Well it has been 30 days, and I am here to give you my honest full review of taking a month off from cooking and feeding my family 30 days worth of freezer meals I made one Sunday afternoon in April. Spoiler alert: this changed my life. Check out the good, the bad, and what’s next below.
As a recap, I was in a weekday dinner rut, bouncing back and forth between living off of take out, spaghetti, and cooking a nice weekday meal while simultaneously sacrificing my small window of time with my family. May is one of our busiest months of the year, so I decided it was the perfect time to try a Pinterest worthy freezer challenge: pre-make 30 days worth of dinner, and freeze. It was important the recipes I chose remained kid friendly, mostly healthy, freezer friendly, and most importantly was real everyday food (we are not a casserole type of family). For a full overview of what I made and how I made it all in one day, you can check out my original blog post here.
My spoiler alert said it all: this changed my life. I cannot express how happy I am that I did this, and the impact it had on my family, myself, our bank account, and quality of life. So how did freezer meals change my life exactly? Check out the full breakdown below.
One of the most common questions I received was what it was like eating frozen dinners for an entire month and if quality suffered at all. The honest answer is that fresh food will always taste better, however, freezer meals can taste really great and really fresh as long as you choose the right recipes and reheat properly. We never got sick of eating freezer meals because I feel we had a great variety of meals to pick from each week, and we always incorporated a fresh ingredient to enhance our meals.
- Meatballs freeze SUPER well, are foul proof to reheat, and completely versatile (top with teriyaki sauce for Asian inspired, or marinara for Italian inspired). Yum!
- Cilantro Chicken
- All the marinated chicken we had was great! We would take it out the night before to defrost in the fridge, and as it defrosted, it simultaneously marinated resulting in super juicy and flavorful chicken. We would quickly grill or bake the next day and add a fresh salad, and voila, yummy dinner that was kid approved!
- Husband approved, kid approved, freezes and defrosts easily. What more can I ask for?
- Chicken Broccoli Casserole
- Although we are not a casserole type of family, this one was really good, and reheated so well and easily. The kids loved it, and we did as well. The original recipe is not the healthiest, but this is such an easy one to add your own healthy spin on, and definitely will be a staple for us.
As for everything else; the enchiladas, the pastas, and so on, I didn’t call them out this time because there are a few things about those dishes I would change next time, mainly around how I freeze and reheat them to elevate them from good to great. Overall, everything was really good, and only a few changes and eliminations for next time. More about this on The Bad breakdown.
The reward was so significant, I don’t see how I can ever go back to my old weekday routine again. To literally not have to think about what is for dinner each night after work was life changing. I would just dump whatever I defrosted the night before in a dish, reheat, and done. I was in the kitchen less than 15 minutes every night, which was mainly me putting dinner in the oven, taking it out, and throwing together a fresh ingredient. The time I normally spent in the kitchen I instead spent hanging out with my family and relaxing. We did not have a single weekday take out meal because even on the days we were so exhausted, popping a frozen meal in the oven was still easier than calling and dealing with take out. So the reward of more time with my family, topped with saving money and eliminating stress: I am a fan for life!
Although I found this challenge to be life changing, it was not perfect. There definitely were some things that did not go as planned, a meal I threw out, and things I will do differently next time. So what went wrong?
Storage & Reheating
One thing I struggled with was the quality of food and time it took to reheat the meals I had stored in the large casserole aluminum pans. This included the enchiladas, and pasta dishes. These casserole pans were large, and I had intended to reheat and eat as leftovers for a few days. To begin with, these pans were just too large. Even after defrosting in the fridge for 2 days, the meals were still frozen blocks, especially in the middle, resulting in uneven reheating, a very long reheating time, and a combination of mushy and dry texture (from the uneven reheating). The intended leftovers were just okay, and were definitely impacted by the reheating struggle I initially had. Next time, I will forgo the large aluminum pans, and instead freeze in single night, smaller portions.
Sadly the tomato soup just did not work. I found after it was reheated, it had a gritty texture, and I ended up throwing mine away and just ate salad instead. This is one of those recipes that is much better fresh, and is easy enough to throw together on a night you are really craving it. I also found any of the chicken that was frozen already cooked reheated a bit dry. The chicken that was frozen raw, then cooked after defrosted was much better. Something to keep in mind for selecting future recipes.
Overall, yes, there were some misses, but it is all about trial and error, and continuing to evolve and refine for the next time.
So am I going to live off of freezer meals for 365 days a year? Of course not. Fresh meals are important, and I love to cook. I don’t want to lose that aspect. However, freezer meals for busy weekdays will be my forever go to. The idea of saving money, time, and stress is priceless, and something that is necessary for my life right now. I don’t plan on devoting an entire weekend day every month to make a mountain of food, but with thoughtful planning, I will find a weekend morning every month to prepare and freeze weekday staples to always have on hand. I will leave the weekends to cook, to incorporate that freshness, love of cooking, and trying new things without driving myself crazy on the weekdays.
I actually have quite a bit of frozen meals left since we had a mini vacation and a few birthday dinners in the month of May. However, I plan on doing another challenge, with a focus on healthy options, and kid friendly hidden vegetable dishes! A new blog post with recipes and a date will be shared soon!
Thank you to everyone who participated, supported, and inquired about the #freezer30 challenge. For anyone who has been curious to try freezer meals and maybe has been hesitant by the prep or the worry of the quality, I urge you to try it! Check my space soon for more updates because my modern twist of healthy, family friendly, every day freezer meals will make your weekdays easier, I promise!