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Batch cooking and freezer meals


Momof4sweetkids
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According to the YouTube homemakers 🙃, batch cooking and freezer meals will change my life. When I try them though, they inevitably are freezer burned or change consistency or I forget to defrost them in time. How do you make freezer meals taste as good as fresh and work for your family? Also I've been seeing people buy a bunch of ground beef and cook it all then freeze it, do you have a huge pan or multiple pans going when cooking a large amount? How do you defrost and heat it without it drying out?

For background, I didn't learn to cook until I became an adult. I can follow a recipe but don't know how to branch out. 

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I’m selective about the meals I freeze. They’re usually saucy ones, which I think reheat/cook up better. My favs are ones that are otherwise extremely time consuming, like Swedish meatballs. Or I’ll do a grotesque amount of fried chicken cutlets to have ready for chicken parm, lemon chicken, chicken and gravy, etc.

For short term, freezer bags are fine. Long term, vacuum bags.

If I do a huge batch of ground beef, I use a big electric roaster, or multiple rounds with the instapot. Smaller batches, I might use multiple pans or the crock pot. I freeze with fat/juices and decide what to drain later, based on what I’m using it for.

 

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Start small with something you already make, and like, that freezes well. Then, double or triple that recipe. Have a plan for when you’re going to use that meal in the future so it doesn’t languish in your freezer forever. 
 

Right now there is seasoned taco meat and a few kinds of soup in my freezer. Just yesterday I pulled out a freezer bag of chicken pie filling. I thawed it in the microwave just enough so that I could get it out of the bag and dumped it in a pie crust for dinner. I have a curry base I like to keep in the freezer and I’m out of it, so I need to make that soon. Whenever I have leftover filling from tacos or burrito bowls, I like to make up some burritos for the freezer. You can even freeze breakfast burritos. 

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I mostly only freeze soups and other saucy things for reheating. And I cook and dice or shred chicken breasts and freeze in pot-of-soup sized portions ahead of time because DH loves chicken based soups during the winter. I've never found browning and freezing ground beef worth it, since it only takes a few minutes to do anyway. What helps me the most is to keep a good supply of chopped/diced onions, carrots, celery, peppers and things like that in the freezer.

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19 minutes ago, Pawz4me said:

. I've never found browning and freezing ground beef worth it, since it only takes a few minutes to do anyway. 

I like doing it because you're only making a mess and cleaning up once.  I disinfect everything after cooking raw meat and it just seems so easier to do it in bulk.  

I freeze everything, though.  Chicken - baked/grilled, hamburgers (turkey/beef), chili, tacos, lasagna, pizza, turkey, ham, roast, corned beef...   I hate cooking and it's so convenient having homemade food ready to eat in the freezer.  

I don't keep chopped/sliced veggies in the freezer on purpose - I just do that if they haven't been used in time.  That's a great idea, though.

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1 hour ago, Pawz4me said:

I've never found browning and freezing ground beef worth it, since it only takes a few minutes to do anyway.

I do it so I don’t have to be so precise about meal planning and how long fresh ground beef will last in the fridge.  
Plus we purchased a cow share, so I have lots of frozen ground beef and never remember to defrost that in a timely manner for a quick meal!

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Some items I tend to cook in large quantities, more than we can eat in a few days, so I will freeze leftover soups and gumbos.  Other items I know freeze well, like spaghetti sauce and chilli, and it is just as easy to make a large pot as a small pot, so when I am making those items I make extra to freeze.  I have a few chicken recipes that I know freeze well--chicken tetrazzini and sweet and sour chicken, so I tend to cook a lot of chicken at one time and use leftovers to make freezer meals.  

So, I do not spend a day batch cooking a wide range of items.  I find it easier to concentrate on on base protein, like ground meat, and make a variety of freezer items with it.  Then another week I might have a lot of chicken and do some freezer meals with chicken..  Or after Christmas, I do a number of freezer items with ham... so I have a variety in my freezer to rotate through.  

I find things with moisture freeze better--soups and sauces.  If I am freezing pulled pork or shredded chicken I freeze it with a bit of the cooking liquid, a bit of bbq sauce, or a bit of chicken broth.  Vacuum seal bags are much better than zipper freezer bags if you will leave the items in the freezer for more than a few days.  I also find packaging in smaller containers helps with defrosting.  

Sometimes I freeze raw ground meat, If I bought more than I am going to use or if a busy week means some I have will spoil in the fridge before I use it for a meal.  Sometimes, if I am cooking I will cook extra ground meat and freeze in small packages, mainly to save on clean up time and prep time (I tend to cook my meat with chopped onions, etc.--so I do a lot of chopping and cooking at once).  I find it is easier to defrost cooked ground meat than raw if I have waited until the last minute to pull something out of the freezer.  

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I've never found freezer meals to be very helpful for me.  The food is never as good.  Meal planning and prepping for the week has always worked better for me.  This I do.  Every Sunday, dh and I cut up veggies and section them out so we can just dump them and saute them.  They are most often used for breakfast, which are veggie omelets. But sometimes it is also the veggies I need for dinner for the next two days or so.  

We also make our lunches and snacks for the week on Sunday.  Lunch and snacks are yogurt with fruit, a salad, with some form of chicken on top.  We mix up the chicken and what types of fruits and salads. 

With breakfast and lunch streamlined pretty well it saves tons of time during the week so dinner never feels overwhelming.  When dinner is streamlined that usually looks like having one dinner being something like chicken quarters with veggies.  We make enough chicken quarters to be able to use the leftover chicken for another dish the next night. Things like Chicken quesadillas, chicken and dumplings, chicken fried rice, chicken stir fries, chicken curry.  That meal is always faster and easier because the chicken is already cooked. 

We do dinner like that about twice a week so 2 meals are really fast.  The rest of the week we just pick simple flavorful meals that don't actually take up too much time. And we clean the kitchen while we go so after dinner cleanup is fast with 2 people.

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8 hours ago, Carrie12345 said:

I’m selective about the meals I freeze. They’re usually saucy ones, which I think reheat/cook up better. My favs are ones that are otherwise extremely time consuming, like Swedish meatballs. Or I’ll do a grotesque amount of fried chicken cutlets to have ready for chicken parm, lemon chicken, chicken and gravy, etc.

For short term, freezer bags are fine. Long term, vacuum bags.

If I do a huge batch of ground beef, I use a big electric roaster, or multiple rounds with the instapot. Smaller batches, I might use multiple pans or the crock pot. I freeze with fat/juices and decide what to drain later, based on what I’m using it for.

 

Never thought of ground beef in the instapot!

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I freeze 1 and 2 cup portions of soup, broth, chili, curry, etc., in SooperCubes and then transfer to gallon sized ziplock bags after they're frozen (8 of the 1-cup portions or 4 of the 2-cup portions fit perfectly in a 1-gallon bag). That makes it easy for DD or I to microwave just the amount we want of whatever dish we're in the mood for. I also batch cook and freeze about a month's worth of homemade dog food at a time.

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I do batches of ground beef.  You can put a 5 pound roll into a 9/13 pan, chop it up a bit and then bake it at 350.   Drain the juice and throw into your stand mixer to crumble.  Easy to do 10 pounds at a time this way.

i then package in 1 pound packages.  Makes spaghetti, tacos, casseroles, etc so much quicker.

i do 3-5 pounds of chicken breast in the crock pot as well.  I then shred with forks or in the stand mixer.   Again, bag in 1 pound packages.   Awesome for pulled bbq sandwiches, soups, casseroles, chicken tacos, chicken salad, etc.

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3 minutes ago, Momof4sweetkids said:

I wonder if Zuppa Toscana would freeze okay if I waited until we were ready to eat to add the cream? That's the only soup DH and I both like.

As long as you wait to add the cream or milk ingredients until you reheat it should come out fine.

I just made a double batch of roasted red pepper spaghetti sauce and froze the other half. I also make BBQ sauce and freeze half.

I double batch taco meat when I make tacos and put the other half in the fridge. Ds(10) likes to make himself tacos for lunch or as a substitute dinner when he doesn't like what I'm making lol.

I have a cast iron skillet large enough to do two pounds of ground beef at a time. If I need more than that, I just make it in 2lb batches. I'm going to have to try @Ottakee's way with the oven though. Sounds much less stressful on my back lol.

In the freezer, I double wrap raw meat, in plastic wrap or a plastic bag and then in heavy duty foil. It keeps for at least 3 - 4 months that way without freezer burn.

I buy ground beef 10lbs at a time and I usually cook about half of it and then freeze the rest raw, double wrapped. I don't thaw it out when I cook the frozen raw ground beef. I cook it in my cast iron skillet from frozen. Just flipping it like a hamburger and scrapping the cooked bits off the frozen chunk over and over again. Then once it is all cooked, I let it cook just a few minutes longer to make sure there is no pink left anywhere. It only takes about 10 minutes to do 1lb this way.

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52 minutes ago, Ottakee said:

 

i do 3-5 pounds of chicken breast in the crock pot as well.  I then shred with forks or in the stand mixer.   Again, bag in 1 pound packages.   Awesome for pulled bbq sandwiches, soups, casseroles, chicken tacos, chicken salad, etc.

how do you cook the chicken in the slow cooker - I mean what do you add to it?  I used to make big batches of chicken breasts in the slow cooker with chicken broth and spices, but that was to be eaten on its own with sides or in a salad and wouldn't be a good flavor for tacos, bbq sandwiches, etc.  

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53 minutes ago, Kassia said:

how do you cook the chicken in the slow cooker - I mean what do you add to it?  I used to make big batches of chicken breasts in the slow cooker with chicken broth and spices, but that was to be eaten on its own with sides or in a salad and wouldn't be a good flavor for tacos, bbq sandwiches, etc.  

honestly…..I dump the bag of skinnless boneless frozen chicken breasts in the crock pot and turn on.    No added water, no seasoning, nothing.

at times I do, but mostly nothing else.

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15 hours ago, Momof4sweetkids said:

For background, I didn't learn to cook until I became an adult. I can follow a recipe but don't know how to branch out. 

I learned to cook in my thirties. A few things really helped me to branch out:

  1. I subscribed to a meal kit delivery thing for a year. This one actually sent the ingredients to me raw and I had to do all the cooking.
  2. I listened to a masterclass from Alice Waters. It's her idea of reading cookbooks and recipes not to just make a meal but to learn techniques.

I now gravitate toward cookbooks that teach me different techniques vs. a collection of recipes.  Techniques could be a flavor profile, actual cooking technique (like braising, or making a roux), interesting thing I could do with a particular food (making zucchini noodles), new pairings of food, etc.

In terms of meal planning, frozen meals never really worked for me. In fact even just planning meals a week in advance never really worked for my family. DH likes to have variety and we prefer fresh produce so that puts us at the whim of what's actually available on the day we go grocery shopping. I keep my pantry stocked with spices and staples, so when I get my produce for the week then I'm ready to make meals with it. 

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I focus on freezing proteins or other meal components, like others have mentioned.  I probably wouldn't do it for something where the meat is going to be front and center, but when it is going to be a component of a casserole, tacos, sauce, etc it doesn't seem to matter very much if there is a bit of dryness when it is thawed.  If anything, my ground beef though is sometimes still a bit greasy after it's thawed, depending on exactly how well I drained it in the first place.

Years ago I used to use a big stock pot on the stove with a couple cups of water added to cook maybe 8lbs or so of ground beef at a time.  Now I use my instant pot and can cook maybe 5lbs at a time.  If I have more I just do a couple batches.  I use a gadget that looks a little bit like a stick with a pinwheel on the end to break up the ground beef in the instant pot before I drain it. 

I do shredded chicken breasts also - I just use very basic seasonings (salt/pepper/garlic) because I want to be able to use it in a variety of dishes).

Sometimes I've done shredded pork or shredded beef ahead also, but only if I have found a whole bunch on sale and need to use it.  That I am more likely to just cook as a meal, and use the leftovers the same week in another recipe (aka - shredded pork for sandwiches, followed by shredded pork that is served in tacos or an Asian dish with rice or shredded beef and using some for tacos and some for beef stroganoff. 

I do black beans that I cook in my instant pot and freeze some for later to use with tacos, in soups, or for things like black bean burgers.

I used to do peppers and onions, pre sliced for fajitas or chopped for other meals and then frozen, but I got out of the habit.  I am faster now than I used to be at chopping so I don't spend as much time doing it.

I sometimes do also make a meatloaf and freeze it raw, or ham balls (like traditional meatballs, but with ham/ground pork).  Sometimes it is nice to have those ready to thaw for a day and then bake.  I've also done lasagna rolls in the freezer (thaws faster than a traditional lasagna), enchiladas, a chili bake casserole, and even a ham/potato casserole that has cheese and sour cream in it...you wouldn't think it would work, but surprisingly it does even with the sour cream.   I don't do the full meals/casseroles very often, but a little over a year ago when my oldest DD19 babysat her younger brothers for a few days, I made her casseroles to take out of the freezer so she wouldn't have to do as much cooking while we were gone.

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