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I started out with a bang with freezer meals. I was making freezer meals for my family during my high school years and loved the convenience of it. When I got married, I was so committed to freezer meals that I actually made and froze most of our dinners for our honeymoon and brought them with me! Now that’s commitment. (For the record, yes, my husband and I were total penny-pinchers when we got married, thus the yummy freezer meals on the honeymoon. But we also really loved good food, and so instead of eating out every meal, we made a lot of our own food, and then spent some of the money we saved to go out to a really nice restaurant for a couple of dinners.)
But in the freezer meal department, things have gone really down hill lately. Okay, more like down hill for the last five years! I can directly correlate this downhill spiral to when I started trying not to use freezer bags anymore, and switched to using mason jars. Like many, I had way too many jars break or burst for no reason at all (even when following “best practices”). There is nothing like throwing away good food to cool your enthusiasm.
And the trouble is, plastic really is a problem! I have let it creep back into my kitchen and life lately, but re-reading some of the research on the troubling effects it can have made me remember yet again how important it is to avoid.
Thankfully, there are now better solutions to freezing without plastic that I am so eager to try! And the real reason I got back on this topic again, was because I was so inspired by two of the books in The Ultimate Healthy Living Bundle on the topic. I realized how much it would serve me, and my family, if I got back into the habit.
I’ll be honest. We really need freezer meals right now, and I am going to make this a priority.
So with that in mind, I am gathering my tips learned in the past and new ones just learned, and also sharing some of the research I’ve been doing on plastic-free freezing! I’m excited.
1. The short on time freezing method
The first thing that really intrigued and inspired me from the freezer meal eBooks in the bundle was using a different method from what I used to use (which was the achingly long, all-day cooking project that left your feet aching like crazy). Instead of that, there are other ways to build up a freezer full of meals!
One of the eBooks I read was Crystal’s (from Money Saving Mom) Guide to Freezer Cooking. In it she talks about how she also used to do full day freezer cooking, and how exhausting that was! Instead she recommends shorter times, more often. She gives a few other options, such as a 4-6 hour block (enough to get serious work done, but not be so tiring), and even doing (her current preference) one hour, and even 15-minute blocks of time! I may now find it hard to set aside a whole day for freezer meals, but I can definitely set aside an hour or two.
2. The Time Block Method
The other method that was totally new to me was the one outlined in Cara’s wonderful
Grain-Free Freezer Meal eBook. (You can get both of these books as part of the bundle for the next few days, which I highly recommend for the price and all that you get for it, but you can also buy Cara’s book anytime here).
She also doesn’t recommend the “whole day” freezer meal concept. Instead she recommends using “time blocks” working with certain categories. Her method probably makes even more sense for those on a whole food, nutrient dense diet. She says,
“The ‘cooking blocks’ are designed to be easier to fit into busy schedules. I have done freezer cooking in the past, but I would normally spend 8-10 hours straight cooking. Many of us have young families, special needs children, homeschool, work outside the home, or any combination of the above- and separating the cooking into 2-3 hour blocks is much more doable.
To stay the most efficient, these blocks should be planned to be together (i.e. you use meat cooked on meat days to put together Shepard’s pies after you cut/cook the veggies on veggie day), but they can span several days and still fill up your freezer with nourishing foods.”
Her blocks are set up with different categories, such as “meats” “vegetables” and “grain-free baking”. I feel this concept makes so much sense!
3. Start small
Regardless of what method you use, I think the idea of starting small, and taking on bite size jobs is a much more doable task that we can all do! It can be as simple as doubling up the muffin recipe you are making, and freezing half of it. If you are like me, sometimes having too high of standards for yourself and what you’d like to accomplish can actually derail your efforts and enthusiasm. This busy mommy needs doable goals!
4. Double up
With that in mind, use the double up method. Basically, any recipe that would freeze well and you already know you (and your family like), double-up on when you are making it next. It will most likely only take a few more minutes of your time, and you end up with double the food for your effort. I used to do this a lot, and I need to get back into it as it just makes sense to do.
5. Make a growing recipe list
The other thing that ended up derailing my freezer meal project was my changing dietary needs (we found out that one of my daughters and I have multiple food sensitivities). What this meant was that my list of freezer meals no longer worked well for us as I worked on learning new recipes. I now have plenty of meals worked out that would be easy to freeze, I just need to keep a running list of our favorite freezer friendly meals as a reference! Overtime, you can continue to add to your list, so that you have a wide range of meals that you can easily freeze.
6. Freeze components
But don’t feel that you need to freeze whole meals. Freeze components as well! Meats with marinades, homemade broths, sauces, unbaked doughs, chopped vegetables for starting soups, cooked beans, and more are some of the simple components you can freeze for an easier meal start-up in the future. Some methods aim for not having to cook a single dish in the near future. But it can be really simple to start a pot of rice, and reheat a frozen chicken curry. So don’t feel that you have to have every single component of the meal frozen. In fact, I’d encourage you to get out of that mindset as so many fresh vegetables don’t freeze well, and need a little prep work. This type of method can also help when working with small freezer spaces. Just freeze the things that take the most time to make (such as the chicken curry, instead of the rice).
7. Plastic-free freezing
I do have friends that use all sorts of jars to successfully freeze meals. They just make sure to leave plenty of headroom, and defrost slowly, and they have no trouble. I am not one of those lucky souls. However, I didn’t realize that there are specific mason jars that are made to especially withstand freezing. (I certainly was never using them when I attempted to freeze before). I first noticed this at a local store, when I noted that some of the mason jars were marked for freezing and some weren’t.
If you go to the Ball website, you find this chart of jars to select from. Notice that some of the jars are marked as freezer safe and some aren’t.
I am pretty excited to try freezing mason jars again. I have some Amazon credit to use from a gift card, so I was looking there for options. From what I’ve read, wide mouth is the way to go for freezing, so
these jars would be an example of what you could use.
Even with these, I’d make sure you left plenty of headroom, and defrosted in the refrigerator for less temperature shock. Just to make sure.
There are some other, much more expensive items too. If you wanted to still use baggies, you could use these silicone baggies, for example, and there are a wide range of stainless steel and glass containers that are also freezer safe.
Finally, certain items can be frozen with the wax paper and foil method. You can see how that works here with these homemade freezer burritos.
If you do decide to use plastic freezer bags for freezing food, just make sure that you thoroughly chill food before placing it in the plastic, as heat releases more of the chemicals from the plastic.
I’d love to hear your tips, and what recipes work for you. Plus, have you tried freezing in mason jars? I’d love to hear about your experience!
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