When it comes to birthdays, I’m pretty easy to buy for. I’m a dietitian, food blogger, recipe developer, and overall food lover. So if you buy me something remotely food-related, chances are I’m going to love it. My husband has it easy!
Hands down my favourite birthday present of all time was not a new cookbook, kitchen utensil, or box of chocolates (but if you’re taking notes, I like the caramel-filled ones).
It was a chest freezer.
An extra large chest freezer, to be exact, that now lives in our basement and is pretty much my new best friend.
With my weekdays filled with school drop-offs, full days of work, school pickups, and whatever after-school programs are on tap for that day, there is likely very little chance I want to step into my kitchen and cook a full dinner from scratch. And I LOVE cooking. And yet, I still want a home-cooked meal on the table come six o’clock most nights of the week (because we have to leave room for take-out night).
That’s where my best friend steps in. Having a supply of various ready-made freezer meals on hand at all times means I can have a home cooked meal on the table in a matter of minutes. Even when I don’t feel like cooking at all! Sure, it does take a little planning and prep, but if I can do it, you can too.
Here are my tips to help you become a freezer meal prep champion.
Make A Double Batch
One of my life mottos is ‘When in doubt, bake a double batch’. Batch cooking is pretty much a lifesaver. That’s what your freezer is there for. Muffins, pancakes, waffles – when you are doing your weekend meal prep, double up. It really doesn’t take any extra time and your future self will thank you when the kids are screaming for pancakes and all you have to do is defrost a batch from your freezer.
Any of your favourite soups, stews, chilis, and casserole–type dishes are also super easy to double. I like to buy a few of those large aluminum trays from the dollar store, bake my extra batch of lasagna, enchiladas, or whatever dish I’m making, cover tightly with plastic wrap and aluminum foil, and freeze. All you have to do is bake it in the oven when you are ready to eat. You can even freeze your favourite grains – making a batch or rice? Double it! Same goes for quinoa and barley. Store half in your freezer and you are already halfway to dinner.
Cool Your Dish
So you’re feeling like a rockstar after making not one, but TWO batches of your favourite chili recipe. But before you pop it in the freezer, let it cool down completely. This helps the food freeze more quickly and evenly and prevents any of that unwanted freezer burn. If you put warm food in the freezer, it could also cause surrounding items to unintentionally thaw and refreeze, which can alter the taste and texture of a dish.
Label, Label, Label!
To ensure you’re taking out the food you think you are, label it. I like to freeze dishes like soups, stews and baked goods in large zip lock bags. This way you can remove all the air from the bags to help prevent freezer burn and they lie flat in your freezer, which helps optimize all that precious freezer space. They also have handy tabs where you can write exactly what is in the bag and the date that it was made. Most dishes can last up to six months in the freezer, but it’s usually best to try to eat them within 2-3 months for optimal flavour and texture. It can also be helpful to keep a running tab on what you’ve got in your freezer by making a list of your freezer inventory. So when the seasons change, you remember all those cozy and comforting soups you froze in the fall.
A freezer favourite of mine are these Four Ingredient Broccoli Cheddar Patties. They are terrific as a light lunch or heartier dinner served with a grain or salad. The absolute best part about them is my kids love them. And whenever you find a dish that the whole family enjoys, you definitely cook up a double batch!
Four Ingredient Broccoli Cheddar Patties
Makes: 15 patties
500g package frozen broccoli (defrosted and chopped)
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
1 ½ cups aged cheddar cheese (grated)
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Place all ingredients in a large bowl and mix well until combined.
3. Shape mixture into small patties and place on prepared baking sheet.
4. Bake for about 25 minutes, flipping halfway through, until nicely browned on both sides.
5. Remove from oven and serve warm or at room temperature.
6. To freeze, let cool to room temperature and place in a labeled zip lock bag. They will keep in the freezer for up to 6 months.