Making gluten free frozen meals doesn’t have to take extra time, just extra planning, and it can save you a bundle on expensive GF convenience food for those nights when you just don’t have time to cook. The most economical way to freezer cook is to stock up on meat and ingredients for side dishes that freeze well when they’re on sale, and plan to cook enough for 2 or 3 freezer meals in addition to your dinner that week. If you do this only twice a week, you’ll have a treasure trove of quick meals for busy nights in no time! I did this for three weeks last month, and was able to take the week before Thanksgiving off of cooking as a result. It was awesome! If you’re having company come to visit, then you’ll definitely be glad you took the time to make a few meals in advance so you don’t have to spend precious visiting time slaving in the kitchen.
Tips on Freezer Cooking
The key to successful freezer cooking is to get rid of as much air as you can in your bag or container. I have a fancy vacuum-sealer that I never use because it’s cheaper to just use a Ziplock freezer bag (I use generic brands). Just place your completely cooled food items into the smallest size bag that will work, press out the air, close the bag almost all the way and, if it’s not raw meat, use a straw to suck out the rest of the air. You’ll see the bag shrink around your food. Then just pull out the straw and quickly seal. Your food will last for months this way with nary an ice crystal to cause freezer burn! For casseroles or side dishes like mashed potatoes, I like to place them in a disposable tin pan (from the dollar store) with a layer of plastic wrap against the potatoes and heavy duty foil over that.
If you’re new to freezer cooking, avoid dishes with rice or pasta, as these can be tricky to freeze without them turning to mush – especially rice pasta, which gets mushy easily. However, corn tortillas freeze well, as do potato side dishes. Most GF breads freeze well, as do cupcakes and cookie dough. (I prefer to freeze the dough, rather than cookies which can crumble after thawing, since freshly baked cookies are the best!) Homemade meatballs and chicken strips freeze well and go with side dishes that are quick to heat, like pasta or frozen GF French fries (always read labels on fries, since some contain wheat). When making a homemade sauce or cream soup for casseroles, be sure to add a pinch of xanthan gum to keep the ingredients from separating. (This miracle ingredient is in just about every commercial sauce or convenience food, and it’s already in your pantry. Use it!) It’s best to freeze sauces or crunchy toppings (like the onions for my Green Bean Casserole) separately and assemble thawed ingredients just prior to baking.
Some of my favorite freezer meals are right on this blog:
Crock Pot Pork Taco meat can be frozen in serving sizes for tacos or nacho meat. You can also make the tacos ahead of time and freeze them in a bag. These make great enchiladas, too, but freeze the sauce for enchiladas separately. This is a very versatile meat that is on the menu regularly because it’s easy to throw together, makes a lot, and pork roasts often cost less than $2/lb.
- If you don’t have enough green chilies, you can substitute chopped onion. Or if you’re not a fan of pork, just freeze your favorite meat with GF taco seasoning!
- If you’re new to cooking with corn tortillas, heat 3 or 4 at a time over low heat on a griddle sprayed with oil. Flip after a few seconds, and immediately top with shredded cheese (we use cheddar or co-jack). Put a 1-in. stripe of meat down the center. When cheese is melted, lift one side of the tortilla over the meat, then roll the whole thing over to seal. The heat makes them more pliable for rolling, and the cheese will keep the tortilla from popping open.
Lasagna – Okay, I know I said to not do pasta, but this is the exception since you don’t cook the noodles in advance. Just layer the ingredients and freeze for later, or make a double batch so you can cook one and freeze one.
Mashed Potatoes – I tried the recipe from the Pioneer Woman blog for Thanksgiving and loved it! I mashed a 5 lb. bag of potatoes the week before and had some for dinner, then froze the rest in a gallon-size freezer bag. Then, on turkey day, I thawed it in the microwave and plopped it in a greased crock pot on high for a few hours, stirring occasionally to heat evenly. At first, it was really soupy, but it thickened as it heated up – and tasted amazing!
- For dairy free potatoes, skip the cream cheese and just use dairy free margarine and rice milk.
- For a one dish meal, set aside some mashed potatoes for Shepherd’s Pie, which can also be frozen.
Fried Chicken Strips - These are a great way to use tenderloins trimmed from chicken breasts, or you can slice chicken breasts into strips. I’ve linked my Mandarin Chicken recipe, but these work with any dipping sauce.
- To freeze, cool cooked chicken at room temperature on plates lined with paper towels, then transfer to a freezer safe baking tray to freeze for a few hours. Once frozen, transfer to a freezer bag and press out (or suck out) the air. Cook from frozen in a 400 degree oven for about 20 min.
- Recently, I’ve been using/loving the Hodgson Mill GF Seasoned Coating Mix (dairy, soy and corn free, and available at our Wal-Mart). I follow the directions on the back for Country Fried Beef (which you can also make and freeze), and skip the messy egg wash by just applying a liberal amount of coating mix and frying in oil until golden brown. (I coat all the chicken once, then do it a second time.) The recipe on the box for Country White Gravy is easy and awesome, so make sure you freeze some potatoes to go with your chicken strips! However, these also taste great with barbecue sauce or honey mustard.
Meatballs or Mini Meatloaves - You can grind oats in a food processor as a healthy substitute for bread crumbs in your favorite meatball recipe, or grind the heals from GF bread (I save mine in the freezer for making bread crumbs) and combine with your favorite seasonings. Recently, I’ve begun adding shredded potato and grated onion to my meatballs for moist meatballs that somewhat resemble my Grandma’s Swedish meatballs (only I’m too lazy to roll them in flour and fry them, like we do with Swedish meatballs).
- I like to heat up frozen meatballs in spaghetti sauce while the pasta boils, but we sometimes eat them like mini meatloaves or as meatball subs in toasted Udi’s hot dog buns with some spaghetti sauce and melted mozzarella or provolone.
Ham and Cheese Sandwiches on Onion Poppy Seed Cheese Rolls/Buns - My mother-in-law made these for get-togethers with family and friends because you can make these in advance and pop the wrapped sandwiches in the oven for a quick meal. I like to make cheese rolls from a Pamela’s bread mix for these, but you could use your favorite hamburger bun/hot dog bun/roll for these.
Also, don’t forget to freeze leftover turkey or roast chicken to make Turkey or Chicken Pot Pie Pizza or Biscuit Pot Pies!
Some of our favorite gluten free breads and desserts to freeze include:
- Sour Cream Rolls - These are best the day they’re made, so freeze for later use and reheat thawed rolls in the microwave.
- Focaccia Bread or Partially Baked Pizza Crust - Wrap cooled pizza crust after step 1 baking. When ready to use, put toppings on thawed crust and bake until cheese is melted.
- Banana Bread Pancakes or Pumpkin Pancakes - Freeze portion sizes in quart-size freezer bag. Reheat frozen pancakes in the toaster or toaster oven. To reheat a large batch, butter them and place them on a large tray in a 350 degree oven until warm.
- Cranberry Orange Scones
- Whole Grain Muffins or Coffee Cake - This is our favorite 100% whole grain breakfast that can be made with any fruit/veggie combination you like (banana blueberry, apple cranberry, pumpkin, peach, strawberry rhubarb, zucchini bread). These are low in sugar, dairy free, soy free, corn free, and can be made egg free, as well.
- Almond Poppyseed Muffins (freeze without the glaze)
- Dairy Free/Soy Free No Bake Cookies
- Peanut Butter Bar Dough/Cookie Dough
With some quick meal items in the freezer this month, you’ll have time to bake yummy goodies like Sour Cream Sugar Cookies or these Easy Holiday Goodies to Make with Kids. Throw some Wassail in the crock pot, and you’re set for the holidays!