As a writer, you know how precious your writing time is. And when you’re participating in NaNoWriMo, every minute at the keyboard is worth its weight in gold!
So what if I said you could find boatloads of writing time for NaNoWriMo in your freezer?
With freezer meals!
As I demonstrated with my napkin math in last week’s post, I can find sixteen hours (at least!) of extra writing time for NaNoWriMo by going through a few steps to prepare now.
The first step, which I covered in depth last week, is to create a meal plan for the entire month of November. I also shared a peek at my own meal plan (below) and walked you through how to create yours with my NaNoWriMo 2020 Menu spreadsheet. (Missed the post? Click the menu below to catch up!)
Planning your menus now will save you hours in November, but you’ll find the most extra writing time in your freezer. Preparing a stash of freezer meals ahead of time will get you in and out of the kitchen in a dash all month long. And, on top of that, having a pile of meals already prepped and ready to go frees your mind to focus on your novel rather than your next meal.
I’ll share my tips and tools for prepping freezer meals below. But first, let’s go over some general time-saving tips that will cut your kitchen time during NaNoWriMo whether you use freezer meals or not.
To get you out of the kitchen and back to your keyboard as quickly as possible, use a few (or all) of these time-saving tips this November:
- Chop your ingredients for the week ahead of time. Or, if your budget allows, purchase these items already chopped.
- Make grab-and-go lunches at the beginning of each week. Even if you’re working or schooling from home, having lunch ready to go is a real time-saver. (I use these bento-style boxes, and they’re fabulous!)
- Cook any ground meats or bacon you’ll be using that week and store in the fridge until needed. (You can do this with whole cuts of meat, as well, but I find it adversely affects the texture and flavor.)
- Substitute store-bought rotisserie chicken for raw chicken in recipes. This saves time AND adds unbeatable flavor.
- Use your Crock Pot and Instant Pot as often as possible. And to make cleanup easier, you may want to invest in this non-stick, ceramic inner pot for your Instant Pot.
- Use packaged foods (boxed mashed potatoes, frozen biscuits, pancake mix, etc.) instead of homemade.
- Use bottled sauces and marinades instead of making them fresh. (My family loves Mr. Yoshida’s Original Gourmet Sauce on EVERYTHING – stir fry, pork roast, chicken breast, even baby back ribs!)
- Substitute a bagged salad kit for any time-intensive side dishes you usually make.
- When cooking, double (or triple) your recipes then pack up the leftovers for lunches or freeze for another time.
If you want to shave major time off your kitchen duties this November, then freezer meals are the way to go! Prepping them may take a few hours, but the time they’ll save you during NaNoWriMo makes all the work worthwhile. And, as a bonus, buying and cooking in bulk can save you a bunch of money!
My meal plan for NaNoWriMo includes twenty-three freezer meals. They save me oodles of time in the kitchen, and, well, they’re just darn tasty! Most of the freezer meals and quick dinners I’m making this November are pinned on my NaNoWriMo Meal Planning board on Pinterest. All but a few of these recipes have been family-tested and approved, so if you’re looking for inspiration, then this is a good place to start.
Making a batch of freezer meals isn’t hard, necessarily, but it does require a little bit of planning and a few hours of your time. To make your meal prep day go as smooth as buttah, just follow these easy steps:
1. Make a master grocery list.
With your meal plan in hand, jot down all of the ingredients you need for each freezer meal on your menu. Be sure to note the quantity or weight needed after each item. When you’re done, go through your list again to tally up how much you need of each ingredient, combining any duplicates into just one item on your list.
Also, be prepared for this grocery bill to be much higher than usual. The upfront cost stings a bit, but having a freezer full of meals will reduce your grocery bills throughout November. So the cost really does balance out in the end, and you may even come out ahead!
2. Collect your supplies.
On meal prep day, you’ll need to have all the usual suspects on hand — pots, pans, measuring cups, cutting boards, knives, etc.
Oh, and coffee. Can’t forget the coffee!
You’ll also need:
- One-gallon Freezer Bags
Freezer bags are ideal because they allow you to freeze your meals flat then stack them, conserving space in your freezer. (And leave it to Amazon to sell Ziploc freezer bags for less than my grocery store!)
Another perk of freezing meals flat is that they can be thawed fairly quickly and evenly in a sink full of lukewarm water. Y’know, in case you forget to put your meal in the fridge to thaw overnight.
Not that I’ve ever done that…
- Permanent Marker
Before filling your freezer bags, use a permanent marker to write the name of the dish and the cooking instructions on the outside of the bag. I highly recommend using a metallic Sharpie for this because writing done with regular Sharpies (of any color) can be difficult to see once the bag is full of food.
Cute freezer labels are all the rage these days, and I love them as much as the next girl. But permanent marker works best for freezer meals because the writing won’t come off…not even in a sink full of lukewarm water.
- Bag Holders
Y’all! I can’t get enough of these bag holders! This is the first year I’ve used them, and they are amazing!
Baggy Rack bag holders prop your freezer bags upright and hold the flaps open wide so you can add ingredients without making a mess. They look pretty funky, but if you’ve ever had a freezer bag flop over and spill marinade and raw meat juices all over the place (shudder), then you’ll immediately see their value.
The rest of you…trust me. Bag holders are life-changing. (And cheap!) And they make pretty awesome bag drying racks, too!
3. Make room in your freezer.
Before you begin meal prep, make sure to clear some space in your freezer. As I mentioned above, freezing your meals flat allows you to stack them and conserve freezer space. Or if you have a bottom freezer drawer, then you can stand your frozen meals upright for easy access…like a card catalog of food. (Yep…totally dating myself there!!)
4. Enlist helpers.
Recruiting an army of little assistants to help you on meal prep day can cut your prep time dramatically. With meats to brown, a mountain of cans to open, and a bounty of veggies to chop, the more hands on deck, the better!
Kids of any age can get in on the action. Teens are especially helpful with chopping ingredients and browning meats, but even younger kids can help measure and pour ingredients into the bags. And if you’re a homeschool family, then this totally counts for school!
Your kids (and even hubby) may grumble a bit at first, but a meal prep marathon can actually be a fun family event. Listen to a great audiobook, schedule a dance break every fifteen minutes to get the wiggles out, or have one of the kids call out trivia questions as the rest of you work.
Oh, and don’t forget snacks! Plying your little helpers with snacks keeps them happy, too.
5. Prep in batches.
To save yourself time, prep your ingredients in batches.
For instance, if you’re using bell peppers in multiple recipes, then chop all of the peppers at once and keep them in a bowl until you’re ready to measure them out into individual bags. Open and drain all canned goods, shred all of the cheese, cut all of the meats…well, you get the idea.
This part of your meal preparation takes the longest. But once all of the ingredients are prepped and ready to go, then filling the freezer bags goes by in a flash. And it is such a satisfying feeling to see those bags stacking up!
6. Freeze in stages.
When your freezer bags are full, it may be tempting to just stack them in the freezer and call it a day. (And a very successful day, at that!) But if your ingredients are still warm – or even room temp – then it will take several hours for these meals to actually freeze. And meals that aren’t frozen properly can lead to food poisoning.
To ensure that your meals are frozen safely, it’s best to freeze them in stages. When my bags are full, I lay two of them side by side on a cookie sheet and place it in the freezer. The rest of the meals chill out together in the fridge while the first two are freezing. A couple of hours later, I’ll transfer two more meals from the fridge to the freezer. This process continues until all of the bags are in the freezer.
This takes more time and attention than dumping all of the meals in the freezer at once. But the peace of mind it gives me makes the extra step worthwhile.
Cooking Your Freezer Meals
Bagged freezer meals must be thawed completely before cooking. You’ll need to transfer your meal from the freezer to the fridge at least 24 hours in advance to give it time to thaw.
If you forget to take your meal out of the freezer the night before, then pop the bag in a sink full of lukewarm water to thaw. Set a timer for thirty minutes, and when it goes off, drain the sink and refill it with more water. Then flip the bag over and let it soak for another thirty minutes or until completely thawed.
Most freezer meals are designed to be cooked in an Instant Pot or Crock Pot. I use both and honestly love them equally. (There are several models of each, but these photos show the ones that get a workout in my house!)
For someone who works outside of the home, an Instant Pot is ideal because it can cook a meal in mere minutes! Often, in the time it takes to prep any side dishes, your main dish will be done cooking!
If you’re home during the day, then a Crock Pot is an excellent choice. Even if your days are busy — homeschooling or working from home, for instance — you can quickly add your freezer meal to the slow cooker at lunch time. Then your Crock Pot will cook your meal nice and slow, filling your house with the most amazing aroma for hours! (There isn’t a Yankee Candle in the world that can beat the smell of a pot roast simmering in a Crock Pot!)
In my opinion, both appliances are invaluable in the kitchen, especially if you cook for a family. But if I had to choose just one, then I would go with the Instant Pot. I often get so wrapped up in my work I don’t even think about dinner until 5 pm (ahem…or later), so the Instant Pot’s ability to get a meal on the table fast is a real life-saver for me!
Penny for Your Thoughts…
Have you ever made freezer meals? What are some of your favorites? Share them in the comments below!
In next week’s post, I’ll give you a few tips to help you conquer NaNoWriMo like a boss! Until then, buckle up, buttercup, and let’s write!
In case you missed it: Last week, I shared how to create a meal plan for NaNoWriMo and a free spreadsheet to help you create your own November menu! Think it’s too late to do this before NaNo? It’ll take some doing, my friend, but it’s not too late! Click the link and get started today!