I started surfing Pinterest for some ideas and quickly realized two things; there are A LOT of casseroles and most of them involve meat. It might just be me, but its been my experience that casseroles are on the harder side to make healthy without compromising taste and when it comes to saving money, mixing in some vegetarian dishes is good for the body and for your wallet. So, what to do....what to do.
I spend about 4 hours one night looking up recipes that would "freeze beautifully," if you will, but fit our ideal meal planning schedule....aka, not night after night of casserole. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy my fair share of chicken cheese based gooey goodness, but c'mon.
We found 25 recipes that yielded 35+ meals that we threw in the freezer and have been thoroughly enjoying trying each night. The hardest part? Remembering to take dinner out of the freezer the night before!
Here are there recipes we pulled from...
- Spinach Lasagna Roll Ups
- Beef Stroganoff
- Baked Beef Ravioli
- White Chicken Enchiladas
- Turkey Meatballs
- Tomato Basil Burgers
- Black and Bleu Burgers
- Breakfast Burritos
- Fire Roasted Veggie pasta
- Teriyaki Honey Chicken
- White Veggie Lasagna
- Cilantro Lime Chicken
- Summer Squash Casserole
- Creamy Tomato Orzo Soup (to pair with grilled cheese)
- Aztec Quiche
- Italian Chicken Roll Ups
- Spicy Black Bean Soup
- Best Ever Meatloaf
- Pizza Dough
- Make ahead ground beef for tacos, sauce, sloppy joes, etc.
- Spanish Chicken and Rice
- Lentil, Kielbasa, and Garlic Soup
- Grilled Pepper, Onion, and Sausage Calzones
- Chicken Spaghetti
- Hot Roast Beef Sandwiches
Some things that we made that didn't necessarily need recipes...
- Marinated Grilled Chicken (put in gallon sized freezer bags, for grilling)
- Frozen waffles and pancakes (freeze on a cookie sheet, then put in freezer bags)
- Sweet potato fries (freeze on cookie sheet, then put in freezer bags)
- Breakfast smoothie kits (sliced fruit frozen on a cookie sheet, then put in small bags)
When it comes to marinating chicken ahead of time or creating burgers (to freeze between sheets of freezer paper, then bagging up) the possibilities are endless. Also, since we cooked a whole chicken for the shredded chicken in the enchiladas, we froze the resulting chicken stock in a silicone muffin tray. When frozen, when popped out the perfectly portioned 1 cup stock blocks for later use.
To freeze, we used a combination of zip top freezer bags and aluminum trays with lids. For soups and marinades, we froze the bags as flat as we could so they'd store easier later on. For things like meatballs, hamburgers, sweet potato fries, etc. we froze them flat on a cookie sheet for a few hours, then put them into a bag so they wouldn't stick together. And where do we put all of this food? Let's just say, I'm glad we have a chest freezer. Best $100 I've ever spent on Craig's List.
For a long time I thought that I didn't have time for this whole "cook for 10 hours" thing and the truth is that I still don't. That doesn't mean we can't meal plan like this though. Jeff and I spent a few hours each night for 3-4 days and made all of this food. You know what? IT WAS SO MUCH FUN! Seriously, I hate cooking, but that week was the most time we've spent together and alone in a very long time. Will we do it every month forever onward? Who knows, but to some extent, we hope to cook together like this more often.
So what does the family think of our new recipes? Its been awesome! Like I said, the hardest part now is choosing what to eat and remembering to thaw it in time. ;-) Our favorite recipe so far, hands down, has been the Spinach Lasagna Roll Ups. SO delicious. The kids even loved it and asked for seconds.
If you think you can't do this, I promise that you can. There is no all or nothing when it comes to making freeze ahead meals - make a few, make a ton. Just make 1-2 for the week, or spend a weekend cooking for the next 6 weeks. Its up to you!
I'm going to keep on saving recipes that I love on Pinterest, so follow along if you want to see what we're whipping up!