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Freezing Meals On My Own: Planning the Menu

Are you wanting to do some freezer meal cooking on your own?  No group involved? This post will tell you exactly how to do that. 
So…. you are ready to stock your freezer with some delicious meals that you have prepared. Before you even go shopping you need to do a little bit of work. This is my favorite part, the planning.
When I go at it on my own I make a date with myself for the same time/same day every week. If I am lucky I get my husband to give me a hand chopping veggies or cutting up meat. Each week I will pick ONE type of meat and prep two recipes x2 each week. So you would get 4 meals to freeze each week. If you don’t touch them that first month. You will have 16 meals after one month.
(Notice I pick one time consuming dish and one that is rather quick each week).

First of all, gather up copies of some recipes that you think will freeze well.  A few tips in choosing those meals:
1) Rice freezes ok…. though it tends to become a little mushy after being frozen then cooked.
I recommend choosing rice dishes where the rice can be cooked while the frozen part of the meal is being baked or reheated.  I stay away (for the most part) from a dish that needs the rice frozen with it. We often have sweet and sour meatballs and stir-fry chicken over cooked rice.  I prep everything, but the rice and freeze. On cooking day just 20 minutes before serving, I get out my rice cooker and make some yummy rice.
2) Raw potatoes turn black if frozen!  One of the gals in our group learned this the hard way. We pulled our meals out a couple weeks after the swap and the top of the dish was BLACK POTATOES.  Raw potatoes and cooked potatoes tend to get a grainy texture while freezing. I love baked potato soup. Though the texture changes slightly, it is sooooo worth it to me to have a few bags of yummy soup in my freezer.  Bagged frozen potatoes like Oreida tater tots, French fries and O’briens freeze best.
3)  Undercook pasta, just slightly. Al dente is best. Be sure and have a little extra liquid in your meals that have pasta as they will soak some of it up.  I made a tortellini soup that after defrosting had a great flavor, but the tortellini noodles (Costco refrigerated package) were in many pieces and didn’t quite taste the same as a whole tortellini.
4) Cream sauces separate, but that is not a deal breaker! If you want to do a cream sauce, then you must be able to remix it after thawing (and in some cases, after cooking it too!).  I usually use the Walmart Great Value brand Alfredo sauce with extra ingredients like parmesan, garlic and some butter for my Alfredo sauce.  While reheating on the stovetop, I am able to stir and blend it back together. Another yummy option is stroganoff. You can cook it completely ahead of time, bag it, and freeze it. Some prefer to feeze the floured meat and sauce separately so they can cook the meal after thawing to give it a fresher taste.
5) Vegetables have different rules for blanching. See below:
Fresh brocolli, carrots, mushrooms, and spinach/greens, peeled and sliced squash need to Blanch 3 minutes in water or steam-blanch 5 minutes. Chill in ice water.
For potatoes: Wash; peel; remove deep eyes, bruises, and green surface coloring. Cut in ¼- to ½-inch cubes. Blanch 5 minutes. Cool. For hash browns––cook unpeeled until almost done; peel and grate; form in desired shapes; freeze. For French fries––peel and cut in thin strips; deep fat fry until very light golden brown; drain and cool; complete browning before serving.
Whole bell peppers need a 3 minute blanch, but sliced or diced peppers DO NOT need to be blanched before freezing. Onions do not need blanching as well.
6) Consider the portions. If you are feeding big eaters and money is tight pick some meals that give you a lot of bang for your buck like soups and casseroles. Also think about side dishes. Some families have side dishes with their meals. We usually don’t.  This means that we make more than a 6 serving meal so that some of us may have seconds. A 9 x13 pan is perfect for us because it means there is enough for everyone to have seconds, and I don’t have to think of a side dish to accompany the meal.  Other gals in our freezer group do side dishes, so they end up having quite a bit left over for husbands to take to work the next day’s lunch.
7) Consider the Meat. If you aren’t a vegetarian then most likely the majority of your meals will have meat in them. When planning your meals try to plan meals using meat that you can get on sale. If beef is not available for a decent price at the time of your meal planning then WAIT!  It will go on sale in a few weeks. Be flexible. Use a more inexpensive cut of meat and cook it a little longer to make it more tender.  If you are able, plan a few meals using all the meats- chicken breast, ham, rump roast, pork chops and (if you like) tuna fish.
8) How much time do you have? Big question! How much time do you want to put into this?  Are you wanting to do this all in a quick 2-3 hour evening? A few evenings for 3 or 4 days?  An entire Saturday?  I created a chart to give you an idea of how long it could take you to make some meals. This chart is based on the assumption you work straight through with very little interruptions and you have a lot of mixing bowls and pots and pans so you aren’t washing all your dishes between recipes. I prefer to wash between recipes and NOT wait till the end. Yes, it will extend your cooking time a little… but trust me IT is worth it!!!

9) Finally, how many meals do you want to make?  I can only say… don’t overwhelm yourself your first time… or you may get super frustrated and want to quit.  Start out slow. Pick a couple family favorites and make two of them. Then you have 4 meals in the freezer. Easy Peasy.  Do it again same time next weeks.  Make it a date with yourself. Turn on some favorite tunes, have a favorite treat or two on hand, put the kids in bed (or put on their favorite movie) AND GO TO WORK!

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