The following is one of two guest posts about using your refrigerator freezer to do the Once A Month Meals menus. Mackenzie from The Centsible Family shares some tips on using your side-by-side refrigerator to store your freezer meals from the Once a Month Meals menus.
As the economy continues to struggle the more it makes sense to cook from home, in particular freezer cooking, versus going out to eat. If you are lucky enough to have an additional freezer you can store lots of bulk cooking but if you have only the refrigerator freezer you may be asking how to store it all. Here are a few tips on using your regular freezer for storing all your healthy frozen meals.
When you first decide that you are going to bulk cook and freeze the meals take inventory of your freezer contents to see what can be used for the meals, eaten in the next week or even donated. This also gives you a chance to clean the freezer from top to bottom and get rid of anything that has been in there awhile. Since my family is trying to become more healthy we have decided to not keep most of the processed meals around, other than a few frozen pizzas or waffles, which means we need to clean out our freezer to make space for the new meals. If you find that you have a lot of prepackaged food such as frozen entrees, snacks or microwave sandwiches that you won’t have space for or won’t eat in the upcoming week, look for your nearest food bank that might take these items. If unable to locate one, ask your neighbors or college students if they would be interested in the donations.
Pick Your Recipes
Once your freezer is empty you will need to decide what recipes to make and how many. Personally I enjoy recipes that require only a plastic Ziploc freezer bag for storing. These can easily be laid flat when placed in the freezer and once frozen can be stacked vertical to maximize your space. Some of my favorite recipes for storing in freezer bags are soups, marinated meat or even pulled pork. Simply take a pot of hot water and thaw the bag in the water, remove the contents to a pan or dish and heat and serve. And since the plastic Ziploc freezer bags don’t take up as much room as a casserole foil dish, you can make a larger variety of meals to serve your family. Additionally when freezing items like marinated chicken, you can turn that one item into three different meals by serving it on a bed of rice, in a salad or even by making it into chicken salad for sandwiches.
Organizing Your Freezer
Once you have your bulk meals ready you will need to be a little creative with your freezer space to fit everything but also have it be functional. Since we are known to cook a meal or two during the month not from the bulk recipes, I like to have our extra meat, veggies, etc. available so we can grab them as needed. For this reason I like to create a system in the freezer where everything is categorized by function or type of food.
First I put any casserole dishes on the bottom of a shelf with the Ziploc freezer meals on top (careful to not compromise the casserole foil top). This keeps all the ready-to-cook meals together and prevents having to pull all the freezer contents out to get to them. Next I take any meat or chicken I have left that is not cooked and put it on a shelf along with any frozen vegetables. This keeps things convenient since I usually cook the meat and vegetables together if I don’t use a pre-made freezer meal. My final step is to put any prepackaged items together such as the pizzas and waffles and then fit any remaining Ziploc freezer meals around them to use up any leftover space.
Once you are organized and have all your meals for the month in your refrigerator’s freezer, the important thing to do is maintain your system. Every time you decide to bulk cook, take inventory of your stock and see what supplies you already have that you can use for your cooking. Then take these items and choose recipes that would be easily stored (such as in bags) or may have multiple purposes. Once you have your recipes made continue the process of maintaining your freezer and being creative with your space. This will allow you to fully enjoy the benefits of only having to cook once a month.
Mackenzie Field writes the blog The Centsible Family and enjoys finding “centsible” solutions for everyday life including saving money and time. She lives in New Hampshire with her husband and three young daughters.