Input requested: Frozen meal ideas

I have two different questions about frozen meals! First, I got this email from Kari:

My grandmother lives alone and her health is deteriorating, and my hubby and I know it would be a big help to prepare some meals for her. After discussing with my mom (her daughter), we think making up little hearty frozen meals would be the best bet, as then she could pull them out as needed.

I'm definitely not a very accomplished cook, and the one thing I'm challenged by is that she really only uses her microwave to cook (her arthritis limits more than that). Do you have any ideas for meals that could be frozen and then reheated in the microwave?

A few other things...
-I wasn't sure how potatoes and pasta would freeze in soups??
-She is unable to eat anything too hard, so stews, soups, etc. are more appropriate.
-She is unable to eat spices, garlic, onions, etc.

Hi, Kari!

What a great idea to make frozen meals for your grandmother, and what a blessing I'm sure they will be! :)

I'm not very experienced when it comes to frozen meals, and we don't have a microwave, so I'm really hoping my readers can give you some ideas! :)

In my experience, soups freeze really well, and I have frozen soups containing pasta (for example, chicken noodle soup) and potatoes (potato soup, corn chowder, etc.) with great results. Perhaps you could make a large batch of soup and leave out any of the spices/seasonings your grandmother can't have, and then freeze the soup in 1- or 2-cup portions. :)

I would also imagine that some frozen leftovers would be really good re-heated. For example, freeze individual pieces of leftover lasagna (again, you'd need to omit ingredients she can't eat), slices of meatloaf, portions of mashed potatoes and gravy, etc. We have frozen leftovers in the past and then just re-heated them on the stove after thawing. While Joshua and I definitely prefer fresh-cooked foods (for things besides soup), the leftovers are still yummy, and definitely would be a blessing to someone unable to prepare fresh food each day. :)

I've also found that breads freeze well. Rolls, banana bread, pancakes, waffles, etc. can be frozen (wrapped individually or two-in-a-package) and thawed as needed.

I hope this gives you a few ideas, and maybe some readers will have more suggestions!! :)

Next, from Annette:

I just bought my FoodSaver and used it for the first time tonight. Very excited!! :) What can't you put in the bags? I read on a site that pasta and potatoes are not a good idea because after you take them out of the freezer they just don't turn out well when they are defrosted and cooked again.

I am trying a new thing in the new year: I am going to make a week's worth of dinners and put them in the freezer. It sounds silly but after 18 years of marriage I have NEVER done that!! It get so old figuring out what I am going to make for dinner every night and I love to cook and bake!

Hi, Annette!

I have only ever frozen pasta in soups or in a dish like lasagna (unbaked, ready to bake and eat). I have made large amounts of mashed potatoes and frozen some in the past, and I thought they tasted fine re-warmed. I've also frozen soups with potatoes and not had a problem. Does anyone else have thoughts on freezing pasta or potatoes? :)

FoodSaver bags are great for things that aren't too wet. Soups, mashed potatoes, or sauces do just fine in a freezer container of some sort. Personally, I mostly use the FoodSaver bags for pre-cooked meats like chicken, taco meat, or meatballs -- and the bags keep the food nice and fresh while shrinking it considerably, leaving more room in my freezer. :)

I have also bought spices/seasonings in bulk and vacuum-sealed them for longer storage. This works great with dried herbs, but not as well with powders. Also, anything that's very sharp can puncture the bag -- like some dried fruits, or meat with a bone. I'm sure you'll figure out what works best for you as you experiment more! :)

Comments

I have been making a freezing meals since I was a teenager at home (I did most of the cooking). I am the oldest of 9 children so we made large quantities for all of us.
Now that I am married with two small children I am having trouble scaling recipes down for us. To solve the problem I just make 2 pans instead of one of something and put it in the freezer.
My husband doesn't like leftovers but doesn't have a problem with having the meals out of the freezer for a 2nd time.
I freeze cooked meats, soups and casserole ingredients in gallon storage bags... I just lay them flat til they are frozen then stack them up. I find that it's the perfect amount for our family.
I also have elderly grandparents that we take meals too. I've found it helpful to but the Glad containers that hold an amount that is good for 2 servings and just make them a container or whatever we're having for supper.
I don't always take it to them right away but there is always something in the freezer if I'm dropping by their house.
I am blessed to have a huge separate freezer or this kind of 'freezer' cooking would be impossible

I can answer at least part of the "does pasta freeze well" question for you. Before Christmas I made a whole lot of whole wheat spaghetti for a big family meal (I was hosting, so we had 11 people at the table and I estimated on the high side for amounts to prepare). I didn't want to throw it all away, so on a whim i tossed the remaining (cooked) spaghetti into a plastic freezer container and tossed it in the freezer to see how it would fare.

Two weeks later I pulled it out and let it thaw in the fridge, and it tasted just fine. In fact, it worked so well that I then divided the remaining pasta up into smaller single-meal containers, added some sauce and a handful of vegetarian 'meat'balls, and my husband and I took those for lunches to work for the next few days.

We only ever eat the whole wheat pasta in our house, so it's possible that the white (regular) pasta will not survive a freeze/thaw as well. But I can now attest to the fact that the whole wheat pasta freezes just fine.

Jennifer
http://www.jenipurr.com

Hi Everybody...

I do a lot of freezing of prepared meals. I have no trouble with pasta or rice when it's been frozen. Sometimes potatoes aren't quite what I'd like them to be, but as long as their is some kind of 'gravy' they'll usually do.

Kari- for your grandmother, here's what I do for a lot of my frozen meals. There are several ways to do it. The first one is to freeze something in a zip lock bag or a small canning jar. This is for things that have lots of liquid in them, so there is not a lot of air to cause freezer burning. Soups, veggies in lots of juice (like turnip greens, or rutabagas, or field peas) and sauces that are thin enough to fill in work really well (cream sauces, sweet n sour sauces, light tomatoe sauces). If you use jars, you need to leave a good bit of 'head' room for it to expand when it freezes, and I have better luck when I use 8 and 12 oz canning jars, or the wide mouth 16 oz jars. (It helps the freezing process if the food is cold before you put it in the freezer.) A big plus for ziplocks is that you don't have to remember to defrost anything---you just peel the bag off and set the frozen thing in a small corningwear dish and microwave. Jars should be defrosted first. (I don't recommend reheating in jars....they can get too hot and hard to handle)

Another thing I love to do is make "mini meal kits". I use a vacuum sealer to seal small bags that I take to work. (see Tammy's page about how she makes small bags for her lunch meat) I have little bags of sliced roast beef, ham, roasted and boiled chicken, tamales, buritos, chinese foods from resturants, etc. Then I have little bags (or containers) of side items...rice, corn, sweet potatoes, pastas, etc. Same thing with veggies...cooked spinach, carrots, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, squash. The way I get these little packets of food, is, cook the food to put up, put it into small food saver bags, pull a very gentle vacuum on it, seal it and throw it into a cooler that is filled with ice and water to stop it from cooking any further. If you do it this way, instead of waiting till after a meal, it tastes much better and fresher. For veggies or starches, I usually stop cooking it just before I think it's really done perfectly. (I have been known to add a little dab of butter to it too, before I seal it.)

I make these little packets of food and put them in the freezers. If you don't mark what they are, sometimes you can end up with some intersting combos. When you get ready to eat, you pick out what you want and reheat. You can microwave them all, but it is very important to reheat these foods at lower settings so they don't get overcooked. This is the the most important thing.....it took me a long time to teach my grandmother to use her microwave at 40 or 50% power for 4 or 6 or 8 minutes, instead of just nuking it for 2 minutes on high. ((I really prefer to do it another way though....I have a crock pot at work that I fill up with hot water and turn on high. I put my little bags in it, unopened, and by lunch they are hot and wonderful.)) (this method works really great for scrambled eggs and sausage too!)

I have also frozen sandwiches by placing the meat between the bread with no condiments or veggie stuff, and wrapping it tightly in foil before freezing. Let the sandwich come to room temp, open it up and decorate it with mayo, cheese, lettuce and tomato....and it's great. Cooked hamburger patties freeze really well, warm them up and put in a bun, and they taste great! We do pulled pork sandwiches too. (some things don't do well after freezing....hardboiled eggs and mayo are two I especially dislike)

Breads, rolls, muffins, cake, fruit breads all freeze great too. Just be sure and let them cool completely before you freeze them, then wrap tightly with foil, or they will be soggy. (PS...Grandma's love sweets!)

If you grandmother doesn't have one, I suggest that you or your mom might want to get her a small couter top toaster oven too. I use one to make heated sandwiches, toast breads, biscuits, make 5 or 6 cookies, warm up cornbread sticks and muffins, breakfast muffins and bagels, reheat left over pizza, toast up slices of cake and fruit bread. I really love mine and use it a lot.

It is really kind of you and your mom to think of these things for your grandmother....I know she appreciates it.

You should pull anything not eaten in 4 to 6 weeks, and use it up right away, (or feed it to animals). From experience, I want to sugget that you don't be offended if something didn't get eaten. My grandmother would just forget to eat sometimes, or might not eat as much as we put in the servings so she'd get two or three meals out of it instead of the one we intended for her. Rotating the food out means it will be fresh and tasty for her and you will be able to monitor her health a little bit.

Also, since you said that you were not as accomplished a cook as you would like to be, don't let this time slip past you to learn some of the special things your grandmother can teach you. I can not tell you how much I treasure the memories I have of cooking and learning from my grandmothers. Don't let that get away from you....grab it while you can. You will appreciate it so much later in life. I miss my grandmothers everyday. And I think of them every time I cook.

yours,
Debbie J

I am not sure if it would help or not, but I have been doing a freezer meal series on and off for a while now on my blog.

I like to freeze meals "raw" so that they taste fresh the day I serve them to my family.

Except for meatballs of course!

Kristy

Phil 2:9-11
http://mrspear.blogspot.com/

Everyone has already made some good comments!! I just did a post on my blog about this subject for kitchen tips tuesday. You can find it here...http://glimpseofsonshine.blogspot.com/2008/01/kitchen-tip-tuesdays_08.html

Sonshine
http://glimpseofsonshine.blogspot.com/

Can I suggest a company called Dine Wise? It may not be the solution for everyone, but they put together special diet meals (like low sodium, diabetic or heart healthy, etc)into frozen entrees and deliver them right to your door. You can customize them to avoid garlic, onions, or other foods not well tolerated. We've used them for our family who are far away and are unable to cook for themselves. The meals are delicious and while it can be a little more expenseive than buying the groceries and making and freezing them, it is a comfort to know a loved one is getting the nutrition they need. No, I'm not a rep for the company, I just know it has really worked for us.

This is more of an answer to Kari's question.
First of all, what a kind and thoughtful thing to prepare meals for your grandmother.

Although I am not a major freezer cooker, since I started working and bring my lunch to work everyday, I have frozen many many meals and reheated them in a microwave!
The first lesson is to always wait for the food you have cooked to be completely cold before you freeze it. From my experience any bread (sweet or savoury), muffin, pitta, etc will freeze and thaw perfectly. Pastry on the other hand (fruit pies, vegetable pies, etc, whether individual size or large ones), once cooked, will freeze and thaw just fine, but won't taste so good if reheated in a microwave (although they'll be fine if reheated in an oven).
Rice and pasta, alone or cooked with sauce and/or vegetables are also great. I once made a large batch of macaroni and cheese that I froze in individual portions that I would take for lunch with leftover veggies. I've also done this with lasagna.
Anything like soups, stews, etc is also great.
Compote (i don't know if you have this in the US, it's fruits either just one type or a mix, cooked with a little bit of sugar and water until soft) is a great and healthy dessert/snack, that can also be frozen. It would probably be appropriate for your grandmother if she can't eat anything too hard.

Regarding potatoes,I find they are fine if in a stew/soup but not so good on their own. I once froze mashed potatoes and didn't think it was so good once reheated after freezing.

One last thing, once you start freezing a lot, or freezing many different things, remember to label them, especially if you're note the one who is going to eat them. Once frozen, food looks different and it will become very difficult to tell one soup fron another!

Hope this helps a little. And don't worry about not being a perfect cook. I only really started to cook once I left home and am amazed by the progress I have made in very little time even if I say so myself :)

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