For many states, the new school year began weeks ago. Hard to believe, because it feels like summer vacation just started a few weeks ago. Which, I guess technically, it did. In an effort to prolong the joy, we in the Great Lakes State make it a point to soak up every last bit of summer vacation, (and tourism dollars,) and start school after Labor Day. Our district takes it a step further, luckily for us, and starts two days after Labor Day, which is tomorrow. Yikes!
For me, that means that starting tomorrow, my days will be spent with a flurry of carpool, soccer games/practice, gymnastics, music lessons, school events, appointments, and valiant efforts to keep up all the home tasks. Organizing the home and schedules for a family of six can be a bit daunting, We all loathe being over-scheduled, which is why we only allow each kid to participate in one activity at a time. So the kids aren’t over-scheduled, but I am.
In the spirit of retaining some semblance of my own personal sanity, I am dedicating this week on Comfortably Domestic to making life easier in the midst of chaos. For me, that involves having a well stocked freezer for quick meals and snacks. I’ve tried the whole cook-for-a-day-eat-for-a-month-thing, but I don’t often have the time or inclination to spend an entire day cooking. I do, however, try to work more efficiently when I cook and shop, by doubling up, and freezing some things. Anything that makes it easier for me to quickly get a home cooked meal on the table on a busy weeknight is a good thing.
We are fortunate to have a stand up freezer in our house, so I have a lot of freezer space. However, you can incorporate any or all of these ideas and still fit them in a standard freezer–I did it for years!
This is an actual photo of the contents of my freezer as of this morning. Just keepin’ it real.
Top 12 Things to Keep in the Freezer to Make Life Easier:
- Rotisserie Chickens. This is one of the few things that I buy for “ready made” convenience. I buy a couple when they are on sale–usually the sale price is less than buying a whole chicken and roasting it myself. I keep one whole for a complete meal, and I pick the meat off of the other one and divide it into portions for quick additions to salads, stir fry, pasta, pot pie, etc. You can also freeze the picked carcass to make soup and stock.
- Homemade muffins, quick breads, biscuits, or dinner rolls. These are great things to have on hand to round out a meal. Pair the muffins or biscuits with yogurt or a smoothie in the morning for a quick breakfast, or serve biscuits or rolls on the side of just about any meal for a little added comfort to the meal.
- Meat frozen in the marinade. This is one of my favorite shortcuts. Years ago, I realized that I tended to put certain meats in the same basic marinades: chicken in a simple lemon-garlic marinade, or spicy for fajitas, flank steak in a spicy or Asian-inspired marinade, etc. By freezing meats in the marinade, all I have to do is thaw the meat in the fridge overnight, and it will be ready to go for dinner the next day. This is especially handy for tenderizing tougher cuts of meat, like flank steak and roasts. Heck, use a bottled marinade, if you are into that sort of thing.
- Boneless/skinless chicken breasts, pounded flat. The chicken cooks faster, and I can use less of it to stretch and feed more people if necessary.
- Cooked/Browned ground beef/turkey/pork. I buy ground meats in bulk, then spend a half an hour cooking/browning them when I get home. I divide the browned meat equally into quart sized freezer bags, e.g.; 5 pounds of uncooked ground meat=5 bags of browned meat in the freezer. Come dinner time, I can thaw a bag in a pot with a jar of marinara sauce for a quick spaghetti dinner, reheat it in a pan with taco seasoning, or add it to other dishes.
- Soups/Stews/Sauces. I often double a batch of soup, and freeze half for a quick meal, later. Pair it with a frozen biscuit, and dinner is done. I also make pasta sauce in bulk for future meals. Liquids can be easily frozen flat in zippered freezer bags, then stored upright, like books on a shelf, for an efficient use of freezer space.
- Ripe bananas in the skin. They turn brown and soften a bit, but they are perfect for making banana bread,or added to pancake or waffle batter. Just thaw on the counter for 15 minutes, snip the top off of the skin, and squeeze out the fruit. No need to mash, just a quick stir will do.
- Frozen berries/fruit, either store bought, from the farmer’s market, or picked fresh. Great for additions to pancakes, muffins, quick bread, smoothies, or thawed for ice cream topping or pies. To freeze fresh berries, line a baking sheet with waxed paper. Place berries on the sheet in a single layer. Freeze for several hours, then transfer to a freezer bag.
- Cookie dough. Sometimes I freeze half a batch of cookie dough when I make cookies. The benefits are two-fold: 1) I don’t eat a full batch of cookies myself, and 2) I can whip up a batch of cookies at a moments notice when someone is having a bad day, or needs to bring a treat to school.
- Whipped cream and leftover frosting. For quick dessert additions or to fix many a baking gaffe.
- Pizza dough. I make my own, and after it rises, I put the dough ball into a freezer bag. To use, I take it out of the freezer first thing in the morning, put it in a lightly oiled bowl, turn to coat the dough, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and a clean kitchen towel. Then I leave it on the counter all day. The dough is ready to make pizza, fococcia bread, calzone or whatever by dinner time.
- A lasagna, casserole, or any other complete meal that I can thaw overnight in the refrigerator and bake the next day. If you are going through the effort to make it, double the recipe and put one in the freezer for another day.
BONUS: My BFF Julie likes to spend an hour or so making subs and PB & J sandwiches for school lunches. She freezes the sandwiches individually, then pops them in her kids’ lunch bags in the morning–they’re thawed by lunch time.
Do you have any “must haves” in your freezer that make your life easier? Tell me about it in the comments section. I’d love to hear about it!