The final weeks of pregnancy are here, and the nesting urge is in full force. At the Cwach farm, that means prepping freezer meals – and lots of them.
I’ve already lost count of the number of casseroles, lasagnas, soups, roasts and prepped meats and vegetables that have piled up in our deep freezer, but suffice it to say we have enough frozen meals to make it through at least three months of meals post-baby. My sisters have kindly reminded me that I will want to see the sunlight after the baby is born, but somehow I cannot stop myself from filling my freezer with an ever-growing number of ready-to-eat meals. At this rate, Baby Cwach will be a teenager before he finds out what the inside of a grocery store looks like.
While freezer meals are not always the most exciting meals in the world, they are a fantastic way to stock up on easy meals that turn dinnertime into a breeze – particularly for new parents or folks on the go. After a lot of research and experimentation in the kitchen, I’ve learned the following best practices that I plan to incorporate into our lifestyle long past baby’s arrival.
- Always double up. Making a batch of enchiladas for dinner? It’s just as easy to double the ingredients and make a second pan to freeze. Start viewing every meal as a potential freezer meal. Jonesing for fresh fajitas on the grill? Marinate a second batch of meat, chop more vegetables than necessary and throw an extra pack of tortillas in the freezer. You’ll still have to cook when it comes out of the freezer, but think of all of the prep time you’ve saved (and all of the dirty dishes, too!)
- Invest in foil. I hate waste as much as the next person, but when it comes to freezer meals, you don’t want to bury all of your bakeware in the freezer for months on end. Go to a warehouse store and invest in disposable foil pans in a variety of sizes, good-quality Ziploc bags, lots of aluminum foil and a black Sharpie. Don’t forget to label your food with the date, type and cooking instructions.
- Buy in bulk. Whenever possible, buy in bulk! The savings in time and money will add up significantly.
- Freeze flat. When making soups or freezing other meals in Ziploc bags, fill the bag halfway full, squeeze out any remaining air and lay flat on a sheet pan until frozen. This will prevent freezing food in awkward shapes and save a ton of room in your already-full freezer.
- Cool completely. Do not place any hot or warm meals in the freezer, or you risk causing other frozen foods in the freezer to start de-thawing and changing the taste and texture of your food.
- Make basics. Make smaller bags of prepared meat for smaller meals, like lunches. Seasoned ground beef can become tacos, taverns or used in spaghetti sauce, and shredded chicken can be combined with BBQ sauce for sandwiches or used to make nachos.
- Prep assembly-style. Having a freezer meal marathon? Snag a couple of helpers and give everyone a specific job. One person can be chopping onions in bulk while another can be grating cheese. Prepping food in bulk will minimize the number of times knives, cutting boards and other utensils have to be washed and will save valuable time.
One of the freezer meals I’m most looking forward to devouring during maternity leave is our favorite taco soup. It’s incredibly simple to put together – after browning the beef with onions and seasonings, you simply pop the lids off the canned items and dump the ingredients together. It freezes beautifully and is easy to double (or triple) in a big stockpot. Just don’t forget the fixings – a hearty dollop of sour cream, a pile of freshly-grated cheese and crunchy corn chips take this soup from good to great!
2 pounds ground beef
1-2 diced onions
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced fire-roasted tomatoes
1 (10-ounce) can Ro*Tel® diced tomatoes and green chiles
2 (15-ounce) cans black beans
1 (16-ounce) can pinto beans
1 (15 1/4-ounce) can whole kernel corn, drained
2 (4.5-ounce) cans chopped green chiles
1 (1-ounce) envelope taco seasoning
1 (1-ounce) envelope ranch salad dressing and seasoning mix
Optional garnishes: Corn chips, freshly-grated cheese, sour cream, green onions
In a large skillet, brown beef and onions over medium heat until beef is no longer pink. Add taco seasoning and water as indicated on package. Drain, using a slotted spoon, as you transfer browned beef and onions to a Dutch oven, stockpot or slow cooker.
Add diced tomatoes, Ro*Tel, black beans, pinto beans, drained corn and green chiles. Stir in the ranch salad dressing mix.
If you’re cooking on the stovetop, cover the pot and simmer soup over low heat for 30 minutes up to 1 hour, stirring occasionally. If you’re using a slow cooker, cook on low heat for 6-8 hours.
Let cool, then package in plastic bags. Freeze flat.
Reheat, then garnish individual servings with corn chips, cheese, sour cream and green onions, if desired.