A lot of what I've learned about freezer meals has been through trial and error. I've read a few blogs, but that's about it. In addition to the Recipes That Work series (you can read about Dump Recipes here, and Make-Ahead Meals here), I'm adding a series on freezer meal Tools of the Trade, starting with today's tool: food savers.The Food Saver
A few Christmases ago, I requested small appliances on my wish list (yeah, unfortunately, I have to create a wish list; apparently, no one knows what to buy me. Am I really that hard to read??). I didn't really have anything in particular on the list, but knew that there were several things out there that I didn't have and, being the penny pincher that I am, just didn't feel like spending the money to buy. My husband decided to get me a food saver, since we had talked about buying some of our meat in bulk, splitting it and freezing it into meal-size portions.
I'm sad to report that my food saver didn't get utilized as well as it should have. I didn't plan my groceries and menu too well, so to buy meat in bulk just seemed too expensive. I couldn't justify spending $10 on a large package of pork chops when there was a perfectly good package of 4 chops for $3.
Then I met, well, met in virtual land, bloggers like Laura at OrgJunkie, Erin at $5dinners, Tricia at Once a Month Mom, and all of a sudden a whole new world was opened to me. Planning my meals ahead? Using the sales ads and coupons? Freezer meals? The possibilities of how to save money suddenly seemed endless!
I made my first real set of freezer meals, about 1 1/2 week's worth, back in March '09, just before creating this blog. And I've been hooked ever since.
And that's where my food saver has finally started to get a good work-out. I use it to freeze whole pieces of food, like Li'l Cheddar Meatloaves and Crunchy Baked Chicken, that aren't in a casserole or covered in a sauce. Well, there is a slight sauce on top of the little meatloaves, but not completely all over.
The important feature of the food saver bags, when compared to traditional freezer bags, is that you can get a better seal with the food saver bags because they are designed to pull out all the air and vacuum seal your food so it is fresher and less prone to freezer burn. You just have to be a little choosie on what you place in your food saver bag. I've tried some slightly liquidy recipes, but they don't work quite as well with the food saver bags. The food saver, while it's trying to suck the air out of the bag, will also pull the liquid out, and the bag doesn't always get a good seal.
I've also used my food saver for freezing fresh veggies such as squash and zucchini. These two vegetables were literally coming out of our ears for a couple of months, and we couldn't keep up with the overload. So I chopped, diced, sliced and froze a whole lot, placing most everything in the food saver bags.
Another way in which I've used my food saver is for bulk meat purchases, something I had intended on doing when I first got the food saver, but didn't do so well until I started making freezer meals. I like to buy 5lb packages of ground beef, or I'll buy a big pork loin and slice it into enough chops for several meals. I'll divide the meat, but instead of putting into freezer bags or wrapping in foil or butcher paper, I'll use my food saver. It pleases my husband because he knows that he bought me a gift that I actually use (finally use, after all these years ;). It also pleases me because I feel like I'm getting my money's worth on the bulk meat, and it's definitely easier to get my freezer meals going one meal at a time instead of trying to work with a huge package of frozen meat that has to thaw before I can use it.
I've only had to buy refill rolls and bags just a few times since my husband bought the food saver for me. Some of the prices I've seen have been way too ridiculously high. So I've done my best to buy the refills when they've been on sale so I can avoid paying full price. My most recent purchase was at Target. Wal-mart was just too high, and Target came in at nearly half the price compared to the only brand of food saver rolls & bags that my Wal-Mart was carrying at the time.
So if you're considering freezer meals, and even if you've already started, consider the investment in a food saver. You can even add it to your own Christmas wish list. ;)
Happy freezer cooking!