As my due date gets closer, I keep hearing the same piece of advice over and over: make freezer meals so you don’t have to cook for the first few weeks.
I spent a lot of time thinking about it, and I struggled to come up with some good freezer meals. When I looked through magazines or cookbooks for good foods to freeze, I mostly came up with lasagnas, casseroles, enchiladas, and soups.
After cleaning out our freezer a few weeks ago, I threw away a lot of soups that we never ate. We don’t eat lasagna, casseroles, and I love enchiladas but Manatee just picks them apart, leaving the tortillas on the plate, the poor dejected husks. And I have to say, I don’t blame them, they often end up soggy and mushy.
I thought about making up some of my own recipes or making batches of taco meat and sloppy joes, but realized that I could make it even simpler. Why not just cook the meat and veggies alone, then I can add whatever sauces I want?
To call this a recipe at this point may be a bit premature. I wanted to share it with you because post-baby, most of my recipes will include this essential building block.
I am not going to lie, there was a lot of prep in making this. If you don’t have a good knife, I would throw the veggies in the food processor to speed it up. This did make a ton of food. I have 11 (2-cup) servings in the freezer and we separated some of it out last week that made about 5-6 (2-cup) servings. So, for all this work, you could potentially have 16-17 (2-cup) meals for two. Not bad, huh?
Frozen Ground Beef and Veggies: Meal Starter
5 pounds carrots, diced
2 pounds onions, diced
3 bunches celery, diced
2 pounds mushrooms, diced
6 bell peppers, diced
4 pounds, ground beef or turkey
It took me about 2 hours to cut all of the veggies. I am not going to lie, that is a lot of time. So, why did I bother? When browning ground beef for anything, I just can’t not add more veggies. It’s such an easy way to get veggies into a dish. It also makes it much more cost effective. We use locally farmed, grass fed beef and that is expensive. By adding all these veggies, we can make 4 lbs of meat last for over a dozen meals. That makes the time worth it for me.
I love my un-sexy electric frying pans. They are perfect for making large batches like this, and yes, I even own two of them! I cooked the veggies on about 350, medium high, and covered them for 8-10 minutes they were softened. Then I added the meat and cooked until the meat was brown, stirring occasionally. I drained the excess fat and then needed to cool it to room temperature.
I needed to run off to swimming so I put all the meat into a large bowl and then made an ice bath in my sink. After 10 minutes, I had no choice but to throw it in the fridge even though it wasn’t room temperature yet. If you have time, I would let it sit in the ice bath for about 30 minutes, and possibly put it into two medium bowls instead of one large one. That would allow the meat to cool much faster.
After it was cool, I scooped it into quart-sized bags. I have found that it works best to fold the top of the bag over your hand and then use the other hand to scoop the meat mixture in the bag. Before sealing it, lay it flat on the counter, squeeze out excess air, and then seal it. Freeze by laying the bag flat on the freezer shelf, then you can store in a plastic shoe box or in flat piles in the freezer.
I will keep you posted on how we use these meal starters in the post-baby weeks. I anticipate sloppy joes, tacos, and Asian lettuce wraps. We’ll see how creative we can get on very little sleep!
What’s your favorite make-ahead freezer meal?