Polly Conner and Rachel Tiemeyer, two mothers and avid home cooks, are masters of the practical art of freezer cooking.
The duo, based in Columbia, Missouri, founded the blog Thriving Home in an effort to help parents maximize their efficiency in the kitchen. The blog features articles on home cooking, and in particular freezer cooking: preparing meals in advance and storing them in the freezer, to equip you for quick and easy dinners down the road.
They have also published two cookbooks, “From Freezer to Table” and “From Freezer to Cooker.”
“We absolutely believe freezer meals can taste just like a fresh meal,” Tiemeyer said. “I think that blows people’s minds sometimes, because when you think of freezer food, you think of those old-school T.V. dinners that are kind of bland, beige, and mushy.”
I had an opportunity to speak with Conner and Tiemeyer about how to make delicious freezer meals and get the most out of your freezer.
Saving Time, Money, and Sanity
Why freezer cook? Making extra meals to freeze for later is a huge time saver in the long run.
“If you already have all your dishes out, why not prep two meals at once and pop one in the freezer before you cook it?” Conner said. “That way, you have it for a couple weeks down the road.”
Freezer cooking is also a money saver because home cooks can buy ingredients in bulk, often at cheaper prices, since they know they will use them up at once.
Then, when dinner time comes, you can get a meal from the freezer to the table in moments with minimal work, saving you extra stress.
Not having to be entirely focused on making dinner will make your life easier, and also allows you to spend more of that saved time with your family, Conner pointed out.
What Freezes Well (or Not)
Conner and Tiemeyer have found that a surprising diversity of food works well for the freezer; you just need to know some tips and techniques to do it well.
“We think freezer food can taste just like fresh food if you do some things right,” Tiemeyer said.
The first question is whether or not a recipe can be frozen. Conner and Tiemeyer have learned a lot through trial and error.
Soups, casseroles, and meats and marinades, such as a pot roast in a sauce or chicken breast in a marinade, all freeze incredibly well.
For most meals, Conner and Tiemeyer recommend preparing them right up until the point of cooking, and then freezing them. When you’re ready to cook, simply defrost a meal and toss it in the oven, on the stove, or in a slow cooker or Instant Pot. Some meals, or components of them, can even be cooked directly from the freezer.
Soup is an exception: you’ll want to fully cook it before freezing. Soup can be made in a big batch, and then frozen in individual or large portions. Once it’s defrosted and reheated, it’s ready to serve.
Breakfast and baked goods also keep well in the freezer. Make a few extra batches of waffles or pancakes to freeze, for instance, and you’ll have breakfast ready to go for the week ahead. The same thing goes for muffins and scones. All you have to do is pop them in the microwave or toaster oven and enjoy.
As for foods that don’t do well in the freezer, avoid cooked pastas and vegetables or fruits with a high water content.
Safety and Quality
It’s usually best to freeze a meal right before the cooking step, instead of fully cooking it first, to maintain the best flavor and texture.
Diligently packaging your meals is also crucial. Plastic wrap, aluminum foil, gallon-size BPA-free freezer bags, and airtight glass containers all work well. Pack meals tightly, pressing out excess air, and use multiple layers if necessary.
“You’re trying to reduce the air that meets the food. That way ice crystals don’t form, and you reduce the risk of freezer burn,” Tiemeyer explained.
When using glass containers, make sure they are freezer-safe, and leave at least one inch of headspace to prevent the glass from cracking or exploding as the contents expand in the freezer.
Conner and Tiemeyer and the USDA recommend freezing food at zero degrees F, which ensures that it is safe to eat indefinitely, but for best quality, Conner and Tiemeyer recommend eating a freezer meal within three months.
Defrost meals in the fridge for 24–48 hours. If a meal is wrapped tightly, it can be placed in a cold water bath to thaw. Change the water out every 30 minutes, and the meal will defrost in just a few hours. Instant Pots also work well, and if you’re shorter on time, you can use a microwave.
Conner loves Mexican cuisine, and tortilla soup is one of her go-to freezer meals. Pork tenderloin, carnitas, and meatballs are other dinnertime staples in her household. Conner also makes and freezes a lot of baked goods and sweets, such as oatmeal pancakes and pumpkin or banana chocolate-chip muffins.
Tiemeyer loves their Cuban pulled pork sandwiches, cilantro lime chicken, and chicken taquitos.
Conner and Tiemeyer make freezer meals half of the week, and nobody would ever guess they came from the freezer, they said.
“I love it when my husband asks me, ‘Wait, this is a freezer meal?'” Conner said. “That’s the ultimate compliment, because he’s a meat and potatoes kind of guy. It’s fun to surprise people with how good freezer meals can actually be.”