6 Meals, 2 Hours: Stocking the Freezer

My sweet and very pregnant friend and I spent a couple hours in her kitchen Saturday prepping freezer meals for after the baby comes. It was quick and easy, and many of you said that you wanted to hear how we did it. So here we gooooooooo!

Gathering Recipes

A few days before our planned cooking day, we brainstormed and gathered the recipes we wanted to make. Ideas for meals that freeze well: chili, soup, baked pasta, chicken and rice bakes, daal, lasagna, shredded meat, pasta sauce, enchiladas. We chose lasagna; cheesy, spicy tuna noodle casserole; shredded pulled pork; shredded chicken; and ground beef and turkey.

My friend loves this lasagna recipe from the Newlyweds cookbook and this tuna casserole recipe from Chrissy Teigen’s cookbook. (Normally, I wouldn’t recommend freezing something with a creamy sauce like the casserole, but since the base is cream of mushroom soup and not a homemade white sauce, I think it will be ok!)

I suggested the meats. They were easy to prep, but will be perfect for her husband to heat up quickly with easy sides (buns for the pork, tortillas for the chicken, jarred red sauce and pasta for the ground meat, or whatever really).

For more ideas, check out my FREEZER Pinterest board here.

Grocery List Collaboration and Shopping

You could totally follow this plan independently, but if you’re collaborating with a friend, you’ve got to have a shared grocery list. If you both have iPhones, I highly recommend the Notes app. You can share a Note, and both of you can see the changes made in a native app on the phone. Google Docs works, as well!

While watching The Bachelor last week (#MonsterArie #NotPeter), I made our grocery list. I listed everything we could possibly need for each recipe in a Note, and shared the Note with my friend. She crossed off things that she already had (changing three cans of cream of mushroom to just one, for example) and added the ingredients for a recipe I didn’t have.

A side note about making your grocery list: if you aren’t making your grocery list by aisle, GET ON IT! Once you know your store well (Aldi for life!), you can make your grocery list according to items in each aisle, in order of the aisles. It makes grocery shopping SO QUICK, and it makes it easier to avoid impulse Cheez-It purchases.

Another note about Aldi: If you have access to an Aldi, shop there, please. We got everything for these recipes, minus maybe $10 worth of stuff that was already in either of our pantries, for $70. She and her husband agreed that the same grocery haul would have been at least $120 at their Price Chopper or Hyvee. If you grew up on Aldi, it has changed, believe me. I do almost all of my grocery shopping there, and we eat really, really well.

We met Saturday morning at the Aldi near my friend’s house, quickly shopped, and got to #work.

Our Grocery List (click to expand!)

Jalapeno kettle chips

Whole milk 1.5 c

Whole milk cottage cheese 16 oz

Eggs

Cheddar (3 c shredded)

Parmesan

Fresh mozzarella

Shredded mozzarella

2 onions

Celery

Jalapeno

Chipotle peppers in adobo 11 oz

Rotel 1 can

Cream of mushroom 3 cans

Tuna 3 cans

Pork shoulder 3 lbs

Chicken thighs

Ground turkey 2 lbs

Ground beef 1 lb

Frozen peas

Jarred red sauce, 1

Rotini 1 lb

No boil lasagna noodles

Dr. Pepper, 2 cans

Foil 9×13 pans, 2

Gallon freezer bags

Prepping to Make Multiple Recipes at Once

When we got the groceries home, I cleared off the kitchen island, and sorted the groceries by recipe. So I stuck all of the lasagna ingredients together in a little group, then the tuna casserole ingredients, etc. This was SO helpful. As I was cooking, I could glance around and quickly see what was left that needed to be made. 

Before you get started, read through each recipe that you’re going to make. This means that you can get a jump on any weird steps that need extra time: marinating, draining, thawing.

Reading the recipes first also means that there won’t be any surprises later: like the pulled pork needs to cook for 7 hours or you should have been boiling water 30 minutes ago.

The EXACT Plan We Followed (Plus a Few Improvements I Would Have Made)

I should have spent a few minutes before Saturday figuring out the order of operations for these recipes. I think we could have saved 30 minutes or so if I’d done so. What follows is the best-ish, most efficient order for making these recipes. We did this, approximately. I made the chicken last, which was silly, as it could have baked while everything else was cooking. Lesson learned!

In order to make multiple recipes in one chunk of time, you have to work on multiple recipes at once. It will take so. much. longer. if you finish each recipe start-to-done before you work on the next one. I’m thinking that this could feel really intimidating if you’re not as comfy in the kitchen. Just take a deep breath and know that it may take you a little bit longer to get this done. You’ve got it!!! Done is better than perfect.

These steps can easily be completed by one person, but splitting the duties between two people makes it super, super quick.

  1. Preheat the oven to 375. We’ll bake the chicken thighs in there.
  2. Put a pasta pot on to boil for the rotini. Salt that water, don’t forget.
  3. Trim chicken thighs, season with salt and pepper, and place in a greased 8×8 pan.
  4. Pop the pork shoulder in the crockpot with the can of chiles in adobo sauce and 2 cans of Dr. Pepper. Cook on low for 7 hours. Pulled pork done!
  5. Put the chicken in the oven. Set a timer for 20 minutes. When that timer goes off, flip the chicken and set the timer for 10 more mins.
  6. Brown all the ground meat. Combine the ground turkey and beef in a large, large pan with a chopped onion. Season with salt and pepper, brown, and drain. Ground turkey and beef done! Set aside ⅓ of the mixture for the lasagna. The other ⅔ is for freezing plain. We divided it into two freezer bags.
  7. Chop the jalapeno and celery for the tuna casserole. Chop another ½ onion for the shredded chicken.
  8. Sautee the onion from Step 7 in a small pan. Set aside.
  9. Once the chicken is out of the oven, shred with two forks. Add the sauteed onion from Step 8. Drain a can of Rotel, and mix it in. Chicken is done!
  10. Water should be boiling. Add the rotini and cook until very al dente. (The pasta will be cooked again when you bake the casserole.)
  11. Add all of the tuna casserole ingredients, minus pasta, to an enormous bowl. Seriously, your biggest one. Cream of mushroom soup, tuna, cheddar, whole milk, peas, celery, jalapenos, salt, and pepper. Mix really well!
  12. Once the pasta is done, drain and add to the bowl. Mix it all together, taste for seasoning,  and pour into a greased 9×13 foil pan. Tuna casserole done!
    1. The recipe calls for a spicy potato chip and cheese topping. We didn’t freeze that, and they’ll add it before baking.
  13. Lasagna time! Combine the cottage cheese, eggs, and parmesan. Season with pepper (it’s already plenty salty from the parm). Slice the fresh mozzarella.
  14. Layers! Follow the instructions in the recipe to layer your lasagna. (We used no-boil noodles and my friend’s special marinara. A jar of sauce would work, as well, and it’s what I put on the grocery list above.) Lasagna done!

Not so bad, right?! Like I said, doubling up the steps makes it even easier. One person can be chopping the veggies and another can be browning the meat, or one can handle the pulled pork while another moves on to the next step.

We made the shredded chicken with Rotel so they could use it in tacos or enchiladas, and the ground meat is really simply seasoned so it can be used for whatever. It would thaw very quickly in a pot of jarred pasta sauce on the stove!

Tips for Freezing

It is very important that the meals are totally cooled before you stick them in the freezer. Several reasons why: if you put a lid or foil on top of a still-warm dish, condensation gathers on the underside of the lid, which drips into the food and makes it mushy. Also, if you put hot food in the fridge or freezer, it raises the temp of all the other food in there, which is dangerous from a food safety perspective.

I always, always set a timer when I leave food on the counter to cool. I have learned the hard way that if I don’t do this, I will forget about it, and it will sit on the counter overnight to rot. Don’t be me! Set a timer! Note: the longest that food can sit out is FOUR HOURS. After that, it will grow the kind of bacteria that gives you food poisoning.

We froze the lasagna and casserole in disposable foil 9×13 pans, and the meat in gallon freezer bags. For the casseroles: label them clearly with Sharpie, and make sure that you add the baking instructions. You can thaw them in the fridge overnight and bake them according to the recipe, or just add 45 minutes or so and bake them from frozen. Make sure you test the center before serving if you bake from frozen! It should be warm and the edges should be bubbly. 


Ok, one million words later, I think that’s it! I’d love to do more of these freezer prep posts if you guys dig this one. Let me know 🙂

And feel free to ask questions! I’m always available on Instagram, or you can leave a comment here.

What are your tips for freezer cooking?

Caitlin

Caitlin

Hi, I’m Caitlin! Thanks for reading. If you're new, here's a little about me: I'm a writer, editor, eater, and reader living in the Kansas City area. When I'm not working my 9-to-5, I'm cooking without a recipe, exploring the city, and probably procrastinating. I start from scratch each morning: progress is way more important to me than perfection.

Connect with me on Instagram and Pinterest, and subscribe to The Fruitful Blog for tips on intentional living, meal planning, and more.
Caitlin

Author: Caitlin

Hi, I’m Caitlin! Thanks for reading. If you're new, here's a little about me: I'm a writer, editor, eater, and reader living in the Kansas City area. When I'm not working my 9-to-5, I'm cooking without a recipe, exploring the city, and probably procrastinating. I start from scratch each morning: progress is way more important to me than perfection. Connect with me on Instagram and Pinterest, and subscribe to The Fruitful Blog for tips on intentional living, meal planning, and more.

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