Dinner time is my nemesis.
I love cooking. It’s one of my favorite hobbies, and it’s usually a great stress-reliever for me. But when it’s time to cook dinner after a long day, and especially when I have no idea what to cook, it’s the worst. For YEARS I’ve been saying “I should just do batch cooking. This is ridiculous. I want to be able to pull a meal out of the freezer in the morning, pop it in the crock pot, and have a hot dinner when it’s time to eat.”
The closest I’ve ever come to accomplishing this goal was when I was pregnant. I made a meatloaf and a few soups to freeze for those first few weeks postpartum. It was so nice to have those meals, but they didn’t last long enough!
So I finally stopped procrastinating and I DID IT! This past Saturday, I made 25 freezer meals – most of which can be slow-cooked all day for a hot dinner whenever we’re ready to eat. YAY!
I don’t have to think about dinner for A WHOLE MONTH!
Since this was such a huge accomplishment for me, I decided to blog my list of meal selections, along with tips for those who wish to try this for themselves.
So without further ado, here’s what I made:
- Chili – This is a meal that always freezes well. Use any chili recipe you like… this time I did Wellness Mama’s chili recipe. You can either pre-cook the whole thing, or just throw all the ingredients into a freezer bag, pre-crumbling the raw hamburger in advance (yes, you can cook ground beef in the slow cooker!). Instructions on bag: slow cook on low for 6 hours (thaw the night before and cook 8 hours if using raw meat), or cook on stove until beef is cooked through.
- Waffles – I used Paleo Parents’ famous recipe for freezer waffles. I’ve made these (and frozen them) before, and they truly do come out delicious! I always have bacon on hand, so when we have “breakfast” for dinner, I’ll throw a pan of bacon in the oven, and whip up a green smoothie. Instructions on bag: freezer to toaster oven until heated through.
- Meatloaf – I love freezing meatloaf in individual slices for quick lunches. This recipe is my favorite, and I’ve tried many (though I use half the almond flour for a more moist loaf). Instructions on bag: freezer to toaster oven until heated through.
- Amish Ground Beef and Cabbage Skillet – I fell in love with this recipe a few weeks ago. It’s SO cheap and easy. In fact, it’s almost silly to make it ahead. But I don’t even want to bother getting ingredients out of the cabinets this month, so why not? I didn’t cook the cabbage – just added to the bag raw. Instructions on bag: slow cook on low 6-8 hours, or heat on stove until cabbage is soft.
- Chicken, Sweet Potato, Kale Stew – This delicious recipe is so homey. Soups are some of the best freezer meals because they’re already mostly mush, anyway. I diced the chicken, but didn’t precook. Just added all the ingredients to the freezer bag and called it good (except kale – freeze kale in separate bag to be added in the last hour). Instructions on bag – thaw the night before, then slow cook on low for 8 hours, or high for 4-5 hours, adding kale in the last hour.
- Chorizo Kale Soup – I have my own take on this recipe… I use ground sausage instead of chorizo, omit the onions and jalepeno, and add 8 oz of mushrooms. It is one of the most delectable soups I have ever tasted. Creamy, a little spicy; pure comfort food. Freeze kale in separate bag to be added in the last hour. So good. Instructions on bag – slow cook on low 6 hours, adding kale in the last hour.
- Sausage, Peppers, and Onions – This recipe (#2 on this page) is yummy and easy, but nothing spectacular. I crumbled the raw sausage, and didn’t pre-cook. Instructions on bag: no thaw, slow cook on low for 8 hours.
- Beef Tacos – I used the recipe in Against All Grain: Meals Made Simple, page 146 (can’t find it online, or I’d share). Basically it’s ground beef with onions, garlic, tomato puree, and taco seasonings. I always have some romaine and avocados, so we’ll just whip up some guac and serve tacos in lettuce wraps. Instructions on bag: slow cook on low 6-8-hours, or heat on stove until heated through.
- Carne Guisada – Full disclosure… this is a brand new recipe for me, and I hope it’s good. Sounds yummy. I partially thawed the stew meat, seared on all sides per instructions, then cooled and froze with remaining ingredients. Instructions on bag: thaw the night before, then slow cook on low for 8 hours, or high 4-5 hours.
- Spaghetti Sauce – No recipe here… I just browned ground beef with onions, and added a few jars of organic pasta sauce from Trader Joe’s. I also like to add mushrooms. We always have something on hand for noodling (or, worst case scenario… gluten-free rice noodles). Instructions on bag: slow cook low for 6-8 hours. Serve over spiraled zucchini, squash, or sweet potatoes.
- Another big bag of Spaghetti Sauce (see above).
- Balsamic Short Ribs – This recipe has become a serious favorite around here. For this one, I seared the ribs, and then cooled before freezing with all remaining ingredients. Instructions on bag: thaw the night before, then slow cook low for 6-8 hours.
- Italian Wedding Soup – I’ve never made this recipe, but everything from Danielle Walker is good! I rolled the meatballs, and froze them (raw) with all the other raw ingredients. Freeze spinach in separate bag to be added in the last 5-10 minutes. Instructions on bag: thaw the night before, then slow cook on low for 6-8 hours, or cook on stove until meatballs are cooked through, adding spinach in the last 5-10 minutes.
- Roasted Chicken and Vegetable Soup – We’ve had this one lots of times. It’s rustic and homey. I roasted the vegetables and pureed half in advance, and then cooled before freezing with raw chicken and other ingredients. Instructions on bag: thaw the night before, then slow cook low fir 6-8 hours, adding spinach in the last hour (again, I froze spinach in a separate bag, and attached to main bag).
- Buffalo Chicken Salad – This recipe is killer. We absolutely love it. Unfortunately, I can’t find the recipe online, but it’s on page 96 of Against All Grain: Meals Made Simple. Again, we always have romaine on hand, and whipping up a recipe of ranch dressing is easy if I have mayo (which I typically do). Instructions on bag: thaw the night before, then slow cook high for 4-5 hours. Shred chicken and serve on a bed of romaine with shredded carrots. Top with ranch dressing.
- BBQ Beef Short Ribs – I can’t find this recipe online either! So sorry! It’s on page 144 of Against All Grain: Meals Made Simple. I did shortcut with a bottle of organic BBQ sauce (that does, sadly, contain a little sugar). Seared the ribs before cooling and freezing (raw inside) with the remaining ingredients. Instructions on bag: thaw the night before, then slow cook low for 8 hours.
- Sesame-Orange Chicken – This is a “make for company” recipe. It’s on page 130 of Against All Grain (first book). I just combined all ingredients, raw, in the bag before freezing. Instructions on bag: thaw the night before, then slow cook low for 4 hours. Remove chicken from sauce, and cube. Simmer sauce over medium heat for 20 minutes until thick and shiny. Toss with chicken, and serve over rice or cauli-rice.
- Pot Roast – Nothing beats a good pot roast recipe. For this one, I seared the roast, and then cooled before combining with other raw ingredients. Instructions on bag: thaw the night before, then slow cook low for 8 hours. See recipe for further instructions.
- BBQ Bacon Burgers – I adore this recipe. I did cook the bacon in advance, then added to the raw ground beef and other ingredients before freezing in patties. Instructions on bag: thaw the night before, then grill or pan-fry until meat is cooked through.
- Another bag full of BBQ Bacon Burgers (see above).
- Brisket – I can’t find the recipe online, but it’s on page 348 of Real Life Paleo. Super easy, because it requires no searing, etc. Just throw the hunk of meat into the bag with the other ingredients, keeping the liquids in a separate bag, and freeze. Instructions on bag: Thaw the night before, then bake at 350 for 90 minutes (without liquids). Reduce heat to 325 and add liquids. Cook for 4 more hours, basting every 60 minutes.
- Wellness Mama Pot Roast – This one is yummy, too! I seared the meat on all sides before cooling and freezing (raw interior) with other raw vegetables. Instructions on bag: thaw the night before, then slow cook low for 6-8 hours.
- Chicken Wraps – I love to freeze these wraps (separated by parchment paper) for quick meals. I also keep a bag of diced, cooked chicken in the freezer. Simply toast the wraps until heated, and warm the chicken in the oven or on the stove. Stuff with whatever vegetables you have, chicken, and some Paleo mayo or ranch dressing. Delicious and easy.
- Paleo Hawaiian Chicken – Haven’t tried this one, but it looks yummy, and it was easy! Instructions on bag: thaw the night before, then slow cook low for 8 hours.
- Butternut Squash Soup – I love this soup. I’ll probably bake some bacon the night we heat it.
So that’s it!
All of these recipes will make enough for lunch leftovers the following day, as well.
I spent about 8 hours on this – from start to finish (including cleanup). When you compare how much time it would have taken me to combine ingredients, cook, and clean up each night, this is a significant savings. I really enjoyed the day, too! My husband and my mom helped keep my toddler busy, so I had the kitchen all to myself. I turned on my favorite podcasts, and just stayed in the zone all day. It really was fun!
Some of these dishes are mains that need side items. I keep several ingredients on hands for side dishes like salads, baked sweet potatoes, baked white potatoes, roasted carrots, carrot mash, cauli-rice, steamed white rice, green beans, steamed broccoli, etc. These are things that I can *quickly* toss in the oven or pressure cooker.
Ready to take this on? Here are my tips…
- Make your recipe list and shop. Thankfully, I had a chest freezer full of beef (ground and cuts) from our cow share. I chose most of my recipes based on the beef I had in the freezer, with the addition of a few chicken dishes for variety. I also chose recipes that would allow me to combine raw ingredients to take out and slow cook the day of.
- Make sure you have the freezer space! I had to re-organize my chest freezer, and we made an effort to eat through a lot of the bagged vegetables I had in my fridge-top freezer the week before my cook-day. Now the fridge-top freezer contains a month of freezer meals, plus a few things on the door. It definitely takes some space.
- Check your list again the day before! Nothing worse than having to stop what you’re doing and make a grocery run (don’t ask me how I know…)
- Make sure you have freezer bags, or whatever you’re using. I would have loved to freeze in mason jars, but I didn’t have the freezer space.
- Start with a clean kitchen. Unload the dishwasher, make sure all your pots and pans are clean.
- Clean as you go. Keep a “scrap bowl” on the counter so you don’t have to run back and forth to the trash a thousand times. Load things you won’t use again in the dishwasher, and keep a bowl with rinsed measuring cups/spoons, spatulas, etc, nearby so they’re ready to use again.
- If you have enough pots, and enough table space, line up all your food on your table, and bag it all at once at the end of the day.
- Some folks like to organize and chop all the onions at once, mince all the garlic at once, etc. I don’t really like doing that because it feels like more work, and my eyes can’t handle that much time slicing onions. HA! I just did one or two recipes at a time, and it worked out fine (and I felt that my measurements were more accurate that way).
- When filling bags, use a bowl to help support the bag! Otherwise, you might accidentally lose your balance and dump half a bag of raw chicken all over your kitchen floor (again, don’t ask me how I know this…).
- MAKE SURE your food is completely cool before bagging it. This is the only safe way to use plastic bags, and even that isn’t ideal.
- Write the name of each recipe on each bag, along with serving instructions. My rule of thumb is to pre-thaw items with raw meat the night before, and just heat fully cooked meals the day of.
- Before you start, eat a solid breakfast. Schedule time to stop and sit down for lunch. And double one dish to keep warm for dinner that night. It’s SO not fun to put your last meal into the freezer, and then realize “oh crap – what about tonight?”
- When you finish, load up your dishwasher (I pray that you have one!), and wipe your counters. I soaked all my pots and pans overnight to wash the next day, but it was nice to have everything else DONE!
- Celebrate! You’re done, and you don’t have to cook for a month! Have a glass of kombucha, and enjoy that satisfaction!
Something you should know about this blog…
My goal is to “keep it simple.” You’ll notice that I don’t allow comments, and I don’t have an associated Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. This is because my sole purpose is to share – not to interact. I’m a busy Mommy with lots of natural things to make and do, so I don’t want to be tied to the computer (any more than I already am).
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