Preparing meals in advance is a fantastic way to save time and money. We all know this, but it can seem so daunting. How do you start? What do you need?
It is actually easier than you think.
Don’t worry about taking it to an extreme when you first start out. There is no need to jump into the deep end by preparing a month’s worth of meals in a weekend. You may end up doing that – which is great – but don’t start there.
Benefits of Preparing Food in Advance
We are all busy and we can find it hard to juggle daily tasks and still cook proper meals. Preparing food in advance can help a great deal:
- Saves time and money
- Makes cooking multiple dishes for one meal easier and quicker
- Ensures that you always have access to meals or dishes without needing to go to the grocery store
The first place to start is by doubling the size of a recipe you are making anyway. If you are making rice and chicken, simply double the recipes and freeze half of them.
Then, the next time you want that meal, all you do is thaw it and reheat.
Most meals can be cooked and then frozen immediately, some may require storage in a freezer safe bag or container.
One thing that you must watch out for is freezer burn. This occurs when moisture on or in the food freezes into ice crystals. This often ends up messes with the texture and/or flavour of the food. This often happens because the container was improperly sealed, or repeatedly opened and closed.
In order to prevent freezer burn, it is recommended that you seal meals in individual containers. Using a single container for each meal prevents the food from being exposed to air.
Inventory and Labelling
Another thing to remember when freezing food is the inexorable march of time itself. Yes, frozen food can still go bad, just at a slowed rate. This makes keeping track of what’s in the freezer essential. Maintaining a freezer inventory can help a lot.
Labelling your freezer meals is also very important. Nothing is worse than having a bag of… something in the back of the freezer. Day after day, you look through the clear plastic of the freezer bag, pondering the peculiar substance within. You don’t want to open it, because you don’t know what it is. Is it pork? Chicken? Ground beef? A weird kind of soup?
Always make sure you properly label your meals, with a permanent marker or a label.
Freezing One Course or Full Meals
Preparing single courses or dishes is slightly different than preparing full meals. When you prepare a full meal, you cook the entire thing, freeze it, then reheat it when you want to eat. With individual dishes, you have a bit more flexibility.
The most common course to cook and then freeze is side dishes. Things like rice, quinoa, and vegetables are great to cook ahead and freeze.
Although not critical, a good rule of thumb, especially for vegetables, is to cook these foods until they are almost done. Since thawing and reheating frozen food will actually cook the food a bit more, it is a good idea to undercook it before freezing. This will prevent the food from being overcooked or mushy once reheated. Taking 5-10% off the initial cooking time is usually enough.
Note: Only undercook side dishes, not meat dishes.
If you are wondering what or how to freeze individual foods, hop over to Still Tastey. It is a site dedicated to informing about what can be frozen and how to prepare it before freezing. It is an awesome resource and we recommend everyone bookmark it.
Do you make dishes or meals ahead of time and freeze them? Let us and other readers know in the comment section.