Organizing Your Freezer Meals for Easy Summer Cooking

by Gena Kittner

I love the term “nesting.” It brings to mind a plump little momma bird busily feathering her home. Lately, I can relate, at least regarding the plump part, and with this pregnancy, my nesting tendencies have taken a decidedly food-related turn.

Let me explain.

“New Baby” will be born in July, one of the two hottest months in Tucson, with an average high temperature of 99 degrees.

There are many adjustments I’ve learned to make here during the summer. For example, I now place a frozen water bottle in Ellie’s car seat while running errands to make it bearable for her to climb in after a grocery run.

Crayons and granola bars are diaper bag no nos as both will melt into gooey messes.

But the trickiest part, for me, is figuring out what the he** to cook for dinner. I’ll admit, this question stumps me even when it’s not 100 degrees, but I find it especially challenging when the last thing I want to do it turn on the oven or stove.

So I’ve turned to the freezer.

Don't turn on the oven or stove this summer to cook! Instead spend some time organizing your freezer meals and have easy meals all summer long using these tips.

I’m a big fan of freezing food. Soups, steaks, fruit, quiches, pies, hummus — all find homes in my freezer. The problem, though, is finding and remembering what you have, otherwise you’re stuck with a quart bag of what you think is spaghetti sauce that turns out to be beef stew (true story). My goal is that leading up to, during and after New Baby’s arrival, I can take the stress out of making dinner by easily pulling something out of the freezer.

So I recently decided to spend half an hour and overhaul my freezer. Here’s what I did:

  • To avoid future spaghetti sauce/beef stew mishaps, virtually everything in the freezer is stored in a quart or gallon freezer bag that’s labeled and dated.
  • I have a side-by-side freezer with several shelves and a drawer at the bottom, so I organized all food into separately themed shelves. For example, the bottom two shelves are MREs — Meals Ready to Eat. Leftovers like chili, soup, or already cooked meat that can be defrosted and heated in the microwave. NO STOVE REQUIRED.
  • Another shelf I dedicated to raw meats for the grill. Steaks, pork chops, scallops, etc. On the door I have smaller shelves dedicated to frozen veggies, cheeses and lunch items (Morning Star burgers, etc.).
  • The biggest shelf is for over-sized items. The huge bag of chicken breasts from Costo, a gallon of ice cream, a pork butt, etc. Finally, the top shelf is for dessert and breakfast items such as frozen loaves of bread, cookie dough and popsicles.
  • In addition to labeling the bags of food themselves, I put actual stickies in the freezer indicating which shelves have which foods. My thought is when my butt’s glued to the couch nursing new baby, daddy, grandma etc. can easily located some dinner options.
  • If you have the type of freezer that sits on top or underneath the fridge, I suggest organizing the freezer bags of food into small plastic bins that you can easily pull out and look through. I did this in my house in Wisconsin with good success.

This is just what applies best for my family — your freezer organization might take on different themes. For example, my husband grills most every weekend, so having a shelf dedicated to just raw meat makes sense. Maybe you’ve done a make-ahead crockpot workshop and want to dedicate a shelf just for that. Or you often take frozen dinners to work for lunch — dedicating a freezer shelf would maximize your staking space and minimize the chances of those boxes sliding out every time you open the door (yes, I know from experience).

The key, I believe, is knowing what you have and where it is. So here’s to a coming summer of keeping cool and low-stress dinners (I hope!).

Gena is a Midwest transplant living in TucsoGena Kittnern, Arizona with her husband and 3-year-old daughter, Ellie. When not killing scorpions, Gena writes about food and family. Follow her on Twitter @genakittner, and check out her previous posts on Mommy Sanest.