Need advice on make-ahead meals, saving money & buying a freezer

We used to have a chest freezer we could use, but it belonged to someone who moved out of our house. We’re trying to save money, and I’ve heard that the make-ahead meal thing can save lots of money. (There are several books about spending one weekend a month cooking meals for the whole month, which you put in the freezer and then pull out and bake one a night.) I’m thinking that the normal freezer compartment of my fridge is not going to hold a month’s worth of meals, or even two-weeks worth. We found a place that has good deals on reconditioned appliances, and we can pick up a 17 cubic footer for around $150.

Previously, we were able to do things like buy 8 turkeys when they were on sale for $4-5 a piece and store them in the freezer, or get 20 lbs ground beef for $1 per pound. Now we only have the regular freezer. To give a rough idea of our food costs–We eat most meals at home, most of the time prepared from scratch, and go out maybe twice a month, if that. Now we have two adults (although my husband really eats barely anything), a teenage boy and a baby (still on formula and baby food) every day, and a 9 year old and a 4 year old on weekends. Both girls. (The 4 year old eats like a bird, but the 9 year old, I think, eats more than the teenager-- as long as it’s junk*.)

Has anyone ever done this? Do the meals get boring? Are they all casseroles and lasagnas? Does it really save money? Would it be cost-effective to get a freezer in order to do this? Any others tips on cheap, yet nutritious and tasty meals?

*Anything approching healthy she turns up her nose at. At their mother’s house, they are used to eating out nearly every night and having tons of sugary, fatty junk food when not at a restaurant. I quickly disabused them of the notion that I am a short-order cook. If they don’t eat a reasonable amount of the meals I make them, they get nothing else until the next regular meal. If they don’t like what I fix-- tough. I generally try to not have things that are very spicy or have things I know they can’t stand in them when they are here. They usually complain anyway.

IME, it doesn’t really save money if you’re already eating at home, since you’re already buying the ingredients, etc. It does save time, though, since you can re-heat them, instead of cooking from scratch at every meal.

That said, we don’t go out all that often, either, but I don’t usually have the time to invest in cooking ahead. I usually rely on the meat-vegetable-starch formula, which usually works. I fix a meat entree like chicken with a vegetable (fresh or frozen; I loathe canned and refuse to have so much as a can of peas in my kitchen.) and a starch like rice or potatoes or stuffing or whatever. It does take some thought to take the meat out of the freezer in the morning to let it thaw out, but the rest is just a matter of what’s there. :shrug:


Most curries freeze well, but for ultra-reliable results, stick to chicken. And if the kids are awkward about ‘unusual’ stuff, just stick to a bit of cumin, coriander, ginger and turmeric, and they won’t complain.
As for elaborations on the basic stew or casserole - try beef in Guinness, or chicken in white wine…all cooked the same way, in whatever quantity you need, and they all freeze fine. (And they’ve all non-alcoholic once they’ve out of the oven!)
(Word of warning about a large freezer space - don’t pack it all at once. The stuff in the centre won’t freeze for days. Pack around the outside for your first load, and then work inwards.)

The only time I ever systematically did it was when I was pregnant and preparing for the first couple of weeks home with the baby. Yes, it was mostly lasagne and casseroles, although I also did some enchiladas, curries and soups. Another great thing to freeze is muffins and quick breads. It’s just as easy to make a double or triple batch and put some away. When I’m really organized, I also make multiple batches of pizza dough. You can put one portion in a ziplock bag and freeze it. When you are ready to use it just let it thaw and start to rise a bit.

This was just with my regular freezer, though. We had a small chest freezer for a while, but I found it just got filled up with stuff I was virtuously going to use someday (homemade chicken broth, pumpkin puree, etc.) but never got around to, because they were too much trouble to defrost. We don’t eat a great deal of meat, though.

French toast freezes beautifuly. I don’t do the make-ahead meals for dinner but I’ll make an entire loaf of bread into french toast, package in meal portions and it makes a quick yummy breakfast. Been thinking about experimenting with making some bacon or sausage and frezing along with.

Big freezer is good if you are into making your own babyfood too. I did aobut half jarred, half homemade, and was glad to have all the space in the freezer for the ice cubes of food.

Not direct advise, but indirectly this site from might help, as might the links on this page

About half the space in our chest freezer is given over to home-grown produce - three kinds of beans, gooseberries, plus wild blackberries, etc. One quarter is stocked with sliced bread and the remaining space is crammed with meat. I try not to buy meat unless it is on special offer or reduced to clear, but then I buy loads. If I buy a large pack of, say, fresh chicken drumsticks, I’ll separate them into meal-sized bags before freezing, otherwise they all have to be thawed and we end up eating more than we really need to.

The only things I’ve cooked to freeze is some portions of ratatatatouille from when we had a glut of courgettes.

We use this group. They are located at several culinary schools and prepare about 12 (huge) meals for 175 bucks. Sounds like a lot of $$, but we end up with roughly 12 dinners (for 4) and 12 lunches (for 2) or about 60-70 small meals for our trouble. The customer goes to their kitchen and helps prepare it (you get to choose what combinations, etc.) and comes home with a large cooler full of frozen meals. Each one has a label explaining what it is and how to prepare it (usually just defrosting/heating instructions). It all fits in the freezer portion of our fridge.

Don’t know whether a similar business is near you (don’t know your location) but it’s worth checking out.

I’ve discovered pancakes freeze rather well.

I’m not sure if this is what you’re looking for, but you know those complete meals in a box? You can get chicken and biscuits, or chicken and dumplings, that sort of thing. Those freeze really well. I’ll spend all day Sunday cooking up those, then I just divvy them up between single serving containers and freeze 'em. I’ve never really had a lot of luck freezing pasta and sauce. It never tastes right when I reheat it. Anyone have any tips?

I’d like to offer an alternative to making and freezing whole meals ahead of time. While I do that I also cook meats (chicken mostly) ahead of time, and then freeze portions so that they’re ready for use in cooking, where I just have to thaw the cooked meat, add veggies and starch, and have a meal - less thaw time than trying to quick thaw a whole block of stew/casserole, and more flexible. Also for stir-fry I buy calf hearts in bulk (and they start out cheap: usually less than cheap ground beef price, and extremely lean once you clean and prepare it.) and then clean the meat, cut it into stir-fry appropriate sized chunks, and freeze, again in bags with one meal’s worth of meat in each bag. Take these out in the morning, and they’re thawed for dinner, and you just have to make rice, add your choice of veggies and sauce and stir fry.

As for freezable casseroles, lasagne is a good choice, so are pasta bakes - basically same ingredients as lasagne, without lasagne noodles, just some kind of pasta, all mixed together. Don’t cook ahead of time, just pop into the oven frozen and cook.

I don’t know that you’ll save money or time over all, but by preparing things when you have spare time (laundry day is always good for this, in my mind) you will save time on those days when time is tight.

Good luck!

I will sometimes spend a day making casseroles, and I’ll triple or quadruple the recipes, and freeze the extras for the freezer. I have a couple of old stand-by recipes that all freeze well, and it’s nice to know there’s always something in there that I can pull out in the morning for dinner.
I’ll also buy a lot of meat (ground beef, chicken breasts or thighs) when it’s on sale, and re-pack it in meal-size portions (in freezer-style Ziplocs) so I can quickly run down and pull out something in the morning for dinner.

My take on this… When my kids would turn their noses up at dinner, they had a choice. They could eat what was offered, or they could have a bowl of Cheerioes (and only Cheerios - not Chocolate-Frosted Sugar Bombs). Like you, I am not a short-order cook. At the same time, I didn’t want them going hungry, especially if it was dinner. I didn’t want them not eating till breakfast, and they weren’t allowed to not eat dinner and then have snacks later while watching TV.