Plan a Week of Dinners from Food in the Freezer

As most of you know, I love my freezer. It’s an awesome thing. It also goes in cycles from empty to jam-packed to empty. When my husband starts to whine about the freezer (it’s his job to organize it), I know it’s time to plan a freezer week. Here’s how I do it.

First, here’s a look at my freezer. I think if I try to fit one more thing in there, my husband will leave me.


Step 1: Inventory the Freezer
First, write down everything in the freezer that can be a dinner component. I didn’t include ingredients for my breakfast shake or my husband’s bagels and sandwich rolls. Here’s what I was left with:

Nuts (pretty much every kind you could need)
Chicken stock – 1 1/3 cups
Chicken broth – 3 ¾ cups
Jack cheese
Potstickers (32)
Chicken breasts – 5
Chicken thighs – 4
Marinara – 1 cup
Vegetable stock – 3 cups
White beans – 2 servings
Black beans – 2 servings
Kidney beans – 1 serving
Sweet Italian turkey sausage – 3 4 oz links
Pizza crust
Turkey kielbasa – ½
Pork chops – 3
Chow fun meat – 1 serving
Chicken pot pie – 2
Snapper – ½ lb.
Salmon – ½ lb
Ground pork – ¾ lb
Goat cheese
Flank steak – 2 ½ pound servings
Frozen corn – ½ bag
Frozen peas – ½ bag
French fries
Note: serving means 1 meal’s worth, not one person’s portion.
Wow. That’s a lot of stuff. Even if I did want to buy more stuff, I don’t know what it would be. Maybe shrimp? That seems to be the only thing missing that I usually have in the freezer. I also realize that I had chicken broth in the freezer that I could have used up instead of opening a fresh container two weeks ago. That’s why I need to clean this thing out!

Step 2: Search for Recipes for those Ingredients
If you’ve watched many cooking shows, you know that most meals are built around the “proteins.” I don’t always build a meal that way, but when it comes to freezer week, that’s a good place to start. I need to use up all those meats. I also need to keep in mind what we had recently, which means the chow fun meat and chicken pot pies won’t make it on the menu. They were recent freezer additions.

Step 3: Build a Varied Weekly Menu
As I record a meal in the weekly menu, I correct the quantity on the list. I continue this every week until the freezer has become manageable again. I also happen to have most of the ingredients for the side dishes in the cabinets already. I try to vary the dishes so we don’t repeat something more than once every 2-3 months. It’s fairly unusual for us to have pork twice in one week, but I’ve been craving the pork sausage for a couple of weeks.

In addition to the freezer, you can also check the cabinets to see which ingredients you can use to work down that stockpile, too.

Sunday: White beans, 1 turkey sausage link, and mascarpone over pasta, walnut/gorgonzola salad
Monday: Salmon with brown sugar glaze, roasted red potatoes, cranberry/pecan salad
Tuesday: Pork chops, sautéed apples, walnut/gorgonzola salad
Wednesday: Chicken breast with homemade crème fraiche (uses up some of the cream in the fridge) over pasta, cranberry/pecan salad
Thursday: Pan-seared snapper, wild rice, feta/walnut salad
Friday: Spicy peanut chicken, white rice, potstickers, mandarin orange salad
Saturday: Pork sausage with onions and fennel, fried polenta with rosemary and onions, marinara, fresh mozzarella, feta/walnut salad

Obviously, this doesn’t come anywhere close to using up everything in the freezer. But I made a solid dent. I’ve managed to use:
4 chicken breasts
1 white beans
1 turkey sausage link
Ground pork
2 pork chops
6 potstickers
Chicken broth

Next week, I’ll review this list again to use up the chicken thighs and breasts, more of the beans, 1 of the flank steaks, and the marinara sauce. I will have to buy fish next week because we eat fish twice a week. I expect it will take me another week after that to use up all of the proteins and start working down the broths.

Step 3: Build Your Shopping List
Now that you have your menu and recipes, create a shopping list for the other ingredients you don’t have on hand. It should be a pretty short list, unless you also need to buy breakfast, lunch, or household items.

It takes a little extra time to do this process, but it keeps the freezer goods in rotation so you use them up before they go bad.

Do you stock up your freezer? How often do you work through it and what’s your strategy?

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