Meal Prep

Freezer Meals to Make Before a New Baby

If you have ever been a first-time mom, I would bet that in all of your nesting activities, baby-prep book reading, Pinterest searching, and conversations about survival with fellow moms, you have probably seen or heard the terms "make ahead meals," "batch-cooking," and/or "freezer meals" at least once or twice. If you are an expecting mom with other children, this topic has likely come up either with gladness that it was something  you did do before a sibling was born or with regret that it wasn’t you didn't do before delivery.

That’s because whether you endured the marathon cooking spurts before your baby was born or have just heard from moms who have done this, you can imagine how that "my freezer is full of healthy staples" feels. Just thaw, cook, and serve with little stress nor sweat amidst the newborn season.

Sometimes just starting that process to stock your freezer with food for postpartum is the hardest part though.

That’s what this post is here to help with.

 
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Before our first daughter was born, I literally spent an entire weekend "batch-cooking" while my mom was in town to help. Although it was totally exhausting to spend several days on my feet cooking towards the end of my third trimester, it was oh-so-sweet when all I had to do was thaw and cook our pre-made meal post-pregnancy. 

I have repeated this marathon meal prep with each pregnancy since and am here to share some of my tried and true staples. Because although there are several websites, blogs, and pin-worthy recipes to give you ideas for bulk recipes to batch-cook and easily freeze for future use, I have a few thoughts and ideas to share of my own.

In this post, I will share:

  • What are Freezer Meals?
  • How to Turn Favorite Recipes into Successful Make-Ahead Freezer Meals
  • My Favorite Supplies for Making Freezer Meals
  • Favorite Freezer Meal Recipe Ideas for New Moms

What are Freezer Meals?

Freezer meals are meals that have been assembled ahead of time with the intent of being cooked (or reheated) in the future. These are frequently touted as a time-saving, cost-effective technique to any meal, as freezer meals provides you with already assembled easy, healthy recipes to have on hand.

Many meals can be converted into a freezer meal with a little modification to the ingredients needed (multiplying the batch to make more) or by shifting the time in which the instructions are done (some in advance; some saved for after the meal has been frozen).


How to Turn Favorite Recipes into Successful Make-Ahead Freezer Meals

1. Pick one of your family's favorite recipes

I have prematurely made several make-ahead freezer meals using recipes I have never even tried before.

It still makes me upset when I think of how much time, energy, and money I wasted on what just boiled down to being a recipe I loathed having to eat again.

Instead, freezer meals should make you want to do a happy dance when it comes to dinner time because they are just that easy. You invested little extra effort to get the meal assembled and on to the table. Otherwise, that anticipated disappointment of going into dinner for a meal you didn't even like the first time totally defeats having freezer meals at all.

That's why, it is key to figure out how to convert your family's favorite recipes into make-ahead freezer meals.

Think through what types of recipes your family tends to gravitate to. Instead of assuming the lists of "freezer meals to make before a new baby" fit your family's taste preferences, make a list of your own family favorites and sort through the steps below to see which ones might be able to be converted to a freezer meal.

2. Identify which step in the instructions is the best "stopping point" to prepare a freezer meal from.

For recipes prepared on the stove-top or grill, this is often done after the step of making a marinade or sauce. Marinades/sauces can be made in a large batch and then portioned into small freezer-safe containers in the amount needed or you can put the marinade in with the meat to be immediately frozen. The latter will take more space (for those who might be more limited for freezer space), so you can always make just small jars/bags of marinade and keep them labeled to be added to the meat or dish later on.

If multiple but separate steps can be prepared in advance for the freezer meal, plan accordingly. Prep and store these items separately until the meal is cooked and assembled. An example includes:

  • Kung Poa or Orange Chicken: both call for chicken breasts to be cubed or thinly sliced as well as a sauce. Cut up all the raw chicken for as many batches worth as you made the sauce, and then freeze it in batches so it is ready to toss in the pan with no more raw-chicken-prep-nastiness required. Prepare the sauce separately, and store it in a container alongside the raw (but ready-to-cook) chicken.

For recipes prepared in the crock-pot, majority of the meal prep can occur in advance. All steps can be completed and combined into a freezer-safe container and later added to the crock-pot when it's time to cook. Exceptions may be when a recipe states to layer a fresh ingredient first (like onion slices) before adding the meat on top. If this is the case, just note that detail on the freezer bag/container so you remember to add that item prior to cooking (without having to go back and reference the recipe itself).

For recipes prepared in the oven, the freezer meal may include every step up to actually putting it in the oven. Preparing these freezer meals in oven-safe and freezer-safe containers makes this a one-pan way to prepare, store, cook, then toss away the dirty "dishes" when done!

3. Evaluate the total yield for the recipe as it is written.

Before deciding on how many batches you plan to make and freeze, ask yourself:

  • How many servings does the as-written recipe yield? What is the assumed portion size for each? If this isn't appropriate for your family, adjust up or down as desired.
  • Do you prefer to make a large batch and have leftovers, or to prepare enough for only one night's worth? Make a double or single-serving accordingly.

  • How often do you foresee your family eating this over the next 3+ months? Note in freezer-safe containers, most freezer meals can be stored for 3+ months in a regular or deep freezer. Depending on how often you want to include this meal in your rotation and how much freezer space you have, make that number of batches for the given recipe.

  • How much freezer space is available for this meal, while still leaving ample room for other freezer meals and staples? While a deep freezer may not be realistic for all families or in all homes, a chest deep freezer is an economical, efficient storage option (space wise) that can often be found at places like Costco for around $150. This is often less than families would spend on eating out or ready-made meals after a baby and may be an investment to consider before a baby arrives.

4. Modify the amounts of the ingredients in the as-written recipe based on the yields you desire.

Note: this depends on your answers to the questions in step #3.

  • Multiply the ingredients to be included in the freezer meal (those to be cooked and included before the stopping point) by the number of batches for each recipe you desire to make in advance.

  • This will give you a large-size batch for the X number of meals you are wanting to make ahead. Divide this into X number of freezer-safe containers to store.

5. Make a note of the items to be added later (and in what amounts) when only preparing part of the meal in advance.

These ingredients do not necessarily need to be multiplied by the full amount of ingredients needed at the time of shopping for and making freezer meals. Instead, you may want to write that these items are still needed directly onto the storage container so you see what else is needed when you pull the otherwise prepared item from the freezer. Examples include:

  • Broccoli for broccoli beef that is added later on in the recipe

  • Shredded cheese that is to be added at the end of cooking a baked dish

  • Garnishes like nuts, seeds, or fresh items (like green onions) added after cooking

6. Try it Out!

If you feel a bit overwhelmed initially, experiment and gain experience doing this approach before it is time to actually make these meals as freezer meals for a new baby. The next time you plan to prepare a family favorite anyways, walk through the above steps. See how easy (or not!) it is to prepare this meal idea not only for that one night, but also as a freezer meal option. Make any notes and modify accordingly so when you are ready to make freezer meals for postpartum, you know if this is one you want to include or not.


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Want a list of links to:

My 30 Favorite Freezer Meals to Make Before a New Baby


My Favorite Supplies for Making Freezer Meals

This post contains affiliate links, though all opinions are my own. When you purchase anything using these links, it will not cost you more to use. It does, however, give Veggies & Virtue a small commission to help me further pursue my mission of helping other achieve less meal time stress and more meal time success. Thank you for your continued support, both with your affiliate purchases and interest.

Foil Pans

These are available at any grocery store, but by far the best deal I have found is at Dollar Stores. Often, you can get 2-3 smaller pans in a single pack for only a dollar! Similar items are easily $3-4 per 2-pack at the store. Stock up on these before planning a big freezer meal making session, or buy extras so you can use to bring meals to new moms in these too (so that they don't have to worry about washing and returning your dishes!).

Disposable Pan options (from Dollar Tree)

Freezer-Safe Ziplock Bags

I try to be conscious of the environment and prefer to use glass over plastic when possible. But when it comes to marinading meats and making efficient storage of freezer meals, I truly love using freezer-safe Ziplock bags. Whichever size you choose, simply fill; remove the air (manually); seal; lie flat to freeze. Then, once frozen, all meals can easily be stacked on top of the other or upright in a row in the freezer. This both helps to save space and find items easily.

Freezer-safe gallon-sized Ziplocks  (for chilis, soups, fajitas, etc)

Freezer safe quart-sized Ziplocks (for quinoa, rice, and spaghetti sauce)

Plastic Food Storage Containers

For these, you want something sturdy and reusable and yet disposable (in case you don't want to deal with any dishes). My favorites for these are the following:

8 ounce (for frozen marinades)

16 ounce (for frozen sauces)

32 ounce (for extra chicken stock, leftover soups ready for lunches)or 

Costco also carries a very economical option that serve as perfect leftover containers for lunch the next day (similar to these). These are not my favorite for liquids and sauces, but they work well for grains, a muffins, taco meat, beans, and other items you may only need 2-4 cups worth of per container.

Mason Jars

I love mason jars for a lot of things and prepping freezer meals are no exception. Mason jars can be great for storing marinades or making smaller batches of soups, say to pull out and have for a serving or two worth of soup. Just be sure to leave a little space at the top when storing liquids in mason jars so there is room for the food to expand (when frozen).

Mason jars (2 cups)

Mason jars (4 cups)


30 Favorite Freezer Meal Ideas for New Moms

Many of you have been asking for the latest list of what meals I prepped ahead for this postpartum period. So as promised, you can score the complete list of links to the following meal ideas on the download linked below. There are SO many more I could have included from family recipes as well as some Fall favorites (like chili, soups, and stews). But since I don't have electronic recipes for all of these and personally wasn't craving a lot of "cold weather" meal ideas (having an August baby in Houston and all), I opted for the following 30 freezer meal ideas instead! I am excited to enjoy these in the coming months as we welcome our newest member!


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10 Simple Tools for Homemade Make-Ahead Meals

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Do you ever fight buying something you know would make your life easier?

Sometimes it is a legitimate issue of cost. Other times though, do you find yourself fighting the very tools that would make your life easier, more efficient, or advanced in an area you honestly could use a hand?

Be Encouraged

Very recently, I realized I had been convinced sleep machines and other "crutches" for getting our kids to sleep were evil. Ever since my now almost two year old daughter was an infant, I had been trained to think that any sleep aid was some unnecessary evil. Kids apparently should be able to sleep without room-darkening shades, white noise machines, and all those other items that inundate new moms desperate for some shut eye. But mine didn't. She wouldn't. We tried seemingly every tip and trick under the sun to get our child to sleep during the day...besides use of an official sleep machine.

While I don't intend to get into all of the sleep struggles we have faced in our home (that could be a whole blog in and of itself!), something dawned on me this week that I thought related well.

When our new white noise machine arrived and began working immediately for my daughter, I kicked myself I hadn't introduced this item sooner. I had wasted so much time and energy trying to make do without it and trying tons of tools that were wildly inefficient. Once I saw what a life-saver the sleep-machine was (a bit dramatic?! Nah...not to the sleep-deprived!), it killed me to think I couldn't been using this sooner!

Some kitchen tools are like that too.

Get Equipped

We may have to debate with our husbands if a double oven is really a "necessary" home improvement project. If a fondue pot will be put to use enough to take up space in the kitchen cupboards. Whether our onion goggles save enough tears to justify the seemingly silly purchase. A food processor may seem like an essential these days to eat healthy, but does not having one justify holding you back from creating new, healthy habits in your household?

To simplify the list kitchen tools I consider nearly essential for more efficient meal prep, I have created this list. These items are out on my counter almost every time I go to prepare homemade make-ahead meals.

In this post, I share my top 10 simple tools for homemade make-ahead meals.

1. Storage Containers:

Oven-safe: I have long gone to Dollar Tree to buy these. They come in every size under the sun to fit any family size or number of servings needed. All for only $1 per two- to four-pack ($0.25-0.50 each)!

Plastic: A good friend and fellow colleague of mine introduced me to these awesome containers. I find them at Costco (but I can't see them online outside of this link on Amazon) for even less-expensive than those at Dollar Tree and they're perfect to make-your-own My Fit Meal.

Glass: for weekly food prep, I use these varying sizes of glass bowls with coordinating lids. To me glass containers aren't practical for freezing each make-ahead meal in (because I would need a million!), but they work well for our family's weekly food prep.

2. Freezer-safe Ziplocks:

Gallon-sized: Use these for make-ahead meals like soups, stews, chili, or items with large cuts of meat that won't fit in quart-size containers like pork shoulder or steaks.

Quart-sized: Use these for make-ahead meals like chicken breast that are left whole or cut-down in advance to strips, chunks, etc.

Sandwich-sized: Use these for marinades that you can tuck into the quart-size bags of chicken or other items that will need to cook separately and yet belong to the same dish.

3. Sharpie and/or labels: For disposable bags and freezer containers, write directly on the item before filling with food and freezing. If you have an item you intend to reuse (ie. plastic tupperwares or glass bowls), name, date, and list notes on peel and stick labels.

4. Colander and/or Salad Spinner: I use several colanders when washing our weekly produce. Since most leafy greens we buy are pre-washed, I use this salad spinner + insert helpful for items like grapes, strawberries, or those things we may not always be able to find in organic options. A salad-spinner allows me to fill with a fruit and veggie wash, soak in the spinner, and then easily strain afterwards (using the insert).

5. Can Opener: unless you are making everything from fresh or frozen items, keep a can opener on your counter during batch cooking of items like spaghetti sauce, enchiladas, and chili.

6. Spatulas: I recommend at least one small and one large. This may stem from my days of ServSafe training, but I can't help but think about how these tools minimize food waste (ie. waste less $$$) by emptying out containers more completely.

7. Large cutting board: Preparing the less-messy ingredients in homemade meals first (ie. raw vegetables), then move towards those that either leach an off-putting flavor onto the board (ie. onions or garlic) and/or items that need to be washed up after immediately (ie. raw meats). This will lessen how many cutting boards you get out and dirty up in the process of preparing homemade make-ahead meals.

8. Trash Can: keep this out in the area you are doing your meal prep, easily accessible within a step or two, open on top, and empty enough to complete all of your meal prep without having to empty. It seems silly, but getting under the sink 17 times or walking to the other side of your kitchen and stepping to open the lid every time you have an item to dispose of is just silly.

Note if you compost, you could also consider a compost container equally-essential to keep on your counter during meal prep. However,  I did not include this as a top item on its own as it is not essential to many who do not garden and/or make their own compost. At our house, we like this compost bucket for on-the-counter use.

6. Recycle Bin: as with the trash can, keep this bin out in the open and easily accessible. This will make it all the easier to rinse and dump your aluminum cans and recyclable containers in.

10. Large pot: My mom is the one who actually decided this was an essential for me. When I had her come meal prep with me during my first pregnancy, she had to batch-cook spaghetti sauce in several pots because we didn't have any one big enough to make it all in one. She scored me this large pot, but any of an equivalent size should fit your space needs when making homemade make-ahead meals in large batches.

Turn Inspiration into Action

You've read my list of edible essentials for your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer by now. Now I ask you, how well stocked are you with the simple tools listed above? Can you consider yourself well-equipped enough to get cooking homemade make-ahead meals?

Keep these top 10 simple tools on hand, especially before you meal prep and/or batch cook. Like a sleep machine has become an essential tools for my non-napping kid, discover how these 10 simple tools are essential for easy preparation of homemade make-ahead meals.

 

For those who may be more-invested and ready to expand their kitchen "extras," stay tuned and see what kid-friendly kitchen items I most adore and use often. I will be sharing my reviews on these items as well as links to buy your own during what may be some awesome Black Friday specials!