It’s that time of year; I find myself dropping kids off at after-school activities, coming home late from work and trying to get a good meal on the table. The only way I can survive is by planning ahead. If that sounds familiar, and if the idea of having a freezer full of home-cooked meals is enticing to you, I have a few simple tricks to help stretch the meal and the budget at the same time.
- Cool foods slightly at room temperature before freezing. Place the dish on a cooling rack to allow air to circulate around the pan for 20 to 30 minutes. It is also OK to refrigerate foods while they’re still warm.
- Use freezer bags. Bags lie flat in the freezer, can be labeled easily, and will thaw faster. But make sure they are freezer bags - not just storage bags - to reduce freezer burn.
- Package the food in the portion size you will serve it in. I often divide it up, freeze a small meal to take to the office and then freeze enough for another family dinner down the road.
- Do not stack freezer bags until frozen. They’ll freeze faster and more thoroughly if separated.
- Do NOT thaw foods at room temperature. Food safety is your first priority. I like to stick my frozen bags in the refrigerator right before I leave for work. If I commit to a meal in the morning, I’m much less tempted to hit the drive-through on my way home. Make sure your freezer bag is made to go into the microwave if you plan to finish thawing there, but do not cook in the freezer bag.
I often devote one afternoon on the weekend to cooking two meals for the week, and prepare my weekly shopping list at the same time. The other great thing is that my kids are now old enough to dig in the freezer and find their own meals - just another way freezer meals save me time.