient Cooking

The success of a freezer cooking plan is dependent on making ingredients do double duty on cooking day. You don’t prepare 31 different meals, stash them in the freezer, and call it a week. That is not efficient cooking. You can do that each day of the month and call it good.

Freezer cooking works when you’re building your meals around three or four core ingredients, usually proteins. Then you choose recipes that involve those ingredients so that you’re not messing with 5,786 different food items. Want detailed help in building a plan? Read this planning tutorial.

So how do you choose?

1. What do you already have?

If you already have ground beef, chicken breasts, and canned tuna in your freezer and pantry, then build your menus around those items, producing hamburgers, meatballs, meatloaf, chili, taco kits, chicken enchiladas, chicken soup, tuna cakes, and tuna noodle casserole. Make triple batches of each of those items and you’re good to go.

2. What do you want?

In our case of the three special events, there are some items that I’m going to prepare because there’s an occasion that calls for it. I know that on Thanksgiving we’re going to want fresh rolls, apple pie, and mashed potatoes — all things that I can prep beforehand and store in the freezer. And since I want to make a sweet potato recipe, something that we don’t normally serve, I’m going to try it now, taste, and freeze.

3. What’s on sale?

This is obviously a means of saving money and making your freezer cooking both time and finance efficient. If I choose the items that are on sale this week, I can buy in bulk, cook in big batches, and save a ton. In my neck of the woods, pork chops, chicken breast and ground beef were both under $2 a pound, making those logical choices to my cooking plan.

My November Cooking Plan

Dinners
Marinated Chicken Breast
Stuffed Chicken Breast
Meatballs
Meatloaf

Taco Meat
Cranberry Pork Chops
Stuffing and Chops

Holiday
Mashed Potatoes
Nanna’s Apple Pie
Sweet Potato Apple Gratin
Whole Grain Rolls
Whole Grain Cinnamon Rolls (for a Gobbling Good Thanksgiving Breakfast)

Breakfast
Instant Oatmeal Packets
Cranberry Bread
Cranberry Chocolate Scones
Cranberry Orange Granola

What’s Your Plan?

Share your cooking plan for the month below.

Curious about freezer cooking? Consider purchasing my cookbook, Not Your Mother’s Make-Ahead and Freeze Cookbook from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or your local bookstore. It’s chock full with over 200 freezer-friendly recipes, planning pages, shopping lists, cooking plans, and basic and advanced how-to’s to making freezer cooking work for any home, family, and lifestyle.

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Comments

  1. Sara @ Mom Endeavors says:

    That adorable cinnamon roll turkey guy has me distracted from all “important stuff”! :) Please share details on him!!!!

    • Sara @ Mom Endeavors says:

      See…I said I was distracted! ;) I found it…that is an adorable Gobbling Good Thanksgiving Breakfast and I am so excited to try it!!

  2. My son is looking over my shoulder and recognized your cinnamon roll turkey (since they loved making it last year) He says “oh yeah lets make that yummy guy again!” :)

  3. I’m going to make plenty of shredded chicken. I’ll use some of it to make chicken tetrazzini, some for chicken enchiladas, some for chicken bacon subs, and some just frozen as is for use later on salads, quesadillas, etc. I also want to do some meatballs and marinated chicken/steak.

    Right now I’m only cooking for myself and my two year old, so I don’t need mass quantities of food. But, having meal size portions available in the freezer helps me meal plan easily and keep my sanity while my husband is away.

  4. We made those turkey rolls last year! So fun and cute!

    I am one of the vegetarian readers that is very interested in starting freezer cooking and I wanted you to know that I made the cheese broccoli, zucchini, and carrot soup for dinner this week. I used vegetable broth as a sub for chicken and it was very good. It worked very well, I did modify salt a little as veg broth is a little sweeter than chicken as you have mentioned before. Wondering if this soup would freeze well so I could start my freezer cooking recipe list. I will have to experiment with a bowl’s worth. I don’t like the thought of ruining a whole batch worth of ingredients!! Happy cooking!

    • Jessica Fisher says:

      @Kelley, I have frozen that soup before. You might get some separation issues, but I haven’t figured out why or under which circumstances. I reheated from frozen and liked it fine. But, like you, I tested just a 2-cup portion to make sure.

      That is exactly what I would recommend as you jump into it, testing your vegetarian recipes for the freezer. Each night that you make dinner, package a portion for the freezer. Cool it completely and freeze it. Then see if you like how it turns out. Take notes so that you remember what you did. ;)

      • @Jessica Fisher, Jessica, since I was a young girl I’ve been told that food should cool before going to into the fridge. As an adult I heard you should get food into the fridge straight away or at least within two hours of cooking. Since discovering freezer cooking I’ve read the food has to cool before freezing. Do you agree or disagree that the same cooling standards hold true for the freezer and the fridge? You have more experience with cooking for your family and I read about the issue of throwing hot food into the freezer can cause mold and bacteria when defrosting. So I was just wondering what your thoughts are and if the same holds true for the fridge.

        • Jessica Fisher says:

          @Nia, I’m not sure if it has to cool before going in the fridge. But, everything I’ve read says that it needs to cool at least to room temperature before freezing, for the exact reasons you mentioned. I think I read Martha suggesting to cool it quickly, like plunging the dish into a pan of ice water.

          But, I’d read through this page from the USDA; it goes into great detail about freezing and food safety.

    • @Kelley,

      I make potato soup and freeze it every month (we LOVE our Monday potato soup day). Anyways…. we have found that you can’t re-heat in the microwave (at least this soup) because it separates too much when freezing and thawing. So I get the soup out the night before (since we have it at lunch) and then I just heat it in a pan on the stove the next day. I have also put the leftovers in a container and re-heat it again with no ill effects. I wouldn’t try it a third time, but have no issues making it, freezing it, thawing it, heating it, placing it in the fridge as left overs and heating it one last time.

      I hope that helps in your soup endeavors.

  5. I don’t have a plan yet because my grocery budget was slashed due to hubby’s hours going down a great deal. I haven’t yet learned how to swing a lowered food budget while getting the maximum amount of food for the dollars I have. Another problem I have at the moment is that due to small batches of cooking lately I have run out of SALT. I’ve never gone through so much salt, but I guess there’s a first for everything. Has anyone here been able to leave salt out of recipes totally with success? I attempted making biscuit sandwiches this A.M. and realized I didn’t have any salt, so I had to stop in the midst of measuring out my dry ingredients. Does anyone believe my biscuits would be a success without salt, or any other bread recipe. Sounds sad but I’m trying to avoid the store.

  6. Michelle Z. says:

    Have you ever had any freezer cooking “flops”? Any foods that just don’t work when you prepare/freeze/reheat?

    • Jessica Fisher says:

      @Michelle Z., plenty! But, of course, I’m now blanking on them all. The most recent was a terrible tortilla bake that I created. I’m not sure if it was buying a different brand of tortillas or the combination of ingredients, but it was yuck. We had to throw it away. Won’t be sharing that recipe. LOL

  7. Just did my freezer cooking yesterday! Went this morning to a freezer meal swap and came home with 10 yummy looking meals. I made 2 meals myself – Tortilla Soup and Loaded Twice Baked Potatoes. Nice to only have to make large batches of 2 things instead of lots of separate meals. I also did some freezer cooking just for myself while I was at it. Marinated Pork chops, chopped veggies, browned ground beef. Today I am going to pick up more beef (it is on sale) and make meatballs and burger patties. So nice to have a freezer full of ready to eat meals! I came home today with Parmesan chicken, Enchiladas, meatloaf, chicken tetrazzini, potato casserole, and a bunch more!! The thing I like about the swap is that you get foods you wouldn’t normally cook so it changes your diet up quite a bit more. This is the second time I’ve done a freezer meal swap and I love it!!

  8. Oh forgot, I got my tortilla soup recipe from here: http://www.southernplate.com/2010/09/chicken-tortilla-soup.html. She has tons of other great recipes for freezing, check it out!

  9. Hi Jess, this is so funny because LAST month I had three birthdays and an anniversary and I relied heavily on my frozen meals and pantry regulars that I ran out, so I did an article last week on what I needed to get organized so I could whip together meals quickly. We are on the same wavelength so I linked up my stocking a healthy pantry article today! All the best. Alex@amoderatelife

  10. i’ve been freezing food occasionally, but am wanting to be more organized abt it. first, i need to ask a very silly question. can you re-use the glad/ziploc freezer bags? i just bought them to save space in my small-ish freezer. before i’d just use a dish covered with clingfilm or foil or some plastic container but am now planning to freeze more so i’ve just started using freezer bags. tia.

    • Jessica Fisher says:

      @eelin, theoretically, yes. I only reuse them for baked goods. I don’t recommend reusing them for raw meats.

      • @Jessica Fisher,
        Thank you! I’ll remember to only re-use the bags for baked and cooked stuff. I just started yest with a bag of pasta sauce. I should have another bag of food from tonight’s dinner as well. : )

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