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Freezing Portion Sized Meals

 
garden master
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I have some friends that have been talking about freezing portion sized meals and have said that it has really helped them save a lot of cooking time.

Some of them have said that they do all their cooking on one day of the week and freeze it to eat the rest of the week or later after that. Others have said that when they cook something, they cook a whole lot extra on purpose and freeze it in meal sized portions to eat later.

I've frozen meals and eaten them later, but never done it on a large scale.

Is anyone else doing this and have any tips or tricks to share?
 
master pollinator
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When i worked several jobs many years ago Sundays were cook up a bunch of stuff and freeze it in one, two, four or eight serving sizes. Hearty soups, stews, tomato sauce, lasagna, etc. Label well, what it is, ingredients and date. I invested in glass or ceramic freeze and heat proof containers. Prevent freezer burn by keeping air from getting to it, wax paper or parchment helps. Make sure to rotate older stuff to the front. After 4 or 5 Sundays you've got a lot of variety. Entertaining is easy even on that kind of schedule when you know in advance - just thaw and heat.
 
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There are two cookbooks made for this: once a month cooking, forgot the authors sorry! And Jill Bond’s mega cooking. I prefer the Bond book. She uses a lot less prefab crap. Also, she realizes that not everyone is making food for 6 or 8 like she is, so she gives ingredient amounts to go up size wise, or down.

The other book I’d recommend is Delight Dixie Omohundro’s how to win the grocery game. In it she pushes a menu plan she calls DOLDOL, or double, one, leftover, double... what she suggests is making deliberate double meals and then reworking the left overs. The book includes a “cost of living” cookbook, very basic, but good. And of course, there’s ideas for reworking meal 1 into meal 2.


Authors of  once a month cookbook= Wilson & Lagerborg.
 
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When I was single, I always used to cook for 4 and freeze three, but I didn't go in for mega batches as I liked to have variety and I was relying on just a "fridge freezer" which doesn't store food nearly as well as a proper chest freezer. Even on this fairly limited scale, I would recommend it to others. I ate healthier, more balanced meals because of it. Many of my age group did too much of "grab the burger" type eating which hurt their health and their bank accounts. Since I knew that when I was tired, dinner was just "heat and eat", I was much less tempted.

At the moment I'm feeding three, so we do less of that and much more, "throw everything in the fridge that needs using into a pot with bone broth and call it soup or stew"! I also still do what I call, "planned overs" - tonight I'll cook enough potatoes for at least 2 meals, and I'm roasting a Muscovy duck, so that's good for 2-3 meals + soup. Last time, I cooked enough rice for three meals, but used it 2 different ways. I'm more prepared to just eat a "variation on a theme" now than I was when I was 20-something.
 
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I cook in huge batches all the time and save for future meals in portion-sized containers -- but the stuff I cook seems to keep well enough in a cold fridge that I rarely need to freeze anything.  Right now I have individual portion sized containers of thick pea soup, rice and chopped frozen vegetables cooked in Christmas ham stock (that I did freeze in individual cooking portions, canned some too), and some experimental (but delicious!) shells and "cheese" made with a vegan "cheez' sauce pouch I was curious about when I saw it in the store.  The oldest thing in there is the pea soup, which is famously good for at least nine days even without refrigeration:

"Pease porridge hot
Pease porridge cold
Pease porridge in the pot
Nine days old!"
 
Jay Angler
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Dan Boone wrote:

the stuff I cook seems to keep well enough in a cold fridge that I rarely need to freeze anything

When I want something I'm cooking to keep longer just in the fridge, I try to download it still hot straight into a clean hot glass jar in the portion size I will want. The fat tends to rise to the top and acts as a seal, and just the fact that you aren't opening it, removing stuff, and shutting it again seems to decrease the risk of microbes moving in. That won't keep it as long as freezing will, but it will keep it longer than the "3 days" Food Safe courses tell you it's good for in a fridge.
 
Dan Boone
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Jay Angler wrote:... it will keep it longer than the "3 days" Food Safe courses tell you it's good for in a fridge.



Yup!  I generally am cooking plant stuff without much added oil, so I can't use the fats to help preserve.  But I put piping hot food in small containers straight into the fridge, and the sorts of things I make are invariably OK out to ten or twelve days, which is when they typically sour.  

I grew up in a cabin with no electricity or refrigeration, so I have a pretty good sense (better than most people, I think) of how long different foods will "keep" at a wide variety of cooler temperatures.  (Up near the arctic circle, there aren't very many truly hot days.)  And I've seen every kind of failure mode, from mold to bubbly fermentation to souring to whatever it is that beans do before they start to give off that room-clearing stench.  I'm not saying any of that was safe -- the "error" in "trial and error" can be unpleasant.  But given all the times we kept stuff on the floor in a cool corner of the kitchen, I have a lot of faith in my refrigerator.  The food safety people are offering a lowest-common-denominator never-fail all-foods all-climates generality; there are multiples of over-caution built into their recommendations.

To get back on topic, I do freeze large surpluses.  But I often prefer to freeze intermediate ingredients (like stock) rather than final prepped foods.  Freezing makes pasta go mushy, soups separate, and can cause other texture issues.  So I do it when I need to, but not reflexively or every time.
 
Jennie Little
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I forgot to put this in the post above. I buy chicken thighs in bulk and break them into approx 1 lb pkgs of 3 thighs. if I make something where we eat the whole piece, like oven fried chicken, we’ll have one left over. It’s enough for one lunch, turn into a side dish, or use it in stir fry.... three thighs fit nicely into one of my medium freezer containers. But if I don’t know what I’m going to do with the left over pieces, I try to cook the meat or main piece as plainly as possible.then use it in whatever I want, sandwich spread, soup, stew, rice dish,  whatever.  I do this a lot if I know I’m making something  in a pungent sauce, like  a curry.

Or,  especially with meat or a large squash, make one meal from the large piece and another planned for the leftover, smaller bits. And again, make the pungent meal the second one.

Other books which may help Eugenia bone’s kitchen ecosystem, talks about making something, using the something, and using the scraps too. Arranged by ingredient, not category of food.

Much older, but something I learned a lot from, the working woman must eat cookbook, I forget the author’s name, sorry. She has menus which deliberately use all the left over bits. It’s horribly out of date, and I’ve never made her recipes, but I refer to them as resources.... have to cook more x now than we can eat, what can I do with three remainder? Actual title: the working girl must eat, published by little brown & co, 1938. The author’s name is Hazel Young. If you read her “menu suggestions” in order, you can use the left over cream, etc two days later....

Apologies for all the old book references. But most of my life I was a used book dealer and it’s an inevitable result of doing that for so long!
Staff note (Jay Angler):

"The kitchen ecosystem : integrating recipes to create delicious meals" by Eugenia Bone
ISBN 9780385345125 Just to help people find the book. Jay Angler

 
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I used to do it a lot. I worked 50 hrs a week on a split shift pattern that meant I was out of the house 14 hours a day 5 or 6 days a week and so was the boyfriend. So every time I cooked dinner I would cook 2-4 extra portions and put them into little plastic containers and then into the freezer for lunches at work, where the only equipment was  microwave and a kettle.
I would basically make a ready meal, so it might be mashed potatoes, sausages and mixed veg into one of the containers, into the freezer and then once it was taken out at 9am it would defrost by the time break came around 4pm ready to be nuked for lunch. Leftovers would also get sorted into lunch containers and frozen. I didn't and still don't want to eat the same thing more than twice in a fortnight so freezing was certainly the best way to spread things out.

Right now I am in the middle of making 20lb of hash browns, 10lb of fried onions, 2-300 potato breads and who knows how many oven chips. My speed is limited only by the number of flat items I have to put things on to loose freeze them in the freezer. I'm doing this because in my experience if we want junk food one night saying oh we have potatoes in the field does not stop a trip into town, but saying oh there's a bag of pre-prepared chips in the freezer does.
 
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If you freeze left overs in baggies, it's helpful to have a cookie sheet, cardboard box or something you can put them on to lie flat while they freeze.  It makes for more stackable or fileable shapes.  Be sure to LABEL EVERYTHING with a permanent sharpie.  Otherwise six months later you'll be looking at a bag wondering, "what the heck is this?"  We even label cuts of meat, because some cuts are pretty tough if just cooked like steak.  It's also useful, if you can, to arrange your freezer into 'sections', (the meat goes here, the veggies go there, broth and frozen eggs go in the corner, oh, and here, in the place of honor, is the ice cream).

My grandma made excellent pies, with great pie crusts.  She made pie crust once a year, dividing her finished dough into balls (one crust per ball), wrapped them in plastic wrap (which she washed and reused) and froze them, pulling them out of the freezer as she needed them throughout the year.  Her recipe was lard, flour and seven up soda (I assume any lemon-lime soda would work).  I don't remember the exact amounts, but I found a recipe online for 5 crusts that looks about like hers, only smaller (she would make up 50 crusts a year).  Here is the online recipe link.  https://www.food.com/recipe/lucies-7-up-pie-crust-idiot-proof-pastry-recipe-42536

When I was single I would cook one batch of food a week, freeze some, put some in the fridge.  After the second week I had an 'alternative' to this weeks batch when I felt the need for a something different.  (My normal batches were usually either beef/barley stew or pinto beans (sometimes as chili, sometimes just beans), or just hamburger and rice, heavy on the pepper.

When I got married, my wife refused to eat the same thing more than once or at most twice a week.  We quickly found as a young family that some things, like meat, were often cheaper in larger quantities, so we would buy it and divide it into meal sized portions and stick most of it in the freezer.  We also made food in large batches and froze some meals up for days when we were sick, busy, or just didn't feel like cooking.

With a large family, the need for freezing leftovers minimized, for three reasons.  first: with lots of teenagers, there generally wasn't much in the way of leftovers.  second: what was left got scarfed when the kids got home the next day or were side dishes the next night, third: my favorite lunch at work is last nights leftovers.  A ten pound bag of potatoes was generally about enough for one meal.  We still cut our meat (either purchased or harvested) into meal sized portions and wrapped and froze it.  (By the way, a roll of butcher paper can give you a great, table sized paper for small ones to draw on, alternative use!  You could even save it and still use it with the crayons on the outside to wrap meat.)  It was a challenge at this point to freeze up meals.  We would still do it, to reduce stress on 'bad' days, but we generally divided it up so that it took 4 or 5 frozen bags to make a meal.

As our family has shrunk down from 11 -13 down to 3 or 4, we have begun freezing food again, in either meal sized or even portion sized quantities.  I often find it hard to cook small enough batches, so this is how I deal with 'overabundance'.

I usually boil down our holiday turkey carcass for bone soup.  The finished broth freezes up well in appropriately sized portions for use after you've recovered from OD'ing on turkey.

 
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I do the same thing.

Freezer: I normally pressure can large batches. But some meals aren't suitable for canning so I use wide mouth pint jars made by Ball with plastic lids. It's a perfect serving size for one person and the jars are reusable. Of course if there's more than one person wide mouth quarts can be used. Just try to make time to thaw them a bit or run under cold water if in a hurry as not to thermal shock the jar and crack it.

In the past, I ordered over 40 Pyrex 3 cup freezer safe rectangle bowls direct from the company. I would fill some with what ever I made, put a piece of tin foil over each one, put the plastic lid on that came with it and popped em in the freezer. This method worked well at the time because I was privileged enough to have a toaster oven at my work station at work. 45 minutes before lunch break I took the plastic lid off, left the foil on and heated it up! The foil was in place so the food didn't dry out. I never had a problem using those bowls in a toaster oven, though I don't think it's recommended.

Or, if plastic doesn't bother you, just use freezer bags. They stack nicely and are compact.

Pantry: I mostly do pressure canning for obvious reasons. Super convenient, no need to thaw or even heat it up and I can grab a jar on the way to work for lunch!
 
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