Make mealtime easier by having freezer meals ready to go for those busy days when getting a home-cooked meal on the table just isn’t possible. Here are our best tips for making freezer meal cooking and freezer prep easier.
For many years, all freezer space in our home had been allocated for meat and priority items such as frozen berries.
Because of this, we’ve done a lot of convenience meal canning projects where I make and can large batches of homemade beef stew, white bean chicken chili, or homemade tomato soup (sign up for our series on canning convenience meals here). Then these meals are ready and waiting on the pantry shelf whenever we need them.
However, since getting our freeze dryer, we’re utilizing that preservation method to freeze-dry most of our berries and have found ourselves with a lot more freezer space available which is why I’m so glad to be chatting with Becky from Acre Homestead and Scratch Pantry on today’s episode of the Pantry Chat.
Who is Becky?
Becky and her husband currently live on a one-acre homestead in Southwest Washington on the Portland-Washington border. They have recently purchased a much larger homestead that they’re in the process of remodeling.
You can follow along with their journey over on her YouTube channel, AcreHomestead.
Becky really got into freezer cooking when she started her YouTube channel back in 2020. At the time, she and her husband were eating out far too often and knew they needed to reduce their food bill as well as eat from home because it’s just much healthier.
Since she was busy filming YouTube videos and editing them in the evenings, she realized freezer meals were the answer to not having time to cook, but also wanting to save money by not eating out.
Why Freezer Meals are Helpful
Whether you’re wanting to cook once and eat twice, prepare a week’s or a month’s worth of meals because you don’t have the time to cook a meal each night of the week, or you just like the idea of having ready-to-eat meals on hand for emergencies (or gifting to friends in a time of need), there are so many reasons why freezer cooking might be for you.
Freezer Meal Prep
Many of Becky’s freezer meal videos show her spending an entire day in the kitchen, prepping a month’s (or a year’s) worth of a specific item. You can watch Becky make a year’s worth of pasta here (and grab our homemade egg noodle recipe here).
How Often Do You Prep Freezer Meals?
This can vary from family to family, but Becky says when she’s solely living off of freezer meals that she needs to spend a day cooking about every six weeks in order to keep her supply topped off.
We both agree that this isn’t always feasible for the common household. But some ways that make freezer cooking more attainable is to break it up into smaller portions like this easy freezer meal meatloaf.
Freezer meals don’t only have to consist of complete meals, you can easily prepare ingredients ahead of time to make dinnertime run more smoothly.
- If you’re chopping a bunch of onions for dinner, it doesn’t take that much extra time to chop a few more onions and toss them into a half-gallon mason jar (be sure to label them so you don’t forget what’s in the jar!).
- Cook up a couple of extra pounds of ground beef, season it up with taco seasonings and freeze it for a quick taco dinner later on.
- Defrost a large portion of meat and separate it out into individual meal servings in a marinade. Then all you have to do the day of is cook your marinated meat and add a side.
Anything you can do when you’re already making a mess in the kitchen can save you time later on. Then you’re only dirtying up the kitchen and having to clean it up once instead of twice.
Having the option to grab an entire ready-to-eat meal or ingredients to speed up dinnertime can be great.
Cook Once Eat Twice
One way to easily stock the freezer with meals is to cook once and eat twice by doubling the batch of food you’re already preparing for dinner.
By doubling that batch of homemade chicken pot pie and freezing the leftovers, you now have the makings for a second meal when you need it most.
You can multiply this out even further if you cook enough food to have leftovers for lunch the next day. Then you’re eating two dinners and two leftover lunches with each meal.
Crockpot Freezer Meals
Becky isn’t a fan of crockpot freezer meals because you can get better flavors from food cooked in the oven or on the grill. Therefore, many of her freezer meals are prepared to be cooked that way.
Freezer Meals for Breakfast
It’s also nice not to limit our freezer meals to just dinner. Breakfast items make a fantastic freezer meal for quick and easy breakfasts on the go.
This speaks to me because I am not a morning cook! I don’t enjoy eating breakfast myself and cooking a large meal at 6:30 AM does not appeal to me.
In our house, we often make up large breakfast casseroles and keep them in the refrigerator to pop in the oven first thing in the morning. But we’re excited to start utilizing the freezer for breakfast items.
Becky recently did a video where she made up and froze a large batch of egg-muffin sandwiches, waffles, breakfast casserole and breakfast burritos. She said they were so good they’re already gone and she wished she would have doubled or tripled the batch!
Storing Freezer Meals
There are a variety of ways Becky recommends storing freezer meals.
- Freezer Bags – Those ziptop bags come in handy for items like marinated meat or something that you won’t want to reuse the bag for. They simply get tossed after each use. If you’re trying to reduce your household waste, we recommend using glass bowls or pans with silicone lids.
- Pyrex Dishes – Both Becky and I have a love of collecting Pyrex and casserole dishes from thrift stores. These are great to have on hand and she actually freezes her meals directly in those dishes. This means the meal can go directly from the freezer to the countertop to the oven in the same dish. This eliminates the need to buy disposable foil pans (that have gotten so expensive!). And when you have enough glass pans, you can actually gift the pan if you end up bringing a meal to someone.
Best Freezer Meals
I asked Becky what her favorite freezer meals were and she had a hard time nailing it down.
One of her favorites during the summer months is to make homemade stuffed peppers for the freezer. She buys a bunch of peppers from a local farmer when they’re in season and chops them up to have them all year-round. This year she’ll be making as many stuffed peppers as she can.
Curries also make a great freezer meal and they’re a great way to use up any leftover vegetables about to go bad.
Lasagna and chicken pot pie are always favorites of her husband.
Best Tips for Large Freezer Meal Cooking Days
Becky now has years of freezer cooking under her belt so I knew she’d be a wealth of information when it came to the best tips and tricks for the large cooking days. Here are her best tips:
- Look for similar ingredients – When making multiple recipes look for recipes that use many of the same ingredients. You can mix up flavors with simple seasonings, but if you’re chopping or cooking up the same vegetables or meat it can save a lot of time for those larger freezer meal cooking days.
- Cook things you like to eat – Freezer meals are only helpful if they’re actually recipes your family enjoys. Don’t spend an entire day cooking a bunch of meals you’ve never tried before. Otherwise, those freezer meals will sit in your freezer, no one will want to eat them and they won’t actually be helpful.
- Don’t repeat too often – One of Becky’s tips when planning out the meals to prep for your freezer cooking days is to think about the previous meals you’ve prepped and try not to repeat them too often.
- Use Grocery Pickup – When you’re having a large freezer meal cooking day, it can save a lot of time if you plan out the ingredients you need ahead of time and use grocery pickup. Let the store do your shopping to save you valuable time!
- Leave the groceries out – Pick up your groceries the day before your freezer meal day, then leave everything that doesn’t need to be refrigerated out on the counter overnight so when you wake up in the morning it’s ready to go. You can even designate a shelf in the refrigerator just for your freezer meal ingredients. These tips may seem silly, but every minute saved adds up in the end!
- Print recipes – Once you have your recipes picked out, Becky recommends printing them on a large piece of paper so they’re easy to read. Then you’re not having to scroll through a recipe on your phone or trying to look at a small recipe card when you have a lot going on in the kitchen. An added bonus is that if the recipe page gets messy, you can just print another one the next time you need it!
- Make notes – On those printed-out recipe pages, make notes as you’re cooking and then store them in a three-ring binder for easy access next time you need them.
- Prep beforehand – Marking off some of the more time-consuming tasks the day before really helps make the day run a lot smoother. Consider cooking up your meat or shredding all your cheese the day before. And definitely start with a clean kitchen, countertops cleared, an empty sink, and an empty dishwasher.
- Save one meal for dinner – Anytime you’re doing a large freezer meal prep day, plan to save one of the meals for dinner the day of. You’ll be so glad at the end of the day to have dinner ready to eat.
- Listen to something you love – When you’re working in the kitchen, it’s always best to have your favorite music or an audiobook ready to listen to. This can make the day so much more enjoyable!
Meals That Don’t Freeze Well
Before embarking on a freezer meal day, it’s important to know whether or not the item you’re making freezes well. There are some foods you should not freeze.
I had a friend who decided she wanted to turn raw potatoes au-gratin into a freezer meal and she didn’t realize that raw potatoes don’t freeze and defrost well at all.
Can You Cook Freezer Meals From Frozen
We don’t always have the forethought to grab out a freezer meal the night before and defrost it on the kitchen counter. So I asked Becky if freezer meals can be cooked straight out of the freezer.
She said yes! But the thing to remember is that a frozen meal is going to take a lot longer to cook than one that’s been thawed. So plan on two to two and a half hours for that meal to cook all the way through.
If it’s five o’clock and you’re just now thinking about dinner, then it’s likely not a good idea to grab one of those freezer meals. This is when utilizing some of those ingredients that have been prepped ahead of time can save you time when cooking your meal.
Tools to Help With Freezer Meals
Becky and I can’t say enough about the tools that help save you time in the kitchen. They may seem like an expensive purchase upfront, but the amount of time they save you later on more than pays for itself.
Some of our favorites are as follows:
- Breville Dicing Kit – this dicing kit saves hours of time chopping vegetables for recipes. On those busy harvest days, this machine more than pays for itself!
- Breville Food Processor – You can’t use the dicing kit unless you have the food processor to go with it. This machine makes super fast pastry dough, it chops, blends, shreds, slices, and dices. You name it, it probably does it!
Where to Find Becky’s Recipes
You can find Becky’s recipes on her website Scratch Pantry (be sure to sign up for her email list as well). Also, if you watch any of her freezer meal videos on YouTube, she tends to link to the recipes in the description below the video.
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Carolyn: Hey, you guys, and welcome to the Pantry Chat: Food For Thought. This week, I am here with Becky from the Acre Homestead. I'm so excited to have her here. Hi Becky.
Becky: Hey friends.
Carolyn: Becky and I got to meet when we were down at the Redmond Conference for the Redmond Real Salt... what was that? That was back in March, maybe April?
Becky: I think in it was March.
Carolyn: March, yeah. And we got to hang out. And as soon as I was talking to her, I just knew that I had to ask her onto the Pantry Chat to talk to you guys because Becky, in my opinion, she has a superpower. I'm sure she has many of them, but the one that totally intrigues me is the way she does freezer cooking to be prepared for her life happening. Life just gets going sometimes doesn't it? And it's lovely to have that food in the backdrop ready, waiting for you.
Becky: Sure is.
Carolyn: So, we're going to have a little bit of chit-chat first, just like normal. If you are new to the Pantry Chat, you can check out the timestamps. And if you want to jump right ahead to the main topic, you can do that. But what would a Pantry Chat be if we didn't have a little bit of chit-chat. Okay. So Becky really fast, where are you, location wise?
Becky: We are in Southwest Washington, kind of the Portland, Oregon Metro area.
Becky: But on the Washington border, like in Washington.
Carolyn: Right now, we are underwater.
Becky: Yes, we are drowning.
Carolyn: Drowning, and you guys are too. Have you been getting a ton of rain?
Becky: Yes. Oh my goodness. It's been a little frustrating actually, because I just want to get out there and work and it's pouring. It's not like a light sprinkle, like sometimes we get. It's torrential.
Carolyn: And are you getting any heat?
Becky: No, we're in the mid sixties.
Becky: I think yesterday was the warmest day and it was like 64 or 5. It was not warm.
Carolyn: Welcome to the Northwest in the year of '22. This may possibly be the year that has no summer because if we see high sixties, we're doing a happy dance and going outside and trying to expose as much skin as we can to the sun to get some vitamin D, please. Because we are cool, and we are wet, and we are flooding in different areas. We actually had river flooding warnings for the first time that I've seen on this property right here. Luckily, we're not in any danger, our house is up a little bit, but places up the river are very anxiously watching the river level. And it's going to be a challenging year.
Carolyn: So, you are out in the garden a lot too. You have a garden in your backyard. You can do a lot on an acre, can't you?
Becky: Yes. You sure can. And most of my garden is probably on about one eighth of an acre because we do live in a neighborhood. So, most of it's landscaped yard and stuff. And so, the part that we are gardening in is pretty productive for not being... we are on an acre, but we're definitely not using the whole acre.
Carolyn: When Josh and I bought our first house, we were on about an eighth of an acre total. And oh my goodness, we grew so much food on that place. We had chickens, we had our own eggs. We even did some meat chickens there. We had fruit trees. We had a cute little garden, but don't let little deceive you, because you can do a lot with a small space.
Carolyn: [inaudible] great.
Becky: Oh, go ahead. Sorry.
Carolyn: What are you up to right now on your homestead?
Becky: So, we actually just bought another homestead. And so, we are currently remodeling that one. So, it's kind of good timing because everything is in my garden planted and we're not moving until after the harvest, but we are remodeling the new one before we move in. So, I'm glad that the garden's kind of planted and we have this lull, and the only things coming in really are salad and spinach and radishes, anything little that we can eat, but the big bulk harvest stuff is not coming in yet, which is good, because we are under construction at the new house.
Carolyn: Wow. So, that's really big news. That's really exciting. Is it in the same area?
Becky: Yep. Well it's in relatively the same area. It's definitely a bigger property and we're actually closer to family, even though we're kind of more out in the country. But still kind of, you would consider like the Portland Metro area.
Carolyn: We find often, I think as people who have channels on YouTube, I really hesitant to say that we're YouTubers because I know Josh and I, there's a lot more to what we do and the ways we like to reach out to people than just YouTube, that's like a little part of it. But sometimes we find ourselves going, "Wait, things have changed. How do I do this?" What are you going to do with the Acre Homestead? Are you now going up to bigger than an acre?
Becky: Yep, way bigger than an acre, but we're going to keep the name, it's just going to be Acre Homestead. And maybe our garden will be an acre. Maybe that's what it'll be. I don't know.
Carolyn: Oh, I don't envy you that much work. I don't even think we have an acre of garden space, but that sounds good. That's really exciting. So congratulations. So you're just renovating, that's the big thing that you're doing right now?
Becky: Yeah, currently that's... I got the garden planted. We closed on the new place and now we are under construction. So, it's kind of fun.
Carolyn: That is exciting. Okay. So over here, we're also in that garden lull, we find that this is a really special kind of magical time in the summer where you plant the garden. And you don't really have much to do for a short amount of time here before the harvest kicks in. And so, this is kind of the time to play. Josh and I, have found that this is a great time to take vacation actually, after you get your garden planted.
Carolyn: So, it's really convenient that our anniversary falls in about another week.
Carolyn: So, we're getting ready to head out for our 20 year anniversary.
Carolyn: Yeah. Thank you. It's exciting. But of course, anytime you leave the homestead, that means you've got weeks of work to prepare to leave and then weeks of work to catch up on when you get home. So, we're kind of in that stage right now, except for the work of dealing with all this unexpected water. We are having septic problems because there is nowhere for our septic to drain. It's all wet. It's all completely saturated. And so, that's creating all sorts of interesting things in our life right now and water just running through and kind of tearing things up. So, we've been dealing with that a little bit, but aside from that, we are enjoying the lull and just waiting for a little heat to go along with it.
Becky: Yeah, I'm ready for some heat.
Carolyn: Absolutely. Okay, so let's jump into a question of the day. Let's see... I pulled this one off of a video. Shady Tree two days ago asked, "I would love to know how do you keep up with all of the fun work my mind wants to do more, but the body drags. How do you do it all?" We see this question a lot, how do you do so much? How do you get so much done? And how do you do all the things you do, because you cook a lot, you garden, and then on top of all that you film doing that, which makes things take about two or three times as long as just doing it.
Carolyn: And I know you worked for a long time and did all of these things at the same time. So, do you have great tips on how you get that all done?
Becky: Well, I always say just because you see it on YouTube, doesn't mean that's the way it is all the time. I don't film when I'm sitting and doing nothing, because that's boring. I don't do it all. There might be dishes in my sink right now and just prioritizing what are the most important things and checking those off the list first. And then the rest sometimes just has to go to the wayside. And that is one reason why I do freezer meals, because we try to eat at home as much as possible. And that really helps because I don't always have the time if I've spent all day in the garden to then come inside or have the energy to cook an entire meal. And when I was working full-time and doing YouTube, that is where actually, I got serious about it because I didn't have time. I couldn't cook every night and edit after work and go to work and do all those things. So, that's just kind of... I don't do it all and certain things, if you can do it beforehand, can help get things done later.
Carolyn: Yeah. I totally agree with you. The first thing to know. Is that we don't do it all. Nobody does it all right. We are all saying no to a lot of things. And some years I choose to do different things than I do other years, even on the homestead. Some years it's like, "I'm really going to make the most out of making cheese this year. I'm really going to do all of these different things." And other years I'm kind of going, "I don't think that's going to happen this year. Instead, I'm going to do this other thing." So, I like what you're saying about prioritizing and not doing it all. And it's a really good point, just because you see something somewhere on social media does not mean that it does not mean that my kitchen is clean all the time.
Of course, I'm going to clean it before you have to look at it. If you were a guest in my house. I'm going to clean it before you show up too, so you don't have to look at all my dirty dishes, but that doesn't mean that's how they always look or how the spaces always look. So, it's really good to keep that all in perspective. I know for me, one of the things that really helps me to get more done, is to do things in big batches. I think freezer cooking really falls into this. You do it and then you partial it out. But I do that for a lot of different things. Like if I'm going to make soap, I make a whole year's worth of soap in one day. And I just put that time into it. I get it done. I make all the dirty dishes at once. I clean up all at once and it's a long, hard day and then I'm done, and I have it for the whole year. And I think doing that wherever you can, is really important too.
Becky: Yeah. I just made a year's worth of homemade pasta because it's a lot easier to do it one time, devote those few hours, get the kitchen really dirty, pull those equipment out and then you're done. You don't have to do it again for another year.
Carolyn: Yeah. I totally love that. I've got to tell you. I tried doing... I thought I was going to get at least a couple months worth of pasta for my family.
Becky: You have quite the few more people in your family.
Carolyn: I thought, "Oh, this will be great. I'm going to make six months worth of pasta right now, and then I'm going to have it on hand." And we worked all morning long and we made a ton of pasta and it turned out to be four meals worth of pasta. And I said, "I don't think pasta's going to be my thing." I do enjoy it fresh every now and then. It makes the best lasagna ever in the whole world. So some things, it works, some things it works to a certain scale and other things, you'll find that it's just a better idea just to go buy the thing from somebody who can do it at the scale that makes it profitable. We actually have a local pasta company here. If you buy pasta on Azure Standard-
Becky: Oh, yeah.
Carolyn: [inaudible] their pasta. And it's right here at a local Mennonite general store to us, and I can go straight to them and I can buy it [inaudible]. So, that's strategic, not doing everything.
Becky: No one can do everything. I don't do it. I don't make cheese. I have all the stuff, the equipment. And it's something that... just not right now, but maybe in the future, I don't know.
Carolyn: Another thing that I find that really helps is prioritizing taking care of yourself and your relationships first, the people around you and then projects come next. If you're tired, that's what needs to be addressed. Not doing more. We should in a healthy state, have the energy to get through our days in general. Yes, we have days where we push hard and we work hard and we're tired. We should all be tired at the end of the day. That's a very healthy thing, but you should have the energy to get through your day. And so if you're finding that you're flagging, usually that's that 2:00 PM moment where we all get a little tired. If a simple break and a good glass of water and all of that, doesn't do it, you need to start looking at your nutrition and your rest and just make sure that you do actually physically have the ability to get through a day. That is going to get you a lot for... sometimes going to bed early is going to get a lot more done in the long run than staying up and getting stuff done.
Becky: Yeah, for sure.
Carolyn: Cool. Okay. Well, I don't want to wait too long to jump into the main topic because I'm so excited to hear about this. Now, some backdrop for me is that we have never had enough freezer space, because we've been growing our own meat for most of our homestead journey. And so, freezers have always been this super premium... like freezer space is for meat and it's for things like berries. Like the high end stuff that I really want to preserve, but this thing just happened in this last year, which is that I got a freeze dryer and all of a sudden there is a lot of stuff that used to have to go in the freezer that's not in there anymore. Do you have a freeze dryer?
Becky: I do, yeah.
Carolyn: Oh yeah. It is a phenomenal game changer. I know people complain that they're so expensive and they really are, but it is paying for itself very quickly just in the amount of labor and space saved. So, I'm finding myself in this place where I do have freezer space now and I'm kind of excited about it. I do a lot of convenience food in the form of canning, but not really in the freezer side. So, I am totally intrigued by this idea of like spending a day... and I know they have the 30 day... that's the whole thing. You spend a day and you have 30 days worth of meals. That's never happening in my life, but I do like the idea of spending a day and getting a bunch of meals into the freezer. So first of all, how did you get started doing this? Because it's not normal cooking.
Becky: No, it's definitely not. Well, it just started actually years and years ago, I was just watching YouTube and it's very popular on YouTube, these freezer meal videos. And I don't know. I just did a couple of them and it worked really well. And then, I just stopped doing it for some reason, life happened, and I had the time to cook and the bandwidth to think about that stuff. And then when COVID hit, I lost my job. I was a dental hygienist. And so, Josh and I, had to get pretty serious about not eating out. We'd kind of gotten in a rut too of going and getting takeout just because we were both tired and we weren't thinking about dinner.
So, we got very serious about our budget and obviously when you're not working, eating out is one thing that's easy to go and most places were closed anyway. And so, I got back into the habit of really cooking everything almost from scratch at home because I had the time and we needed to save the money. And then, when I started working again, that's when I got back into my job and I quickly realized this isn't something with all the new regulations and the PPE and everything, it was a lot. And so, I was like, "I think I'm going to start YouTube." And I quickly realized that I don't have very much time to devote to cooking anymore. So I was like, "I think I can do those freezer meal things again."
And I learned that it really does save me time. And like you said, 30 meals in 30 days. I might cook 30 meals in one day, but it might last me two or three months because I use those for when I'm in a pinch or I don't have the energy to cook.I love cooking, but I don't want to have to do it every day to not eat out. And so, that's usually when I rely on those freezer meals is when I don't have the energy to cook or the time, or I just don't want to do it. And we can still eat at home and save that money and eat more nutritious food. And so, that's kind of where it got started was it became a necessity that I had to do it in order to save the money and to continue to eat at home.
Carolyn: Yeah, and that is just so true about when you get tired or when you're pinched for time, when you have the opt-out to say, "Hey, I can just serve a meal that I've already made," and you don't have to feel bad about it, or guilty about it because you're spending too much money or it's not healthy. It's not good for you. That is, to me, an incredibly freeing thing, just knowing that I have the option sometimes.
Carolyn: I don't know. I guess it just makes everything else feel good. So now, you're not working out of the home, obviously you're still working, doing these videos and all the things that you do is a serious job. It's a lot of energy. Are you still doing the freezer cooking?
Becky: I still do, yep. Because I still am very busy and I'm probably busier now, than when I was working two jobs and the freezer meals have just kind of become a way of life now. And I have the luxury of being able to spend an entire day to do that. But it doesn't mean you always have to spend an entire day, because we're so busy right now. I haven't been able to do it in two months. And so what I've been doing is if I make a dinner, I made curry the other night and I made enough for two batches so I could freeze half of it.
So, sometimes it's not a matter of having to devote an entire day set aside to do something like that. It's just when you're already in the kitchen, double cook, whatever you're cooking and then you can freeze half of it for later. And so, that's kind of what I'm doing right now. I'm not necessarily spending those five hours or six hours in the kitchen. I'm just trying to double up, when I'm in the kitchen and the kitchen's messy and I'm already chopping vegetables. It doesn't take much more time to chop two extra carrots or things like that.
Carolyn: Yeah. And I say that a lot about the convenience meals, even in canning. Now, the downside to canning is that means you have to cook an approved recipe and you're going to have that for dinner. You can triple the batch and have some fresh and then can some, but it really does... any sort of batching like that really does end up saving you time, because like you said, it just doesn't take that much longer to cook a little more ground beef or to chop a few more vegetables. You kind of already have the hard part done. So, you might as well make more out of it as you go. Okay, so you've been busy lately. You just said that you haven't done like a big day, but if you were living mostly off of your freezer meals, how often would you have a big cooking day?
Becky: About every six weeks or so. Sometimes two and a half months. It just depended on how much I needed to rely on them. And so, I do want to set aside a day to do that again, because I don't have any really in my freezer except for these couple that I've done. And because we are now remodeling a house and all these things, that's very expensive. And so, it's another thing again where I'm like, "I need to devote a day to do this because I don't have the time coming up here to..." Because every night we're going up there, I don't have the luxury of cooking right now. And I don't want to be spending the money on eating takeout because it's expensive. Eating out is so expensive and it's not as healthy. And it's doesn't then give me leftovers to then push us for lunches and things like that.
Carolyn: The amount of times I end up going out to eat and kind of looking at the plate and going, "I know how much money I just spent on this," and it's kind of disappointing. It's hard to swallow. So yeah, I totally hear you on that. Okay, so when we're thinking about freezer cooking, I know my mind always immediately goes to dinners. Do you do any freezer cooking for breakfasts or lunches?
Becky: I actually just did a breakfast one and they were so good. We are already out of them. And I wish I had doubled what I made. We did breakfast burritos, which were phenomenal. We did egg McMuffins. I still have some freezer waffles. And we did two breakfast casseroles and it was fantastic. I will be doing that more and more. I've never done lunch, but with how much I really enjoyed the breakfast. I might look into lunch, but a lot of times we eat leftovers because there's just two of us. We eat leftover dinner for lunch. So that's never been a big sore spot for us, I guess, when it comes to meals and cooking.
Carolyn: Yeah, we kind of do the same thing. So, that's really exciting on the breakfast side because if any of you guys have followed me for any amount of time, you know that I am not a morning cook. I do enjoy cooking. I love cooking, but not before the hours of like... I don't know, 11:00 AM or something. I don't like eating breakfast. I don't tend to eat breakfast at all myself. I'm usually pretty happy with just a cup of coffee. And so, the idea of cooking at 6:30 in the morning just... ugh, it drags my whole day. And so, I tend to do breakfast casseroles and somebody will make those and they'll be in the refrigerator. I've never gotten into freezing them. And so, I'm very excited about this idea. And you said you did a couple of breakfast casseroles that you froze too?
Becky: A couple breakfast casseroles, and I would thaw those before I baked them. And that was fantastic. I do a lot of... this isn't a freezer thing, but it's just like a bulk meal prep, I guess. A lot of times I'll make Josh a baked oatmeal or a casserole or something on the weekend. And then he takes that for breakfast for the week. But having these different options where you could grab a couple waffles and then cook up some eggs or just have a breakfast burrito. It has your eggs and your vegetables and your potatoes and everything in it. It was so easy. We'll definitely be doing that.
Carolyn: My family-
Becky: Oh, go ahead.
Carolyn: My family would totally love that. I'm getting excited right here.
Becky: And I used the Azure whole wheat organic tortillas, and they didn't dry out because I had done it once and the tortillas dried out. But it is best if you thaw them overnight in the refrigerator before you microwave them or heat them up, however you want to heat them up. And they stayed really soft and delicious.
Carolyn: They didn't crack or anything like that?
Becky: Didn't crack, no.
Carolyn: Ah, that's exciting. Okay, that's good to know. I will look into that. All right. So, what are your best tips for batch cooking meals for freezer cooking specifically, like having a big cooking day?
Becky: One of my biggest things that I look for when I'm looking at recipes is I try to look at recipes that have a lot of the same ingredients. So that if I'm chopping carrots, I might do shepherd's pie and chicken pot-pie, because they both have carrots, celery, and onions. And I can chop a bunch of it for both of them and frozen peas, or whatever it might be. Or I look at things we eat too, because I don't want to cook a bunch of stuff and then us not enjoy eating them. Those are kind of two of my biggest ones because then you can double up on your time. I kind of have two different styles of freezer meals I do.
I do marinated meats. So, that's where I can just thaw that marinated meat and it can thaw in the refrigerator and it can continue to marinate. And then, that kind of freezer meal, I still do need to cook a side, typically a starch and a vegetable. And then I like to have ones that are whole entire meals, like the vegetables and the meat and the starch, like shepherd's pie or something like that, where everything is in one, because then, I can gauge my day and figure out, "Do I have time to make sides? Or do I want to just throw something in the oven, like a stuffed pepper?" It's got the vegetable, it's got the starch and it's got the meat all in one. So, those are things I like to think about too.
Carolyn: Okay. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense to have those different options. And like I said, I've done very little freezer cooking, but one of the things that I know that I did before, is I would mix up my meatloaf recipe that I make, but not cook it beforehand. And I could thaw that and I could use it for meatballs, I could use it for a base for all sorts of things, or I could just use it for a meatloaf and having that flexibility was really useful. It was really-
Becky: You don't shape it?
Carolyn: What's that?
Becky: You don't shape it? You just... oh, that's a great idea.
Carolyn: Yeah. That's one of the very few things... that, and chicken pot-pie filling are kind of the two things that I have done and I would love the chicken pot pie filling, and then I'd keep the pastry crust separate frozen also. And then I could pretty quickly throw together chicken pot pie, which is a very big favorite in my house. But I feel like it takes a long time to do it from scratch on a busy day. And so, I was always looking for that big batch and to be able to do a whole bunch of it at once.
But I really like the idea of finding like ingredients because you could totally save... being able to do that chicken pot pie and the shepherd's pie on the same day. You've already chopped the veggies, and I know for me, I love my dicer kit for my food processor. Do you have one of those? I don't know where have I been most of my adult life that I just discovered these things called dicer kits, and I can zip, zip, zip, and they're all chopped, perfectly and beautifully. I love this. So, you could just do a few more veggies right through that and you are most of the way through your recipe right there.
Becky: Yeah. Or another example would be, if I'm going to make a big batch of red sauce for lasagna, then maybe I might do an Italian style stuffed pepper, where it's stuffed with rice and Italian sausage and something like that. And then my base for that is the same red sauce that I use for lasagna. And then I top it with that and I'm then shredding mozzarella cheese for both of those dishes, but they are different enough, that you don't feel like you're having baked ziti and mozzarella or baked ziti and lasagna, like two similar dishes. They're enough different that you aren't going to get food fatigue from having too similar of the dish.
Carolyn: Oh, that is great. I love it. How do you prefer to store the food in the freezer? Do you go with Ziploc bags or do you have some fancy... I know people are all over the place on what they like to do.
Becky: So, if I do marinated meats, I do Ziploc bags because I just toss the Ziploc bag after. And then I have over the years now, just at Goodwill, purchased a bunch of Pyre dishes. So, if it's a casserole or if it's stuffed peppers, or anything that I would put in a... what typically people do is foil pans, I will just put in a Pyrex dish and they freeze perfectly fine. I've never had anything break. And I do sometimes put them in the oven frozen, never had an issue. I'm not saying that's safe, but I've done that. Or I let them thaw. And that's just a way, because those foil pans have gotten really expensive and then you just throw it away. But if I do freezer meals for somebody that had a baby or is sick or something, then I do give the gift of a foiled pan that they can just... don't have to worry about the dish or anything like that.
Carolyn: Yeah, I'm with you. If I see a 9 by 13 Pyrex pan anywhere, I always get it, if it's at a thrift store or something. My collection is huge and that's without even the freezer cooking. But I have an absolute disgust... I do not like spending my money on something that I'm just going to throw away. I really do not like that. I don't like the environmental implications. I just think that's bad policy. I don't like what it does financially. Just... let's not. I heard a number one [inaudible] that said that the average American family throws away... it was like $5,000 a year worth of stuff and just throws it away, whether that was intended as a disposable product or it's just something that they throw away because they're not using it. They don't want it. And I just thought, "Oh my goodness, that is a phenomenal number." I have nothing to prove that number, no studies beyond it. But whether it's true or not, I don't know. But I'm sure it tends that direction. Okay, what are your favorite things, your absolute favorite things to do in the freezer as a meal?
Becky: Gosh, it changes. Stuffed peppers are probably one of my favorites. I love them. They freeze perfectly. Actually, this summer I grow peppers, but I've not been able to get my peppers to grow really big. So, every year I buy a bunch of organic peppers from a farm. I used to be a member of their CSA, and he grows these most beautiful organic bell peppers. And I always chop them up and freeze them. And this year I'm going to buy a bunch of them and I'm going to turn them into all different kinds of stuffed pepper recipes for the freezer, because they're so good. Curry is a great freezer meal because it's not a casserole. I think sometimes when you think freezer meals, a lot of people think casseroles or Crock-Pot dump and go, a lot of cream of mushroom soups.
So, there's a lot of things you can do that are not that and that freeze really well. So, curry is another great one because you have your really complex sauce and then you just add whatever vegetables you have in your refrigerator that need to be used up or your freezer, make some rice, and you've got a great dinner. Lasagna is always a favorite. Shepherd's pie and chicken pot pie is probably my husband's favorite. I do that with... I just make the filling and put that in a Pyrex dish. And then I actually put biscuits on the top, so it's more like chicken and biscuits. That's the way he likes it. So, that's the way we do it. And then I like having marinated meat in the freezer because then I can just cook that on the grill or in the oven. I don't use my Crock-Pot a lot. I think that you can get better flavor from the oven or the grill. Those are probably my favorite.
Becky: But it really just depends on what we're in the mood for, I guess.
Carolyn: The stuffed peppers sound phenomenal.
Becky: Oh good.
Carolyn: I really want to do that now. So, if you're going to do a really big day, a batch cooking day, can you walk us through the process that you take? From that moment that says, "Hey, I really need to refill my freezer," to picking the recipes and through how you organize that.
Becky: Yeah. So, I typically... like right now, I'm starting to think about what I want to do for my next one, because I know I need to do one coming up soon. And I think what I have had in the freezer before, and I try not to replicate those recipes right after. So the last one I did, I try not to have the exact same repeat. And then, like I said, I do try to think of things that have some of the same ingredients, not all the same ingredients, but some of the same, so that I'm saving myself the chopping time and just... it's easier to bulk that, like bulk cooking, bulk chopping. And then, I usually make a grocery list. I love grocery pickup.
So, I usually just go through my recipes and I like to have printed recipes, so I'll usually print my recipes and then I make my grocery list. And I put in my order the day before I plan to do my big cooking day, so that I can get home and I can just put everything on my counter except for the stuff that has to go in the fridge and that way I'm not putting stuff away and then getting it back out later. So, I try to have my grocery shopping the day of, or the day before I actually do my bulk cooking. And sometimes, I will do things if I don't have cooked meat, because usually those can be the things that take the longest when it comes to bulk cooking is having your meat cooked or your rice cooked or things like that.
So, sometimes the day before I'll put some meat in the Instant Pot and cook the chicken, so I have some cooked chicken. I just canned chicken for the first time, so now I have canned chicken, so I don't have to do that. And I'll actually try to cook the meat or the beans. If I'm going to have a bunch of beans in some recipes, then I will use the Instant Pot and get some of those grains or meats cooked up the day before, so that when I'm actually going to cook or assemble all the meals, then I have everything done. Oh, I don't buy pre-shredded cheese. So, usually the day before, I'll get all my cheese shredded.
So, that's kind of what I like to do, is do some prep work before I actually go and start the cooking and then I get a good audio book or a good YouTube video or some good music, and then I just enjoy being in the kitchen and taking that time. And I really like being in the kitchen if I know that's what I'm going to be doing that day. That's what I'm checking off the list. And it doesn't feel so much like a chore because you feel like you're accomplishing something. And then I do all the cooking and then I try to get the kitchen clean as much as possible that day, so that it's not overwhelming the next day, but that doesn't always happen. That's kind of what... I walked through the whole process.
Carolyn: Yeah, that's great. Do you always leave one out for dinner that night? And you're like-
Becky: Oh, yes.
Carolyn: [inaudible] tonight.
Becky: That is another thing, is every time I do a freezer cooking meal, one of those meals becomes dinner. So, whichever one we feel like sounds the best that night, that's what becomes dinner.
Carolyn: Perfect. I love it. That's really helpful. Just I really like the tip about, get something that you enjoy doing or listening to in the kitchen. I know for me, if I have a quiet kitchen and I can turn on what I want to listen to, whether it's a book or a podcast or music or whatever it is, that transforms the whole thing. And before long, I don't want to leave the kitchen because I'm having so much fun and nobody's going to come bother mom in the kitchen, because-
Becky: They're going to have to cook.
Carolyn: It's like, "Hey, this is my own quiet vacation. I like it. I'll cook for days. I like it." Okay, there are some things that do not freeze. Do you have a mental list of recipes that you would never turn into a freezer recipe because they have things that don't freeze well? Do you have that off the top... I'm kind of putting you on the spot.
Becky: That's a great question. I haven't really...
Carolyn: I had a friend one time who decided she was going to turn a raw potatoes au gratin, into a freezer meal and that did not work out. Do not freeze raw potatoes. Let's just-
Becky: I have done that before and it does not work. I forgot about that.
Carolyn: We actually still cooked it because it was the only option for the meal at that moment. It just was black and odd looking.
Carolyn: Yeah, great. Potatoes go funny colors once they've been frozen, if they're raw. If you pre-cook them though, just a little bit. They do work out pretty well. Okay, and your recipes, you've got a great blog and it's got all sorts of stuff on it. Do you have a lot of freezer cooking recipes on there?
Becky: So I do. It's scratchpantry.com and it's a pretty new website. Josh is actually building a brand new one, that's going to be a lot better. But all the recipes... if you watch my videos, the recipes that are good freezer meal recipes are linked in the description box of those. So if you just Google Acre Homestead freezer meals, there's a lot of videos on there about that.
Carolyn: That is so helpful. So, you guys make sure you jump over to her YouTube channel, Acre Homestead, and check out some of these videos that she's got, because it's going to inspire you to get that backup food in your freezer. I know I tell you guys often, especially the end of winter, beginning of spring, this is the time to get your food in jars on your shelf, when we're talking about full meals, convenience meals. So, that you go into those summer months with full shelves, so that when you have hard harvest days or garden days, or you just want to sit in the sunshine a little bit longer and not go cook, you've got these meals on your shelf. This is taking that a whole nother step. And just instead of them in a jar, getting them onto your freezer, so you can pull those out and really enjoy that time off. Can you cook freezer meals from frozen or do you always have to defrost them?
Becky: No. You don't always have to defrost them. If there is something that's in a casserole dish, it's going to take probably two hours, two and a half hours to cook. So, you just need to know that and give yourself that time. And so, if you didn't thaw it before, and it's already five o'clock, it might not be realistic to throw enchiladas or something in the oven, because it's going to be pretty late before you're eating, but you absolutely can do it. I do it all the time, but you have to think a little bit earlier in the day that you're going to do that. And if you do like the marinated chicken or marinated meats, you can definitely throw those in a Crock-Pot, if you use a Crock-Pot, if they're frozen. No problem.
Carolyn: Perfect. That is so great. Well, thank you so much for taking your time and sharing this with us. I am definitely going to go... do you have a stuffed pepper video or recipe?
Becky: Yeah, that one I made... I have a couple. Some of them, I have a recipe written. Some in the video, I make it up as I went, because I had some extra bechamel sauce. And so, I put that on top instead of the red sauce. But usually it's just like a red sauce with sausage and kale or whatever vegetables you want and brown rice and you stuff that pepper and then you top it with sauce and cheese and it's good.
Carolyn: Oh my goodness, that sounds so good. I think I must be getting hungry. Okay, well thank you for hanging out with us and make sure you guys jump over. Say hello, from homesteading family when you do that. Give her a thumbs up and hit subscribe on her channel because it's phenomenal and there's a lot of good things. Not just freezer cooking coming out of her channel. You guys are going to want to check it out. So, thank you guys for hanging out with us. We'll see you soon.
Becky: Thank you.
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