In my personal opinion, meal planning and batch cooking are key to surviving and thriving when you’re managing any kind of restricted diet. This is also very true if you’re a busy mom. When you have a good meal prep workflow, it also makes grocery shopping easier in the long run. Now, before you take on this endeavor, make sure you have adequate freezer space for all of your loot. In our case, we have a massive island freezer and an additional free-standing freezer. This also makes freezing a whole tray of a big batch of muffins super easy.
When you’re managing food allergies, it’s important to know the limitations of your raw materials. For example, I’m not going to mislead you, most gluten free noodles don’t freeze well. That can be seen as a setback if your top family favorite meal is spaghetti. However, what’s good to know is that gluten free lasagna noodles freeze very well. Also, if spaghetti is your jam, the sauce will freeze beautifully. I personally see this as a great way to set future you up for success.
Buckle up because it’s time for me to share some of my best tips along with some of the best gluten free dinners (and dairy free too) to have on hand. We’ll also briefly chat about other meals that freeze well.
Benefits of Batch Cooking
In my opinion, there are SO MANY benefits to batch cooking and keeping food on hand that’s safe for your family to enjoy. One of the biggest is that you have meals at a moment’s notice. Now, there is the thawing/reheating to consider, so it might be a long moment.
Another huge benefit is that not only can you make meals that meet your dietary needs, they also meet your personal preferences. You may find in stores for example that most dairy-free freezer meals tap into a few key ingredients you detest. Now you can make said meals just the way you like them.
Monetary savings is another huge reason to batch cook and freeze at home. Now, full disclosure: you’ll pay with your time and, in some cases, it takes a while to see the payoff. If you’re 100% brand new to cooking in general due to having a fairly new diagnosis, you may need to invest in cooking tools. That’s going to take a good long minute to balance out with your savings. It’s also easy to overlook the cost of fuel, water, and electricity. You’ll need to shop around for safe ingredients, and then prep, and then cook. It’s a real process.
I don’t say those things to talk you out of the batch cooking life, rather, to make sure you know what you’re getting into.
The BEST Way to Start Batch Cooking
I can’t stress this enough: please don’t make meal plans for the next three months that are full of new recipes, an insanely long grocery list, and hours upon hours of work for you to do. If you do that, you’ll burn out the first time you try to batch cook.
Instead, start with ONE simple meal. Chili is a great freezer meal to start with when you’re new to batch cooking. Pick a low stress day to make a 2x or 3x batch of chili. You’ll need to assess how big your cooking pot is to know how much you can scale up. Eat the chili for dinner, and freeze the leftovers. You can either freeze them in individual containers, or a container that holds enough chili for everyone to enjoy together.
By starting with the one meal, you’ll get to see that the cook time is generally the same, and there’s a little bit of extra produce prep time. This one meal will SHOW you that you can take on the task. From there, choose one of your regular weekly meals to scale up to 2x or 3x. Don’t forget to make it a delicious meal because who wants a freezer full of food they don’t want to eat? I know I don’t.
Once you have the hang of things, I suggest taking a day and making a lot of meatballs. Meatballs are great for lunch or dinner, thaw well, and taste good hot or cold. You can also pair them with a range of sauces or dips to keep the flavour profile interesting. Having a freezer stocked with a variety of meatballs will have future you very grateful.
Batch Cooking for the Greatest Common Denominator
One tip I can give you is to make a great meal for the whole family to enjoy. If you have a great lentil soup (or other freezer friendly hearty soup) recipe that’s safe for everyone in your household, I’d batch and freeze that before making something that only one person can have. Now, there are some exceptions to this idea, but most of you reading this will want to focus on family favorite freezer meals that are safe for all.
An example of the exception would be someone like me. My unique situation means I’m the only person eating my food, and it’s all batch cooked and frozen. For everyone else in the house, I make meals that are free from: wheat, gluten, milk, egg, coconut, macadamia nut, refined sugar, beef, and a few other things. When I do that, it means everyone else can eat the one meal together and I’m doing less work in the long run. The key to pulling it off is to start with simple ingredients everyone can eat. The Master Food List on RAISE can help you easily identify those ingredients.
Another example of an exception would be if the cost is too great. Let’s say you have a mixed allergy household and your costs are already 3x the average shopper. However, one person in the home requires ingredients that are 5 – 8x the average shopper. In a case like that, it’s better to make their specific foods and freeze. A way you can promote inclusion is to try to make them a safe version of foods everyone else will be eating.
Batch Cooking Ahead of a New Baby
Two months before your due date is a good time to start batch cooking, as you want to have the easy meals ready, but also don’t want them sitting in the freezer for months on end. If you can, have a family member or one of your best friends help you with batch cooking. In fact, skip the baby shower and have a batch cook day with all your girl friends. Put on some good music, have appetizers out, and cook/bake together.
In an ideal world, you’ll want to have about a month of meals (if not more) ready to go in the freezer. Focus on dinners first, then easy breakfast foods such as muffins and waffles. Don’t forget to include desserts that mom and dad love. Sometimes in the thick of having a newborn, you just really WANT a cookie.
Easy Dinner Time Options Especially for New Parents
Here are some meals you can make in advance for new moms and dads to tap into once baby has arrived:
- Individual Servings of Lasagna
- Pasta/Meat Sauce (freeze in a size that makes sense for a single use)
- Seasoned Pork Chops
- Creamy Tender Beef (tastes great with fresh spaghetti squash)
When prepping in advance, don’t forget to take personal preferences into account, on top of dietary restrictions. We want to make sure that meals will be loved after long days of looking after a new kiddo.
Additionally, keep in mind that nursing mothers have a higher calorie requirement. If you’re making individual portions, you might want to make them bigger than what you normally would have made.
You Don’t Need 30 Unique Meals
Let’s say you’re planning to make a month of meals over the next couple of weekends. You don’t need to have an excessive amount of meals to make. Instead, make 3x batches of 10 meals. The same is true of breakfast foods and easy lunches. When I batch cook, I take into account that a full pan of muffins will serve everyone at least three times. That means that in my case, a double batch of muffins is six breakfasts. Make 4 flavours, and now I have nearly a month of easy breakfasts for people to rotate through.
Great Low Carb Freezer Meals
One of the easiest ways to create low carb freezer friendly meals is to skip the starch such as rice or quinoa. Focus instead on recipes that are naturally low carb AND freezer friendly. A few examples include: chili, soup, and well seasoned ground beef.
With something like ground beef, you can have several variations in the freezer, ready to be thawed for a quick dinner. When you’re ready to use it, you can easily pair your ground beef with salsa and guacamole for an easy and delicious dip.
If low carb is a priority for you, take stock of what you’re already eating. Of those meals, which are freezer friendly? Remember, technically, anything can be frozen. However, if it doesn’t thaw well and eat well once thawed, it’s not what I’d call freezer friendly. As an example, salsa is usually not freezer friendly because of how poorly the fresh ingredients will behave once thawed. However, guacamole is freezer friendly, which is why I stock up on organic guac each time I go to Costco.
Other low carb freezer friendly foods include:
- Burger Patties
- Shredded Chicken (freeze in the cooking liquid)
- Pork Fajita Meat (seasoned, cooked, frozen)
- Homemade Chicken Nuggets/Tenders
All of these proteins can also be used as toppings with zucchini noodles, cauliflower rice, miracle noodles, and more once you’ve thawed them.
Using Your Crock Pot and/or Instant Pot
If you don’t already have one of these tools, now might be a good time to invest. I do like the Instant Pot Duo that I picked up a few years ago since it’s a slow cooker and a pressure cooker. I avoided appliances such as a Crock Pot mainly because it does one thing. With the dietary needs in our home, multi-function tools are a must.
Once you have a cooker of some type, there’s a lot you can do. The upside to the slow cooker function is that it can make an easy healthy meal on busy weeknights. You start the ingredients before leaving for work and when you get home, boom. Dinner is served (and your house smells really good).
The biggest benefit to a pressure cooker in my opinion is the speed. You can take something that normally takes hours to cook and have it done in 30 minutes. Fun fact, most people don’t know that you can make bone broth in a pressure cooker. What normally takes 12 – 24 hours is done in under 3 hours. I’d call that a HUGE win.
Some of the best gluten free and dairy free meals to make in your pressure cooker or crockpot for freezing include:
- Shredded Chicken (freeze in cooking juices)
- Bean-Based Chili
- Pot Pie Filling
Convenience Foods to Make at Home for Freezing
For some of you, it’s not the diagnosis itself that makes life hard, or that you can’t have specific foods. It’s that you can no longer tap into CONVENIENT foods that you once enjoyed. Many people who embark on a journey of healthy eating tend to feel the same way. The good news is that you have options. We’re living in a time where there are loads of free-from convenient meals to purchase. You’ll still need to contact companies about shared equipment and ingredient management if you’re in the 30% group of people who can’t do shared equipment.
If you find that commercial options aren’t accessible to you, the other option is to make these convenient meals at home and freeze them for future you to enjoy. This is the road I travel regularly. Here’s a list of easy recipes to make at home, and they don’t require commercial equipment to be done well.
- Chicken Nuggets/Chicken Tenders
- Pasta Sauce and other Meat Sauces
- Italian Sausage
- Turkey Meatballs (Beef, Chicken, Bison, Pork, and Rabbit work too)
- Kung Pao Chicken (only freeze the chicken portion)
- Lasagna (easy, but time consuming)
Healthy Freezer Meals to Have on Hand
Now, before I share some thoughts on this, it’s important to remember that “healthy” is not a regulated term. We all have a different idea of what that can look like. In my personal opinion, it’s a well balanced meal, has protein, veg (or maybe fruit), a whole grain, and tastes good. I mean, there’s no point in cooking “healthy” meals if no one wants to eat them. Plus, that’s just a waste of your time, energy, and money. The worst thing you can do is have a bunch of freezer meals on hand that no one wants to eat.
Sometimes however, a healthy ingredient doesn’t freeze and thaw super well. Salmon is a great example. It’s rich in omegas, but the way most people cook it, your salmon won’t hold up to freezing, thawing, AND tasting great the next time you eat it.
Here are some fantastic freezer meals to make that I personally consider healthy (and most are easy meals to make):
- String Bean Dish
- Beet “Stir Fry”
- Homemade Granola Bars
- Boosted Brownies
- Vegetable Loaded Meatballs
- Zucchini/Carrot Bars
- Spinach Waffles
Helpful Items to Have When Batch Cooking Regularly
- Plastic Wrap
- Parchment Paper
- Baking Sheet/Aluminum Pans
- Gallon-Size Freezer Bag
- Individual Containers
- Casserole Dish
- Very Large Pots/Pans for Cooking Large Amounts
- Large Mixing Bowls
- Excellent Knives
Vegan Options for Freezer Cooking
I’m going to tell you this upfront: not all vegan ingredients freeze well. Dairy free/Vegan Cheese is a great example. In some applications, it freezes great and in others, total flop. Take mashed potatoes as an example, they freeze well but the thaw is awful. Depending on the ingredients used, the thawed texture is so unpleasant that you can’t eat the meal.
If you’re new to all of this, check out the Advanced Recipe Search on RAISE. Choose the vegan option as well as freezer friendly option. Alternatively, search online for something like “freezer-friendly recipe vegan” or “vegan crockpot freezer meals”. Those might get you great results.
Ingredients such as black beans and brown rice both freeze well, but only in some applications. For rice, I’ve found that the best way to avoid freezer burn and a poor texture when thawing is to make it saucy. So a creamy rice recipe using dairy free milk does much better than say, a plain fried rice. With black beans, you can incorporate them into chili and pasta/marinara sauce and those freeze very well.
Whilst we don’t consume tofu, I’ve been told by those who do that it freezes and thaws very well (for those who can consume soy).
How to Freeze Your Loot
When freezing cooked food, there are a few steps to take. First, make sure the food has cooled completely. The easiest way to do this is to store it in the fridge overnight and transfer to the freezer the next morning. You’ll need to choose the best freezing vessel, and this done by thinking about how you’ll use the food in the future. Individual containers are great if you plan to use the food in lunches, or if you want to have flexibility for people choosing what to eat. Large glass bowls are excellent for meals that will be reheated for the whole family to enjoy together.
Some foods such as fresh fruit, waffles, pancakes, and muffins do well with parchment paper, layering, and freezing the whole tray. Once frozen, transfer the items to a Ziplock freezer bag and label.
If you don’t mind the extra step and equipment, a vacuum sealer might be a great option for you. There are whole systems you can purchase that include bags and bowl-type containers. You can get better results with ingredients such as rice and tortillas when using a vacuum sealer.
No matter how you end up freezing food, it’s important to label it, even if your lids/containers are clear. You might not be able to tell what it is in the future. The label should include what the food is, and when it was made. If you’re a mixed allergy household, include a way to indicate the allergy status or who it is safe for.
In some cases, the easiest way to tackle that is to either have specific shelves/sections in the freezer for each person, or purchase little circle stickers in a range of colours. This allows you to colour code by sticker, and each person will know what’s safe for them to grab.
Ingredients and Meals That Generally Don’t Freeze Well
Remember, just about anything can be frozen. The key is if said item thaws well AND eats well once it comes out of the freezer. Gluten free and dairy-free freezer meals that tend to thaw poorly include:
- Gluten free noodles, especially if they’re on the mushy side.
- ”Dry” rice foods such as fried rice. Rice freezes better in a creamy situation.
- Potatoes and sweet potatoes. These work well commercially, but not always at home. Deep fried potatoes might be one of the exceptions.
- Dairy free cheese-focused meals. Think mac n cheese.
- Mashed potatoes of any kind.
- Refried Beans
My Favorite Meals to Double Batch (or Triple Batch)
Chili – I make it with ground turkey, but ground beef works well to. If you opt for a leaner meat such as ground chicken, watch your cook time to prevent the meat from drying out.
String Bean Dish – Because the kids love it.
Beet Stir Fry – Also because the kids love it.
Meatballs – They’re versatile and I can make a lot of meatballs in one weekend.
Pasta Sauce – I load with veg and it becomes part of a future healthy dinner.
Waffles – The kids LOVE them, they thaw easily, and I hate making breakfast early in the morning.
Muffins – They make for great snacks and you can put them into a lunch box frozen and they’re thawed by lunch time.
Granola Bars – I can create a variety of flavours and the kids have access to easy snacks that I know are made with better-for-you ingredients.
Remember, take some time to plot out what kind of resources you can dedicate to batch cooking, to avoid overwhelming yourself. If you’d like help getting started, enroll in the Free-From Batch Cooking eCourse. It also comes with a RAISE Membership, so you can tap into freezer friendly recipes.
If you don’t have an extra freezer for storage, that will probably be your first step. The average freezer most people have won’t be able to hold more than 1 – 2 batch cooked meals along with what’s already in your freezer.
From there, select a few meals you love to double batch and get started.