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I don’t like cooking…but I love efficiency. Why make one meal when you can make a dozen? A lot of sage advice for cooking simply doesn’t work for our large family. Case in point: “when baking, double the recipe and freeze the rest“. Except we already make four dozen muffins for breakfast and by doubling that, we would need double the muffin tins and double the time to bake. However, a lot of things about freezer cooking do make perfect sense for our family.
The most important part about freezer cooking for my large family is choosing the recipes carefully. Not only do you want to choose recipes you enjoy and that freeze well, but recipes that are efficient. By efficient, I mean, which recipes are going to be efficient when I make them together? Which recipes do I have enough pots and pans to cook at the same time? Just this weekend I shopped, prepped and made 20 meals for our family of 11. And I took pictures along the way to share with you.
All the groceries you see on the counter were purchased to make and prep meals for our freezer. Okay, I didn’t actually make the chicken enchiladas. But I do have all the ingredients on hand when I decide to.
When preparing for a batch cook of freezer meals I shop at bulk stores. Sometimes Costco and sometimes a local restaurant supply store, Cash&Carry. This time, I went to both stores. I have favorite products at both and usually rotate between shopping at them, but this time, I knew to be efficient I needed to go to both.
I spent a total of $473 between both stores and two hours shopping. This included our regular groceries, not just food for my freezer meals.
I like to begin my cooking and prepping as soon as I get home from the store, often while we are still getting the groceries put away.
Pro tip: Make sure your counters, sink, and refrigerator are clean before you leave!
As soon as I was home, I put a pot full of white beans (for White Chicken Chili) on to boil* and began cooking the 10 pounds of ground beef I purchased. This frying pan is my favorite, and I put enough in to cook comfortably, but not over fill. I ended up cooking the 10 pounds in three batches, one after the other. I kept an eye on the beans and meat while I sorted the groceries.
*I now use my Instant Pot and the beans are done in an hour with no soaking!
While all the food photos you see on my blog are taken by me, I work hard to stage those photos and plate the food. This is real life, my friends. You will notice the Lion Temple on my table, while I assemble lasagna on the other side.
While this was going on, I set 10-year-old Avi up at the table slicing peppers for chili and gumbo.
Once the meat was done and I had a free burner, I began soaking a HUGE pot of kidney beans for chili. Next, I set up an assembly line at the table for lasagna. I have found it well worth my money to purchase these disposable pans for lasagna, casseroles, and enchiladas. They stack well in the freezer, I need to keep fewer pans on hand, and they are perfect if I need to share a meal with another family.
I don’t actually use a recipe for my lasagna. I simply layer canned sauce, noodles, cheese (a mixture of mozzarella, parmesan, and ricotta), meat and olives. I never pre-cook my noodles. I have found that as long as I put a layer of sauce at the bottom and either freeze or leave in the fridge overnight, the noodles cook up just fine. This time, I tried something new and layered two pans of lasagna with ravioli instead of noodles. We have eaten one and it was simply amazing!
Once those were done, I moved on to burritos!
Burritos are another easy freezer meal that don’t require a recipe. I simply fill the tortillas with a mixture of meat, cheese, olives, cilantro and salsa. I roll these and freeze overnight on a cookie sheet. The next day I removed them and place in freezer bags. This method keeps the burritos free from each other, so you can grab however many you need from the bag. This makes for easy lunches!
Once these were done, I deboned the three rotisserie chickens. I put the meat in containers to use the next day and put all three carcasses in the crockpot. I added onion and garlic and covered with water. I put the crockpot on low and let it cook all night long
This is all the cooking I did on day one. It took about 2 hours. The next morning I woke up and finished the cooking.
I am a morning person, so as soon as woke up, I turned off the crockpot and took off the lid so the stock could cool, and turned on the kidney beans so they could begin cooking. Then I sat down and had a cup of coffee and breakfast.
After eating, I began the white chicken chili. I strained the bones out of the stock and removed the fat. While doing this I was busy sauteing: chilis, onions, garlic and seasoning to add to the chili. Next, I mixed all of the ingredients in a large bowl.
Pro tip: No need to heat this recipe before freezing. Everything has already been cooked, so I just mix in a bowl and freeze!
Once the ingredients were mixed, I placed in a Rubbermaid container and it was ready for the freezer!
My kidney beans for chili were still cooking, so I mixed up the ingredients for another family favorite: Chicken Gumbo! If you have never tried gumbo, you really should. I was feeling daring one day and made what seemed to me to be an exotic recipe (I mean, what is okra anyway?) and it is now a family favorite.
See that giant food storage container? Yep, I mixed the gumbo right in there. It was the only container i had that was large enough. Like I said above, there is no reason to cook and then cool the gumbo. All of my ingredients are cooked and it will simmer before we eat it. My gumbo recipe calls for canned tomatoes and tomato sauce…I use half a #10 can and use the other half for my chili. See? Utterly efficient.
Once the gumbo was mixed and poured into containers, I mixed up the sauce for Chicken Curry. When that was done I added the pre-cooked chicken and poured it into two Ziplock bags.
Pro tip: Use the empty #10 cans to hold your Ziplock bags while you pour soup or sauces.
By now the kidney beans were fully cooked and I poured the rest of the ingredients in our big pot, mixed and poured that into the containers.
Do you see what a difference the flow and choice of recipes makes? I make sure that I cook and assemble in the most efficient order.
I spent about 3 hours prepping and cooking on day two.
Freezer Cooking by the Numbers:
Total spent: $473 (keep in mind, I did not just buy groceries for freezer cooking…this is also our family groceries. In fact, most of what I bought at Costco was for my kids’ school lunches. We spend $1,200 per month on groceries, so even with this, I am on budget).
Total hours shopping: 2
Total hours prepping and cooking: 5
Total meals: 20 (this would easily be 40 or 50 meals for a regular sized family!)
2 chicken curry
1 White chicken chili (package in one container, but enough for 2 meals)
7 roasts chopped and frozen for meals.
Have you ever done freezer cooking? Did you love it or hate it? If you have a favorite freezer recipe, please share it in the comments!