Freezer Meal Party, 4-13-2015

In the fall of 2014 my daughter, daughters-in-law, and I decided to have a meal exchange and help each other have some pre-made meals in the freezer. That was a huge success, and in the winter of that year we did a Full-Blown Freezer Meal Party.   

Again, it went over really well, and there were so many times we were grateful to be able to not have to cook but to just pull something out of the freezer.  it was also really economical!

My husband’s parents and siblings are coming for a visit in May, So we went at it again, revised our processes a little bit, and changed up the menu.  A couple of things that we really raved over last time– the honey mustard chicken and the Italian meatballs– were reprised in this this Freezer Meal Party for April 2015.

For a total cost of $56.94 per family, and an average main dish costing $3.79, we came away with 15 main dishes to put in our freezers.  We shopped very frugally, taking advantage of Aldi for most of the food, and then Gordon Food Service for the meats and freezer containers.

These are the meals and their corresponding recipe links:

6 packages of High Fiber Italian Meatballs (recipe below)

3 packages of Honey Mustard Chicken

2 Packages of Pulled Pork Barbecue (unpublished family recipe; similar to this one)

2 pans of Taco Bake casserole

2 pans of Loaded Baked Potato casserole

ingredients-allshopping-listThis is what all the ingredients look like, spread out on my kitchen table.  Enough to make 15 main dishes for 5 families of 4.  Granddaughter not included.  😉  And our shopping list.  We’d forgotten to take a picture of it before crossing things off the list at the store.

loaded-baked-potato-casseroWe learned alot about doing the foil pans assembly line style.  The taco bake and the layered baked potato got that treatment, getting each layer put in at the same time rather than filling one pan before moving on to another.  Cooking 6 pounds of bacon for the loaded baked potato and the honey mustard chicken took a surprisingly long time.

honey-mustard-chicken-4Speaking of honey mustard chicken, our oldest granddaughter (3 years old as of this writing) got her first taste of working a freezer meal party.  She helped stir the sauce with her aunt supervising, and helped wash potatoes with me supervising.

honey-mustard-chicken-3honey-mustard-chicken-2Oh, the sauce.  This stuff is addicting.  Incredibly simple, just yellow mustard and honey.  But such complementary flavors.  Because the chicken is put in the sauce raw, it marinates and offers the versatility of different methods of cooking this dish, all equally easy:  crock pot, stove top, or oven.  It can be served alone or over rice, pasta, vegetables– you name it.

Next was the Italian meatballs! We found this one to be also extremely versatile, and something that in spite of the seasoning marking it as an Italian dish, it’s mild enough that it can be introduced into a variety of sauces.  Savory sauce, ketchup, marinara, and even french onion soup.

mixing-meatballs

rolling-meantballs

I’ve been adding more fiber to my diet lately, and one of the staples for that is steel cut oats.  My daughter had wondered if replacing the cracker crumbs in the meatballs with oats would achieve two goals:  one, improving the fiber in the meatballs, and two, I’m gluten sensitive so avoiding wheat products when I can is a good thing.

Here’s the recipe for the meatballs:

Servings: 4

1 pound ground beef (we used 80/20)

1 pound ground pork sausage

2 whole large eggs

1 cup steel cut oats, dry

2 tbsp Italian seasoning (more or less, to taste)

Salt and pepper, to taste

Optional to add even more fiber:  chia seeds, ground flax seeds, etc.  Just add more egg to the mix to keep the meatballs from getting dry and crumbly.

tools:  wax paper or freezer paper, a 1.5 – 2-inch cookie scooper, broiling pan, and paper towels

Directions:  mix the eggs and oats (and optional ingredients, if desired) together well, and set aside for about 30 minutes.  This allows the oats to soften a bit and makes their chewy texture a little less obvious in the finished meatballs. While that mix is sitting, it’ll create some bubbles.  Just give it a stir, it’s not a problem at all.

Meanwhile, mix all the rest of the ingredients together in a very large bowl.  After the 30 minutes is up, add the egg and oats mixture to the meat, and stir it all together very well.  It’s easiest to do this with your hands!

Use the cookie scoop to gather up some of the mix, and level off the scoop.  You can drop this right onto your broiling pan if you want, but the meatballs won’t be totally round that way.  It’s up to you.  Otherwise, release the scoops of meat mixture onto the wax paper or freezer paper so that the scoops can be rolled between your hands to form consistently round balls.  Place the balls on your broiling pan, directly over the drip holes.  Now if you don’t have a broiling pan, a cookie sheet or any baking dish will work just fine!  But keep in mind that the meatballs will make some grease as they cook, and that will likely float around in your flat pan.  On the one hand it’s gross, but on the other it also keeps your meatballs from getting dry.  Either way is up to you.

Bake your meatballs for 30 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Drain them on paper towels until cool, and then pack them in a ziplock bag for the freezer.

completed-meals-allhoney-mustard-chicken

After all of our freezer meals were finished, this is what they looked like.  First is the large batch that is everyone’s meals laid out together.  The second photo is of what each person took home.

 

Oldest daughter in law made some labels for us, and created printable photos!

Honey Mustard Chicken labels

Loaded Baked Potato casserole labels

Taco Bake labels

 

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Freezer Meal Party, 10-7-2014

In the fall of 2014, my daughter, daughters-in-law, and I decided to do a meal exchange.  Each of us would make 4 copies of the same main dish (one for each person in the exchange).  This exchange went over really well with our families, and it was nice knowing we’d have a few pre-frozen homemade meals that we could use on days when we didn’t feel like cooking.

A few months later, we decided to up the game a bit, and have a full-blown freezer meal party.  But this time, we’d do all the shopping and preparation together, in one day.  Everyone would get some of each item, same as before.  But instead of only 4 meals, we’d do 17.  Triple the work!  But also more economical. It cost us only about $110.00 per person for the 17 meals.

Each person received the following main dishes, with 4 servings each:

3 turkey breads

3 sausage cheese breads (unpublished family recipe; similar to this one)

2 honey mustard chicken

3 shredded pork barbecue sandwich filling (unpublished family recipe; similar to this one)

3 lasagna (unpublished family recipe; similar to this one)

3 Italian meatballs (unpublished family recipe; similar to this one)

bread-dough-rising

For the turkey and sausage bread loaves, we started with pre-made frozen bread dough.  It’s cheaper to make your own, but for the sake of time and doing all the prep for the meals in one day, we bought the pre-made ones.  Follow package instructions for thawing and rising.

turkey-bread-fillingFor filling the breads, you’ll want to roll them out with a rolling pin, then add your fillings and seasonings. Don’t forget to add lots and lots of cheese.

Fold the sides in lengthwise and pinch them together to completely seal the edges.  Then carefully flip each loaf over so the seam is on the bottom (it’s easier to do with two people). Then add whatever toppings you want on your bread.  The turkey bread uses butter and garlic, yum!

sausage-bread-sealing

turkey-bread-risingHere’s what a dozen turkey breads look like…

After the glaze is on, you’ll want to fold the aluminum foil up around the bread and seal it closed.  Then place each loaf in a 2-gallon ziplock bag to put in the freezer.  This way, the loaves don’t stick together, and you can remove only as many loaves as you need because they’re individually wrapped.

crock-pots-porkThe pork barbecue was the only thing we purchased and started cooking the night before.  We bought pork loin instead of pork butt or shoulder, because it’s leaner.  Just throw it in the crock with some water and onions, turn it on to low, and forget about it for the next 12-14 hours!  The pork just about shreds itself, and all you have to do is drain off any excess liquid (which would make an excellent stock for pork gravy) and add your favorite barbecue sauce.

filling-pork-bagsWe figured the quart freezer bags would be easier to fill if we did this, and it worked great! All you need is a large container that’s taller than it is wide.  Then you can measure the amount of pork filling you want for each bag.  We figured about 3 cups per bag– which is really alot more than 4 people will eat in a single meal, but it makes good leftovers for lunch the next day.  It’s also great for last-minute company.

forming-meatballsThe Italian meatballs went over with our families like gangbusters!  It’s a super simple variation on meatloaf but very versatile. You can add all sorts of sauces to it, anything from savory sauce to marinara to French onion soup! We used a cookie scoop to get evenly sized meatballs, and then baked them in the oven to cook them before freezing.  That makes it easy to just pop a few in the microwave when you really want a filling snack.

baked-meatballs-coolingmeatball-scooper

We did have a little trouble finding an appropriately-sized scoop.  Most of the ones we found were too big.  You want one that’s about 1.5 inches in diameter, maybe 2 inches at the most. Ice cream scoops don’t work as well for this, so keep that in mind.

honey-mustard-chicken-2The honey mustard chicken is another recipe that’s become a favorite with everyone.  Preparation is super simple, and because there isn’t a need to cook anything besides the bacon (or you could use precooked bacon bits for that, if you wanted to), it’s a really quick meal to prep for the freezer.  Just make sure to keep your cheese and bacon separate from the sauce, so that they can go on right at the end of the cooking.

marinara-sauceThe lasagna was next, and we worked the preparation in assembly-line fashion.  First the sauce!  We make our marinara from scratch, which also gave us the bonus of some leftover quart freezer bags of sauce to have for spaghetti.  We could also tailor the sauce to taste and for salt content, which is alot healthier for you.

layering-lasagneWe lined up all the lasagne pans and each person had a job to do, whether it was laying the cooked lasagne noodles, spooning in some sauce, or adding the cottage cheese/mozzarella mixture.  Doing it this way, we were able to make a dozen lasagna pans very quickly.

freezer-meals-stackedWhen everyone was finished, this is how much room it took up in an average freezer above the refrigerator.  It’s surprising how much room is left, because the containers we chose were all similar sized and easily stackable.

We have done another Freezer Meal Party since this one back in December of 2014.  You can take a look here and see how we made 15 family-sized main dishes for $56.94!

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