This is part 2 of my meal prep series. Check out part 1 here.
When it comes to pulling together a quick dinner, I’m nothing without my freezer supply. Meal prepping this way allows me to always have some of our family’s staples on hand.
When I first decided to get serious about meal prep three years ago, I began our freezer supply with meat sauce, meatballs, and mashed potatoes. These were items that we were eating a lot of, but I was buying them all pre-made at the store.
Meal prep bulk cooking is some work to get started, but after a few rounds, you’ll figure out your priority items and find your groove. Then you just keep slowly adding to the list of items you want to keep on hand and, over time, you’ll end up with a super helpful stock of homemade foods that you can use at a moment’s notice.
I have a chest freezer in my garage where I keep most of the items listed below. If your freezer access is limited to the one attached to your fridge, you can still do this, but you’ll need to adjust your meal prep according to the freezer space available.
How I made our meal prep freezer supply:
It’s taken a good year - and then some - to build up a freezer supply of go-to meal options for our family, plus a couple of dishes for the pantry and fridge. Here’s what’s consistently in stock in our house:
- Meat sauce (freezer, flat)
- Mashed potatoes (freezer, flat)
- Applesauce (freezer, flat)
- Meatballs (freezer)
- Shredded, cooked chicken (freezer, flat)
- Tomato rice and beans (freezer, flat)
- Roasted tomato sauce (fridge)
- Roasted garlic (pantry)
- Baked oatmeal (freezer)
- Chocolate chip cookie dough (freezer)
- Bread, baguette or ciabatta - sliced (freezer)
- Sliced and/or cubed raw chicken for nuggets/tenders (freezer, flat)
Whew! That’s a lot. Let’s break this list down.
I make these in large batches. Two pounds of meat for the meat sauce, 5lbs of russet potatoes for the mashed potatoes, 3lbs of apples for applesauce, 3lbs pounds of meat for the meatballs - you see where I’m going here. I want to get at least 4 meals out of one cooking session. We’re a family of 3, but I make our staples in large quantities so there’s plenty to freeze.
These recipes all make more than we can eat at one meal. I freeze the rice and oatmeal. The roasted tomato sauce is good for 7-10 days in the fridge. For the roasted garlic, I pop the cloves out of their skins and into a small jar that I keep in the cupboard with my spices. (See instructions in this post.)
- Chocolate chip cookie dough
- Bread, baguette or ciabatta
- Sliced or cubed raw chicken
I freeze these, but do a little work before they hit the freezer. The cookie dough I make according to the recipe. Instead of dropping it on to a cookie sheet for the oven, I cover a baking sheet with parchment paper and drop the raw dough on to that. Put it in the freezer overnight. Once they’re solid, remove them from the tray and into a zip-close freezer bag to store.
The bread gets sliced up when it comes home from the store, before being put into a zip-close freezer bag and then into the freezer. Thaw in the toaster or under the broiler depending on preferences for easy rolls, garlic bread, etc.
The raw chicken I also cut up right after I buy it. Slice boneless, skinless chicken breasts into cubes (for nuggets) or strips (for fajitas, stir fry, or chicken tenders) and then put into a zip-close bag to freeze and eliminate one more step for you to do the day of cooking.
Freeze it flat.
A lot of the dishes that go into the freezer I put into zip-close freezer bags and freeze flat. (See the “freezer, flat” note on the main list above.) The flat part is key here, as you can then take the bag from freezer, into a sink full of cold water, and have it mostly thawed in 15 mins (20 mins for the chicken). You can then easily break the food up a bit in the bag, put it in a pot, and anything still slightly frozen will quickly thaw once you turn on the burner and start cooking.
How much do I freeze?
It took some experimenting, but for us, 3 cup portions of a sauce or 2 cup portions of a side dish are good for 1 family dinner + 1 leftover meal, which I use as my lunch for the next day. The raw chicken I freeze in approx 1 pound packages.
What about whole meals?
I do make a larger portion of any meal we like and freeze the leftovers for an additional quick meal option. (Mac and cheese falls into this category, as do burritos, lasagna, and enchiladas.)
I also take large casseroles - like lasagna - and divide it into 3 loaf pans or 2 - 8x8” pans while I’m assembling it instead of doing a giant 9x13” dish that will take us a week to eat.
TIP: If you do this in disposable aluminum pans and freeze them, you’ll always have something on hand when you want to bring a meal to a friend or relative.
Want to meal prep with me?
Want to do you own meal prep freezer stock, but this looong post has your overwhelmed? Here are the basic steps:
- Determine how much freezer space you have.
- Come up with the top 2-3 meal items you’re buying pre-made from the freezer section of the store that you want to make yourself.
- Find recipes for these items.
- Set aside 2-3 hours for prepping and cooking.
- Shop for ingredients and anything you need for freezing (bags, containers, etc.)
- Get cooking!
- Divide food between freezer bags/containers, label well, and put everything in the freezer, laying it flat if possible.
- Repeat these steps every week or two, adjusting as needed, until you have your own handy pile of homemade dinner items stocked up!